Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday evening called for Prime Minister Najib Razak to "rest" for two to three months to allow ongoing investigations into two financial scandals involving the leader to be carried out independently.
Speaking at a public function in a hall at Kampung Baru, the heartland of Malay political activism, Tan Sri Muhyiddin said that by stepping down temporarily, there will not be continuing public perception that the Premier was intervening in the probe into the RM2.6 billion (S$859 million) found in his personal bank accounts. There is also an investigation into the financial troubles faced by state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad which was founded by Datuk Seri Najib.
"I propose that the Prime Minister rest awhile, not resign, so that the investigations can be freely conducted," he said to thunderous applause from the crowd attending the function at the historic Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, the oldest Malay club in Kuala Lumpur.
"Rest for two to three months, so that there won't be the perception that the Prime Minister intervened," Tan Sri Muhyiddin said.
Some 4,000 people attended the function, held a day before Umno begins its five-day annual assembly today.
Also at the event was ex-premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal.
The venue - a stone's throw away from the Petronas Twin Towers but in a working class section of Kuala Lumpur - was not coincidental. Kampung Baru is a so-called "new village" of mostly low-rise brick and wooden houses where troubled Malay leaders often congregated in the face of political challenges to raise support from the community.
In his speech, Tan Sri Muhyiddin said he was worried that the problems of the President would affect the party at the next general election. He brought his grievances against Mr Najib via the political rally after being blocked from addressing the annual assembly.
The deputy president traditionally speaks at the joint opening of the party's three wings at the start of the congress and again at its close.
While Mr Muhyiddin was sacked from his Deputy Prime Minister's post in July, he remains the No.2 in Umno and thus a thorn in Mr Najib's side.
Mr Muhyiddin's speaking engagement was noted by top party leaders. Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor earlier issued a warning of unspecified "action", as the speech was organised outside the party's channels.
"Just don't cross the line; you cross the line, we will take action," he was quoted as saying in a report on the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club website.
With most party leaders wary of another bitter internal fight involving top leaders like the one that ousted ex-premier Tun Abdullah Badawi, the warning was not an idle threat.
Some hawks in Umno's decision-making supreme council are calling for Mr Muhyiddin's sacking so that the party can move on, with Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi - an Umno vice-president - seen as the future chief.
Datuk Seri Zahid himself, when asked about the Kampung Baru rally, was more magnanimous, saying such a meeting is allowed by the law, but "not ethical" as it wasn't organised by Umno. "However, I understand he (Muhyiddin) wants an alternative platform to express his thoughts," he was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper.