KUALA LUMPUR - In an ongoing war of words, Prime Minister Najib Razak and his staunchest critic, former premier Mahathir Mohamad, yesterday slugged it out online.
Datuk Seri Najib took a sharp dig at his harshest critic, Tun Dr Mahathir, telling Malaysians not to be "taken in" by his "half-truths, misleading jokes and twisting statements".
The Prime Minister described the 89-year-old former premier as a "master of public perception" and defended himself from Dr Mahathir's attacks, especially on state-owned investment vehicle 1Malaysia Development Berhad's RM42 billion (S$15.2 billion) debt.
Dr Mahathir shot back with a blog post of his own yesterday, saying that as long as Mr Najib was in office, investigating him was not "going to be really possible".
Describing the situation as "a climate of fear which restrains them from investigating", the former premier repeated his call for Mr Najib to step down, saying "it is necessary that the PM relinquish his position and authority if the Auditor-General, the Public Accounts Committee or even a Royal Commission is to reveal the truth".
The latest exchange of words comes after Mr Najib did not turn up at a widely anticipated dialogue last Friday because it was cancelled after police cited public safety concerns.
The event turned into a fiasco after Dr Mahathir was forced off the stage mid-speech by police officers.
Yesterday, Dr Mahathir wrote of the cancelled forum: "It is a pity. Najib could have explained everything and people like me would be silenced."
Mr Najib soldiered on yesterday. Taking to his blog, he addressed seven new points in the "frequently asked questions" section, covering topics such as the goods and services tax allegedly being used to offset the losses of government-linked companies and on the purchase of a new jet being linked to funds meant for public security.
Much of the new content was addressed at Dr Mahathir, who has been stepping up attacks on Mr Najib and has repeatedly called for him to step down.
It is not the first time a sitting prime minister has come under Dr Mahathir's attacks. His successor, Tun Abdullah Badawi, 75, was forced to resign in 2009 under withering criticism. Then, Dr Mahathir called the Abdullah government "half-past six" and "corrupt". Last month, Dr Mahathir went one step further - saying Mr Najib "has obviously made a bigger mess of the country than the previous PM".
Yesterday, Mr Najib pointed the finger back at Dr Mahathir, writing that "the 'mess' that Tun refers to, is largely of his own making as a result of his attacks and his echoing of opposition lies and slander".
He also lamented the role of social media in "amplifying" allegations against him - a problem that he said Dr Mahathir did not have to deal with, adding that the former premier had been "taken in by the democratisation of information on social media".
In a reminder to Dr Mahathir that he might be overstepping his role, Mr Najib wrote: "Even if I step down, Tun will continue to intervene in the country's administration. He can say he is simply exercising his democratic rights as a citizen, but this is Tun Mahathir. People tend to believe whatever he says, even if it is not entirely accurate."
"There are reasons why most former heads of state across the world do not intervene in the work of current administrations, because whatever they say can easily affect the system," he added, taking a final shot by saying: "Tun did many noble and great things as PM but he is no longer running the administration."
This article was first published on June 10, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.