KUALA LUMPUR, May 10 ― Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared tonight that he will not succumb to calls for his resignation and even urged for support from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, telling his harshest critic not to disrupt Umno by making “too much noise”.
At a function in Tawau, Sabah, the embattled prime minister, in his strongest response yet to Dr Mahathir, reminded the latter that he had supported him during his tenure in government.
“In 1987, I was among those who supported him. Why he (Dr Mahathir) remained as Prime Minister? Because we were united in difficult times.
“When in difficult times we support him to remain in power. If we did not support the leader during trying times, Dr Mahathir would not have been the Prime Minister for 22 years,” Najib was quoted in Bernama as telling a large crowd for the “Sabahans Solidarity Gathering” at a field in Tawau.
“Therefore, do not forget the past, when he (Dr Mahathir) was the Prime Minister, we fully supported him. Now he is not the Prime Minister, so return the support.
“Even if cannot support, don't make too much noise and disrupt the party. We can clarify the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue,” he said, according to the national news agency.
Dr Mahathir, the country's longest serving former prime minister, has been at the forefront of the ongoing attacks against Najib's leadership, even saying recently that the prime minister should resign before Barisan Nasional (BN) loses the next general election.
Chief among Dr Mahathir's concerns is the leadership's handling of allegations surrounding 1MDB, the state-owned investment firm that has amassed a debt pile worth over RM42 billion in just a few years.
But Najib said tonight that Dr Mahathir has issued conflicting remarks about 1MDB, noting that the veteran leader had at one time claimed that the firm has lost RM42 billion but at another, he reportedly said it owes RM42 billion.
According to Bernama's report, the prime minister then said that the government will have its own way of solving the 1MDB issue, if given time.
“I will only bow to the people and party members. As long as the people and members of Umno support me and have trust in my leadership, I will continue to carry on,” he was quoted saying.
Although Najib has ordered a federal audit on the 1MDB, the latest controversy that emerged earlier this week on the firm's land deal with Lembaga Tabung Haji (LTH) has led to top leaders in his party coming forward to publicly express concern.
On Friday, Najib's deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin chimed in from his working visit in Milan, Italy, and said that Putrajaya must be proactive over the attacks against 1MDB and not merely react to the criticism against the state-owned firm.
Apart from Muhyiddin, Umno leaders like Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Khairy Jamaluddin have also weighed in on the LTH-1MDB land controversy.
Explaining the matter for the second time today, Najib again insisted that LTH's purchase of the land from 1MDB was not a bailout for the troubled investment firm.
According to Bernama, he claimed the LTH could have made a RM170 million profit from the investment but because the purchase was made an issue, he decided to advice the pilgrims fund to sell the plot of land.
“Since the facts of the purchase has been twisted and became a hot topic, you can say it was like 'shooting oneself in the foot'. This is what I call 'not rationale' because why are we doing this? For the benefit of the people, so, give us a chance to do it.
“Every issue can be solved but let the leaders solve such issues,” he was quoted saying.
Najib has been criticised for his alleged haste in advising LTH to sell the land in question ― a 1.56-acre plot in the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) that it had purchased last month from 1MDB.
LTH reportedly paid RM188.5 million at RM2,773 psf for the land, which is 43 times what 1MDB paid four years ago when it purchased the plot for just RM4.5 million at a rate of RM64 psf.
A blog called “The Benchmark” first raised speculation on the purchase when it published purported documents of the controversial transaction that critics now claim could be a bailout for 1MDB.
According to LTH chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim yesterday, the move to sell the land was a complete U-turn from the fund's board of directors' decision on Friday not to do so.
Responding to the announcement, several lawmakers said today that 1MDB should instead cancel the transaction entirely and refund the RM188.5 million paid by LTH.