vFormer premier Mahathir Mohamad yesterday pressed openly for Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down to "save the country and Umno", their political party. Tun Dr Mahathir, 89, said Datuk Seri Najib's performance as premier is worse than his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's.
Tun Abdullah had succeeded Dr Mahathir as prime minister in 2003 but was forced to step down in 2009 after disagreeing with the latter on several key policies.
"If Umno wants to be saved, it has to change its leader. Who should replace him is up to Umno but he has to step down," Dr Mahathir told reporters after giving an address at a leadership conference.
His latest salvo comes days after he wrote his strongest rebuke yet of his handpicked successor in his personal blog.
In the post, he cited several issues that he said showed why Mr Najib was not fit to lead the country, including the troubled investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) started by Mr Najib.
Another was the 2006 murder of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu. Suspicions have swirled that she was killed to silence her over kickbacks in the 2002 purchase of French submarines when Mr Najib was defence minister.
Dr Mahathir added yesterday that he could no longer stay silent and had to speak out against Mr Najib's leadership.
"I am not angry. I'm just thinking of our country. I have been keeping quiet over the last few years but I am past my quiet stage.
Our country used to be known as one with a good administration. But not anymore. Now newspapers abroad are labelling Malaysia as the most corrupt country."
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin yesterday said Mr Najib must respond to the allegations made by the former premier.
"As (he is) a former prime minister, we have to listen and understand what he wrote. I feel we cannot just ignore it. Pretending not to be aware of it is not an option. If we ignore this, it will worsen. We need to resolve this," he said.
Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, a Najib loyalist and party strategist, however, said that Dr Mahathir must remember that he was no longer in charge of the country.
Party sources and analysts expect the attacks to intensify in the run-up to the Umno annual general meeting next year.
Some sources said Dr Mahathir's camp aims to topple Mr Najib before the Sarawak state polls expected this year.
Ruling coalition Barisan Nasional is expected to retain the state and many in the camp fear Mr Najib may use the victory to rally support from party grassroots.
The man who would benefit should Mr Najib fall - Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin - has kept silent although he has indicated in the past that he is not interested in the top post. His camp has also denied that he harbours ambitions of becoming the next prime minister.
Still, as observers have noted, he was absent during a recent gathering of Umno divisional chiefs to pledge loyalty to Mr Najib.
Analysts believe Tan Sri Muhyiddin is the final piece in the Umno leadership puzzle with party members needing a visible and vocal alternative to Mr Najib.
"Unless Muhyiddin is willing to take the lead, nothing can happen," said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng. "Umno divisional chiefs need to see a clear-cut competitor and alternative to Najib."
Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian added that Dr Mahathir will not be able to overthrow Mr Najib alone and needs the support of senior party leaders.
"Dr Mahathir has previously expressed his unhappiness but the fact that he is going public means that he has done his preparations and has the support."
Former Umno MP Saifuddin Abdullah, however, does not believe Dr Mahathir will be able to orchestrate a coup against Mr Najib as he had done against Mr Abdullah. He said Mr Najib as Umno president has the support of his three party vice-presidents, including his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein.
"Abdullah could have stayed but he decided to let go. I don't think Najib will let go. He will stay," Datuk Saifuddin told The Sunday Times.
This article was first published on Apr 5, 2015.
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