January 28, 2018 / 3:37 PM / a year ago

Malaysia criticizes opposition party meeting with EU ambassadors

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has criticized the federal opposition alliance’s meeting with senior EU ambassadors last week and its call for foreign intervention in the forthcoming general election.

FILE PHOTO - Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad waves as he leaves after he was stopped from visiting jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who is recuperating from a surgery at Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former premier seen as the most serious challenger to Prime Minister Najib Razak in an election that must be held by August, met the EU ambassadors on Thursday and asked for help to ensure that the vote is conducted fairly, local media reports said, quoting opposition leaders.

The Malaysian foreign minister slammed the meeting in a statement on Sunday, saying that issues raised at the meeting affected the country’s dignity and sovereignty.

Anifah Aman said that Malaysia will not stop foreign ambassadors from conducting international diplomacy, in line with the Vienna Convention. But it would take strong action to protect its sovereignty.

“The government will not hesitate, in defending the rights of the people and the sovereignty and dignity of the country, to take appropriately strong action on any foreign party that contravenes such norms and values as enshrined in the convention,” Anifah said in a statement.

The EU ambassadors could not be reached immediately for comment while the embassies were closed for the weekend.

Opposition parties have long accused the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has been in power since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, of election rigging and fraud. The accusations have been consistently denied by the government.

Mahathir, who served as Prime Minister for 22 years, has himself been critical of Western intervention in the past and was reported to have stopped opposition leaders from meeting foreign envoys during his rule.

Anifah said that last week’s meeting could also affect Malaysia’s efforts to defend the nation’s palm oil industry after the EU’s decision to back a ban on using palm oil to make biofuels.

Malaysia is reviewing its trade with the European Union after the ban.

“This (meeting) clearly impacts the government’s efforts to defend the country’s sovereignty and image, including the government’s efforts to defend the nation’s palm oil industry,” Anifah said in the statement.

Mahathir will become the world’ oldest prime minister if he defeats Najib and wins the elections this year. But Najib is still widely expected to win the vote, despite being accused of graft and mismanagement.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by David Goodman

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