MALAYSIA’s still-influential statesman Dr Mahathir Mohamad has made a rare appearance in a promotional video for “Bersih 5”, urging the public to join the mass protest seeking Prime Minister Najib Razak’s early resignation.
The outspoken 91-year-old, who has been at the forefront of the nationwide campaign to unseat Najib, donned a T-shirt in Bersih’s signature yellow that had the words “Bersih 5” emblazoned across and in his message, told Malaysians to reject his former protege’s leadership that is now embroiled in a multi-billion dollar scandal involving state funds.
“Malaysia is now in distress. (Prime minister) Najib (Razak)’s administration has caused the country to incur billions of ringgit in debt, which cannot be paid by the government and state.
“That is why we must express our dissatisfaction with the government through participation in the rally by Bersih at Dataran Merdeka and any other location,” Dr Mahathir said in the one-minute-37-second video message.
He was referring to this Saturday’s mass protest organised by the Coalition of Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0). Like the group’s previous protests, Bersih 5 is expected to draw tens of thousands of Malaysians to the streets of the capital demanding, among others, reforms to the election process, an end to systemic corruption and Najib’s resignation.
“I hope all Malaysians will join this rally by Bersih because they aim to find a way to heal our country, change the government, so that it would be no longer led by a person who has been accused of stealing so much money…
“This is my hope and I hope all Malaysians will give their full support and participate in the Bersih rally,” Dr Mahathir said.
According to MalaysiaKini, the video was shared by an opposition party politician Chang Lih Kang on his Facebook page.
While in office, Dr Mahathir — who was the country’s longest-serving prime minister between 1981 to 2003 — had himself been tough on street protests and dissidents.
But since the emergence of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal two years ago, Dr Mahathir has joined anti-government dissidents in their campaign against Najib, who they believe is corruptly involved in the issue.
Dr Mahathir even left the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), country’s ruling party, to form his own opposition group.
The former premier has also reconciled with his former deputy and now opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed for alleged sexual misconduct and graft during his term in office, in the bid to boot Najib out of office.
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.
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.