31 October, 2006

Mahathir-"Not the Retiring Type"

Malaysian PM hails gas cooperation with China

Prime Minister Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi on Monday in Naning expressed satisfaction about the natural gas cooperation with China and was hopeful of further progress.

The cooperation in natural gas has been satisfactorily going on since the beginning of this year, and there will be greater space for such a cooperation between China and Malaysia as the two countries see their economy moving forward in a constant and steady way, he said when meeting Lu Bing, chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Government.

Badawi is here to attend the commemorative summit marking the 15th anniversary of the dialogue relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Earlier the day, the Shenergy Group announced that a Shanghai terminal will begin receiving LNG (liquefied natural gas) supply from Malaysia as of 2009 with the annual delivery of no less than 1.1 million tons.

According to a contract with the term of 25 years, the supply will grow year-by-year to three million tons in 2012 and then the delivery will be kept stable.

When meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao here Monday, Badawi said energy sector is one of the key areas of the Malaysia- China cooperation.

Energy cooperation is also among the four major sectors Wen proposed that the two countries could focus on in their relationship.

The contract, inked by the Shanghai LNG Co. Ltd and a subsidiary of Petronas, Malaysia's national petroleum corporation, is so far the largest trade contract between the two countries, marking the beginning of the energy cooperation.

Shanghai LNG Co. Ltd is a joint-venture co-funded by the Shenergy Group and a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation), with Shenergy taking 55 percent of the shares.

The Malaysian company draws its natural gas supplies from the Bintulu region, one of the world largest LNG production base in east Malaysia. The company boasts an annual LNG output of 23 million tons and supply mainly to countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The terminal for the Shanghai LNG project is located in the Yangshan Deepwater Port, Shanghai International Shipping Center.
(Source: Xinhua )

Malaysians protest free trade pact with U.S

Dozens of placard- waving Malaysians on Monday demanded the suspension of a proposed free trade agreement between Malaysia and the United States, as officials from the two countries began a new round of negotiations.

The activists held a noisy protest outside a luxury hotel in Malaysia's largest city, Kuala Lumpur, where the officials are conducting the third round of talks on the pact that they hope to conclude next year.

Malaysia is the United States' 10th- largest trading partner, with $44 billion in two-way trade in 2005. Officials say that the figure will double by 2010 if the pact is signed.

The deal faces opposition, however.

"U.S. get out!" chanted about 100 protesters, standing side-by-side Monday outside the hotel. They held placards reading, "Don't Trade our Lives" and "Don't Let America Rule Malaysia."

The activists, from a coalition of 35 groups, have a long list of concerns, including the possible loss of jobs and workers' rights, a lack of protection in the agricultural sector and the end of cheap, generic drugs now available to those with HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

In many countries such free trade agreements "are creating more misery than good," said the president of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress and one of the protesters, Syed Shahir. "We are concerned about the future of this country."

Two more rounds of talks are planned before the expected conclusion of the pact by July 2007, after which President George W. Bush will no longer have the authority to negotiate trade deals that require congressional approval.

The protest was far smaller than the 10,000 people promised by the organizers, the Alliance Against the U.S.- Malaysia Free Trade Agreement. They dispersed after about 30 minutes, and the police made no arrests.

In a statement, the coalition called for suspension of all negotiations until a comprehensive cost-benefit study was done in an open and transparent manner.

"We are still very far behind the U.S. in terms of development, constitutional laws and institutions," said Xavier Jayakumar, the chairman of the alliance.

"We need to strengthen our institutions first. We need to get our house in order to be in a position to bargain."

He said the government should divulge the items that are up for discussion, and the concessions it is willing to make to Washington.

U.S. and Malaysian officials did not immediately comment on the protest or give details of the talks.

Mahathir may be dumped as Malaysian advisor: report

Malaysian ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad could be dumped as an advisor to key government-linked companies and agencies if he continues to criticise the government, reports said Monday.

Senior members of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) are expected to discuss Mahathir's roles as adviser to national oil company Petronas, car maker Proton and the Langkawi Development Authority this Thursday.

"Let the UMNO supreme council discuss it first and then it is up to the Prime Minister to decide," Mohamed Khaled Nordin, a member of the powerful policy-making body, was quoted as saying by the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia.

UMNO vice president Muhyiddin Yassin reportedly said it would be awkward for Mahathir to hold the positions given to him by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi while at the same time hurling accusations at the leader.

"It is up to Mahathir to consider it. I don't think the prime minister will ask him to do so because Abdullah is a well-mannered leader and always takes a neutral stance," Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by Malay-language Berita Harian.

Calls for Mahathir to resign were initiated at the weekend by Kedah chief state minister Mahdzir Khalid, a senior UNMO figure, who said the ex-premier's conduct had become an embarrassment.

"If (Mahathir) wants to bash the government, it would only be proper for him to relinquish all these posts and be an independent individual who has nothing to do with the government," Mahdzir reportedly said.

Mahathir has accused his successor of nepotism, corruption and economic mismanagement during a months-long feud, but took his criticism up a notch last week when he said Abdullah was running a police state.

"I'm being told you mustn't criticize the Prime Minister"

TIME's extended interview with Malaysia's former Prime Minister

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is 81 years old, but he was as combative as ever when he met recently with TIME's Hannah Beech and Baradan Kuppusamy in his plush office in Malaysia's administrative capital, Putrajaya. They spoke of his feud with his hand-picked successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his legacy, and why the developing world needs a champion. Excerpts:

If historians were to look back at your tenure 50 years from now, how do you think they will define your legacy?

They would have noticed an acceleration in the process of industrialization. Industrialization, of course, did not start with me. The previous prime ministers had the same ideas. But they were unable to push it. When I became prime minister, I found ways and means to accelerate the process. So, I suppose, that period would be identified with me, that period of very rapid growth from the 1980s to the 2000.

The new P.M. has only been in office for a couple years, so it's difficult to talk about his legacy. But when you compare what happened during your tenure and what is happening now, how would you compare the two?

In many ways, he has frankly discarded the policies and strategies we used during my time, claiming that they were not good for the country, particularly what were termed as mega-projects. We used the mega-projects to stimulate the economy. They put a stop to them, and when you put a stop to spending money, you don't generate wealth anymore.

Why do you think the Prime Minister's policies are so different?

Maybe it's because he wants to be different. He doesn't want to be a fair copy of myself. But maybe he's wrongly advised.

When you picked him as your successor, did you expect him to be a carbon copy of yourself?

No, I didn't expect. I expect every Prime Minister to have his own imprint. He wants to be different, he wants to be recognized as being himself and not a copy of somebody else. But when you try to do that, you may do better things or you may do worse things.

And do you think he is doing better or worse things?

I expected a little bit of a slowdown but not a reversal. Maybe the direction would be slightly altered, but having been an agricultural country and converting the agricultural country into an industrialized country, to find that the new government wishes to revert to being an agricultural country is very unsettling. Because we rejected agriculture simply because it was not generating enough wealth, it was not generating enough jobs for our people. And today, of course, we go back to agriculture, despite modern agriculture, despite biotechnology, it's not going to continue growth the way industry contributed.

Looking back on your various anointed successors, it seems as though they all, in some ways or another, disappointed you. Do you think that you might be a bad judge of who makes a good leader?

I think I'm not very good at that. I assume that people would react to things the way I would react. For example, if you are nice to people, they should be nice to you. If somebody is going against you yet you are willing to forget and forgive and give them a place again in the government, they will be very grateful. But I find that the people I helped to reach certain heights are not really grateful. They are actually turned against me.

So you don't think that the P.M. is grateful for what you did?

At least he should have noticed that I actually went out of my way to give him an opportunity.

When you retired in 2003, you said you would not interfere in politics. What made you change your mind?

The decision not to build the bridge to [Singapore]. You see, when we are building the bridge on our side, within our area, no other country has any right to interfere. He is saying we cannot build even on our own side because Singapore might object. Then you are actually saying that you are doing something in our own country will require the consent or approval of Singapore. That means you are surrendering your independence, your sovereignty. That was what annoyed me very much. And about this bridge, it is absolutely essential simply because there is overcrowding down in Johore Bahru and people cannot get around because where the causeway meets the land, there is a huge crowd there, people coming and going to Singapore.

Downstairs in your office, you have a poster listing some of your accomplishments, and most of them are buildings or structures: the Grand Prix track, Petronas Towers, the Multimedia Super Corridor, the North-South super highway, Putrajaya. Is there any element with the suspension of the bridge project of personal hurt, where your legacy of the builder of amazing things for Malaysia is somehow being tampered with?

They keep on mentioning these pet projects of mine. Everything in the last 20 years have been my pet projects, so if you touch anything, it's going to be touching my pet project. It is not because it was pet project. All these things that I caused to be built are actually essential to this country. We need the infrastructure, we need Putrajaya. I mean, imagine what Kuala Lumpur would be like now ... if the government administration were still in Kuala Lumpur. I must admit that when I do things, I think very far ahead, not 10 years, 20 years, [but] 100 years ahead. When we built the airport, Subang was handling 14 million passengers; today the airport is handing more than 20 million passengers, and we built it for 125 million passengers 100 years hence. Because to build an airport, to get land for an airport is very difficult. As the town grows, people object to having an airport close to their back door. On the other hand, they would need the airport. So you have to think ahead. You build Putrajaya, it's not for today. It's for the future. You have to think ahead. If you're planning, planning means looking ahead. How far did you look ahead?

Is the P.M. more afraid of dissent than you were?

He has made UMNO his personal party. They cannot say anything that he doesn't approve of. I'm being told, look, you mustn't criticize the Prime Minister because he is an institution, he is an UMNO president and therefore an institution. Yes, the UMNO president is an institution, but the incumbent is not. When I was there, he challenged me. Now he's not allowing anybody to say a word against him ... What I don't like is creating what would be called a police state. Nobody is allowed to organize any meeting and invite me to speak. If you do, the police call you up.

One of the things that you did consistently during your tenure was to speak out as an unofficial spokesperson for the developing world. Do you anyone else now taking up that role?

This is something I'm very sad about because the Third World has got nobody to stand up for them, to speak for them, simply because they are under obligation, they either owe money to banks or they are receiving aid. We are much more free. We don't owe money, we don't ask for aid, and therefore we are in the position to speak up for them. But if Malaysia gives up that role, I think it would be a very sad day for everyone because now the strong countries will just steam-roll over or just push through everything they want to do, and that is very bad. At the moment, I don't see anyone, I thought that Thaksin [Shinawatra] might. He said he wants to be like me, but he did not, and Suharto is not around. So we have to wait some time for somebody willing to speak up on it. It must be a country that is not dependent upon aid nor dependent upon loans from other countries.

How do you think stronger countries steam-roll over other countries?

Let's take the WTO, they talk all the time about a borderless world, about free access of capital, and their entrepreneurs into all countries. This capital and these big corporations going into small countries are very likely to exploit these countries as happened with the banana republics. So somebody will have to argue it out in the WTO and prevent this from happening ... Today it seems that the tendency is to be associated with the big people. They want to be nice to President Bush, to praise Prime Minister Blair, to be friendly with [John] Howard. These are the people who caused all the trouble so far ... Even if we are very well developed, even if we become a developed country, we should always stand up for the poor people, for the underdog.

What is your view on the efforts of democracy-building in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Democracy must be internally generated. People need to be educated as to the limitations of democracy. If you don't understand democracy, it is not going to work. It is one of the most complex systems. When you bring in everybody to make decisions, literally make decision by using the votes, well, we know, even the right to vote may be abused. You have to understand the limitations of democracy ... You cannot force it from the top. It's not going to work.

How are your memoirs coming along?

Not getting along very well. Because I have to write speeches ... give talks, I'm busy. And being interviewed by the press. A terrible burden.

(and busy critisizing the goverment and attacking his successor?)

Mahathir : Not the Retiring Type

Malaysia's former leader, Mahathir Mohamad, is taking on his successor in a rancorous fight over the future of the nation

The golden spires of Putrajaya, Malaysia's new administrative capital, shimmer in the tropical heat. Below them, manicured lawns and neat villas housing civil servants line the spotless avenues. Barely a blade of grass is out of place in this modern cityscape, which sprung out of a former palm-oil plantation a decade ago courtesy of a single man's vision. But there is one road in Putrajaya that is different. Although the path affords a telescopic view of the onion-domed citadel that is the new prime-ministerial office, this strip of asphalt is mysteriously overgrown with weeds and scrub. No gleaming skyscrapers have taken root here. Only one building stands forlornly at the road's dead end: the office of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the man whose two-decade building spree turned Malaysia into an economic tiger and whose grandiose dream included the construction of Putrajaya itself. The irony for the 81-year-old Mahathir must be overwhelming: Is this really how the story of one of Asia's modernizing forces is to conclude, at the dead end of an unkempt road in the futurist metropolis he created?

Three years ago, the architect of modern Malaysia ended his 22-year rule by handing over power to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a devoutly Muslim scion of the political élite. Dr. M, as the physician turned strongman is known in Malaysia, promised to exit gracefully—and quietly. For a while, he kept his word. Mahathir put together his personal library—which includes such diverse tomes as Euclid's Elements, Margaret Thatcher's autobiography and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam—and even opened a bakery on the resort island of Langkawi. But by June of this year, Dr. M could no longer hold his famously fiery tongue. Abdullah, he charged, was misguided in canceling several megaprojects the ex-PM had greenlighted, including a $4 billion railway and a proposed bridge to Singapore. Weeks later, Mahathir was hinting that Abdullah should step down, alleging corruption and nepotism within the new administration—albeit without offering proof of any wrongdoing.

On Oct. 22, the pair met for two hours, stoking hopes of reconciliation. No such luck. Last week, Mahathir continued to thunder against his handpicked successor, accusing him of involvement in the U.N.'s tarnished oil-for-food program in Iraq and of creating a "police state" in which Mahathir's criticisms could not be heard. He charged that Abdullah was dismantling his legacy—and Malaysia's future. "I thought that I have done most of the things that will serve us for the next 100 years," Mahathir told TIME at his Putrajaya office. "All that remains is for people to just continue. Don't reverse what has already been done." In a written response to TIME last week, Abdullah countered: "When I became Prime Minister, I encouraged more openness and did not want to muzzle different views. We are a democracy, and it is [Mahathir's] right to speak; he is free to say what he wants ... But it is unfortunate that he is making wild allegations."

Just days before the November general assembly of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the ruling party to which both Mahathir and Abdullah belong, party insiders worry that their ongoing feud could cleave a coalition that has maintained power for five decades. Certainly, Mahathir may be acting out of a wish to protect what he considers his—and Malaysia's—legacy, but the venom of his attacks suggests something more personal. "[Mahathir] wants to bring down Abdullah," claims Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Abdullah's minister responsible for law and parliamentary affairs, who also served under Mahathir. "He wants to force him to quit. He needs to be told he is no longer Prime Minister. His campaign is not for the sake of the country but for himself."

The tensions highlight the fundamental challenges that Malaysia faces. Since gaining independence in 1957, the former British colony has been transformed from a backwater nation dependent on rubber and tin into an industrialized regional power that is one of the world's largest producers of semiconductors and hard-disk drives. Mahathir's name is synonymous with this remarkable transition. But those glorious growth rates and thrusting skyscrapers came at a cost. To maintain his grip on power and build the monuments that would win Malaysia global recognition—administrative capital Putrajaya; the Petronas Towers, for a time the world's tallest edifices; the Multimedia Super Corridor, an Asian take on Silicon Valley; and Southeast Asia's first Formula One Grand Prix track—Mahathir undermined less flashy but no less important institutions: Parliament, the civil service, the judiciary, the media.

This darker side of Mahathir's legacy is now showing its face. Festering problems like corruption, cronyism and nepotism have contributed to a drop in foreign direct investment in Malaysia—down 14% last year. With alluring alternatives such as China and Vietnam, Malaysia's steady, English-speaking economy can no longer count on its competitive edge. Equally important, despite long-standing efforts to stitch together Malaysia's ethnic patchwork of majority Malays and minority Chinese and Indians, the three groups appear to be growing apart. Abdullah may have come to office with a reputation as a reformer and consensus-builder, but his three-year tenure has so far offered few solutions to these essential problems.

Yet it is precisely how he handles such fissures in the Malaysian economy and society—as well as the debilitating feud with his predecessor—that will dictate the place Malaysia will hold in the new Asia. "We used to believe we were a model for the rest of Asia, because the other countries were unstable or undemocratic or run by the military," says Tian Chua, information chief for the opposition National Justice Party. "But the rest of Asia has caught up and, in some cases, even surpassed us, so we must start looking at all the things we swept under the carpet for so long."

For a man prone to more vertical ambitions, examining the rot under the carpet can't have been foremost in Mahathir's mind. Born in 1925 in a village in Kedah state as the youngest of nine children, Mahathir earned a partial scholarship to study medicine in Singapore. By 1959, he owned one of the fanciest cars in his hometown, a Pontiac Catalina, and had a Chinese chauffeur. (Most other drivers were Malays at the time.) The cultivation of such emblems of power was to become a hallmark of his leadership.

Early on in his tenure, Mahathir stripped Malaysia's monarchy of its royal veto, strengthening the executive branch's authority. When the Supreme Court threatened the legality of UMNO, he arranged for the dismissal of more than half the bench. Mahathir also employed the Internal Security Act, a draconian preventive-detention law, to imprison without charge some of his most vocal opponents. But he used his clout to bring people up, too, handpicking tycoons such as Eric Chia to run state firm Perwaja Steel. And by virtual diktat, he unleashed a building spree of skyscrapers, dams, airports, stadiums. "I think very far ahead, not 10 years, 20 years, [but] 100 years ahead," Mahathir says. "All these things that I caused to be built are actually essential to this country."

The propensity to strike first and explain later backfired in 1998 when Mahathir engineered the downfall of his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who had been calling for a corruption cleanup within UMNO. Anwar was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in jail for sodomy and abuse of power, a conviction condemned by human-rights groups. Soon after Anwar was dispatched to prison, Malaysia's main opposition party, the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), stunned UMNO by capturing control of two states, in part because of its antigraft platform. By the end of Mahathir's reign, even the urban middle class created by his export-driven policies no longer supported him unconditionally. "The good human-capital policies Mahathir put into place were what made a civil society that could think and speak out," says Shahrir Abdul Samad, a member of UMNO's Supreme Council. "But Mahathir couldn't handle what he had created. He understood buildings but not people."

The man Mahathir finally chose to succeed him could not be more different. Abdullah, 66, made his name in UMNO as the quiet, harmony-seeking underdog. Where Mahathir was blunt and uncompromising, Abdullah was soft-spoken and amiable. "Abdullah is not as smart as Mahathir," says longtime Mahathir friend and retired civil servant Shaari Daud. "But unlike Mahathir, he consults the cabinet." Five months after he took over in October 2003, Abdullah surprised even his supporters by winning the largest-ever mandate in Malaysian electoral history. His campaign pledges to distribute wealth more equitably and to root out corruption clearly resonated. Showing independence from his mentor, Abdullah canceled some of Mahathir's more profligate megaprojects. Steel magnate Chia was charged with criminal breach of trust, while the sentence against Anwar was overturned. "[Mahathir] has accused me of not doing anything for the last two years," Abdullah told TIME. "Well, I had to start off by cutting the budget deficit, reprioritize spending and maintain political stability."

Nonetheless, Abdullah has come to be seen as averse to bold action. Many of his anticorruption reforms have stalled and his economic polices haven't revved up growth, which is expected to hover around 5% next year—respectable but hardly stellar. Abdullah's focus on developing Malaysia's agricultural sector, while aimed at reducing poverty, has diverted funds from high-tech industries that had put the country into the global slipstream. "He says all the right things, but at the end of the day, he needs to actually implement the reforms," says Zaid Ibrahim, a leading UMNO parliamentarian. "Where are the concrete results?" Nor has it helped Abdullah's antinepotism campaign that his son Kamaluddin, and son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, are perceived as too close to the halls of power. Khairy, who is deputy chief of UMNO's powerful youth wing, has been singled out by Mahathir as an undue influence, particularly since he is only 30 years old. "I am a pretty easy scapegoat," says Khairy. "[But] the decisions Dr. Mahathir is unhappy with are entirely made by the Prime Minister and the cabinet."

If Abdullah were still at the crest of his 2004 popularity, Mahathir's sniping might be easier to ignore. But with the public beginning to perceive Abdullah as an ineffectual ditherer, Mahathir's complaints about endemic corruption and a lack of fiscal pump priming have struck a chord—even if some of these problems existed during his rule, too. More important, the war of words between Mahathir and Abdullah may be shifting focus from larger issues that urgently require national debate. "This feud is causing a lot of distraction for us," says son-in-law Khairy. "When it affects your concentration, you cannot get down to doing things."

Chief among these issues is the fate of the New Economic Policy (NEP), an affirmative-action effort initiated by UMNO 35 years ago to try to bring the majority Malays commensurate economic power. Designed to prevent a rerun of the race riots that convulsed Malaysia in 1969, the NEP has helped to create an entire strata of middle-class Malays who can compete with their Chinese and Indian counterparts. Last month, a think-tank suggested the amount of corporate equity held by Malays was far higher than the government estimate of 19%. From Abdullah downward, the government condemned the report as baseless and blamed it for stirring up ethnic sensitivities. The institute retracted the findings, causing the author to resign in protest. Meanwhile, some analysts tie the NEP's complicated racial quotas to declining FDI in Malaysia. There's no question that Malaysia is dividing along ethnic lines: Only 6% of Chinese parents now send their children to Malay-dominated government primary schools, compared to more than 50% three decades ago. "When I was growing up in Malaysia, going to national schools, I never imagined that the country would become so polarized," says Lim Guan Eng, secretary general of the Chinese-majority Democratic Action Party.

Central to the ethnic debate is how religion fits into a country that has historically prided itself on a moderate interpretation of Islam. In 2001, after PAS's shocking victory, Mahathir discarded his usually secular rhetoric and defined Malaysia as an "Islamic state." Abdullah, who holds a degree in Islamic studies, has made "Islam Hadhari," a philosophy of governance based on moderate Muslim tenets, central to his administration. But for a Muslim Malay public that is growing more conservative—the use of headscarves by women has increased dramatically—it's not yet clear whether such formulations will be enough. Mahathir, even with his Chinese chauffeur and Malay-first rhetoric, somehow managed to keep harmony among Malaysia's ethnicities. Abdullah, who recently named a Malaysian Chinese as the nation's top crime fighter, seems to share an inclusive view of Malaysian society. But critics say he has done little to combat the more extreme strains of Islam that are creeping into society—Abdullah, for instance, has supported a strict Sunni interpretation of Islam and has endorsed a "zero-tolerance policy" against anything that deviates from it. Mahathir charges: "There is the perception now that the government is weak, and therefore [conservative Muslims] can now challenge the government."

The former PM's denunciations, of course, contribute to this very sense of weakness within the Abdullah administration. But Mahathir has no intention of quieting down. "The thing about leadership in this country is that survival, not ideals, is paramount," says veteran Malaysian political analyst Chandra Muzaffar. That sentiment applies not only to the man struggling to steer his nation forward—but also to the 81-year-old ex-leader who refuses to let go of the wheel.

(With Times Asia reporting by Baradan Kuppusamy/ Kuala Lumpur and Parvaiz Bukhari/Alor Star )

TIME talks to the Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

When Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came to power in 2003, it was as the hand-picked successor to his former boss, Mahathir Mohamad. Since then, Mahathir has become increasingly critical of his protégé, largely over what the former Prime Minister saw as a rollback of many of his key projects. But while Mahathir's attacks have grown increasingly strident, the Prime Minister has until recently declined to respond. Now, in a written reply to questions from TIME, Abdullah discusses Mahathir's accusations:

TIME: Why do you think Mahathir is speaking out publicly now?

Abdullah: You really have to ask him this question. His public criticism began with the cancellation of the bridge to Singapore. That is an issue he has raised again and again, and also during our private meeting recently. Although the government has explained extensively why we cancelled the project, he still is not able to accept the decision while the public have moved on.

What do you think Mahathir is hoping to accomplish by speaking out so strongly?
Is it a personality issue? Is he worried about his legacy? Or something else?

Again, this question is best directed at him. As far as I am concerned, all of his questions and criticisms have been answered either by myself or by members of my administration. Most of his criticism concern government projects and why they did not go as he wanted. I have explained that this government makes decisions based on priorities and realities which may be different to when he was the prime minister.

You didn't really start fighting back until yesterday. Why are you speaking out now? Was it because Mahathir continued to attack even after meeting with you on Sunday?

I would not like to characterize my statements as fighting back. I have already addressed many of the issues he has raised in an interview that was televised nationally during the height of his attacks. My ministers have also replied. What is important for me is to concentrate on the implementation of the recently launched Ninth Malaysia Plan—our national economic blueprint for the next five years. I choose to focus on this, which is an important mission for me.

He has accused me of not doing anything for the last two years. Well, I had to start off by cutting the budget deficit, reprioritize spending and maintain political stability.

What do you think the ramifications of Mahathir's criticisms will be? Will his comments affect the upcoming UMNO general assembly?

Our economy is still robust and on course to meet our targets. Political stability is not threatened and my party is united. His remarks have had little real effect on politics or business in Malaysia and some have said that it is an unwelcome distraction. The assembly will be a good opportunity for me to refocus my party's energy towards our economic and development agenda, especially for the Malay community.

How do you think your leadership style differs from Mahathir's? Why have you undone some of Mahathir's pet policies?

I have said this many times—our broad vision remains the same. We both want Malaysia to be a developed country by 2020. We largely share the same development strategy. But, of course, implementation may differ. For example, apart from manufacturing and construction I have also stressed the need to develop agro-based industries and the services sectors to provide more broad-based development. I would say that I have had to make certain decisions to protect our country's interests. We are facing all kinds of competitive pressures and we need to ensure that our economic priorities are right.

Do you think Mahathir's comments are bad for Malaysia? If so, why?

He is free to say what he wants. We are a democracy and it is his right to speak. When I became Prime Minister, I encouraged more openness and did not want to muzzle different views, so I suppose this is part of that process. But it is unfortunate that he is making wild allegations and that he does not acknowledge that answers have been given. At the end of the day, Malaysia is still well regarded internationally as an advanced Muslim country and as a good investment destination, despite what he says.

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