[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said his government has the mandate and the majority to rule, brushing aside increased efforts by his critics to remove him from office.
The government's focus is on economic development, and the level of confidence people have in the administration will become clear at the next polls, Mr Najib told reporters in Johor state on Sunday. An election is due by 2018 after the ruling coalition won in 2013 with its slimmest margin yet.
"As far as we are concerned, the litmus test will be when it comes to election time," Mr Najib said. "At the moment the government will continue as we have the mandate, we have the numbers in parliament and the party is also behind the government. We will continue."
Malaysia's economic growth and investments are slowing, while businesses and consumers face price pressures as the government removes subsidies and after the implementation of a goods and services tax last year. Mr Najib is giving bigger cash handouts to lower-income households to help them cope with rising costs, a move that may also shore up his support within the United Malays National Organisation's main base - rural, ethnic Malays.
Mr Najib is facing his biggest political crisis since coming to power seven years ago as questions linger over US$681 million which appeared in his personal accounts before the 2013 polls, funds he said were a donation from the Saudi royal family. Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali in January closed the door on a graft probe, clearing Mr Najib of wrongdoing over the "personal contribution" and saying the premier later returned US$620 million that was not utilized.
Former leader Mahathir Mohamad is waging a public campaign to get the premier out, with Mahathir warning the coalition led by Mr Najib's party risks losing office if he stays on. Mr Mahathir led opposition and civil society groups on Friday in calling for the removal of Mr Najib through non-violent and permissible ways, a move the government said showed the depth of "political opportunism and desperation."
Mr Najib has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over the funding scandals, saying last year he and Mr Mahathir disagreed over economic policies and that no "individual, however eminent" should try to interfere with his leadership. He retains the backing of the bulk of UMNO's powerful divisional chiefs and the opposition remains weak, its coalition having imploded after then-leader Anwar Ibrahim was sent to jail again last year on a sodomy conviction, a charge he denies.
Mr Anwar, a one-time deputy to Mr Mahathir who was fired after a dispute over economic policies in 1998, is backing his former mentor in efforts to topple Mr Najib. Mr Najib's predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down in 2009 as his popularity within UMNO faded, fueled in part by resignation calls from Mr Mahathir, although Mr Mahathir's influence has faded in recent years.