KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today Khairy Jamaluddin and other Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders should have spoken up earlier if they thought there was a problem with his leadership of the coalition and government, he told Malay Mail in an exclusive interview at his residence here.
In his first interview since BN lost the elections — the first since its 61-year rule — Najib was asked about the criticisms levelled at him by certain Umno members after the BN lynchpin party’s embarrassing defeat in the May 9 general election.
“No, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve always practised an open style. People were free to voice their comments, even difference of opinion. I’m quite open about it, except that I want it to be done in private, because we should not attack each other as members of the government,” Najib, who is still Pekan MP, said.
Party members, he said, always had the freedom to convey their dissatisfaction or difference in opinion but they must use the “proper channel”.
“So Khairy is free to come and see me and say: ‘Look sir. I think you are not on the right track, or there is some problem, you know, which were not resolved in a proper way.’ Then I could then decide, whether to accept or not to accept.
“He didn’t do that. I mean, he admitted that he didn’t do that.”
Dressed in a bright yellow polo T-shirt and slacks, the 64-year-old was a picture of calm and composure despite the hawkeye watch of a bevy of lawyers in his private home here, which has also been under 24-hour police surveillance after he was barred from leaving the country.
The sixth prime minister, the eldest son of respected second prime minister, the late Tun Razak Hussein, said he has never forced his ideals on any BN members, emphasising only the need to follow the party line for discipline’s sake.
“Ya, because if you attack the leadership openly, that’s against party discipline. But if you come and say: ‘Sir, I disagree with you. I think you should do it this way.’ That is not against party discipline,” he said.
Najib did not mention names but appeared to allude to his former deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and former Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal. Both senior Umno men have since gone on to found their own political parties, which have been catapulted to power following the historic events of the May 9 elections.
Muhyiddin and Shafie had both spoken out in public against Najib’s handling of sovereign investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which the latter also created.
But Najib was referring to Umno Youth wing chief Khairy in this context.
“He should realise that I’m not going to dictate against anyone with difference of opinion. I only want party discipline, and those who were disciplined by the party, it was because they broke party discipline,” he said.
In an interview with Singapore broadcaster Channel News Asia after the Barisan Nasional (BN) lost the elections, Khairy admitted that coalition leaders had been “drunk” on hubris after 60 years of uninterrupted power.
Khairy also admitted that no one in Umno nor BN were willing to “bell the cat” after seeing their then second-in-command dropped from Cabinet for questioning Najib over the source of 1MDB’s funds and where RM2.6 billion had gone.
Najib has since resigned as president of Umno and chairman of BN, replaced by his former deputy Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
While he has received some visitors since being blacklisted by Immigration from travel overseas, Najib has been seeing a number of senior Umno members pass through the heavy police cordon at Jalan Langgak Duta here.
Among today’s notable visitors were Melaka Umno veterans like Tan Sri Mohd Ali Rustam, Selangor Umno chief Tan Sri Noh Omar and Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri.
Other BN leaders have distanced themselves from Najib.