MALAYSIA’s Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted Wednesday that he was unable to convince the country’s constitutional monarch to act on the demands issued in the “Citizens’ Declaration”, a petition of 1.2 million signatures seeking Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation.
Dr Mahathir, a respected former prime minister and Najib’s harshest critic, was quoted in Malay Mail Online saying that while he could not reveal the actual details of his conversation with the king, who is also referred to as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in Malaysia, he could confirm that the monarch would not accede to the petition’s list of requests.
“I cannot actually repeat what he said because [we spoke] in confidence. The implication is that what we requested for cannot be implemented,” reportedly told a press conference.
Dr Mahathir added that he mainly discussed the National Security Act (NSA) with the king, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, when they met, and that he informed the ruler that he could refer the law to the Federal Court if he were uncertain about some of its provisions.
“We had a long discussion and he questioned me about provisions of the law and I explained. End of it, I could not convince him he could act,” Dr Mahathir was quoted saying, without elaborating.
The NSA is a highly-contentious security law that was recently approved by Malaysia’s Parliament despite widespread protests from opposition lawmakers and civil society groups.
The law, when invoked, controversially accords Najib expansive powers over areas that he determines as “security zones”, a provision that the prime minister’s detractors – including Dr Mahathir – are lobbying hard to repeal.
Late September, it was reported that Dr Mahathir, a still-influential former statesman, was granted a rare audience with the king at his residence in Kedah, a northern state in Malaysia.
During the meeting, according to the former premier’s son and aides, the ruler and Dr Mahathir discussed the latter’s bid to seek Najib’s removal over his alleged involvement in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, among several other alleged transgressions.
Dr Mahathir also reportedly handed over a petition signed by over one million Malaysians calling for Najib’s resignation.
Malaysia’s mostly government-owned mainstream media did not carry reports on the meeting and the matter was kept hushed.
Dr Mahathir had in May attempted to submit the same petition to the king but later complained he had not been able to because the country’s rulers were allegedly placed under house arrest. His comment landed him in trouble with local authorities who summoned him for questioning in a criminal defamation investigation.
A week after the meeting in Kedah, however, Najib issued a statement saying the king spoke to him about the meeting.
The embattled prime minister said the ruler confirmed that he had merely “taken note of” Dr Mahathir’s concerns but said he “cannot interfere in PPBM’s efforts.”
PPBM is the Malay acronym for Dr Mahathir’s newly-formed political platform, Parti Pribumi Malaysia Bersatu, which roughly translates to the Malaysian United Natives Party.
The 89-year-old Sultan Abdul Halim, is currently serving as Malaysia’s king under a unique rotational system introduced toward the end of British colonial rule in the 1950s’ in which nine sultans take turns to become the constitutional monarch for a period of five years.
1MDB, an investment company fully owned by the Malaysian government, was created in 2009 by Najib to promote economic development projects.
But following numerous exposes by foreign media and local opposition lawmakers, it was revealed that billions of dollars from the firm had been misappropriated.
According to U.S. prosecutors, fund officials have diverted more than US$3.5 billion through a web of shell companies and bank accounts abroad.
Anti-government dissidents in Malaysia have been campaigning long and hard against Najib, who they believe is corruptly involved in the scandal. One of them is pro-democracy group Bersih 2.0, also known as the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, which is planning to hold a mass rally in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 19 to demand Najib’s resignation.
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit seeking the seizure of more than US$1 billion in assets allegedly bought with money siphoned from 1MDB.
The lawsuit only named “Malaysian Official 1” and did not directly mention Najib but the prime minister’s critics believe it refers to him. Abdul Rahman Dahlan, a key leader in Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, recently told a BBC interview that “MO1” refers to Najib.