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Muhyiddin kept his word about refusing to help Najib escape charges, says Dr M

But it was also this unwavering stand by the Bersatu leader that caused his downfall, with similar pressure to be felt by his successor Ismail Sabri Yaakob, says the former prime minister.

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Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin share a light moment before a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on March 4, 2016. Photo: AFP
Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin share a light moment before a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on March 4, 2016. Photo: AFP

While Dr Mahathir Mohamad has reserved some of the strongest words in his newest memoir for Muhyiddin Yassin, he also acknowledges that his former party comrade who went on to succeed him as prime minister was steadfast against any attempt at having Najib Razak’s criminal charges dropped.

“Muhyiddin assured me that he would not interfere with Najib’s trials and other court cases.

“In this, at least, I believe Muhyiddin kept his word – he apparently declined to drop charges against Najib or obtain a pardon for his existing convictions,” the veteran leader wrote in his upcoming memoir “Capturing Hope: The Struggle Continues for a New Malaysia”, a 304-page book covering his 15-year retirement before his return to the top office in 2018 and his resignation 22 months later.

But Mahathir said it was also this principle that caused Muhyiddin’s downfall in August this year, when he was forced to resign after a string of defections involving Umno MPs engineered by Najib and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

“When Muhyiddin refused to stop the court proceedings against Najib, Najib threatened to pull out of the coalition, triggering the sequence of events that led to the rise of Ismail Sabri,” he said, adding that he had warned Muhyiddin against the risk of needing Najib’s support for his Perikatan Nasional government.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal threw out Najib’s attempt to overturn his conviction of seven charges of power abuse, criminal breach of trust and money laundering, for which he was sentenced to 12 years’ jail and fined RM210 million in July last year, some four months after Muhyiddin came to office after taking Bersatu out of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

Mahathir and Muhyiddin helped found Bersatu in 2016 as a challenge to Najib during the peak of revelations surrounding the 1MDB scandal.

Their party later teamed up with PH to end six decades of Barisan Nasional rule, and Mahathir became the oldest elected head of government in the world at the age of 93.

But following controversies surrounding a promised transition of power that would see his former nemesis Anwar Ibrahim replacing him in the top post, cracks appeared in the PH government, and by early 2020, the coalition fell apart, triggering a split in PKR and Bersatu.

During his 17 months in power, Muhyiddin repeatedly said he would not interfere in high-profile corruption charges involving Umno leaders, despite them forming part of the bloc that had backed him in 2020 to become prime minister.

Muhyiddin had said he was forced out of office due to a group of “kleptocrats” scheming to escape corruption charges, a reference to Najib, Zahid and a group of Umno MPs facing criminal charges.

In a final attempt at preventing the group from coming to power, Muhyiddin offered a cross-party agreement to PH MPs, but the coalition rejected the gesture, leading to his resignation days later.

MalaysiaNow also reported in detail how Zahid had met Muhyiddin to get his backing to drop the multiple corruption charges against him.

Mahathir meanwhile is convinced that Muhyiddin’s successor Ismail would feel the same pressure from Najib.

“For Najib, all that matters is returning to power – and he is nearly there. He made remarkable progress after he lost the general election in 2018.”

‘My extraordinary life’

Looking back at the political crisis triggered by his shock resignation in February 2020, Mahathir suggested that it might not have been the right move.

“I apologise if my decision to resign was wrong but I write this in truth: I could not have stayed on. I was stressed, kecil hati and feeling kecewa – discouraged and disappointed.

“It is not an easy thing to accept that your party no longer has confidence in you. I also did not expect to be betrayed by a co-founder of my party,” he said in the book, which will be available in stores next week.

But he said he was grateful for having led “an extraordinary life” as well as being blessed with good health.

“I once thought 96 was terribly old but here I am at this grand age, working on the last chapter of this book,” he said in the concluding pages of his latest work.

“I know that I have led an extraordinary life, for which I am most grateful to God. I have spent much of it serving the country.”