Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad turned up the pressure on troubled Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday, calling for the new goods and services tax (GST) to be dumped and a royal inquiry into debt-laden state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The former premier told a forum, attended by more than 1,000 people who spilled out of the meeting hall, that Datuk Seri Najib had abused his position and mismanaged finances and could not be allowed to remain in power.
The government had introduced the GST on April 1, saying part of it would be channelled back to the poor through increased cash handouts, a move Dr Mahathir has dismissed as ineffective vote-buying.
"Just cancel it (GST). We had sales tax. If you want to increase or expand it, that's OK.
"But you want to introduce a new system (that) even your own officers don't understand," he said, referring to the widespread confusion over thousands of exempted items when the levy came into force.
Dr Mahathir, who has vociferously called for Mr Najib to step down in recent weeks to prevent the long-ruling coalition Barisan Nasional from losing power, had previously called for a forensic audit to investigate if 1MDB accounts were bona fide and to track down where money from 1MDB had ended up.
Mr Najib chairs the fund's advisory board. Yesterday, Dr Mahathir backed calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI), which has wide-ranging powers of investigation, but insisted that such a panel must consist of members of the public chosen by non-governmental organisations.
"I agree on condition RCI members are not picked by Najib."
He said of Mr Najib: "Now he has asked the Auditor-General and Public Accounts Committee (PAC), but I am worried it will take 21/2 years until after the general election (due in 2018) and Najib will still be leading because it is not completed."
He was referring to probes ordered by Mr Najib after mounting allegations of abuse of public funds were levelled at 1MDB.
Early last month, the Cabinet agreed to submit 1MDB to a review by the Auditor-General, whose report will be given to Parliament's bipartisan PAC. Dr Mahathir, who was in power for 22 years until 2003, also accused Mr Najib of throwing a lavish wedding for his daughter earlier this year.
"Can anyone remember the weddings of my four children? But this one (Najib's daughter's), it is the marriage of the century," he said.
On the Rompin by-election on May 5 in Mr Najib's home state of Pahang, he said: "If we show we can lose RM42 billion (S$15.7 billion) but still support (the government), then we will lose everything."
This is the amount of debt - a third of which is guaranteed by taxpayers - that 1MDB has racked up in its five years of operation from 2009.
Dr Mahathir - who arrived and left to chants of "long live Tun" and was asked by a member of the audience to return to politics - did not express support for any particular leader of Umno, the party which he and Mr Najib belong to.
But he said according to party convention, Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin should take over the reins. "I am sure he won't do these kinds of things (that Mr Najib has done). He knows if he does, he will have to face all this also."
Dr Mahathir also responded to Mr Najib's remarks on Thursday that he was "not feeling lonely but in good company", given the praise accorded to his government by international bodies. Dr Mahathir said the crowd at the forum "can be considered a demonstration" against his administration.
"Well, he's not alone, but lots of people tell me I'm not alone," he told reporters later.
This article was first published on April 26, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.