For months, Najib and his wife have been under fire from Mahathir, who has delivered a long series of smoking guns concerning the mysterious US$681 million that flitted into and out of Najib’s personal bank account in April of 2013without a trace. The seemingly intractable debts run up by the troubled state-backed 1Malaysia Development Fund Bhd are another part of the scandalous puzzle. He antagonized followers last week by not showing up in Parliament as scheduled to answer questions about where the money came from, or where it went.
So far, however, neither Mahathir nor a fractured opposition has gained any traction in driving Najib from office. A relatively small minority seem to listen to Mahathir’s constant drumbeat that the charges of corruption and the distaste for Najib’s wife, who has flaunted enormous wealth, will lead to the destruction of the party.
Led by Muhyiddin, a nascent protest movement is arising in the southern state of Johor, one of the most influential in UMNO. Muhyiddin’s home state, it was the birthplace of UMNO in 1946. The fired deputy prime minister was chief minister in the state until he rose in the party. He is close to the Sultan of Johor, who sent his personal helicopter to pick him up after he was fired.
According to local media, Muhyiddin has vowed to go down fighting. Despite the ban on his speech at the UMNO conclave, he is due to address his followers this evening, accompanied by Mahathir and other rebels, against warnings by UMNO General Secretary Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor that he could face charges if he “crosses the line.” He is gaining support from a grassroots coalition at the branch level of unknown size to attempt to force Najib out as party president and premier.
Although leaders of the movement claim to have the support of hundreds of branches, it’s difficult to know how serious the movement is. However, perhaps 100 have rebelled against Najib in Johor as well as 20 in Selangor, Malaysia’s richest and most populous state, and another 15-odd in Negeri Sembilan, southeast of Kuala Lumpur.
In the end, however, the 192 voting delegates are expected to keep the prime minister in his seat, partly because the AGM is so tightly structured that no official insurrection is going to be allowed. There is talk of keeping the press out, although there appears little need of that, with the mainstream media all owned by component parties of the Barisan. While there is an energetic on-line press, it has difficulty breaking through the chaff produced by an army of pro-government bloggers.