Malaysian PM Najib Razak warns of ‘nightmares’ if ruling party loses power in coming elections
As well as attacks on ethnic Chinese-dominated opposition, prime minister repeats support for strict Islamic law in racially charged speech
Scandal-tainted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed to “to fight until the death”for Malays and Islam on Thursday, as he called on his ruling party to prepare for elections that are “coming soon”.
It was the first time the Malaysian leader has signalled he may bring forward polls not due until mid-2018, as he addressed the annual assembly of his ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and called for party unity.
Najib set the tone for early polls and warned of “nightmares” if the ethnic Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) opposition group came to power.
“God willing, we will fight until the death and until the last drop of blood,” Najib told delegates, who had earlier greeted him with enthusiastic applause, signalling their support for his leadership.
“Please realise my (Malay) race, do not falter for a moment as we are facing unprecedented challenges,” he added.
Elections must be called by 2018 but Najib may call for polls in the second half of next year, a government source said.
Ruslee Bedol, a delegate from southern Johor state, said that Umno had already started preparing for a vote and said “we expect elections in the next six months”.
Umno has dominated multi-cultural Malaysia for decades, enshrining policies that favour the Malay majority.
But the large ethnic Chinese minority and a new generation of other voters have flocked to the opposition in disgust over racial politics and persistent accusations of corruption and democratic abuses.
The prime minister repeated his support for a bill promoting strict Islamic law, called hudud, adding that it would be taking up for discussion by the federal government.
Najib has been buffeted by graft allegations and faced the biggest challenge to his leadership last year after reports that hundreds of millions of dollars was misappropriated from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he founded.
Lawsuits filed by the US Justice Department in July said more than US$700 million of the misappropriated funds flowed into the accounts of “Malaysian Official 1”, who US and Malaysian officials have identified as Najib. Najib has denied wrongdoing.
He has shrugged off persistent attempts to unseat him, securing emphatic victories in a state election and two by-elections earlier this year.
But although he retains support of nearly all 200 powerful division chiefs of Umno’s 3.5 million-member organisation, frustration has been growing over graft and a slumping economy.
Tens of thousands of protesters, undeterred by the arrests of opposition leaders and activists, marched in the capital last month demanding that he step down.
“I know, many can feel the heat at this assembly, and are waiting for directives to prepare to battle in the elections that are coming soon,” said Najib.
Concerns are mounting among Najib’s supporters that a new party, led by Najib’s mentor-turned-nemesis Mahathir Mohamad and former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin, may split the Malay vote.
Najib was particularly critical of Mahathir, who the prime minister said has abandoned the party by consorting with the opposition and pro-democracy group Bersih, among other organisations.
In a racially-charged hour-long speech, Najib warned that Islam will be belittled if DAP came to power and Malays must fear the “adverse effects” and “nightmares” that they may face.
“Because of that, the people should keep choosing us forever,” Najib said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse