First published by Kevin B. Atencio on 6 March 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—An unlikely alliance of some of Malaysia’s fiercest political foes joined on Friday to urge Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign, a new coalition that some experts said threatened to challenge his political survival.

Led by 90-year-old former Premier Mahathir Mohamad, politicians and activists from across the country’s political spectrum forged a declaration of intent seeking Mr. Najib’s resignation over a growing scandal surrounding a state investment fund he leads.

“We call upon all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, political situation, creed or parties, young and old, to join us in saving Malaysia from the government headed by Najib Razak,” read the joint statement.

Mr. Najib’s tight control of the ruling party and major media has helped him to weather the controversy. But some analysts said Friday’s gathering showed a shifting political landscape that presented a profound challenge to Mr. Najib’s rule.

“This development signifies a major shift in Malaysian politics,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, a leading political commentator and head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a local think tank.

A Malaysian government spokesman said that the only lawful form of political change was through elections and that Malaysians had elected Mr. Najib to an up-to-five-year term in 2013. “Today, Tun Mahathir and his former enemies have demonstrated the depth of their political opportunism and desperation,” the spokesman said, using an honorific title for Dr. Mahathir.

It also was unclear whether the new anti-Najib coalition would be sustainable. James Chin, the Malaysia-born head of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia, suggested that the depth of the division between Dr. Mahathir and his new allies might create difficulties down the line. “I’m not excited yet,” he said.

Pressure on Mr. Najib has grown since The Wall Street Journal reported last year that government investigators had found that hundreds of millions of dollars had entered his personal bank accounts via banks, companies and other entities linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the state investment fund. The probe didn’t name the source of the funds or say what happened to the money.

Mr. Najib, 62 years old, has denied wrongdoing or taking money for personal gain. The 1MDB fund also has denied wrongdoing or taking money for personal gain, and has said it was cooperating with investigations. Malaysia’s attorney general said the funds were a legal political donation from Saudi Arabia and that most of the money was returned.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s auditor general submitted a long-awaited report into 1MDB to a parliamentary committee on Friday. It was classified under Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act to prevent any leaks to the media, the panel’s chairman said.

Friday’s participants included some of Malaysia’s most prominent political figures, among them some of Dr. Mahathir’s own critics during his 22 years in office, such as opposition veteran Lim Kit Siang.

Another participant, Azmin Ali, member of a younger generation of opposition leaders, urged a nationwide campaign to oust Mr. Najib. Muhyiddin Yassin, a former deputy premier whom Mr. Najib fired last summer after he urged a probe into the state fund, also joined the group.

Most notable was the support of opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, who on Thursday night issued a statement supporting the new movement from the prison where he is serving a five-year term on a sodomy conviction which he and his supporters say was politically motivated. Mr. Anwar said Malaysians should put aside their personal vendettas—a reference in part to how Dr. Mahathir fired him as deputy leader in 1998.

“This is a very unusual group of people,” Dr. Mahathir said at Friday’s gathering.

Earlier this week, Dr. Mahathir said he was leaving the ruling United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, because he didn’t wanted to be associated with a party which he said was dedicated to keeping Mr. Najib in power. Mr. Muhyiddin then said he would support calls for Mr. Najib to resign. The party couldn’t be reached to comment.

Friday’s declaration raised the stakes. Dr. Mahathir and his eclectic alliance of civil society activists and opposition leaders said they also intend to push for a sweeping reform of the country’s political system, including the repeal of new security laws which they say Mr. Najib has used to stamp out dissent.

Some shrugged off questions from reporters about Dr. Mahathir’s involvement. During his long tenure, his government sometimes deployed riot police on the streets of Kuala Lumpur to break up demonstrations calling for political reform and more space for dissent.

Mr. Lim, the veteran opposition politician, said the new alliance should instead look to the future. Its members, he said, had gathered to “save Malaysia from becoming a failed state or a rogue state.”

Ambiga Sreenevasan, a founding member of Bersih, a group dedicated to ensuring clean and fair elections, agreed. “The time to act is now. The time to set aside our differences is now. The time to reclaim this nation is now, preferably before we are all put behind bars,” she said.

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