Malaysia Premier Warns Deputy Against Sowing Discord

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Muhyiddin Yassin
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin in Kuala Lumpur. Photographer: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called for patience on investigations into the state investment company, warning infighting in the ruling party would risk sowing voter discord.

The statement came after Deputy Premier Muhyiddin Yassin stepped up his calls for answers over the 1Malaysia Development Bhd. imbroglio. Najib must explain 1MDB’s debt and why the government invested in money-losing ventures, giving people “the real truth,” he told members of their United Malays National Organisation party on Sunday.

“Malaysians are not stupid,” Muhyiddin said, according to comments carried by local media and verified by his office. “They are well-informed. Don’t underestimate them. We cannot lie.”

Multiple probes are under way into 1MDB, which was the subject of a July 3 Wall Street Journal report that $700 million may have moved through government agencies and state-linked firms to accounts bearing Najib’s name. The premier has denied taking money for personal gain.

Najib’s office said on Monday that investigators should be given space to perform their tasks and infighting within UMNO would erode support for the government and the party.

“All parties, especially members of the administration including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, need to wait for the results of the investigations,” his office said in the statement. “We should avoid making statements that could cloud the perceptions of the people toward the country’s leaders, the government and UMNO.”

Task Force

While Najib has the public support of many UMNO division chiefs and ministers such as Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Muhyiddin previously called on Najib to give a detailed explanation or denial of the claims, while saying the probe should run its course.

A task force investigating 1MDB, comprising the central bank, police, the anti-corruption commission and the attorney general’s office, has made several detentions. A company owner remanded by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission was released Monday on bail, according to an official at the agency.

1MDB has said reports that it funneled funds to Najib’s accounts are untrue. An initial Auditor-General’s report on the fund didn’t show any suspicious activity.

The government said Tuesday that Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail’s duties ended on July 27 due to health reasons. Former Federal Court judge Mohamed Apandi Ali was named in the role.

‘Uphill Battle’

If elections took place place now, it’s unlikely the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition led by UMNO would win, Muhyiddin said Sunday.

“There have been studies that have been done by several parties that it will be difficult -- an uphill battle -- for BN to win in the next general elections,” he said, while adding there are about three years until elections must be called. At the last ballot in 2013, the coalition lost the popular vote for the first time, even as it retained office.

Investor confidence in Malaysia has been dented by scrutiny over Najib’s management of 1MDB, whose advisory board he chairs. Najib has resisted calls from ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad to step down over the matter.

Standard & Poor’s on Monday affirmed its sovereign ratings for Malaysia and said allegations against 1MDB aren’t expected to impede policy making.

“We expect the government to stay the course on its fiscal and economic reforms,” it said. “Our rating affirmation is based on the assumption that the political situation regarding 1MDB will not interfere with sound policy making.”

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