First published by Shannon Teoh on 11 March 2016

The bipartisan Malaysian group including civil society leaders that signed last Friday’s Citizen’s Declaration is taking its message nationwide as it attempts to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down.

The group led by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will now call itself the Save Malaysia campaign. Its leaders met on Wednesday evening to discuss the next steps to convince the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government to ditch Datuk Seri Najib, who is embroiled in a financial scandal over some US$681 million (S$941 million) found in his private accounts.

“We already have a lot of signatures,” said Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) vice-president Shamsul Iskandar, referring to petitions started by ordinary Malaysians online that have hit close to 40,000 signatures. “But there are no details so we will have to refine it.”

Analysts say that while the collaboration between Tun Mahathir and opposition figures was unprecedented, it would ultimately be up to Umno, and not the public, to force Mr Najib out.

“If Umno does not put pressure from the inside for Najib to resign and if he himself does not want to resign, he does not have to resign,” said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who heads policy think-tank Ideas, in comments televised on CNBC.

The Save Malaysia group has had a slow start, and cracks have started to appear over whether the opposition parties should work with Dr Mahathir. As prime minister for 22 years until 2003, Dr Mahathir harassed and jailed opposition leaders and is accused of weakening the country’s institutions.

Political leaders who attended the Wednesday meeting said there was no decision on who should become the new premier should they topple Mr Najib. Mr Lim Kit Siang, one of 45 signatories of the declaration and who leads Democratic Action Party (DAP) MPs in Parliament, said the Save Malaysia group has not mapped out a clear game plan.

“We don’t decide who to replace (Najib). That’s not our place to decide,” PKR vice-president Tian Chua was quoted by The Malay Mail Online as saying. “It’s very clear that it should be Parliament that decides.”

Both DAP and PKR form the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance, along with Parti Amanah Nasional, a splinter from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS). The PH could now face competition from PAS, as the Islamic party revealed yesterday that it is working to form an alliance with other parties. Details will be unveiled next Wednesday.

“It will be political cooperation for the 14th general election,” PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan told reporters yesterday, referring to the 2018 polls. He said the new bloc of opposition parties would be the “third force” in Malaysian politics, after BN and PH, and that it will be a non-religious, multiracial outfit.

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