Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – Malaysian authorities on Thursday deregistered the party of veteran former leader Mahathir Mohamad, who is trying to unseat scandal-hit Prime Minister Najib Razak at upcoming elections.
The 92-year-old Mahathir, who was premier for 22 years, came out of political retirement last year to spearhead the opposition challege to his former protege Najib.
Local media reported the Registry of Societies has ordered his new Bersatu party to disband for 30 days for not fulfilling a notice requesting party details.
The party runs the risk of being permanently disbanded if it does not comply.
However, Bersatu officials said the move would not stop them from taking part in the polls which are expected in weeks.
Najib is fighting to win a third term at the head of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition which has governed Malaysia since independence in 1957.
He has been battling allegations that billions of dollars were looted from the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund he founded. Both Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
He faces a tough challenge from a reinvigorated opposition led by his former boss Mahathir, who returned to the fray as anger mounted over the allegations.
University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director James Chin criticised the disbanding move as helping to aid Najib’s election chances.
“They are so blatant to issue this on the eve of the elections,” he told AFP.
“It’s very clear that this is a targeted move.”
Bersatu supreme council member Rais Hussin condemned the move, but did not appear worried about the party’s chances in the polls.
“This will not impact us in terms of the ability to contest or the ability to form a government,” he told AFP.
“We expected this. It’s not a surprise. It’s not something shocking.”
He said the four parties of the main opposition alliance Pact of Hope planned to contest under a single banner, though he declined to say which one.
Local media reports have speculated that the coalition will use the flag of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party.
The most remarkable aspect of Mahathir’s return to frontline politics has been a rapprochement with his former heir-apparent-turned nemesis Anwar.