Monday, May 10, 2021

For Mahathir, Najib still tops list of Malaysia’s worst leaders

While both criticise Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the former leader is far from forgiving Najib Razak and reserves his strongest terms for him.

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More than a year after the so-called Sheraton Move which saw the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government established on the ruins of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration, Dr Mahathir Mohamad has yet to budge from his criticism of Muhyiddin Yassin and others from his former Cabinet whom he says “snatched away” the 2018 election victory.

But some of his strongest comments are still reserved for Najib Razak, whose involvement in the 1MDB scandal triggered Mahathir’s exit from Umno five years ago.

“Any ruling bloc that includes Najib will be bad,” he told MalaysiaNow when asked why he could not come to terms with Muhyiddin’s government despite the bad blood between the prime minister and Najib.

When it comes to describing Najib, Mahathir has several key words.

“This man has been known to be a criminal. Stealing huge sums of money, money laundering and all kinds. And he has been found guilty of seven charges, sentenced to 12 years’ jail,” he said, referring to Najib’s conviction of charges related to the 1MDB-linked SRC International over millions of dollars found in his private bank accounts.

Yet, Mahathir never fails to stress his respect for Najib’s father, Abdul Razak Hussein.

“We promised the people during the election that we were going to bring down Najib, and we did that but now you are going to do just the opposite.”

“Tun Razak is regarded as the best prime minister we ever had. So I thought the son would at least be something like Tun Razak.

“But he turned out to be the worst,” he said.

“He stole money, not one or two dollars but billions of dollars. The whole world condemned this country, from being an Asian Tiger, we descended to become a kleptocracy, a country ruled by thieves. That is what happened when Najib became prime minister.”

At the heart of his continued resistance to support for Muhyiddin is his belief that the PN government gave Najib a new lease of life.

“We promised the people during the election that we were going to bring down Najib, and we did that but now you are going to do just the opposite, to actually help Najib regain position in the government. That I could not accept,” he told MalaysiaNow in an hour-long interview focused solely on politics, a subject on which he spoke with passion despite being out of power.

In 2018, Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, achieved yet another milestone when he was catapulted back to the top post at 92, becoming the oldest person in the world to hold the position.

But he resigned hardly two years later in February 2020, making him the shortest reigning prime minister as well.

He has repeatedly said that his resignation was due to a loss of majority support although critics accuse him of getting cold feet midway and triggering the collapse of the PH government.

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks with MalaysiaNow during an interview at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya.

These days, he receives a steady stream of visitors at the Perdana Leadership Foundation, a complex dwarfed by other mega-sized structures in Putrajaya, the city he built before stepping down the first time after 22 years in power.

Ever since, he has had a problem with the tenants at Seri Perdana, the official residence of the prime minister located not far away.

The sprawling house has seen three occupants other than himself: Abdullah Badawi, Najib and now Muhyiddin.

But it is Najib’s rule that he is unable to come to terms with, a situation which reached its peak after the shocking revelation of billions of 1MDB dollars found in Najib’s bank account.

So committed was Mahathir to Najib’s removal that he buried the hatchet with Anwar Ibrahim, the man long regarded as his sworn enemy.

For a man seen as a dictator by his enemies, it was a huge compromise.

Najib was among the Umno MPs who gave Muhyiddin the numbers needed to form the government.

But even as the two fell out, and with Muhyiddin openly rejecting any suggestion of throwing Najib a lifeline from his multiple corruption charges, Mahathir is not prepared to accept the current government.

So committed was Mahathir to Najib’s removal that he buried the hatchet with Anwar Ibrahim, the man long regarded as his sworn enemy.

Until this day, he insists that Muhyiddin had helped Najib.

“But not to the extent of pardoning Najib, which is what Najib wants” – he admits that much.

“But on the other hand, Muhyiddin has adopted the kind of government that was Najib,” he said, accusing Muhyiddin of offering lucrative government jobs in exchange for political support.

Mahathir is also unsatisfied with the way Bersatu, the party he co-founded with Muhyiddin, is being run.

“He has come to the point where he changed Bersatu from a Malay party into a multiracial party. What Muhyiddin is doing is completely the opposite of what he promised to do when he was with me in Bersatu,” he said.

Mahathir insists that the court cluster – the pandemic term used for Najib and other former government leaders facing corruption charges – should not be counted on for political support.

“What happens is that he depends on them. This so-called court cluster, about six or seven of them, if these people resign, his government will collapse. So he is dependent upon them,” he said.

For Mahathir, Najib’s criticism of Muhyiddin is irrelevant.

“He is still hoping that somehow or other he can pressure Muhyiddin into helping him escape from being jailed.”

In July last year, barely six months after Muhyiddin came to power, Najib was convicted of seven charges and handed a 12-year jail term.

But Mahathir remains unconvinced, ever aware of the fact that Muhyiddin once depended on Najib and others facing charges to get a parliamentary majority.

“He (Muhyiddin) doesn’t want to help them, but at the same time he needs their help. On the other hand, they too need his help. So it is mutual,” he added.

Since his conviction last year, Najib has emerged as Muhyiddin’s biggest critic and makes it a point to put up daily social media posts hammering the PN government.

Mahathir said this was true, adding however that Najib could not walk his talk.

He pointed out that Najib had no choice but to support PN, including during the crucial vote on the 2021 budget last December.

So does Najib have a political future?

“Najib thinks that if he is pardoned, he will become the prime minister again. That is his aim but at this moment, he cannot get enough support to overthrow Muhyiddin.

“In parliament, he will give the support – outside, he will appear to be against Muhyiddin.”

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