Asia

Najib Razak: Malaysia's PM defeated by his mentor

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak gestures while addressing an event for new government interns at the Prime Minister's office in Putrajaya on 8 July 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Najib faced one of the biggest tests of his political career with the 1MDB fund scandal

Najib Razak was the prime minister brought down by his former mentor. His time in power is likely to be remembered as an era plagued with scandal and a strengthening of central power.

His Barisan Nasional coalition had governed the country since its independence in 1957, but its legitimacy faced growing challenges over corruption and economic issues.

His reputation took a huge hit after he was accused of diverting $700m from a state investment fund into his personal bank account in 2015 - a charge he denied and has since been cleared of by the country's authorities.

But that scandal became a key issue in a bitter election battle that led to a vote on 9 May, when Mr Najib was ousted by the 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad .

Political blue blood

Mr Najib is regarded as political aristocracy in Malaysia.

He is the eldest son of Abdul Razak, Malaysia's second prime minister and the nephew of Hussein Onn, the country's third prime minister.

After earning an industrial economics degree from the University of Nottingham in the UK, Mr Najib returned to Malaysia in 1974 and worked for the state oil firm Petronas.

His father's sudden death two years later led him to become Malaysia's youngest MP at the age of 23.

Mr Najib held numerous cabinet posts - including energy, telecommunications, education, finance and defence - before becoming deputy prime minister to Abdullah Badawi in 2004.

When Mr Abdullah stepped down in 2009, he handed power to Mr Najib.

Liberal start

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Najib set up the 1MDB state investment fund in 2009 to help develop the economy

Mr Najib promised a more liberal political approach when he first came to power, but did not really follow through.

While he reformed tough laws on public gatherings and repealed the controversial Internal Security Act in 2011, he later reinstated detention without trial.

The following year, he also went back on a pledge to repeal a controversial sedition law and instead strengthened it.

Critics say the laws are a way for Mr Najib to silence his political opponents and to pander to the ethnic Malay-Muslim majority who form his political party's largest support base.

Opposition leader and former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim was convicted of sodomy for a second time in 2015, charges Mr Anwar maintained were politically motivated.

In 2016, a security act aimed at combating terrorism was used to detain electoral reform activists.

In April this year, Mr Najib's government set up a law against spreading "fake news".

Challenges and controversies

He has had several controversies and challenges in his career: corruption allegations over the purchase of two French submarines in 2002; a former aide being linked to the murder of a Mongolian national in 2006; the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in March 2014; and the shooting down of MH17 in Ukraine in July of the same year.

The real blight of Mr Najib's political career though has been accusations of corruption and mismanagement over the state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Mass demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur called on him to resign, as did the country's now elected prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, but Mr Najib refused to step down.

In July 2015 he replaced his deputy, who had criticised his handling of the affair, and the attorney-general investigating the case was dismissed for health reasons.

In January 2016 the new attorney-general cleared Mr Najib of wrongdoing, saying the money had come as a personal donation from the Saudi royal family, and that Mr Najib had returned $620m of the money.

In a letter to parliament in March 2017, he said that the 1MDB fund was debt-free.

Transactions related to the fund are still being investigated in several countries including the US, Singapore, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.

Tax backlash

A key plank of Mr Najib's economic policy has been the introduction of a 6% goods and services tax (GST) in 2015, which is extremely unpopular.

He defended it on his campaign trail, describing it as "one of the hardest decisions I have made".

Mr Najib also tried to allay complaints over the rising costs of living with generous subsidies and cash handouts, particularly for low-income and rural households.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Topics

More on this story