Malaysia's longest-serving MP, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, has been dragged into the centre of a bitter political fight between Prime Minister Najib Razak and ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, forcing him to defend himself yesterday.
Tengku Razaleigh, a popular prince from Kelantan, called the media to his stately home to explain his decision to support Datuk Seri Najib, despite it being widely whispered earlier that he was a supporter of Tun Dr Mahathir's anti-Najib campaign.
Tengku Razaleigh's decision to sign a declaration supporting PM Najib last week was widely panned.
On Monday, the opposition released a document distributed among MPs declaring a plan to call for a no-confidence motion against Mr Najib in Parliament, and said it was distributed by Tengku Razaleigh. The 78-year-old prince denied knowledge of the document's circulation.
Tengku Razaleigh, often referred to as Ku Li, said his signing of the pro-Najib declaration in Kelantan was like putting his signature into "an attendance book" and had no legal bearing.
"I signed as a member of Umno... I am not in any group, apart from Umno," he said at the media meeting in his Kuala Lumpur home. "This is a democracy, isn't it? I can sign any silly document."
The MP, who is into his seventh term after first becoming a lawmaker in 1986, is respected by both sides of the political divide.
His name is often trotted out as a prime ministerial candidate acceptable to everyone every time Malaysia hits a political crisis, including the current one with Dr Mahathir quitting Umno in a huff and siding with the opposition parties to unseat Mr Najib.
Prominent pro-government blogger Ahirudin Attan yesterday titled an entry about Tengku Razaleigh "The best PM Malaysia never had".
In recent weeks, speculation mounted that he could be an interim prime minister should Mr Najib be forced to leave office through the no-confidence vote.
"I was told that a person like me should be appointed (as PM)," he said yesterday, adding that any effort to resolve an issue of leadership should be done constitutionally.
Malaysian politicians seeking Mr Najib's ouster often find themselves hitting a brick wall as the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has a big majority in Parliament.
On Saturday, Dr Mahathir claimed that Tengku Razaleigh was part of a secret camp seeking to dislodge Mr Najib.
Dr Mahathir said Tengku Razaleigh shifted his stance after failing to secure a sufficient number of lawmakers needed to move the no-confidence motion.
Analysts said the latest development marks another blow to Dr Mahathir's campaign to remove Mr Najib, who is under pressure to quit on account of huge financial scandals pinned on him.
"It looks quite clear that Najib holds all the cards now," said Dr James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.
"The only senior Umno member, Ku Li, who's acceptable to the opposition as an alternative prime minister is now no longer viable.
"This is a huge setback to Mahathir's plans."