Leaders from across Malaysia’s political spectrum have joined together to call for a national movement to remove Prime Minister Najib Razak, in a dramatic escalation of a festering corruption crisis.
The historic alliance on Friday brought together previously bitter political foes and was led by 90-year-old former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has spearheaded calls to remove Najib over allegations of corruption and misrule.
“We call upon all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, political situation, creed or parties, young and old, to join us in saving Malaysia from the government headed by Najib Razak,” read a joint statement endorsed by heavyweights from the ruling party, opposition, and top civil society groups.
Mahathir said that the assembled leaders, despite their differences, shared “one goal”. “We must rid ourselves of Najib as prime minister,” he said.
The move marks the most direct political challenge yet to Najib, and lends a potent voice to a growing sense of public disgust with his tenure.
Najib, 62, has been under fire for a year over allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state firm he founded, and his own admitted acceptance of a murky $681m overseas “donation”.
In January, Malaysia’s attorney general stated that the $681m transferred into Najib’s personal bank account was a gift from the royal family in Saudi Arabia and there were no criminal offences or corruption involved. The president says $620m was returned, as the money was not utilised.
Saudi officials have not confirmed the claims.
Ong Kian Ming, a member of parliament from the opposition Democratic Action Party, told Al Jazeera that he did not think Friday’s joint statement will change anything significant in the short term.
“The ruling United Malays National Organisation leaders will now rally behind their president, Najib, and use the collaboration between Mahathir Mohamad and the opposition leaders as evidence that Mahathir Mohamad has betrayed the UMNO,” he said.
He added that Najib’s fate will be largely determined by his support within the UMNO.
“As long as he controls the reins of power within UMNO through the appointment of key allies in the party and in the civil service, and also via the dispensation of patronage, he will remain prime minister of Malaysia,” he said.
However, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the chief executive of Malaysian Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a libertarian think-thank, said the joint statement “signifies a major shift in Malaysian politics”.
“Those in power should seriously consider the demands, and [the prime minister] in particular must not ignore the declaration,” he said in a statement.
With additional reporting by Fleur Launspach