KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday (Dec 1) accused his predecessor Mahathir Mohamed of disloyalty, and warned Malaysians that the long-serving former Umno leader's Chinese-dominated ally would dismantle decades of pro-Bumiputera policies.
Datuk Najib, who is also Umno president, also denied claims that his government is oppressive, and instead talked up its welfare programme when opening what could be the last Umno assembly before a general election.
Having seen off attacks from Tun Mahathir - who led the party and government for 22 years until 2003 - and the then deputy and vice presidents over the past two years, Datuk Seri Najib returned fire, accusing them of committing the "height of betrayal".
He referred to episodes in 1987 and 1998 when Dr Mahathir's leadership was under threat and Malaysia thrown into political crises.
"Who in those tense moments, stood firmly by Dr Mahathir? Who else if not us in Umno?" he said to 2,700 cheering delegates gathered at the Putra World Trade Centre.
Dr Mahathir, along with ex-deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin and former vice president Shafie Apdal, has formed opposition parties after criticising Mr Najib over graft allegations linked to staggering debts piled up by state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Mr Najib also sought to paint the opposition as being led by Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and called on Malays and other Bumiputera races to remain with his Umno-led government to ensure pro-Bumiputera policies are protected.
He named 10 Bumiputera and Islamic agencies that he said could face an existential threat under a government dominated by DAP, including Bumiputera education and business trust Mara, Felda which helps Malay farmers, pilgrimage fund Tabung Haji and Islamic development agency Jakim.
"Malaysians are faced with a crucial crossroads... at the 14th general election. The horrible result and nightmare that will afflict their lives (if DAP wins)... I am confident that Malays and Bumiputera will be afraid and worried, and cling on firmly to Umno," he said.
Mr Najib also praised the Islamist opposition party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) for standing by Umno, and suggested that the long-anticipated Muslim political unity has arrived.
The premier's loyal stewards, Deputy PM and Umno acting deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Umno Vice-President Hishammuddin Hussein defended the party's close ties with PAS.
"Sharing of power is not only with BN component members but with non-members," Datuk Seri Zahid said, referring to ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).
Echoing Mr Zahid's remarks that Malaysia is a plural society, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin reiterated that cooperation with PAS is based on mutual understanding of an "Islamic agenda".
"It's not a question of politics," said Mr Hishammuddin, who is also Defence Minister.
Despite overseeing a slowing economy in the past two years, Mr Najib burnished his credentials as Prime Minister in his speech, dismissing criticisms over state investor 1MDB, the Goods and Services Tax, and cost of living as "falsehoods".
The Umno president questioned how his government could be accused of being oppressive when it has provided "nearly free" healthcare and education.
"Umno has fulfilled far more than its duty for its members, and has gone beyond in justifying its purpose to the rakyat (people) and the country, and no one will be left behind," Mr Najib said.