Malaysia's Mahathir goads PM over silence

From Reuters of June 24, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 (Reuters) - Malaysian former premier Mahathir Mohamad made another stinging attack on his successor on Saturday, goading him to respond and questioning his leadership.
Mahathir, 80, spoke for two hours at a public meeting in Kuala Lumpur about shortcomings in policy since he retired and handed power in 2003 to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
"Now I don't know who is in power," Mahathir told a standing-room-only crowd sprinkled with opposition supporters. "If you ask a question, he does not answer. Others will answer."
Abdullah has declined so far to respond publicly to his predecessor's criticisms, which range from recent changes in auto policy to unhappiness over decisions to scrap state projects initiated by the Mahathir administration.
So far, Abdullah has tried to stay above the fray and has left his deputy, other ministers and senior officials within the ruling party to respond to Mahathir's criticisms.
An aide to the prime minister declined to comment on Saturday on Mahathir's latest outburst, in which Mahathir portrayed the cabinet as dancers and wondered aloud who was calling the tune.
"They are like a chorus line. They are all dancing. When one kicks, all will kick. They are like the Rockettes," he said.
He also suggested that the prime minister's advisers held more sway over policy than the leader but he did not name them.
Mahathir began his attack on Abdullah's government in May after it scrapped a project to build a bridge to Singapore because of the island state's objections. Mahathir said the government had sold out Malaysian sovereignty and lacked "guts".
He has also questioned state-controlled car-maker Proton Holdings' decision in December to sell its indebted Italian motorcycle unit MV Agusta for one euro.
On both the bridge and the sale of MV Agusta, Mahathir has raised suspicions of shady dealings behind the scenes but has made no detailed allegations of wrongdoing.
Mahathir ruled for 22 years, Malaysia's longest-serving premier, and he still commands powerful support in the main ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation. But political analysts say Abdullah is under no immediate threat.
The next election is not due until 2009, party polls are not due until 2007 and the only real challenger for the leadership, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, has vowed loyalty to Abdullah.

ANALYSIS - Malaysia's new opposition voice

By Mark Bendeich (From Reuters India of June 25, 2006)

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - For the first time in a decade, Malaysia has a feisty and effective opposition -- in the form of ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Mahathir, disgruntled with government policies since he left office in late 2003, has mounted a withering attack on his hand-chosen successor's administration in the past two months.
At 80 years of age, his stinging criticism of everything from failed state projects to implementation of auto policy has wrought results that opposition parties can only dream of.
After years of mainly turning a deaf ear to the official opposition, the government has suddenly been goaded into action, defending policies and issuing explanations of cabinet decisions.
All because Mahathir feels betrayed and wants answers.
"We welcome any prominent personalities questioning the government," one opposition leader, Lim Guan Eng, said on Sunday, when asked if the opposition felt it had a new ally in Mahathir.
"If he is genuine ... definitely we would welcome it and even allow him to lead the opposition, but the problem is that he is only focusing on his own interests," said Lim, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Action Party.
Mahathir is no friend of any Malaysian opposition party and says his attacks on his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, do not mean he has withdrawn support from the ruling coalition.
Mahathir's criticism focuses on issues close to his heart but not the opposition's -- a planned bridge to Singapore, which was scrapped against his wishes in April, and the recent sale of state-controlled car-maker Proton's motorcycle unit.
But even people in government circles concede that he has begun to raise doubts in the minds of government supporters.
"We do not want to make use of him or manipulate him, but it's nothing wrong for Malaysian citizens to share his opinion," a senior official of Islamist opposition party PAS, Husam Musa, was quoted as saying by Channel NewsAsia on Saturday.
There is no mistaking the air of anticipation his outbursts have caused among opposition politicians like Lim, who was jailed for his political activities during Mahathir's reign but now sees an opportunity in the fuss his old foe has caused.
"We even expect general elections to be held next year. If the problems with Mahathir persist it will be difficult for Badawi to rule and he will need a fresh mandate," Lim said by phone from a protest picket in the old port town of Malacca.
Mahathir, whose face launched hundreds of front pages during his 22 years in power, has complained that his criticisms do not get a proper airing now that he is out of office. But he still creates more headlines and headaches than the opposition.
That is because he continues to command grass-roots support within the main ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has dominated government since independence in 1957 and can make or break a prime minister.
Mahathir is not the force he once was -- his outbursts are proof of his lack of influence over government policy, say Mahathir's critics -- but he knows where the government's skeletons are buried and age does not seem to have mellowed him.
"Now I don't know who is in power," Mahathir told about 500 people on Saturday at a public debate, goading the prime minister to respond directly and questioning his leadership.
For now Abdullah keeps above the fray, using his ministers to rebut Mahathir's criticisms and to patiently explain cabinet decisions. An aide to Abdullah declined to comment on Mahathir's latest outburst, and time appears to favour the prime minister.
The next election is not due until 2009, party polls are not due until 2007 and the only real challenger for the leadership, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, has vowed loyalty to Abdullah.
But in reality, say political analysts, the clock is ticking and an early election is likely, if only because another potent opposition force will be unleashed before long: Mahathir's former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar, who caused a much bigger stir in Malaysian politics before he was jailed in 1999, is free and a ban on him standing for election or party office is due to lapse in April 2008.

Dr Mahathir vows to keep up pressure
on government for answers

By Melissa Goh (From Channel NewsAsia of June 24, 2006)

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has vowed to push ahead with his criticism of the current government.
He said he will continue to do so, until the administration corrects the alleged mistakes which he had identified.
When Dr Mahathir Mohamad arrived at a special dialogue session organised by Non-Governmental-Organisations in Kuala Lumpur, more than 500 supporters had turned up to cheer the 81-year-old former Prime Minister.
Despite pledges of support for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, Dr Mahathir ignored the criticisms directed at him, and continued to lash out against the current government, especially for reversing his previous policies.
"It's not a question of explaining only; you must right what's wrong. On the bridge, why can't we build it in Malaysia, I want to know," said Dr Mahathir.
He also took a swipe against his chosen successor, Prime Minister Abdullah, for not personally answering the issues raised by him.
The feisty leader also attacked his former protégé, Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, for failing to clear the air over the controversial car import permit or AP.
"She hasn't explained anything to me about why she gave APs to her former staff in such a big numbers," said Dr Mahathir.
Opposition leaders who were present at the dialogue denied they were capitalising on the rift between Dr Mahathir and Mr Abdullah.
"We do not want to make use of him or manipulate him, but it's nothing wrong for Malaysian citizens to share his opinion," said Husam Musa, Vice President, PAS.
While the public is generally sympathetic toward Mr Abdullah, who has so far refused to join in the fray, many still have great admirations for Dr Mahathir, who had been their leader for 22 years and a moderniser that had put Malaysia on the world map.
In fact, some from the chinese business community actually prefer the previous administration where there were alot more economic activities going on back then than now.

Home Page