Newly elected former strongman Mahatir Mohamad has announced his first decisions. Defeated premier Najib Razak has stepped down as head of his coalition and party in the wake of his election defeat and travel ban.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Saturday announced that he was stepping down as head of the Barisan Nasional coalition and its main party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
The announcement comes after he was defeated in general elections on Wednesday by former strongman Mahatir Mohamad, once Najib's mentor.
It also follows the news that Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were barred from leaving the country by Malaysian immigration authorities on Saturday.
"It is true that I prevented Najib from leaving the country" Mahathir told reporters on Saturday. "As far as I know, he and his wife (were prevented from leaving). I’m not aware of other people." The 92-year-old election-winner also said he had replaced the attorney general who had cleared Najib in the state fund corruption scandal investigation. "We have placed a number of restrictions on certain people who have been involved in wrongdoing or making wrong decisions," he said. “So at the moment we no longer have an attorney-general."
The travel ban came after Mahathir vowed to investigate the 1MDB state fund corruption scandal in which Najib is implicated. A former prime minister for 22 years, Mahathir returned to politics after a conflict with Najib over the scandal. For the election, Mahathir linked with the opposition alliance which includes his former opponent, Anwar Ibrahim.
Stepping down 'immediately'
"I have taken the decision to step down as president of UMNO and chairman of Barisan Nasional immediately," Najib told a press conference on Saturday.
Increasing indignation: Najib's defeat in Wednesday's election came amid growing public anger over the 1MDB scandal and the rising cost of living. It is likely that the former prime minister will now have further questions to answer over his role, although he himself denies any wrongdoing.
What is the 1MDB fund? 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a government-owned strategic development company, was started by Najib when he took power in 2009 with the aim of promoting development projects with global partners in the areas of energy, real estate, tourism and agriculture. However, it accumulated billions in debts and has come under international investigation. US investigators say Najib's associates illegally took billions from the fund, with millions ending up in Najib's bank account or being used to buy jewelry for his wife.
Possible return of Anwar Ibrahim: Mahatir said after his victory over Najib that the country's monarch had agreed to pardon jailed opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim, who has been serving a jail sentence since 2015 on "sodomy" charges that Anwar says were politically motivated.
Although Mahatir also imprisoned Anwar in 1998 following a power struggle, the two have recently become allies, with Mahatir saying he plans to eventually step down and allow Anwar to become prime minister in his place. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Anwar, is Deputy Prime Minister. Anwar's daughter Nurul Izzah told Reuters her father could be free by Tuesday.
tj/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)