KUALA LUMPUR - A key Umno leader, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, has been removed as the chairman of state-owned public transport firm Prasarana Malaysia, a day after his controversial remarks at a press conference accelerated demands for his resignation.
At the news conference, Mr Tajuddin sought to downplay his absence at the site of the country's first light rail transit (LRT) crash on Monday (May 24), which left three people in intensive care. Prasarana operates Malaysia's main suburban rail lines.
Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz on Wednesday issued a letter to Mr Tajuddin, informing him that his position as non-executive chairman of the firm had been terminated, effective immediately.
Mr Tajuddin showed up only on Tuesday to visit the crash site and address the media.
However, the tone of his press conference, which included him describing the crash as two trains "kissing" each other, drew the ire of Malaysians, with over 100,000 signatures gathered by Wednesday for a petition demanding his resignation.
He also snapped at journalists on Tuesday, warning them not to "provoke" him when questions were posed about calls for his resignation.
Mr Tajuddin is a supreme council member of Umno, the biggest party in the current government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. He is also the election director for Barisan Nasional (BN) - Malaysia’s former ruling coalition - that is headed by Umno.
Former prime minister Najib Razak, who is also from Umno, had earlier on Wednesday apologised on Mr Tajuddin's behalf.
He said that Mr Tajuddin "regretted" his conduct, which included a racist jibe at a journalist, although the latter did not directly tender a public apology.
Najib also said that Mr Tajuddin would resign from his post when instructed by Umno.
A former deputy minister and a three-term member Member of Parliament, Mr Tajuddin’s tenure as the chairman of Prasarana - which owns and operates much of Malaysia’s rail lines and also buses - has been shrouded in controversy.
During his one year as the chairman, Mr Tajuddin courted controversy after he suspended the firm’s chief executive officer Muhammad Nizam Alias late last year. While he was chairman, Prasarana also faced demands for unfulfilled payments for work done by key contractors for the ongoing LRT3 project.
Prasarana’s office was raided by Malaysia’s anti-graft authorities in January, and subsequently, an abuse of power probe was initiated against Mr Tajuddin. The results of the investigation were submitted to prosecutors earlier this month.
Mr Tajuddin confirmed on Wednesday night that he has received his letter of termination, but seemed unperturbed by his removal as chairman.
“There’s nothing to comment now. It’s not a pressing issue or something to worry about,” he was quoted as saying by The Star news site.
Monday’s LRT crash, the worst in the line’s 23-year history, involved 213 passengers who were in a train that collided with another manually operated and empty one on a test run at an underground tunnel near Kuala Lumpur City Centre.
Mr Tajuddin is also being probed by the authorities for failing to wear a face mask at the press conference on Tuesday.
It is mandatory to wear face masks in public places in Malaysia, which is battling its deadliest surge of Covid-19 cases to date.