PRIME Minister Najib Razak today accused Dr Mahathir Mohamad of trying to split the Umno leadership in an effort to unseat him, saying he had confidence in his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s loyalty.
The Umno president’s stout defence of his deputy came a week after Dr Mahathir replied to Zahid’s criticism and claimed the party No. 2 was not a loyal follower
“He has been with me since 1986, through thick and thin. I once defended Zahid at the Bagan Datoh division. I went there as a Youth chief to defend Zahid and he won by 11 votes. I delivered a fiery speech and even Tun Ghafar (Baba) complained about me.
“But I didn’t care, I defended Zahid because he was my friend. He is my friend in this struggle, ” he said at the opening of the Shah Alam Umno division meeting today.
It was Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who saved Zahid from oblivion by bringing him back as deputy tourism minister in 2004.
But today, Najib said he knew of Zahid’s misery, recalling when Zahid was forced to resign as the Umno Youth chief when he was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1998.
“Two Special Branch officers were sent to see him. I even know who the officers were (but) they have retired.
“They met him, asked him to sign a resignation letter as Umno Youth chief. He was elected by the delegates but he was forced to step down,” Najib told a packed hall at SMK Seksyen 18.
He said the officers came again the next day to ask Zahid to sign a letter stating that he had voluntarily stepped down from the post.
“It’s like pointing a gun at his head,” he said, adding that Zahid would never forget his suffering during ISA detention.
“The Umno leadership is strong. And I’m confident of my deputy Zahid,” he said.
Dr Mahathir was the prime minister between 1981 and 2003 and last week, reminded Zahid of the RM230 million in assets the latter had as Umno Youth chief.
Zahid had also attacked Dr Mahathir’s Indian heritage.
Dr Mahathir also said Zahid had sought his support when the latter was made deputy prime minister, replacing Muhyiddin Yassin.
Zahid also offered to be subjected to investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over the RM230 million allegation.
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT