Malaysian PMO slams opposition

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at a forum in Manila on April 28, 2017.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at a forum in Manila on April 28, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

The office of the Malaysian Prime Minister has taken the unusual lead in training its guns on the opposition, a departure from the administration's usual route of allowing other Cabinet ministers to rally around and defend their leader.

In a span of one week during the Hari Raya festival, Prime Minister Najib Razak's press secretary issued three statements against the Democratic Action Party (DAP), attacking the party's leadership and questioning whether the party's internal squabbles could result in it not being recognised by the Registry of Societies.

The statements had an analyst questioning if Datuk Seri Najib had made a strategic error.

"I think the response was a strategic mistake by Najib. It only adds to the speculation that there is credibility in what the DAP was accusing him of," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, visiting senior fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang recently made a string of requests for government accountability, including for an ongoing suit by the United States Department of Justice to recover billions allegedly misappropriated from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Mr Najib's press secretary, Datuk Seri Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad, responded on June 27 by asking Mr Lim to have his son Lim Guan Eng resign as Penang chief minister over corruption charges, so the elder Mr Lim's demands can be taken seriously. He also called the elder Mr Lim a "dictator" .

Some have called the statements - three issued within the span of a week - unusual, as they were issued not by top politicians who often defend Mr Najib, but by his staff, likely with input from the Prime Minister.

"A Kit Siang and DAP-led government would be a disaster for Malaysia and the people," Tengku Sariffuddin said.

Days later, DAP MP Liew Chin Tong issued a statement that Mr Najib's political and business strategic planning in the first half of this year had "backfired". He alleged that the Prime Minister had plans to remove up to seven state Menteris Besar and replace them with his loyalists, plans which "alienated Umno bigwigs" who had long supported him.

"Najib may just be one or two mess-ups away from an internal revolt," Mr Liew wrote.

Tengku Sariffuddin swiftly responded the next day. "Liew Chin Tong should stop pushing what is obviously fake news, smears and outright lies about the government," he said on July 1.

Thus far, none of the ministers mentioned in Mr Liew's statement has responded to his claims.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, however, wrote in his blog that Mr Najib has close ties with Umno leaders and that Mr Liew's claims were based on rumours.

A third statement from the Prime Minister's Office last Monday reiterated allegations that DAP is in a "dire predicament" due to its leaders' faults.

Some have called the statements unusual, as they were issued not by top politicians who often defend Mr Najib, but by his staff, likely with input from the Prime Minister.

"When a press secretary of any minister speaks, he does not speak for himself but he represents his superior," said Mr Wan Saiful. Tengku Sariffuddin declined to comment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysian PMO slams opposition'. Print Edition | Subscribe