Why It Matters

No easy task to dislodge Najib

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at a session of the 27th Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur, in this Nov 21, 2015 file photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

In Malaysia's political history, several unexpected moves have shaken the Barisan Nasional (BN) government led by Umno and cost it many votes.

There was the 1998 Reformasi movement led by sacked deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, a disparate opposition uniting for the 2008 General Election and its assault on Umno stronghold Johor in 2013.

Last week, as news spread of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's resignation from Umno for the second time, questions were raised whether a new tsunami was about to hit BN.

Dr Mahathir's exit came in the same week as a Wall Street Journal claim that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak received more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, higher than the previous accusation of inflows of some US$700 million. Datuk Seri Najib was visiting Saudi Arabia, the claimed source of such funds, when the WSJ published the report.

Dr Mahathir followed up on his resignation by cobbling together an unprecedented joint declaration last Friday involving long-time political foes. He gathered more than 50 leaders from both BN and the opposition, and several leaders of non-governmental organisations, with the aim of forcing Mr Najib from office.

The so-called People's Declaration was also supported by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim from behind bars. The anti-Najib momentum led to an online petition calling for the Prime Minister's resignation which has gathered 19,000 signatures since last Friday.

But such an unlikely alliance only goes to show how entrenched Mr Najib is. Last Saturday, he summoned BN lawmakers to a meeting before Parliament reconvenes today. Nearly everyone attended, showing little sign of dissent in the ranks.

Dr Mahathir and his new "frenemies" will need to work much harder if they want to rattle his former subordinates in Umno and BN.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline No easy task to dislodge Najib. Subscribe