Malaysia’s scandal-hit former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor were on Saturday banned from leaving the country after his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s shock election loss.
Hours later, Najib quit as the head of the BN coalition and his party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the main party in the coalition.
“I have taken the decision to step down as president of Umno and chairman of Barisan Nasional immediately,” Malaysia’s scandal-hit former prime minister Najib Razak told a press conference.
“If the party failed in the general election, the leader has the moral obligation to step aside. So based on this principle I have decided to give up both positions.”
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the former deputy prime minister, would take over as Umno president, he said.
Earlier, Mustafar Ali, director-general of the immigration department. confirmed: “The immigration department has just now blacklisted Najib and Rosmah from leaving the country.”
Najib said in a tweet: “I have just been informed by the immigration department of Malaysia that my family and I are not allowed to go abroad. I respect the decision and I will remain in the country with my family.”
Earlier on Saturday, Razak said he was going to take a “short break” after his election loss, as an angry crowd descended on an airport amid speculation he would fly out of the country.
Reports had circulated on social media that Najib and his wife were due to board a private jet and fly to Indonesia.
Najib’s long-ruling coalition lost to an alliance headed by Mahathir Mohamad, 92, himself a former premier who came back to take on his former protégé Najib.
Since his defeat, there has been speculation Najib and his wife might try to flee the country as the new government has vowed to investigate a massive financial scandal that the former leader has been implicated in.
In a series of early morning tweets, Najib said: “I will take a short break to spend time with my family whom I have not seen enough of in recent years. I pray that after this divisive period, the country will unite.
“I apologise for any shortcomings and mistakes, and I thank you, the people, for the opportunity to lead our great nation.”
He did not give further details about his plans.
About 40 members of the public, accompanied by a large pack of journalists, descended on Subang Airport, a small airport just outside the capital in the early hours. Riot police were stationed outside the gate where people believed Najib would enter.
It came after what was believed to be a manifest circulated online showing Najib and his wife were due to board a flight from the airport to Jakarta on Saturday morning.
A white van with heavily tinted windows arrived and was quickly surrounded by an angry crowd who demanded that the vehicle be opened so they could see who was inside.
They tried to rock the vehicle and one man shouted “I hate Rosmah”. The ex-leader’s wife is hugely unpopular, due to her imperious manner and a reported love of luxury shopping trips.
But someone rolled down the van’s window to show Najib was not inside, prompting the crowd to back off and allow the vehicle to enter the airport.
Businessman Raja Singham, 49, who had tried to block the van from entering, said: “We have the right to know who is inside the car, as a citizen I will fight for that. We have suffered for so many years. I don’t want them to get out of the country.”
Mahathir’s victory broke the grip on power of Najib’s coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1957.
Najib’s premiership was battered by allegations he oversaw the plundering of billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
The US State Department has alleged in civil lawsuits that US$4.5 billion was looted from the fund in an audacious scheme of fraud and money-laundering, and was used to buy everything from artworks to high-end real estate in the United States. Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
Mahathir, who is the world’s oldest elected leader, has said that the king has agreed to pardon jailed leading politician Anwar Ibrahim, his former nemesis turned ally.
This would pave the way for Anwar’s return to politics and to potentially become premier later.
Anwar was heir-apparent to Mahathir until they had a dramatic falling out, and Mahathir sacked him in 1998, and he was subsequently jailed. He was released but he was imprisoned again under Najib’s rule in 2015.