KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak put up a stout defence of his leadership record yesterday and indirectly suggested that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's bailout of failed companies when he was in power had cost the government billions of ringgit in losses.
"Alternatives to improve the country's finances have been tried, such as the state rescuing selected companies. But these moves in previous decades led to the loss of billions in ringgit," said Datuk Seri Najib, as he defended his 1Malaysia People's Aid (BR1M) programme.
He argued that BR1M was a transitional measure to empower the less fortunate and it "has a local multiplier effect and contributes to our economic growth".
Dr Mahathir, the country's longest-serving prime minister, has criticised BR1M, which he felt was an unnecessary burden on the government's finances.
Introduced in 2012, the programme hands out RM500 (S$190) in cash yearly to households with a monthly income of less than RM3,000.
Mr Najib was giving a keynote speech at Invest Malaysia 2015 when he waded into the subject of "being alone". Without mentioning anyone, he said "certain quarters" had stated that telling the truth could be lonely.
"Well, I can tell you that I don't feel lonely standing here in front of you today," he told participants at the annual forum at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
"I don't feel lonely at all - in fact, I feel in very good company! And I am equally confident that, given the well-known stability and growth of Malaysia under this government, I will be able to look forward to the pleasure of your company both next year and for years to come," he said.
Dr Mahathir had talked about "being alone in telling the truth" in a recent blog calling on Mr Najib to resign over various issues, including 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Fending off the criticism, Mr Najib noted that many international bodies and institutions have "confirmed their belief in Malaysia's success".
For instance, the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom by The Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal ranked Malaysia the 31st freest out of 178 economies, while Bloomberg rated Malaysia as the fifth most promising emerging market this year - the only ASEAN country in the top 10.
Dr Mahathir, speaking less than 20 minutes away at the Social Media Week 2015 at Berjaya Times Square, was not apologetic about his online campaign against Mr Najib using his personal blog.
While he agreed that there was a need for censorship, he said it should be used to block out pornography, not people's opinion.
"Censorship of social media is needed, not to block out chedet. com - please don't block that out," he said in reference to his popular blog, drawing laughter from the audience.
"Of course, if there is something important you have to do, even if it causes irritation to some people, like saying somebody should resign - what's wrong with resignation? I resigned."
Dr Mahathir has been critical about the use of the Sedition Act to quell dissent. He said the law should not be used to allow a prime minister to stay in power.
"The Sedition Act is to prevent people from (starting) incidents of hatred, such as civil war, and overthrowing the government.
But if you say the government is not doing well and (you) should change the leader, that is not seditious... am I talking about myself? I don't know."
Additional reporting by Shannon Teoh
This article was first published on April 24, 2015.
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