The head of Malaysia's ruling party urged members to support a petition seeking a royal pardon for former premier Najib Razak, who was imprisoned last week for 12 years.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, president of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) - the party Najib belongs to - made the call at a special meeting on Saturday (Aug 27). Najib began serving time in prison from Tuesday after Malaysia's top court upheld his 2020 conviction for corruption in relation to 1MDB, a troubled state fund from which billions were siphoned.
It is unclear if Najib will apply for a royal pardon, and get one. Najib's opponents have started a separate online campaign to persuade the king not to issue a pardon, arguing the sentence is a deterrent against corruption for future leaders.
"We must be ready to give support to the petition campaign for a pardon for Najib," Zahid said to hundreds of supporters and Najib's family at the party's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. "We will leave it to the wisdom of the king to evaluate and take action on it later."
Zahid also reiterated a call for Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob - an Umno vice-president - to hold a general election soon. Polls must be held by September 2023, and Ismail has resisted the urging of some leaders in his party to do so, saying he will act at the right time.
"We remain steadfast that the general elections have to be held as soon as possible," Zahid said. "Umno's Supreme Council has given the guidance to the prime minister to hold elections after herd immunity is achieved. All that is over. The pandemic is over. When then? When then?"
Ismail was appointed as premier by the king in August last year, after political turmoil led to the collapse of 2 consecutive governments since the 2018 general election. His thin majority in parliament had invited pressure from within Umno to bring forward the next election.
"We have been consistent about calling for elections because we respect the people's mandate," Zahid said. "We want a government that is formed via a mandate and not via political manoeuvring."
He hinted at infighting within Umno and differing agendas among factions.
"Don't let there be voices among us to say we are in a hurry to hold elections," he said. "It's the wishes of Umno" as a party, not individuals.
Ismail was not at the special gathering that feted Najib for what supporters said were his decades of commitment and sacrifice to the party, the Malay race and the country. But the prime minister attended an Umno Supreme Council meeting in the evening, with state news agency Bernama reporting that discussions there focused on strengthening the party ahead of elections. Bloomberg