KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Anifah Aman has warned that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's move to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak could cause instability and take a toll on the country's foreign investment.
Mr Anifah said in a statement on Saturday (Mar 5) that he was both surprised and disappointed with Dr Mahathir.
"What concerns me right now is that with the actions of Dr Mahathir, who is a lauded statesman and a beloved international icon, the country could become unstable, driving away foreign investors from this nation at the same time," he said.
"As a former Prime Minister, he should be more understanding of what democracy is, which cannot be achieved the way Dr Mahathir is going about it now."
Mr Anifah said he felt the "Save Malaysia" movement had taken its own agenda, with no benefit for any political party or its citizens, adding that the implications of the move would be felt soon.
"Let us never forget, the international community is watching us," he said. "This instability will bring bad implications for us in the days to come."
A total 58 people had signed a declaration on Friday (Mar 4) calling for a national movement to remove Mr Najib through legal and non-violent means. They also pledged to take action against those who associated with or covered up for the prime minister.
This movement was led by Dr Mahathir, who has spearheaded calls to remove Mr Najib over allegations of corruption and misrule.
"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 a joint statement endorsed by heavyweights from the ruling party, opposition, and top civil society groups.
Dr Mahathir said the assembled leaders, despite their differences, shared "one goal".
"We must rid ourselves of Najib as prime minister," he said.
An online petition garnering support for the movement has also been launched, getting more than 10,000 signatories in less than 24 hours.
The Malaysian government released a statement later in the day saying that the move by Dr Mahathir demonstrated the depth of his "desperation".
"Today, Mahathir and his former enemies have demonstrated the depth of their political opportunism and desperation," said the statement.
It also added that was already "an existing mechanism to change the Government and Prime Minister. It's called a general election. And it is the only mechanism that is lawful, democratic and fulfills the people's will."
"In 2013, the Malaysian people expressed their will and elected the current government, lead by PM Najib. If Mahathir wants to change the Government, he must follow democratic process and await the next election, in line with Malaysia's laws and Federal Constitution," the statement said.
Mr Najib, 62, has been under fire for a year over allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state investment fund he founded, and his own admitted acceptance of a US$681 million overseas "donation".
Amid cascading calls to step down, he has counterattacked by purging his ruling United Malays National Party (UMNO) of critics.
The government also has arrested whistle-blowers and shut down media outlets that have reported on the allegations, raising growing concern over the future of rights and freedom of expression in Malaysia.
The joint statement by the anti-Najib alliance lamented the "deteriorating political, economic and social situation in the country", repeating allegations that perhaps billion of dollars were skimmed from the state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), in a bewildering array of complex overseas transactions.
1MDB is an investment company established in 2009 by Mr Najib to fund development projects in Malaysia. It has denied any wrongdoing. The new movement also highlighted the US$681 million deposited into Mr Najib's personal bank accounts in 2013.
Mr Najib at first hotly denied taking the money, but the government has since maintained that it was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family. This claim has been ridiculed in Malaysia as an implausible cover story.
The Saudis have yet to officially confirm the claim. A report this week by the Wall Street Journal said it had found fresh clues that the donation originated from 1MDB funds, adding that it found no evidence that the money came from the Saudis.
Malaysia has been dominated since independence by UMNO, which has overseen decades of impressive growth and living standards.
But voters have increasingly rejected the party over its divisive racial politics, persistent allegations of rights abuses, recurring corruption scandals and accusations that the electoral system favours UMNO.