1. Main
  2. Learn
  3. Incidents
  4. Unrest

Pressure on Malaysian PM mounts as ex-leader backs protests

Pressure on Malaysian PM mounts as ex-leader backs protests Pressure on Malaysian PM mounts as ex-leader backs protests

Pressure mounted Sunday on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as influential former leader Mahathir Mohamad threw his weight behind mass protests demanding the premier's ousting over a financial scandal, AFP reports.

Tens of thousands of Malaysians clad in the yellow of the pro-reform movement have turned out for two days of weekend demonstrations to demand Najib's removal, shutting down the city centre in a carnival atmosphere of speeches, sing-a-longs and prayer.

But the 90-year-old Mahathir stole the show Sunday, arriving to a rapturous welcome from protesters.

In a hastily arranged news conference, Mahathir apologised for aiding Najib's rise to power, accused him of abusing his position to avoid corruption charges, and backed the protests.

"(Najib) will not step down. He knows when he has no power he may be made to face the court. The court may find him guilty and he may have to go to jail," Mahathir told reporters.

Najib has been under fierce pressure since the Wall Street Journal last month published Malaysian documents showing nearly $700 million had been deposited into his personal bank accounts beginning in 2013.

Najib initially rejected the revelation, but his cabinet ministers have since admitted the transfers, calling them "political donations" from unidentified Middle Eastern sources.

The accounts have been closed and the fate of the money remains unknown.

  Demanding transparency 

"I am here to demand transparency," said demonstrator Mustapha Abdul Jalil, 40, a businessman.

"This country is heading for bankruptcy and we must stop Najib and topple the corrupt regime." 

Najib had already faced months of allegations that huge sums of state money disappeared from deals involving a government-owned investment company he launched in 2009.

Investigations into the various allegations appear stalled, however, after Najib in late July sacked or reassigned officials and parliament members who had launched probes.

Najib denies wrongdoing and says he is the target of a "political conspiracy."

Najib also has been bruised by the ringgit currency's fall to 17-year lows due to concerns over future Malaysian economic growth and the stigma of the funding allegations.

But he struck a defiant tone Sunday night in an annual address for Malaysian National Day, which is Monday, rejecting street protests as a means of expression and defending his economic record.

"We will never allow anyone, whether inside or outside the country, to ruin all that we have built so far," he said.

Mahathir still casts a long shadow after helming the ruling coalition from 1981-2003.

His tenure saw rapid economic development but -- according to his many critics -- crony capitalism became entrenched and the independence of key institutions like the judiciary was subverted.

He has fiercely criticised Najib for more than a year, accusing him of corruption, abuse of power and economic mismanagement.

Mahathir's support for the demonstrators raises the pressure on Najib, who took power in 2009 only after Mahathir engineered the ouster of his own chosen successor.

But Najib's position is considered secure for now.

He recently purged critics in his cabinet and has firm control of the powerful ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

The reform movement behind the protests, meanwhile, lacks much traction in UMNO's rural strongholds, and the opposition is currently fractured.

  'Black coal on Malaysia's face' 

Najib on Saturday denounced the demonstrators as people who "scribble black coal on Malaysia's face to the outside world." 

The demonstrations that began Saturday in the capital, and smaller gatherings in other cities, have been mostly incident-free despite police branding them illegal and banning the movement's yellow T-shirts.

But Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, who is also home minister in charge of domestic security, warned organisers may face charges.

The organisers -- electoral-reform activist group Bersih (the Malay word for "clean") -- said 200,000 turned out in Kuala Lumpur at the peak on Saturday. Police put the number at 29,000.

Demonstrators also denounced Najib over an unpopular new consumption tax, and demanded reform of an electoral system said to favour the UMNO-led ruling coalition.

The coalition has controlled multiracial Malaysia since independence in 1957.

But it has rapidly lost voters in recent years, particularly minority Chinese, over corruption, civil liberties curbs, and controversial policies favouring the ethnic Malay majority.

Najib had vowed to end corruption and authoritarian tactics and to reform the pro-Malay policies.

Following a 2013 election setback, however, he abandoned those initiatives under pressure from UMNO conservatives, including Mahathir.

Mahathir, whose ultimate motives remain a subject of debate, took an uncompromising stance towards civil disobedience as leader but said the protests against Najib, due to end at midnight Sunday, were necessary because he was flouting the law.

Nobel prizewinner proposes a new city in KZ
New abnormal snowfalls expected in Kazakhstan
Huge glacier retreat triggered in 1940s
Hyperloop construction begins in Las Vegas
"Moonlight" to top Spirit Awards nominations
Oil prices fall due to investors uncertainty
New dwarf galaxy discovered around Milky Way
Kanat Islam becomes a top ten WBO boxer
World oil prices continue to rise
Kazakhstan expects warming - Kazhydromet
Merkel to seek fourth term as chancellor
Sale of Tintin drawings set to break records
US, EU stocks fall as markets focus on dollar
Pacific leaders urged to defend free trade
EU warns eight nations on budget deficit
Universiade-2017: Athletic Village is ready
Bob Dylan can't make Nobel ceremony
Messi will never leave Barca - club president
Google, Facebook take aim at 'fake' news
Aerosmith announces Europe 'farewell' tour
Putin, Trump to normalise US-Russia ties
At least 10 hurt in southern Turkey blast
6.2 quake hits western Japan
OPEC agrees shock oil output cut
Israeli ex-president and Nobel laureate Peres dies
Germany blocks WhatsApp data transfers to Facebook
32,000 arrested in Turkey coup probe
Youth to the fore as Milan fashion week opens
Xenophobia threatening peace in eastern Germany
Four-in-10 Japanese are virgins: poll
Sweden re-militarises Baltic island of Gotland
China to launch second space laboratory: Xinhua
More than a billion stars mapped in Milky Way: ESA
Boxing: Golovkin eyes Saunders after stopping Brook
Kazakhstan shifts PM to security chief
Oil prices gain despite rising OPEC supply forecast
US to give Philippines military planes
Singapore wages war on Zika-bearing mosquitoes
Italy quake death toll nears 250
Viral photos add fuel to French burkini debate
18 dead as Italy struck by powerful quake
Japan's first lady visits Pearl Harbor
Pokemon's a no-go on Bangkok's roads
July was Earth's hottest month in modern times
Pakistan rock climbers scale new heights