Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Pic: AP.

Mahathir publicly withdraws support for current prime minister, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen

After months of behind-the-scenes criticism, Malaysian former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has publicly withdrawn his support for the current premier, Najib Tun Razak, likening Najib to the fable of the emperor with no clothes.

Mahathir delivered a blistering verdict on his blog, Che Det, in Malay language, citing a litany of sins on the part of Najib, who came to power in April of 2009 – after Mahathir led a successful months-long charge to get rid of his own successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. As the story unfolds,  Najib is overseas on a controversial holiday in the Cote d’Azur, Sardinia, Rome, London and other waypoints.

It has long been thought that Mahathir has held his fire on Najib out of loyalty to Najib’s father, Tun Abdul Razak, who rescued Mahathir from the political wilderness after he had been kicked out of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) for attacking Tunku Abdul Rahman, “Bapak Malaysia,” the country’s first prime minister and founder. It now remains to be seen how much clout the 89-year-old Mahathir retains after having left the premiership in 2003 – 11 years ago – after serving as the country’s leader for 22 years, seeking to break the power of Malaysia’s sultans and pushing through controversial security legislation.

Some political analysts believe he will now crisscross the country, as he did in his campaign against Badawi, delivering criticism of Najib. He appears surprisingly sprightly for his age, but so far, none of UMNO’s leaders have publicly stepped up to support Mahathir’s gambit.

There is some speculation that Mahathir won’t push for Najib’s defenestration but will use his public stance to push the prime minister in ways he wants him to go. He has been critical of the government’s decision to nationalize the badly ailing Malaysian Airlines in the wake of two tragic crashes that took more than 500 lives, reportedly trying to give the airline to an unnamed businessman. Najib has apparently also ignored a request to build a bigger airport in Kedah, where Mahathir’s son serves as chief minister.

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