Malaysia and Mahathir

COMMENT by Mohammed A.R. Galadari*
From Khaleej Times Online of August 14, 2006

CHARLES de Gaulle, the late president of France, believed that politics was too serious a business to be left to the politicians. Given what is going on in Malaysia right now, De Gaulle would be forgiven for his belief. Mahathir Mohamed, the former prime minister and charismatic architect of modern Malaysia, is an acutely unhappy man today.
Dear readers, I distinctly remember that it was Mahathir himself who had hand-picked the present prime minister and his long-term protégé Abdullah Badawi as his successor three years ago when he decided to call it a day after 22 years in power.
So it is indeed surprising that Mahathir has turned on his own appointee and loyal successor accusing him of corruption, nepotism and misrule.
The former prime minister, who is widely loved and respected across the Malaysian society for his immense contributions, is particularly upset over the Badawi government’s move to scrap several ambitious projects started by Mahathir.
He has accused the government of lacking ‘guts’ and of selling out Malaysian sovereignty over their recent decision to scrap Mahathir’s plan to build a bridge to neighbouring Singapore.
This week, Mahathir went on a major offensive against Badawi by seeking permission to speak at the meetings of the governing party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which he once led and co-founded. Members of the UMNO, which dominates government and can make or break prime ministers, gave Mahathir a hero’s welcome as he arrived to speak at a divisional party meeting outside Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
But Mahathir’s decision to take his criticisms into the heart of UMNO threatens to sow dissent and division within the ruling party at a time when Abdullah is gearing up for an early election, perhaps in the second half of next year.
There are no moves inside the party to dethrone Abdullah, but any grassroots support for Mahathir’s criticisms could pressure the prime minister to alter the course of fiscal policy and return to the Mahathir era of major state projects.
Dear readers, there may be some truth in Mahathir’s accusations against the prime minister he himself picked up. Also, there is some resentment in the governing party over the prime minister’s style of functioning. But just like many Malaysians, I have serious doubts if this is the right way for Mahathir to air his grievances against his own party and government.
Whatever his political or ideological differences with Badawi, Mahathir should sort them out by having a frank and friendly chat with the prime minister who still respects and adores him. Of course, anyone in a democracy is free to say and express what he or she wants. But the bitter war of words between the two most senior leaders of the country is not really good for the health of a democracy.
Malaysia is one of the few Muslim countries that have successfully embraced democracy and modernisation and in every walk of life. Besides, it is one of the most-developed and economically progressive countries in the world. No one should be allowed to undermine this success story.

*Mohammed A.R. Galadari is the owner of the Khaleej Times of the United Arab Emirates.


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