STEALING is wrong, but it is the denial and lies about it that are feeding the Langkawi Umno grassroots leaders’ growing resentment towards party president and Prime Minister Najib Razak.

An Umno branch chief told The Malaysian Insight a shocking 80% of members in the island were opposed to Najib’s leadership because of his refusal to come clean on his role in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal.

“If he had admitted from the start to accepting the RM2.6 billion, people wouldn’t have faulted him, there must be a reason for it,” said Ahmad Kamardin, 52, who has headed the Ulu Melaka branch of Kampung Kampung Mawat Umno, for 18 years.

Ahmad said Najib should have immediately sued the parties who accused him of stealing the money.

“If someone accuses me (of something I did not do), I will punch that person. But when people accuse us and we don’t do anything (to defend ourselves), that’s not good. “

“Where is our leader’s pride?” said the former army officer, an Umno member of 33 years’ standing.

Ahmad said he had suffered the fate of the Umno leaders who had criticised the prime minister after he expressed his dissatisfaction with Najib and the 1MDB controversy.

He said he was sidelined and the village development and safety committee (JKKK) chairmanship given to another.

“They didn’t fire me, but my position of JKKK chairman was given to someone else,” Ahmad told The Malaysian Insight.

Another party committee and JKKK member, Mohd Farid Idris said he was similarly penalised after he criticised the behaviour and attitude of some Umno leaders.

Farid said he was certain that many in Langkawi shared his unhappiness with the current Umno leadership.

“Many left, especially when Tun (Dr) Mahathir left,” said the 36-year-old businessman who is considering joining Dr Mahahir Mohamad’s Bersatu party.

Dr Mahathir’s influence

The 1MDB controversy has weighed heavily on the minds of Umno members and Langkawi residents who have access to social media such as Facebook and Whatsapp, said Ahmad.

Those living in the rural areas without access to technology place their faith in their leaders and what their leaders tell them.

And many of them have chosen to support Dr Mahathir, whom they see as the man behind Langkawi’s development from a fishing island to one of the region’s best known travel destinations.

“The villagers don’t know (about 1MDB) because they don’t have Facebook. But more are in the know now because of the explanations given by their leaders, said Ahmad.

Most will not dispute the information passed on to them by leaders they trust, said Langkawi Bersatu treasurer Nur Syafilla Mohammad Fauzi.

“They may not have access to social media, but the older people believe in Tun (Dr Mahathir) and are bound to believe his accusations.”

The United States Department of Justice claims that RM2.6 billion from 1MDB was channelled into Najib’s personal bank account, an allegation the prime minister has denied. Najib maintains the money was donated to him by an Arab leader.

Najib also claims to have returned a portion of the money to the donor.

He has also threatened to sue all those who have accused him of embezzlement, but has yet to make good the threat.