Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

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@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s fiercest critic today is not found in the ranks of the opposition. Rather, it is a former ally: Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir is Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, and served as mentor to Najib. Despite his retirement from government service, Mahathir has remained an influential political figure. At 89, Mahathir continues to be a newsmaker, especially when he candidly shares his views on domestic and even global affairs through his widely read blog.

Since last year, Mahathir has been criticizing the administration of Najib. But it was early this month when he launched a more comprehensive tirade against what he thinks were the fundamental blunders committed by Najib.

Writing on his blog, Mahathir pressed for clarifications on the following issues: 1) the 2006 murder of a Mongolian translator who purportedly had personal knowledge of a corruption scandal involving the defense department; 2) the reported mismanagement of the country’s investment fund (1MDB); and the 3) implementation of a cash distribution scheme to marginalized groups (BR1M).

Najib is linked to these issues through some of his former subordinates and relatives. Mahathir called on Najib to come clean on his role in investigating these issues.

Najib eventually made public a recorded video interview in response to some of Mahathir’s allegations. But Mahathir was disappointed with what he heard. Writing again on his blog, he admonished Najib for being evasive, especially on the issue of the investment fund mess.

“I asked Najib simple questions but instead of answering the questions he asked people to support him. I would like to ask the supporters whether their support means the disappearance of 42 billion Ringgit is okay, that there is no necessity to at least explain where the money is,” Mahathir wrote.

Najib hinted that his relationship with Mahathir soured when the government was not able to build a new bridge between Malaysia and Singapore. Mahathir denied this, and insisted that his real concern is the unexplained loss of taxpayers’ money in the 1MDB.

“I don’t advocate the removal of a prime minister because he is too afraid of Singapore to build a crooked bridge. But when you lose money and cannot explain where the money is, I think you are not competent to become prime minister,” Mahathir said in a press conference.

Mahathir warned the ruling coalition that it will lose in the next general election if Najib does not step down immediately.

For his part, Najib claimed he still respected Mahathir but he also emphasized that his duty is not just to listen to an individual opinion.

“Whatever the individual opinion, in the end, I will be responsible to the people and the party. It is quite healthy if there is a difference of opinion but, regardless, in the end I have to be responsible to the people and party. And most of these matters, I bring to the Cabinet and the Cabinet decides,” he said in a TV interview.

Najib added that criticisms are welcome, especially those made with “prudence and responsibility.”

“The criticisms this time are more than usual, more intense than usual. But I have to accept the political ups and downs which, under all circumstances, will not be peaceful and comfortable all the time. I take the criticisms, no matter how painful. As long as the people and the party give me the mandate, the trust, I will continue to lead the country and party,” he said during the interview.

Najib also defended the programs of his government like the BR1M and reminded the public that there were also economic problems during the term of Mahathir.

“We should not allow certain issues to be highlighted as though our economy is collapsing, or that we are having problems to the point that they cannot be resolved. This is not true at all. Tun Dr Mahathir’s era was not perfect either, nor is my era. But we must know that we are open, we improve the situation, so that tomorrow will be better than today,” Najib said.

Finally, Najib urged the public not to believe everything that is published online. “A lot of information is blown out of proportion and twisted until it is misunderstood. The majority of accusations and ‘spins’ do not reflect the reality of the situation of a particular issue or the statements made by leaders, be it the opposition or government.”

We should expect Mahathir to issue a more biting rejoinder. But Najib’s allies are also starting to hit back at Mahathir. Whatever the case, Malaysian politics has become more interesting. Will the opposition benefit from the bickering within the ruling coalition?

Najib Blogs His Response to Mahathir and Critics

Written for The Diplomat

Malaysia’s former leader Mahathir Mohamad has often criticized the incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak through his popular blog. This time it is Najib who has used a blog to hit back at his former mentor and other critics of his administration.

Najib blogged his detailed response to 13 frequent allegations of his critics, which included some of the issues raised earlier by Mahathir such as the 2006 murder of a Mongolian translator, corruption in the bureaucracy, rising criminality, and mismanagement of the country’s finances.

Najib didn’t name Mahathir but he was clearly alluding to Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister. For example, he questioned the irony of a critic of the West using a Western media report which cited Malaysia as among the most corrupt nations in the world. “I find it troubling that someone who used to continually criticise the international media as being biased now suddenly believes and takes their arguments as the truth,” he wrote in obvious reference to Mahathir.

Responding to his alleged involvement in the murder of a Mongolian translator, Najib said this is an old issue that has been resurrected by “veteran leaders.” He described his accusers as “influential individuals (with) many resources.” He added that his accusers could have presented more evidence against him in the past: “When the issue erupted, I believe they would still have been able to verify the validity of the allegations. If they believed this to be true, why did they not raise it when the issue erupted 8 years ago? Why now?”

Najib reiterated his innocence and reminded the public that he swore an oath on the Quran in a Mosque to prove his claim. He also emphasized that the court has already determined the guilty person in the murder case.

Addressing the charge that his government has squandered the taxpayers’ money in an investment fund mess (1MDB), Najib lashed back at some politicians for sowing intrigue. “It is unfair for certain politicians to convict the government in the court of public opinion way before the actual facts are laid down by lawful authorities.”

Again, there’s no mention of Mahathir’s name but Najib cautioned the public about unreliable online sources like blogs with malicious motives. “If we are sincere in finding out the truth behind those allegations, we need to get the information from legitimate sources and not third-party news portals or online blogs that might have hidden agendas.” Reporters should ask him if Mahathir’s blog is among those with a “hidden agenda.”

In defending the cash subsidy for the poor (BR1M), Najib hit back at politicians who refuse to appreciate the economic soundness of the program: “Some politicians say that in spite of BR1M, the people are ‘not grateful.’ This is exactly why they believe it is bribery and are not on the same page as the fiscal committee. We see it as an economic measure, but these politicians see it purely in the context of politics.”

And finally, Najib confidently asserted that the ruling coalition will continue to prevail in the next elections despite Mahathir’s warning that the blunders of the incumbent leader will bring the party down.

“If we are united, and stop the infighting, we will succeed. If we focus on constructive rather than destructive politics, we will succeed. If we focus on work instead of believing and spreading rumours, spins and half-truths, we will succeed,” Najib wrote.

Many are now eagerly awaiting Mahathir’s rejoinder in his blog. Or he could pursue his challenge of conducting a public debate with Najib. Who will emerge victorious in this showdown between two heavyweights of Malaysian politics?

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