Be a Ďjantaní (real man), leave Umno, Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz told Dr Mahathir Mohamad today.
His scathing comments, made at a press conference in the Parliament lobby this morning, were the latest salvo in an increasingly acrimonious war of words between the former prime minister and the government.
While the Umno supreme council - the ruling partyís highest decision-making body - did not discuss the sacking of Mahathir from the party at its meeting last week, Nazri said he would like to see the ex-PM leaving the party himself.
ďIf he wants to leave the party, we wonít stop him. If he remains in the party, he is acting like the opposition. Itís better for him to be a jantan (real man) and leave the party, become the opposition. Then itís also easier for me to attack him. Now if I want to fight with him, I will hesitate because he is the ex-PM,Ē said Nazri in a heated 45-minute press conference.
Nazri also strenuously defended Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawiís influential and ambitious son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, who is Umno Youth deputy chief.
ďWhat for an 81-year-old man quarreling with a 31-year-old deputy Umno Youth chief? Ridiculous, he has stooped so low. He should pick someone his own size.Ē
Mahathir had on Saturday attempted to drag Khairy into his dispute with his handpicked successor, Abdullah, over a number of decisions which he has taken issues with.
ďI canít accept the fact that just because he is angry with one young individual, he is prepared to burn the whole party. He is not a rookie politician, he is a seasoned politician,Ē said Nazri, who declared 'an open war' with Mahathir.
Press conference excerpts
Below are excerpts from Nazriís comments at the press conference:
I want to respond to him (Mahathir) on what he raised last Saturday. I do this in view of Tun Mahathirís comment that he wants to use his rights as an ordinary citizen (to speak up). But he has been a prime minister for 22 years - he is not an ordinary person. People will listen to what he said. My worry is if the cabinet does not reply, people may perceive what he said as the truth. So I think my responsibility is to reply to what he had said.
First, I want to say is PM (Abdullah) wonít answer him (Mahathir) because the PM is an orang timur (a man with traditional thinking) who stresses on good behaviour. He will not lower himself to answer accusations made by Tun against him. Moreover, the way the current PM runs the country is that he gives responsibility to relevant ministers and companies, so if there is any queries, it will be up to the relevant party to answer. If Proton (is answerable), then Proton will answer. It is different from Tunís dictatorial ways who wants to answer all, but the PM practises a liberal policy.
Issues on Proton have been answered by Proton and that has been reported. On the (scrapping of the) bridge to Singapore, (Ahmad) Fuzi Abdul Razak (Foreign Ministryís ambassador-at-large) - who was involved in the negotiation from the beginning to the end - has given the answer. We ministers only make the final decision but these people were involved in the (negotiation) process.
The PM will not pick a fight with his former boss. A clash between the PM and ex-PM is not good for the country. What is done by the PM now is good. Donít expect any answer from him, because he will let the professionals involved to reply.
I also want to clarify - as I was shocked - because we have never discussed to sack Tun. Nobody has spoken about this. But I think he has realised that what he has done to Umno, his own party, is unforgivable. When he was Umno president, he would not have tolerated this. I think he realised his mistake, (it is) a big sin to the party. Thus, he waiting to be sacked from the party.
We never discussed about sacking him, we are democratic. He Ďyang makan chili rasa pedasí. He has committed a big sin to the party so he felt he should be expelled from the party. This is his feeling. If he wants to leave party, we wonít stop him. If he remains in the party, he is acting like the opposition. Itís better for him to be a jantan (real man) and leave the party, become the opposition. Then itís also easier for me to attack him. Now if I want to fight with him, I will hesitate because he is the ex-PM.
I was shocked how he could share a platform with those who tried to destroy Umno. I saw the picture (of Mahathir) with (PAS leaders) Husam Musa, Nasharuddin Mat Isa, Kamaruddin Jaffar and Mahfuz Omar - those who called him Ďfirauní (pharaoh) previously. He sat with them. He has stooped so low to be with those people who called him firaun. He had said that Malays forget easily, but who is forgetting now? Malays or him?
I remember he was the one who advised us to love the party, (and) donít support him personally but support him as the PM or party president. I followed his advice last time and I supported him as he was then Umno president, but now we support Pak Lah because he is the current president. Last time, we were advised to follow the president but now he is angry because we followed the president.
He is now angry with Najib (Abdul Razak, Abdullahís deputy) because Najib say Ďyesí to what PM says. What is his advice then? I am shocked with his attitude today, which really reflects someone who is insincere, who does not love the party. When he said those things, he was more interested in himself. I am very disappointed with him and disillusioned with what is happening today.
I want to remind him that ministers today are not a chorus, like what he said we are just forming the chorus line. When he was PM, I disagreed with him. It shows I got guts. I am not a chorus man, I am a lead singer. It is his right to go around and speak up. I heard he is going to Kelantan later, but he must be reminded that we will follow him and respond. We wonít just let him speak and give the wrong impression to the people. We will follow him - I will follow him.
He breached all his promises. He lied. He promised us not to interfere (in government affairs) unconditionally. He never said, ďI promise not to interfere unless something I disagree with crops up and then I will speak upĒ. He never said that. He is lying. I know because he said it in front of me, in front of the cabinet, but now he has breached the promise.
The question over Singapore... I heard he told other people that he wanted to know where is the agreement stating that the Causeway is a joint ownership (hak bersama). That Causeway is older than Malaysia and Singapore, it has existed 80 years ago, so there is no need for an agreement. Even kids know we make use of it together and that we have joint rights to the Causeway. We canít say when we donít want to use the Causeway then we dismantle it. Donít be playful, asking for the agreement. Donít give stupid reasons. That is childish. Tun Mahathir is ex-PM. Surely, we donít expect such a childish question from him.
I think it is unfair for him to directly attack the PM's son-in-law. Last time, people also talked about nepotism in his administration but we respected him. We didnít raise that issue - not like what he did today. It is totally disrespectful to the PM when he singled out (Abdullahís) son-in-law.
It is impossible for Khairy (Jamaluddin) as the deputy Umno Youth chief to influence me as a minister on the half-bridge project. Impossible... I am not as stupid as that. Dr Mahathir thinks he is the only smart person in the country today. No, that is not certain yet. More people are smarter than him, only that he has better luck.
I raise this issue because the PM will not answer him. The PM is a gentleman. He is a decent man but someone who attacks his successor and his former colleagues is not a decent person. We will continue to attack him. If I can do this when he was PM, what more now when he is not the PM. What is there to be afraid of?
Here are Nazri's responses to questions from journalists at the press conference:
Question: Does your stand represent the cabinetís stand?
Nazri: It doesnít matter because to me, I take this responsibility as minister in charge of Parliament and the PMís Department minister (to answer) because I donít want my PM and DPM to reply. So as a minister from Umno, I take it upon myself to respond to all these allegations.
Have you broken rank?
I have not broken rank, I am making a statement.
Dr Mahathir said he does not want explanations alone, he wants the government to right the wrongs.
Wrong from whose point of view?
He said the government, or Pak Lah, has broken promises made to him.
There is no such thing. When Tun left office, we didnít know what was the promise. He didnít even mention it. But I donít think an outgoing PM is sincere if he imposes condition on his successor on what to do. I donít think that is right. If there are certain things which he wants to continue to accomplish, he should stay, nobody ask him to leave. We even offered him to be senior minister but he didnít want it. I donít know what is the promise. As far as I am concerned, I am not privy to that.
Thatís why he said he wanted Pak Lah to answer because you are not privy to that.
If itís privy then it should remain privy. Why should he talk publicly about an issue we donít know? He should call Pak Lah and ask Pak Lah what happened. Why should he go to the public? He is wrong to make public what is privy. It is unfair to Pak Lah because the public do not know what has been promised and this will cast aspersion on Pak Lah unfairly.
Tun said he will pursue till the end of the earth (for answers).
I will also pursue. I am 30 years younger than him. If he thinks he is energetic, can do that, then I can also do that. It will be shameful for me not to go after him.
If the public is casting aspersions on Pak Lah, wonít that affect the countryís image?
Ask him. The opposition is not causing us problem but Tun is causing us problem. The opposition is very low and down at the moment but he is giving all to the opposition.
Ask him, donít ask me. We are not the one creating all these problems, it was him. Ask him what he wants. Ask him what he said all these years about the party such as love the party, etc, whether he meant what he said. We might as well donít need to have (opposition leaders) Lim Kit Siang or Abdul Hadi Awang. I think he (Mahathir) is the biggest opposition to us now, behaving in that way. He is mixing with people who dislike Umno. We are going to fight back.
Are you saying that Umno will not sack Tun but is inviting him to leave the party himself?
We donít even talk about sacking him, he is the one who picks this idea from the air. Dia makan chili rasa pedas. He knows this is a big sin. If he wants to leave, then leave, I donít think Umno members will cry and ask him to stay, because now he is already behaving like that, so better be opposition and fight us openly. But I disagree on sacking him because we are now more democratic than him.
There was a total media blackout on Tunís statement on Saturday.
Who said blackout? That is up to the discretion of the newspapers. Sometimes I speak for an hour, the newspapers didnít publish. Previously during his time also like that. Last time, he didnít like malaysiakini, Malaysia Today, barred (them) from entering Parliament. The liberal one is actually Pak Lah because malaysiakini can enter Parliament now, no problem.
Itís the media choice. If the media made a choice not to print what he said because this is all old songs that he sings, they think there is no news value, itís entirely up to them. Itís wrong for him to say there is a media blackout. If he takes on (New Straits Times group deputy chair) Kalimullah (Hassan) then if Kalimullah says the New Straits Times donít print, donít blame it on the government because he was the one who picked the fight with Kalimullah, (and) picked the fight with the press.
Mahathir said he gave power to someone (Abdullah), but that person gave the power to other people. Is there any truth in that?
Is Khairy a minister today? He is trying to insult my ability to say that I take instruction from the deputy Umno Youth chief?
What about the senior minister offer?
We talked about it in the cabinet because some ministers felt that we still need him to be around, but he said he didn't want it.
I think he has done so much damage to us. I donít think he loves Umno, I donít think he loves the country. He went back on all his words. Thatís why I am disillusioned and disappointed. I canít accept the fact that just because he is angry with one young individual, he is prepared to burn the whole party. He is not a rookie politician, he is a seasoned politician.
So what do you hope for...
No, no, no, I donít hope for anything. Now is open war, so we go to war lah. His style is like that. My style also. He declared war on us. For two, three months we kept quiet, we restrained ourselves, respecting him for what he has done for the country, but he sees that as a weakness on our part and he continues to attack us, calling me and my colleagues Ďhalf-past-sixí. I think he is Ďhalf-past-sixí, he didnít stick to his promises.
So how is this open war going to affect the current administration?
Never mind, he asked for it. We kept quiet because we hope things will cool down and he realised his mistakes. Then we explained to him and let him called us or reprimanded us but he did not (stop). Instead, he went to a forum and mixed with people who were against him. When he said forget about Islam Hadhari (as mooted by Abdullah), that it is a new belief, and letís go back to the original Islam - that is a cheap stunt to attract support from PAS leaders present there... very, very cheap, unbecoming because he is not naive and stupid to know that we didnít introduce a new religion, but itís the approach (that is new).
Will the government be distracted...
No, we will focus on what we want to do like the PM said - the Ninth Malaysia Plan and to realise the election manifesto.
You said (Mahathir is angry) because of one young person and he wants to burn the party. Are you referring to Khairy?
Khairy lah. I understand from the report I read and I watch the CD - we all know he was talking about Khairy. He is an ex-PM for 22 years, (he) wants to have an argument with a young deputy Umno Youth chief? He should be culturing our youths, guide them. What for an 81-year-old man quarreling with a 31-year-old deputy Umno Youth chief? Ridiculous, he has stooped so low. He should pick someone his own size.
What do you think of Khairy?
Nothing wrong about him. It is natural and normal when someone who is young gets a high profile position, won Umno Youth deputy chief uncontested, surely he invites criticism. You think if he is not deputy chief, he is not Pak Lahís son-in-law, people will be bothered about him? People wonít. Of course there are many things said about him but it may not be true. Even if itís true that he does business, whatís wrong (with that)? Mahathirís sons also do business when he was PM, who doesnít know about that?
The business community is not happy with not many economic activities under the current administration.
This is not because of the administration but it's the world or regional economy. Probably this is the accumulation of what happened before the year Pak Lah becomes PM... why (Mahathir) talk like that when he is no longer PM?
If the bridge was so easy to be built, why couldnít it be done during his time as PM? People know there is problem, thatís why he canít build even when he had power. Why didnít he declare war with Singapore when he was PM? He is an angry man - young man like me being angry is normal - but an angry old man is way out. Older man should be wise.