Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian police want to question former premier Mahathir Mohammad about antigovernment comments, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday, in what appeared to be a bid to stifle the veteran leader’s campaign to bring down the prime minister.
Mohammad, still a hugely respected and influential figure, made surprise appearances at a protest in Kuala Lumpur on the weekend, calling for a “people’s power” movement to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak over a financial scandal.
“Tun [Mohammad] made several allegations in his speeches ... that warrants police action,” police spokeswoman Asmawati Ahmad said.
Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar would take a statement from Mohammad, she said.
It was not clear if he would face any charges.
Mohammad, known as a tough prime minister with an authoritarian bent for 22 years until 2003, is on a private trip to Jordan and was not expected back until September 9, an aide said.
“As far as I am aware, he has not been approached by the police yet. We will comply with the police on whatever is needed,” the aide, Sufi Yousuf, said.
Mohammad, 90, was once Razak’s patron, but has become his fiercest critic in recent months after reports of a mysterious transfer of more than $600 million (Dh2.2 billion) into an account under Razak’s name.
Razak has denied any wrongdoing and says he did not take any money for personal gain, but faces the biggest crisis of his political career.
He has tightened his grip on power through a series of steps to sideline dissenters and muzzle critical media.
Many Malaysians were stunned by Mohammad’s decision to join the protests, organised by anticorruption activists, in an unprecedented act of defiance of the prime minister.
The two are stalwarts of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party that has led coalition governments since the country’s independence in 1957, and their antagonism has raised fears of a split.
One UMNO leader said Mohammad had “crossed over the line”.
The police questioning of the country’s longest-serving leader would appear to raise the political stakes for both sides.
“If the police called in Mahathir and treated him the wrong way, then the political repercussions would be severe,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said.
“The calls for Najib to resign will only get stronger.” Wan said, however, that it was very unlikely the police would file formal charges against Mahathir.
Malaysia’s political upheaval follows a media report in July that said investigators looking into alleged mismanagement at debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had traced a payment of more than $600 million to an account under Razak’s name.
Fighting back, Razak sacked his deputy and other ministers who had publicly questioned him, and the attorney-general who was investigating 1MDB was replaced.
Authorities also suspended two newspapers and blocked access to a website that had reported on 1MDB.
Speaking at the rally on Sunday, Mohammad called Razak a corrupt leader and said the people did not want him in power.
Authorities declared the rally illegal and police have summoned several protest leaders.
A source close to the government said he expected arrests to be made over the next 24 hours.
Mohammad said in a blog on Tuesday he did not agree with street protests, but Razak had blocked every legal method to change the prime minister.