Tuesday March 1, 2005

INTERVIEW - Honeymoon over for
Malaysia PM, says old pal

By Jalil Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - If Malaysia's premier needs proof that his political honeymoon is over, then it has arrived in the form of a critical book by one of his old schoolmates.
Veteran writer Yahaya Ismail has caused a stir with his book, which commentators say marks the first open attack on Abdullah's rule.
It doesn't pull punches by Malaysian standards, and says Abdullah Ahmad Badawi faces many challenges -- including reining in his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin.
Titled "Khairy Jamaluddin -- A Prime Minister To Be?", the book is the latest must-read in Malaysian politics.
Yahaya paints a picture in which Abdullah and ex-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim will team up to block Abdullah's deputy, Najib Razak, from becoming premier, though some think this an unlikely scenario.
The suave, Oxford-educated Khairy, 29, is seen as a rising star in Malaysian politics as well as an influential businessman.
But his meteoric rise has ruffled feathers in the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), at a time when Abdullah needs all the UMNO support he can muster to pursue an anti-corruption drive and other market-friendly policies.
During party elections last year, Khairy was booed by some when he won unopposed as deputy chief of UMNO's youth wing, just four years after joining the party.
"Abdullah must realise that most UMNO leaders are unhappy with his son-in-law," Yahaya told Reuters.
"So he must make a quick change to win back people who are disillusioned with his leadership."
Yahaya said many believe Abdullah has indulged his son-in-law's political career, to the point where Khairy could turn out to be his Achilles heel.
Yahaya, who said he has known Abdullah since their student days in the 1960s, met the prime minister recently to discuss issues raised in the 304-page book. Khairy told Reuters last week that he had bought two copies of the book but was dismissive of its content. He also brushed aside suggestions that he nursed an ambition to run the country.
"I'm a member of UMNO and how far I go in politics is up to the members of UMNO," he said.
Yahaya said Abdullah should push ahead with his anti-corruption agenda and spread the progressive brand of Islam.
"His honeymoon is over," he said. "The people are waiting to see whether he is able to make big changes in 2005."
Yahaya said Abdullah's clean image and his lack of a strong factional base within UMNO could set him back.
Yahaya said he has sold some 10,000 copies of the book, a best-seller in the Malaysian context, but said sales could be higher. "A couple of book sellers refused to sell my book, saying the police harassed them," he said.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"