By Melissa Goh
Malaysia Bureau Chief
16 Mar 2016
Political enemies in Malaysia have banded together in a campaign led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak.
KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, the man who has been leading a year-long campaign to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak, has called for a referendum on Mr Najib’s leadership.
In the campaign, political enemies came together in early March to sign a declaration calling for the removal of Mr Najib, in what they claimed was nothing less than an attempt to save the country from becoming a failed state.
The group included Lim Kit Siang, a former political prisoner from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and civil rights activists who have blamed Dr Mahathir for many of the perceived faults in the nation’s political system. Even Dr Mahathir’s former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, whom he fired and jailed, offered an olive branch from behind bars.
“What Dr Mahathir may be trying to get at in the Citizens’ Declaration and in working with Kit Siang and the DAP and other groups, is to prepare the ground for the next general elections. Mahathir’s support for DAP and the new grouping perhaps could be important in terms of mobilising rural Malay support,” explained Michael Yeoh, executive director of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.
However, there are those who have refused to associate themselves with Dr Mahathir. They said he is only interested in saving the ruling party UMNO, which he has helmed for 22 years.
“He understands perfectly that there is nothing he can do within UMNO; he has to go out of UMNO to bring the battle out there, get as much support as possible from various groups including the opposition,” said Saifuddin Abdullah, former minister for higher education.
While it remains to be seen whether the move will result in a fundamental shift in Malay support, student activist Syed Saddiq said that Dr Mahathir has the remedy.
“One thing which Dr Mahathir has which a lot of leaders don’t, is he commands massive respect among rural voters in Malaysia, even the semi-urban voters in Malaysia,” he said.
The 23-year-old law undergraduate, who won the title of Asia’s best debater, currently sits on the secretariat of the newly-launched Save Malaysia movement.
While he hopes that politicians will rein in their egos and put aside their differences, he also encouraged Malaysia’s youth to come on board to help shape the country’s future.
Said Syed: “This is the defining moment for Malaysia. I personally believe that 50 to 60 years down the road, the future will judge us. What we are doing today, whether we acted or we decided to keep silent.”
The citizens’ movement has garnered more than 40,000 signatures since its inception on Mar 4.
However, analysts said Mr Najib’s position is as yet unassailable.
“If anything I think the Prime Minister has become stronger within UMNO and the Barisan Nasional (BN). As long as he has got the confidence of UMNO and the BN, and he’s got the numbers in parliament, there is really nothing that can shake him,” said Mr Yeoh.
Several pressure groups, including Dr Mahathir’s, have planned to go on a nationwide road show to drum up support against Mr Najib. They plan to meet on Mar 27 behind closed doors to develop a national consensus on institutional reforms as well as a new political system.