21 May, 2008

Mahathir's last stand

There's something wrong with former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Why else would a man who led his country to such great economic heights, and in the process established global stature for himself as a spokesman for the developing world, try to tear it all down in retirement? Yet this is what many Malaysians fear will be the result of a bitter feud that has raged for much of the past year between the octogenarian former premier and his hand-picked successor Abdullah Badawi.

Malaysia's influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad quit the ruling party Monday after a long feud with his successor, deepening cracks in the party.

The 82-year-old Mahathir's departure raises the possibility of large-scale desertions by loyalists, which could split the party and bring down the government.

Mahathir 'has asked other members of the party to follow suit' and leave the United Malays National Organization party, or UMNO.

Tun Dr Mahathir, 82, who led the United Malays National Organisation for 22 years, said he was resigning to protest against Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi's leadership.

Years back, when he resigned, he did say that he would not interfere in the affairs of the country nor want to be a Minister Mentor.

Mahathir should have emulated Singapore's ex-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew by not completely relinquishing his government posts after his retirement.

Lee Kuan Yew is smarter than (Mahathir), for he chose to remain as a ... minister to the government after stepping down as prime minister.

Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as Singapore's prime minister in 1990 but still wields considerable influence in the Cabinet and holds the title of "Minister Mentor."

So when leadership is challenged, as is now the case with Mahathir unleashing almost daily public criticism against Abdullah, the entire country comes to a standstill and fear stalks the land. Politicians don't know to whom to turn, business isn't sure when government decisions will be made or, if they are, that they will be honored, and the rest of society fears the fallout from a power struggle.

Why did Mahathir pick Abdullah as his successor? Perhaps Mahathir expected Abdullah to falter at the start of his tenure, and the party rank and file would come running to him with apologies and pleas for his return. Instead, Abdullah and his reform message were warmly welcomed by Malaysians weary of Mahathir's polarizing politics.

Mahathir's many tugs of war

THE bitter split between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his handpicked successor Abdullah Badawi started just months after the latter took over as prime minister.

• Oct 31, 2003: Datuk Seri Abdullah takes over from Tun Dr Mahathir in a simple handover ceremony.

• Dec 10, 2003: The new Cabinet postpones Tun Dr Mahathir's last mega project - a RM14.5 billion ($6.2 billion) double-track rail network. Other Mahathir projects, including a monorail and a giant mosque in Putrajaya, are scrapped later.

Tun Dr Mahathir says: 'The government claims it has no money to continue concessions. That is what they say to stop many projects in Putrajaya. My contention is the government has lots of money.'

• Feb 9, 2004: Anti-corruption officials arrest tycoon Eric Chia, a confidant of Tun Dr Mahathir. He is later charged, but acquitted of criminal breach of trust in a case involving former national steel mill Perwaja.

• Sept 2, 2004: The political nemesis of Tun Dr Mahathir, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is released from prison by Malaysia's highest court. The move angers the former premier.

• Jan 3, 2006: Tun Dr Mahathir attacks Proton's decision to sell its stake in Italian motorcycle maker MV Agusta for 1 euro. Proton had paid 70 million euros for the company in December 2004 when he was in power.

• April 12, 2006: Prime Minister Abdullah scraps a plan to replace Malaysia's side of the Johor Causeway with a 'crooked' bridge. Tun Dr Mahathir claims the decision shows that Malaysia has lost its sovereignty to Singapore.

He says: 'This is our country, yet we have to seek permission from another country to build a bridge on our side. Where is the sovereignty?'

• July 28, 2006: Tun Dr Mahathir is attacked with pepper spray as he arrives in the Kelantan airport during a campaign against his successor.

• Sept 9, 2006: He suffers a humiliating defeat in his attempt to get nominated by his old Kedah division as a delegate to the Umno assembly in November. He claims members were paid to vote against him, but says he will not stop his attacks.

He says: 'The only way they can stop me is to throw me in jail.'

• Oct 22, 2006: Datuk Seri Abdullah and his predecessor meet privately in what is described as 'unity talks', but nothing is achieved. The latter continues his attacks just hours after the meeting.

Tun Dr Mahathir says: 'I will continue to criticise if I find that something is done that does not benefit the country.'

• Nov 9, 2006: Tun Dr Mahathir suffers the first of several heart attacks. He undergoes a second heart bypass on Sept 9, 2007. His first heart surgery was in 1989.

• April 23, 2007: Tun Dr Mahathir says for the first time that his successor was only supposed to serve one term, and that he wanted Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak as premier.

• Throughout 2007: Tun Dr Mahathir continues to attack Datuk Seri Abdullah and government policies whenever given a platform.

• May 16, 2008: A Royal Commission probing charges of corruption in the judiciary recommends investigating key figures, including prominent lawyer V.K. Lingam and Tun Dr Mahathir.

• May 17, 2008: Tun Dr Mahathir challenges the government to investigate him as urged to by the commission.

• May 19, 2008: He quits Umno.

Reme Ahmad

Controversial Umno career

THE following are the links between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Umno, a history that is being scrutinised again following his shock decision to quit the party yesterday.

• 1946: Tun Dr Mahathir, a medical doctor, joined the United Malays National Organisation at the party's inception.

• 1964: He became a Member of Parliament when he won a seat in Kota Setar, Kedah. He lost the seat in the following general election in 1969.

• 1969: Following the May 13 race riots, he was sacked from the party on July 12 due to the widespread distribution of his letter to first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman criticising Tunku's handling of the administration.

• 1972: Tun Dr Mahathir rejoined Umno on March 7 and was appointed a senator in 1973.

He contested the Kubang Pasu (Kedah) seat, winning it unopposed.

Subsequently, he was made minister of education.

• 1975: He became one of the three Umno vice-presidents.

• 1978: Then Prime Minister Hussein Onn appointed Tun Dr Mahathir as deputy prime minister on Sept 15.

• 1981: Tun Dr Mahathir became prime minister of Malaysia on July 16, 1981. He led the country for 22 years.

• 2003: He retired on Oct 31 and passed the premiership to Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, promising he would stay out of the government's affairs.

Read also:

Mahathir's long, dark shadow

Abdullah undermined as Mahathir quits Umno


Malaysia PM calls emergency talks over Mahathir

Impact of Mahathir leaving UMNO



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