Barisan Nasional likely to lose next polls if still led by PM Najib, says ex-premier Mahathir

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (BN) will likely lose the next general election if the ruling coalition is still led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said, even as he acknowledged that the opposition itself is “not very strong” to helm the country.

Tun Dr Mahathir’s warning came after he rallied sidelined Umno leaders, key opposition chiefs and political activists under the so-called Save Malaysia campaign to oust Datuk Seri Najib, who faces pressure to resign over financial scandals linked to state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

“If the elections (are held) in an orderly manner, without fuss, without playing with the ballot box and so on, I think BN will lose,” said Dr Mahathir in an interview with Malay-language paper Berita Minggu, a sister newspaper of The Straits Times, at his office in Kuala Lumpur. He was asked how he thought the BN would fare in the next general election, which must be held by 2018. The BN’s share of popular votes has been declining in the past two elections.

Dr Mahathir said that with the Malay vote badly split, the Malays – who make up some 60 per cent of Malaysians – have become a “minority” in their voting power.

The 90-year old, who was instrumental in pushing out then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in 2009, quit Umno at the end of February after declaring that the party is unwilling to reform and kick out Mr Najib despite allegations that millions of dollars in 1MDB funds had been misappropriated.

He then formed the Save Malaysia movement by working with sidelined Umno leaders, including deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin and opposition chiefs such as Mr Lim Kit Siang and Mr Mohamad Sabu.

But Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003, is clearly working with the opposition with his eyes open. He has said before that his key aim in working with them is to push Mr Najib out of office by constitutional means.

Asked by Berita Minggu whether there are risks if the BN were to lose in the next election, he said: “The opposition is not very strong. They have broken up. They have problems.” He added that “there are certainly contentious issues”.

The main opposition parties have split into two main camps – one led by the secular Democratic Action Party and the other by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS). The PAS aims to introduce more conservative Islamic regulations in the country and its leadership under president Abdul Hadi Awang has in recent months sidled closer to Mr Najib’s Umno.

Mr Najib has denied misappropriating public funds and has said some US$681 million (S$919 million) found in his accounts in 2013 was a Saudi donation. There are investigations into possible misappropriation of 1MDB funds in several countries including Switzerland, Singapore, the United States and Luxembourg.

Dr Mahathir, asked about the possible rise of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to prime minister in future, said: “It is up to Umno. They must find a leader who they believe will not abuse power.”

Asked whether there was rivalry between him and the late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Mahathir said: “Personally, I had no problems. I could talk to Lee Kuan Yew. But I did not agree with his views, his approach. That was all there was between us. I don’t regard him as an enemy.”

He added that Singaporeans should value the services of Mr Lee, who led the country’s development.

As to whether the Causeway should be replaced, as mentioned by the Sultan of Johor recently, he said: “Indeed the Causeway needs to be replaced. The Causeway was built a long time ago when it was so costly, and difficult to make. Now water cannot flow east to west, so this caused the water in the Strait of Johor to become dirty, unsanitary, unhealthy.”

He said replacing the Causeway with a bridge would allow small boats to sail through. “We have the financial ability to build bridges.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline ‘BN likely to lose next polls if still led by Najib, says Mahathir’.

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