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Dr M vs Pak Lah - The tussle is on

Comment by Steven Gan, Editor-in-Chief of Malaysiakini (From Malaysiakini of April 28, 2006)

The gloves are off. What has been simmering for a year has come to a boil.
Few had expected that ex-premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad - a Malaysiakini Newsmaker of 2005 - would fade away quietly. Lately, however, he has gone beyond sniping from the sidelines.
The tipping point was clearly the shocking decision by his handpicked successor to abandon plans for the half-bridge heading to Singapore.
Shocking because Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had vowed the bridge would be built come what may - in his own words, whether 'straight, crooked or skewed' - only three weeks before the abort button was pushed.
Not surprisingly, Mahathir was livid with the government's U-turn.
After all, it was he who decided to go it alone with the half-bridge two months before he stepped down as PM in 2003 after talks with Singapore failed.
He had warned then that even though no longer being in power, he would turn up to inspect the bridge when it was completed.
"I'll be there with my tongkat (walking stick). If I can't use the tongkat to help me walk (on the bridge), I'll use the tongkat on the people who built the bridge," he said in jest.
Little did we know then that the tongkat would be used on, yes, Abdullah.
Mahathir's battle against the government is no longer about defending his string of mega-projects. As we have said before, it's all about preserving his vision of economic nationalism.
It's also about holding true to his doctrine of political nationalism - of not kowtowing to perceived bullies both big (read: United States) and small (Singapore).
But while Mahathir will be hard-pressed to find support to help him champion for ailing national carmaker Proton, the half-bridge is a different animal altogether.
The bridge was surreptitiously mooted to pave the way for growth in the southern region.
With the sea, and more importantly ships, flowing freely in the Tebrau Straits, it was hoped that Johor's Tanjung Pelepas port would be able to steal a sizable chunk of business away Singapore - the world's largest container port.
Johor Baru will then enjoy a spillover effect from the burgeoning port, turning it into a city to eventually rival even Singapore.
This is where Mahathir's accusation may gain traction in the ruling party - that the present government failed to safeguard Malaysians' best interests in its dealings with Singapore.
Umno leaders, particularly in Johor - the state considered the party's linchpin - are those with the most to gain from a possible economic boom should there be a new bridge.
Clearly, Abdullah can do without this fight. He already has enough on his plate - the setback over the independent police watchdog, his flagging battle against graft and now a sharp hike in the cost of living.
Malaysians are currently being hit with a double whammy - a hike in inflation (higher costs for basic necessities) and a hike in interest rates (higher repayments for housing and car loans).
With Mahathir rallying his troops within the party, Abdullah is likely to be a one-term prime minister. The challenge to Abdullah's leadership is expected to come after the general election, which could take place as early as the end of next year.
What is ironic about this Mahathir-Abdullah tussle is seeing the former PM taking to cyberspace, Malaysiakini-style, to break the monopoly on truth by the mainstream media.
Also ironic is the spectacle of the government-controlled media switching sides without even batting an eyelid. The same people who labelled Mahathir a great leader a few years ago are now accusing him of being a sniveling old man.
In the midst of the war of words over the bridge, there was a cartoon circulating over the Internet depicting a guy on a toilet seat with his pants down. Horror was written all over his face when he belatedly discovered that he had run out of toilet paper.
The caption says: 'Management lesson - never start a project unless all resources are available.'
Malaysians have indeed been caught with their pants down over the bridge issue, with taxpayers' money flushed down the toilet. Who's to blame for this? Take your pick - it's either Mahathir or Abdullah.
Or both.


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