Malaysian opposition figure Lim Guan Eng was yesterday charged for alleged corruption in connection to property deals, raising fears of a wider crackdown on dissent by Prime Minister Najib Razak, emboldened by his party’s recent successes in two by-elections. “He [Najib] is going to hit the opposition one by one … before the dissolution of Parliament,” said Lau Wen San, a state assemblyman from Lim’s opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP). [This] is a clear act of political persecution motivated solely to destroy me as Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng Lim, who is also the chief minister of the prosperous northern island of Penang, pleaded not guilty to two corruption charges involving the purchase of his RM2.8 million (US$700,000) bungalow at below-market price and the rezoning of a piece of land from agriculture to residential use, according to the official Bernama news agency. “The two charges against me under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act and the Penal Code for corrupt practice is a clear act of political persecution motivated solely to destroy me as Penang chief minister,” Lim said on Facebook. Lim was given bail of RM1 million. The seller of the bungalow, businesswoman Phang Li Koon, was also charged with abetting Lim in acquiring the land and the bungalow. She denied the charges. “I had explained to the MACC that the purchase of the bungalow from Phang Li Koon is above board, an arm’s length transaction on a willing buyer and willing seller basis without any coercion or special favours granted from me or the state government,” Lim added. “What type of country do we want our children to grow up [in] when those who gained benefits and donations amounting to billions of ringgit are not charged for corruption whilst those who gained no benefit are prosecuted for corruption?” Lim, the secretary general of DAP, has led Penang since 2008. His administration has won praise from Transparency International for introducing open tenders for government contracts and for publicly declaring his personal assets. Mahathir takes swipe at Najib over Malaysia’s ‘stupid’ Chinese business deal The move against Lim is a further blow to the country’s opposition, which has been thrown into disarray following the inprisonment last year of its leader, Anwar Ibrahim. “From a strategic perspective, the opposition’s back is already broken. This arrest and subsequent legal consequence will not substantially change their prospects,” said Ibrahim Suffian, head of the Merdeka Centre, an independent pollster. The most persistent thorn in Najib’s side is still Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister. “We cannot discount the possibility of Mahathir being arrested because he is singled out as a crusader calling for Najib’s removal,” said Kadir Jasin, a close associate of Mahathir. Najib is now in the mood of “you are either a friend or an enemy”, Kadir added. For the past 18 months, Mahathir has been campaigning for Najib to step down over allegations of corruption involving state-owned 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and a 2.6 billion ringgit “personal donation” from the Saudis. “Mahathir is potentially a great threat to Najib,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas). One year after 1MDB scandal, Najib takes Malaysia on ‘lurch toward dictatorship’ According to Wan, Mahathir may not be as influential as he once was but is still respected by many who may not express their views publicly. “The problem for Najib is not so much Mahathir’s influence but the things that he says. Mahathir has a higher level of freedom in saying what he wants to say about Najib, [criticism] that others may be fearful to say,” Wan said. “At the moment, not much action has been taken. I think if the government really want to act on him [Mahathir], they already have enough to act on him.” Police said eight cases have been opened against Mahathir. “If Mahathir is arrested, I think Najib is taking a very big risk in doing so,” Wan said.