October 14, 2015 – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak faces the toughest test of his political career so far when parliament reconvenes next week, with the leader facing questions from a growing number of establishment figures about his alleged role in a graft scandal at the state investment fund.
Najib’s tight grip on his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party has kept him in power despite public anger over alleged graft and financial mismanagement at strategic investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), whose advisory board the prime minister chairs.
But that grip appears to be loosening, and his position could become precarious if he loses some crucial upcoming votes in parliament.
Some senior leaders from UMNO, including former deputy prime minister and Najib’s potential successor Muhyiddin Yassin, joined forces with influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad on Monday to criticise Najib and call on party members to “speak up” against wrongdoing.
Although they stopped short of openly calling for Najib’s resignation, the rebellion may have opened up an opportunity the opposition is seeking to exploit through a no-confidence vote in parliament next week.
“We have decided in principle to move a no confidence motion in parliament,” said Tian Chua, a member of parliament and National Vice President of opposition party PKR.
“We will definitely need to collaborate with some leaders from the ruling coalition. But now there is an opportunity to put aside other interests and focus on saving the country and the people.”
On Thursday, Najib was dealt a fresh blow with veteran UMNO leader and former deputy minister Saifuddin Abdullah announcing he has joined PKR. Saifuddin was once a member of the UMNO Supreme Council but lost his post in 2013.
A no-confidence vote is seen as having a slim chance of outright success given the opposition bloc is about 25 seats short of the majority needed to carry the motion. Even if it gets the numbers, the speaker of the house could reject the motion, stopping it from being tabled.
But Najib is also facing crucial votes on his annual budget and Malaysia’s membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal which, political sources say, faces resistance from his own party as well as the opposition.
Losing either of those votes would significantly weaken Najib’s position.
“There are many ways of objecting….even if the house rejects Najib’s budget, that would mean a no-confidence against the Prime Minister and it would seriously damage his stand,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the think-tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).
Najib has responded to the Umno members turning against him by saying his opponents are trying to destabilise Malaysia and hinder its peaceful development.
“Do not allow anyone to be in cahoots with internal and external parties to destroy what we have achieved so far,” he was quoted by The Malaysian Insider as saying during a speech today.