Malaysian police plan to summon former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 90, over comments he made at a weekend anti-government rally that drew tens of thousands onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
“We will be calling him for questioning,” police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a mobile text reply to questions, without giving further details. Protesters at the two-day rally called for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation over a political funding scandal.
The police took statements on Wednesday from officials at the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih, which organized the rally. None of them were detained. Mahathir made brief appearances at the protest on Saturday and Sunday, telling the crowd he wanted Najib removed.
“Mahathir is currently away in Jordan. I am not aware if he has been summoned,” said Sufi Yusoff, an aide to the former premier. Calls to Najib’s office went unanswered.
Any move to question Mahathir risks further drawing out opposition to Najib’s leadership. While his influence has waned, Mahathir led Malaysia for 22 years until 2003 as the country’s longest-serving leader, and is a member of Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organisation. He’s been vocal in his complaints about the premier, especially over his handling of an indebted state investment fund.
“I would like the UMNO members of parliament, the heads of division to remove him,” Mahathir told reporters on Sunday, referring to Najib. “You are selling your soul, your country, your race. This country will end up being one of those countries where there is no governance.”
Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy has faced two months of upheaval after a report that Najib received billions of ringgit in his private accounts in 2013, and as he reshuffled the cabinet to remove detractors including his deputy. The tensions have contributed to a fall in the ringgit -- the currency on Wednesday slumped 1.1 percent to 4.211 a dollar, the steepest decline in more than a week.
“Political uncertainty is always an issue,” said Nizam Idris, the Singapore-based head of foreign-exchange and fixed-income strategy at Macquarie Bank Ltd. “The ringgit’s decline today is due to the fall in crude oil prices and Mahathir’s summons is a contributory factor.”
The weekend protests brought out a crowd estimated by organizers at 300,000, while authorities put the turnout at 50,000. The gathering however failed to draw a large number of ethnic Malays, indicating the funding scandal hasn’t spurred major dissent in the premier’s grassroots base.
The Wall Street Journal reported on July 3 that about $700 million may have moved through government agencies and companies linked to state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd., and ended up in accounts bearing Najib’s name before the 2013 election.
Najib has denied any wrongdoing and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said the money was from donors in the Middle East, not 1MDB. The accounts have since been closed.