Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad said he was withdrawing his support for Prime Minister Najib Razak, citing worsening race relations and a tougher business environment since the premier took power.
Najib hasn’t learned from his poor showing in general elections last year, Mahathir, 89, wrote on his blog today. No one else is willing to criticize the leader, he said, quoting a parable similar to “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the Hans Christian Andersen story about having the courage to speak the truth.
The ruling coalition led by the prime minister’s United Malays National Organisation party lost the popular vote for the first time since independence at the 2013 elections even as it retained a parliamentary majority. Najib’s predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down in 2009 with Mahathir at the forefront of calls for his resignation after a poor showing at polls.
“This is the start of his campaign to replace Najib before the next general election,” said James Chin, professor of political science at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University, referring to Mahathir. “He believes that Najib cannot win in the next general election” and a new leader is needed for the Barisan Nasional coalition to do well, he said.
Najib’s press secretary Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad said he could not immediately comment on the blog post.
Mahathir said today his discontent started when Najib abolished internal security laws, which allowed detention without trial. Minimum wage increases imposed by Najib’s government have not taken into account costs that are making Malaysian businesses and goods uncompetitive versus imports, he said.
Mahathir was Malaysia’s longest-running prime minister, winning five straight election victories before retiring in 2003 after 22 years in power. Mahathir remains the ruling party’s elder statesman and still holds sway over its members.
He campaigned for Najib last year after sitting out the 2008 vote. His backing didn’t prevent the Barisan Nasional alliance from failing to win a majority of the popular vote after support for ethnic-Chinese-led parties in the alliance dwindled. Mahathir blamed Najib for the decline in the party’s support among ethnic Chinese.
The “lack of an alternative” left the coalition with no choice but to continue to support Najib, Mahathir said last year. He has expressed skepticism of Najib’s economic program, saying in an interview with Bloomberg in June that he found “difficulty in understanding the purpose of this so-called transformation.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Shamim Adam in Kuala Lumpur at firstname.lastname@example.org; Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur at email@example.com; Chong Pooi Koon in Kuala Lumpur at firstname.lastname@example.org