By Holly Reeves
“The government could arrest me under desperation,” said Malaysia’s loudest critic of its current prime minister. “Legally they can’t do it because I have been acting within the legal framework, but it is always possible to bring false charges against me,” added Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
But in the wake of news from the country’s Inspector-General Police that there are currently four cases under investigation involving the former Malaysian leader, would they be false charges at all? And more than that, does any of the noise around the 1MDB scandal even get heard anymore?
The investigations underway are probing Mahathir’s affairs surround his attempts to involve the foreign press in Malaysia’s matters of state, said the police officer, explaining, “Some [investigations] are for sedition and some for other things. No decisions have been made so far,” he added.
His next comment suggests some may have found what they were looking for.
“Some are incomplete and some are being discussed with the attorney-general, Mohamad Apandi Al,” he added.
It is not clear what the source of the sedition accusation is, but it may well be connected to comments he made to the Australian newspaper, stating, “Normally I don’t like foreign interference in Malaysian affairs, but our avenues for redress have been closed completely.”
“So now we have to allow foreign interference in our domestic affairs. If it is legal, legitimate, yes. If they have information, they should give information. And if there is money laundering, just because it is Najib it doesn’t mean they should suspend the law.”
It is an extraordinary position for someone who, during his own tenure as prime minister, constantly reminded UMNO members to respect good leaders. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi shot back that the former premier should not allow foreigners to get involved in the country’s internal affairs, adding he was going politically “berserk.”
The UMNO veterans club has again stepped out in the midst of this political personality clash. “Clearly he has double standards. He did not want foreign interference during his time, but he himself is working to get the foreign powers to bring Najib down,” chimed Mustapha Yaakub of the UMNO veterans club.
In February, it was also reported that police had opened an investigation paper on Mahathir over alleged seditious statements he made in his blog titled “AG to AG”, in which he criticised the Malaysian Attorney General for clearing Najib of any wrongdoing over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversies. It seems Mahathir has given investigators plenty of material. But he is not alone.
At the same time, investigations into Mahathir’s arch-enemy, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, are continuing. Spread across a number of countries, these include alleged money laundering, illegal money transfers and misappropriation of funds. These investigations are more worthy, Mathahir says, and in publicly discussing them, he is simply trying to do the right thing for the country. Najib continues to maintain his silence.
“As a private citizen, my role and ability is limited in fighting the case. All I can do is to mobilise public opinion highlighting the illegal dealings of the government,” says Mahathir.
“Because of fear of expulsion or other consequences, people can’t express themselves. So, within the party, I can’t do much except work with like-minded people to oust him from power and restore rule of law in the country.”
Meanwhile, the strategic planning fund at the core of the scandal is falling ever deeper into the mire. The company that originally agreed to provide the 1MDB with US$1 billion to meet some of its liabilities in exchange for assets, while at the same time taking on interest payments on about $3.5 billion in debt, says it is now in default.
But amid all this noise, are people even listening? Next month brings elections to Malaysia’s largest state, currently a stronghold of the prime minister’s coalition. So in this next big test of the prime minister’s public support, does this barrage of allegations even matter?
“I don’t really understand the issue,” said Amin, an ethnic Malay who sells palm sugar, coconut oil and fermented shrimps by the side of a two-lane main road. “He definitely has a lot of not-so-good news going on, but I’m not really bothered. He is already the leader, what else can we do?”
As personal allegations mount and apathy among the people he claims to speak for builds, it’s a comment that Mahathir himself might do well to listen to.