PUTRAJAYA • Umno is in a stronger position today as its leaders are united and on the same page, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said, following more than a year of internal party turmoil.
He also said in an interview with The Star newspaper that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his mentor- turned-fiercest critic, has failed to unseat him as the former premier no longer wielded the "fear factor" he had while in office for 22 years.
When asked if the party is stronger today, Datuk Seri Najib said: "We are all on the same page and we work well as a team. It's good for Umno that people see we have a cohesive leadership."
He added: "I believe what happened strengthened Umno's leadership and we have a much more united leadership."
The interview at his official residence in Putrajaya was held in the run-up to the annual general assembly of the party he has led for seven years. The five-day assembly starts tomorrow.
When asked if the next general election would be in the first or second half of next year, Mr Najib said: "Not necessarily, it can be later. I am enjoying this speculation. Let people go on speculating."
The next polls are due by late 2018.
Mr Najib, 63, and the party faced turmoil from the third quarter of last year as he staved off an internal revolt after news broke that about US$700 million (S$999 million) from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) were found in his bank accounts, leading his then deputy Muhyiddin Yassin to criticise him.
Mr Najib sacked Tan Sri Muhyiddin as deputy prime minister at the end of September last year and replaced the attorney-general and the chief of the Special Branch police intelligence unit.
In February, another Najib critic of the 1MDB scandal, then Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir, was forced to resign by Mr Najib.
Dr Mahathir quit Umno in February and in July formed a new party with his son Mukhriz and Mr Muhyiddin. Meanwhile, another Najib critic, Cabinet minister and Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal, left Umno in July.
Mr Najib said Dr Mahathir has failed to oust him as he no longer has any levers of power. "He ruled by fear. Once he was no longer (Umno) president, there is no more fear of him nor the ability to control and he could not determine things in Umno. There was respect but no fear."
Mr Najib also shared a conversation he had with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 2009, who likened Dr Mahathir to a heavyweight boxer who keeps punching until he wears his opponent out.
"He is obsessed about doing things his way; it's his way or the highway. I thought he would go against me, what I did not anticipate was the meanness of his reaction," Mr Najib said. "I suppose that's part and parcel of what the man is about. Unless he achieves absolute control, he's not going to stop. Kuan Yew's analysis of him was spot on."
The past year has been "quite a tumultuous journey", he said. "I'm (optimistic) that there will be an upswing".
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK