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Malaysia PM Najib Razak warns of ‘nightmare’ election scenario, compares ex-leader Mahathir to Mugabe

Mahathir Mohamad has come out of retirement to try to oust the government over the 1MDB scandal, teaming up with his former nemesis, jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 10:05pm

Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Thursday it would be a “nightmare” for ethnic Malays if the opposition wins elections next year.

Opening a three-day annual assembly of his United Malays National Organisation (Umno), which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, Najib poked fun at the opposition coalition led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, saying the octogenarian was in the same league as former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe.

Umno is the linchpin of Malaysia’s ruling National Front coalition but its support has dwindled in the last two elections. It lost the popular vote for the first time to the opposition in 2013.

Despite being plagued by an epic corruption scandal that involved hundreds of millions of dollars passing through his bank accounts, Najib has clung to power and his coalition is likely to win elections due by August.

The opposition coalition was in disarray but has converged under 92-year-old Mahathir after he made a high-profile return to politics in a bid to oust Najib.

Mahathir has teamed up with his former nemesis, jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir was Asia’s longest serving leader for 22 years before stepping down in 2003, and is still influential among ethnic Malay Muslims who account for about 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 32 million people. Chinese and Indians make up the rest.

“It is odd that there are still people who are willing to be led by someone in his twilight years. Former Zimbabwe President Mugabe, who is the same age as he is, has already been rejected by his own people,” Najib said.

He urged Umno’s more than 3 million members to stay loyal and prevent the country from falling into the opposition’s hands.

“We are at a monumental crossroad. The fate of the nation is in our hands. The nightmare that will befall us is unthinkable” if the party loses, Najib said, warning that Malays would be stepped on and disparaged in their own land.

So, Najib and Anwar are friends again? Welcome to Game of Thrones, Malaysia

In his speech at the Umno gathering, the most closely watched event in Malaysia’s political calendar, Najib, 64, accused Mahathir of having “crossed the line”.

“He has the audacity to unite with his political enemies,” he said referring to Anwar who is still in jail following a 2015 sodomy conviction his supporters say was politically-motivated.

Najib has fired critics in his own government, including an attorney general and deputy prime minister and muzzled the media since the corruption scandal erupted two years ago.

Najib’s chances of winning a third term have been dented by explosive graft allegations. Billions were looted from the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund that he founded in complex overseas deals which are being investigated in several countries.

Both Najib, who made no mention of the scandal during Thursday’s speech, and the fund deny any wrongdoing.

The US Justice Department has led the charge in tackling the alleged pillaging, launching lawsuits through which it is seeking to recover US$1.7 billion in assets thought to have been bought with looted money, from artwork to high-end real estate.

This week US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions told a conference in Washington that the 1MDB scandal was “kleptocracy at its worst”.

Most observers believe that Najib will edge another victory in the elections, as the opposition remains weak.

“BN, and especially Umno, is set to win big,” said Oh Ei Sun, from Malaysian think-tank the Pacific Research Centre.

“The opposition is definitely not shaping up for a real fight.”

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse