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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Leaders from across Malaysia’s political spectrum said Sunday, March 27, they plan to present a petition to the country’s Islamic royalty seeking the removal of scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak over a corruption crisis.
The highly unusual grouping of heavyweights from the ruling party, the opposition, and civil society groups was formed in early March, when it issued a call to “save” Malaysia from disaster by removing Najib.
A succession of speakers pressed that demand during a rally attended by several hundred supporters Sunday, accusing Najib of using his office to thwart scrutiny of the graft allegations and avoid justice.
“[Najib’s] leadership undermines the very existence of our institutions,” said former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, around whom the movement has coalesced.
“We want the rule of law and the actions of Najib has destroyed it. He no longer deserves to be the prime minister,” he said at the gathering near the capital.
The 90-year-old Mahathir, who dominated Malaysia as premier for 22 years before retiring in 2003, has for months spearheaded calls for Najib’s removal.
Najib, 62, is under pressure over allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state firm he founded, and over his own acceptance of a mysterious $681 million payment from overseas.
He denies accusations that the huge payment was siphoned off from the now-struggling state firm, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), saying he is the victim of a political conspiracy.
Prime minister fuels anger
But Najib has fueled anger and suspicion by curbing investigations, purging critics from the government, and cracking down on media reporting on the subject.
The outrage has been strong enough to unite formerly bitter political foes such as Mahathir and leaders of opposition parties in the push to remove Najib.
There is as yet no indication that the movement will succeed.
Najib has tightened his grip on the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the powerful party that has dominated Malaysia since independence in 1957, and there have been no major UMNO defectors to the movement since it was launched.
Swiss authorities said recently up to $4 billion may have been stolen from Malaysian state firms, mainly 1MDB, and that they were investigating possible fraud and money-laundering.
American, British, Singaporean, and Hong Kong authorities are also scrutinizing 1MDB-related money flows.
Najib at first denied receiving the $681 million payment in 2013.
But his government now says it was a gift from the Saudi royal family and most was given back.
The Saudis have not confirmed that claim, however, and a Wall Street Journal investigative report in early March said the payment likely originated from 1MDB.
Mahathir said the anti-Najib coalition had obtained 100,000 signatures for a petition demanding his removal.
It would seek one million and then present the petition to a council of the Islamic sultans who serve as the ceremonial rulers of 9 Malaysian states.
It is unclear whether the sultans can or will take any action.
The escalating crisis has raised fears of political instability that could rattle Malaysian markets just as the oil-exporting country faces an economic slowdown due to low world crude prices. – M Jegathesan, AFP / Rappler.com