Najib calls Mahathir ' U-turn champion'

Latest salvo comes as ex-premier promises to convert cash aid programme, abolish GST

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called his former mentor and boss, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the champion of U-turns yesterday, after the latter said his opposition coalition would continue giving cash handouts to the country's poor if elected to power.

Last month, the former prime minister criticised the cash aid programme - known by its Malay language acronym BR1M - as "a form of bribe". But at the launch rally of his four-month-old party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) on Saturday, he promised the 5,000-strong crowd that BR1M payments could be converted into statutory aid.

His remark drew criticism from the current leader, Datuk Seri Najib.

"Lately, Tun Mahathir has made too many U-turns in terms of his stand, so we can consider Tun Mahathir now as a U-turn champion because his actions and statements contradict each other," Mr Najib told reporters in his constituency of Pekan in Pahang state.

Mr Najib Razak (centre), seen here at an event in Pahang yesterday, criticised his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad for saying the opposition would continue giving cash handouts after criticising the aid programme earlier.
Mr Najib Razak (centre), seen here at an event in Pahang yesterday, criticised his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad for saying the opposition would continue giving cash handouts after criticising the aid programme earlier. PHOTO: FOTOBERNAMA

BR1M was first introduced in 2012 as a one-off RM500 (S$160) payment to help families earning below RM3,000 a month. The following year, ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, led by Mr Najib, promised in its election manifesto to increase the amount to RM1,200 per household by 2018.

CONTRADICTION

Lately, Tun Mahathir had made too many U-turns in terms of his stand, so we can consider Tun Mahathir now as a U-turn champion because his actions and statements contradict each other.

MALAYSIAN PM NAJIB RAZAK, on his rival's change of stance over an aid scheme.

Dr Mahathir also played to the crowd on Saturday by promising to abolish the deeply unpopular goods and services tax, which was implemented by Mr Najib's government in April 2015. However, he added it would be replaced with a sales tax "according to people's will". He did not elaborate.

Mr Najib defended his admin- istration's move to introduce the 6 per cent tax, arguing it was necessary in a volatile global economy.

"He (Mahathir) can talk but actually we, as the government, need the revenue. If we do away with the GST, we will lose RM40 billion annually. The question is what other revenue can replace it," he said, according to state newswire agency Bernama.


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) called his former mentor and boss, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (right) the champion of U-turns. PHOTOS: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK, BLOOMBERG

"This was not mentioned by him, so it is merely to mislead the people and play about with sentiments without sticking to the facts," he added.

At the rally on Saturday, Dr Mahathir, 91, who has been described as a ruler with an iron fist during his tenure as the country's longest- serving prime minister, said the country can expect freedom of the press, freedom of speech and non-selective legal enforcement if the opposition gets into power.

Meanwhile, PPBM president and Mr Najib's former deputy Muhyiddin Yassin said a new government would instil institutional reforms to improve integrity among civil servants and government leaders, and curb the prime minister's powers to raise accountability.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Najib calls Mahathir ' U-turn champion''. Print Edition | Subscribe