MALAYSIA’S former prime minister and current opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad apologised to the crowd at a campaign rally on Tuesday for his role in current prime minister Najib Razak’s rise to power.
Speaking to the crowds at Titiwangsa in Kuala Lumpur, the 92-year-old described his hand in Najib’s success as “the biggest mistake that I have made in my life,” as quoted by Channel News Asia.
He also said he was trying his best to “fix this mistake” in the upcoming election, set for May 9.
After former prime minister Abdullah Badawi stepped down in 2009, Dr Mahathir championed Najib as his successor. Relations between the two soured after Najib became embroiled in a corrutpion scandal following an investigation into state-owned investment fund, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The fund is currently at the centre of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.
— Sumisha Naidu (@SumishaCNA) May 1, 2018
A total of US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the DOJ.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the scandal, “kleptocracy at its worst.”
Dr Mahathir now faces Najib as his opponent in the general election after the former-PM left his former party and largest ruling party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), to join the opposition.
He is now running for the Langkawi parliamentary seat in his home state of Kedah. If the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan wins the election, Dr Mahathir will once again resume the role of prime minister of Malaysia, 15 years after he left the office.
A recent poll from opposition-aligned Invoke Malaysia Centre for Policy Initiatives (Invoke) found Dr Mahathir is leading public opinion with the support of 29.9 percent of voters surveyed, ahead of Najib’s 23.8 percent.
While experts still anticipate a UMNO victory, Dr Mahathir’s popularity, especially within the Malay demographic, poses a serious threat to Najib.
Dr Mahathir, who earned a reputation during his 22-year tenure as prime minister as a no-nonsense authoritarian with little time for dissenters promoting liberal values, stands to become the world’s oldest leader if the opposition wins.