KUALA LUMPUR: Leaders from across Malaysia’s political spectrum joined Friday to call for a national movement to remove scandal-hit premier Najib Razak, in a dramatic escalation of a festering corruption crisis.
“We call upon all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, political situation, creed or parties, young and old, to join us in saving Malaysia from the government headed by Najib Razak,” read a joint statement endorsed by heavyweights from the ruling party, opposition, and top civil society groups.
The historic alliance brought together previously bitter political foes and was led by 90-year-old former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has spearheaded calls to remove Najib over allegations of corruption and misrule.
Speaking at a Kuala Lumpur press conference, Mahathir said the assembled leaders, despite their differences, shared “one goal”.
“We must rid ourselves of Najib as prime minister,” he said.
The move marks the most direct political challenge yet to Najib, and lends a potent voice to a growing sense of public disgust with his tenure.
Najib, 62, has been under fire for a year over allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state firm he founded, and his own admitted acceptance of a murky $681 million overseas “donation”.
Reports also have emerged of luxurious lifestyles, lavish spending and jet-set travel by his family.
Najib has denied any wrongdoing, saying the allegations against him are part of a political conspiracy that he is yet to explain.
Amid cascading calls to step down, Najib has counterattacked by curbing multiple investigations and purging his ruling United Malays National Party (UMNO) of critics, essentially shutting off any internal party challenges.
Whistle-blowers have been arrested and media outlets reporting on the corruption allegations have been muzzled, raising growing concern over the future of rights and freedom of expression.
The joint statement by the anti-Najib alliance lamented the “deteriorating political, economic and social situation in the country”.
‘Badly tarnished Malaysia’
“Today Malaysia is badly tarnished,” it said.
“There is denial of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and people live in fear of arrest and detention.”
Those present at the press conference included Muhyid-din Yassin, who was Najib’s deputy premier for six years until he was ousted last year after calling for a probe into the funding allegations.
They also included the top leaders of three of the largest opposition parties and the head of an electoral reform movement that brought tens of thousands into the streets last August to demand Najib’s ouster and deep reform.
The anti-Najib group’s statement repeated allegations that perhaps billion of dollars were skimmed from the Najib-linked company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), in a bewildering array of complex overseas transactions.
1MDB is an investment company established in 2009 by Najib to fund development projects. It has denied wrongdoing.
The new movement also highlighted the $681 million deposited into Najib’s personal bank accounts in 2013.
Najib at first hotly denied taking the money, but the government now claims it was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family, which is ridiculed in Malaysia as an implausible cover story.
The Saudis are yet to officially confirm the claim.
A report this week by the Wall Street Journal said it had found fresh clues that the donation originated from 1MDB funds, adding that it found no evidence that the money came from the Saudis.
Najib’s office did not immediately respond to the new movement.
Malaysia has been dominated since independence by UMNO, which has overseen decades of impressive growth and living standards.
But voters have increasingly rejected the party over its divisive racial politics, persistent allegations of rights abuses, recurring corruption scandals and accusations that the electoral system favors UMNO.