18 April, 2007

Mahathir says ex-deputy Anwar can't hope for big political comeback

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad heaped scorn Wednesday on plans by his ex-deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, to re-enter politics, saying Anwar cannot make a major impact.

Mahathir, who fired Anwar in 1998 over accusations of homosexuality and corruption, said Anwar might still have enough public support to help his opposition People's Justice Party "win a few seats" in Malaysia's next general election.

"But making a comeback and taking over the government, that's a pipe dream," Mahathir, who retired as prime minister in 2003 after 22 years in power, told reporters

Anwar, 59, declared earlier this month that he would run in May 26 elections for his party, even though his corruption sentence bars him from holding any political office and from running in general elections until April 2008.

Anwar's wife currently is the party's president and is expected to step aside for him to contest the post. If he succeeds, the party would have to apply to the Registrar of Societies to request that the ban on political office be waived.

General elections are not due until mid-2009, but speculation has risen that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi might call polls by early next year.

Anwar has spent most of the past few years lecturing at universities abroad, but he recently began spending more time in Malaysia to help the opposition push for wider democratic rights.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said if the government wished to sell its stake in national carmaker Proton, then it should be sold to locals instead of foreigners.

"If you sell to a foreign company it is no longer a national car," said Mahathir, who is being increasingly sidelined by his successor's administration. "If you want to sell, you have to sell to a local company."

"What is important is to remove the management and put back the old management who have been able to do well," he said in response to questions on how Proton should look for a partner.

The government, which controls Proton through state asset investment agency Khazanah Nasional, has been locked in talks with foreign carmakers like Volkswagen and General Motors (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) as well as local car companies Naza and DRB-Hicom Bhd (DRBM.KL: Quote, Profile, Research) over an alliance and the sale of a stake in Proton.

Tun Dr Mahathir also apologised to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for having alleged that the latter owned a mansion in Australia.

Neither Abdullah nor his son, Kamaluddin, owned the mansion, estimated to cost RM60 million, located near the Swan River in Perth, as alleged by Dr Mahathir. It belongs to a Malaysian businessman, Datuk Patrick Lim.

"Well, I shouldn't make that statement because I was stating something based on rumours I heard and the rumours repeatedly said that the house belongs to him (Abdullah),

"And then of course you know, when you are carried away after giving a speech like that, you don't censor yourself and you are not too careful about what you say, so I said it and I'm sorry that I said something that was wrong," Dr Mahathir said.

Dr Mahathir told reporters this after delivering a keynote address at the 6th Perdana Discourse Series on "Media and National Development" at the Perdana Leadership Foundation here.

The former prime minister made the allegation at a ceramah in Kulai recently.

"I should be corrected and I'm very grateful that people have actually paid attention to my allegation and they found that the person who owned the house is not the PM, it's not his son but somebody else," he said.

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