Dr Mahathir Mohamad would be speaking on a forum in Johor Baru on Saturday as he continues his attack against his successor Datuk Seri Abdullah’s administration after a mild heart attack last November.
The forum titled “Umno’s Challenges in Facing Vision 2020” is organized by a political website – Kelab Maya Umno, KMU or Umno Cyber Club (mykmu.net) – aligned with Dr Mahathir. As constructive as the topic may be, it is known that his motive is to attack PM Abdullah. “Based on the title of the talk, there is nothing to worry about. But at the end of the day, if there is a criticism of the government, it would not be good for the party,” said a member of Umno’s decision-making Supreme Council.
The last time in which he attacked the government was in Terengganu last September and since then, he has kept a low profile. In an interview earlier, Dr Mahathir once again stressed the failure of PM Abdullah in managing race relations, resolve problems and give the country a sense of direction.
The assessment of Abdullah is mixed in the face of a strengthening economy but a lackluster performance in curbing corruption and other important reforms in the political and civil service.
Analysts have announced earlier this week that the economy is at its best shape (a decade after the Asian financial crisis) and following that, the ringgit reached its highest level (3.50 barrier against the US dollar) yesterday (7 Feb) in nine years and is the second-best performer among 15 Asian currencies this year. As a further sign of the strengthening economy, Malaysia has moved up nine spots to 8th place in relation to salary increases according to ECA International, a company which surveys salary trends. “Malaysia is now in better shape to withstand any mega surge in liquidity that could potentially destabilize the country,” said OSK research economist Sia Ket Ee indicating that Malaysia is strong enough to face future shocks.
Despite the significant strengthening of economic fundamentals, there has been significant criticism of the interminable government procedures especially in the reform process and Abdullah’s promise to tackle corruption and red tape. The civil servants shuffling paperwork and seeking favours to expedite approvals are blamed for holding up business matters. This has fueled concern about the execution of the 9th Malaysia Plan, a $54 billion development blueprint that aims to turn Malaysia into an Asian financial hub and global leader in biotechnology and Islamic banking. A recent forum by a local think tank to review Abdullah’s three years in office gave the PM top marks for his policies but rated him poorly on their execution.
According to analysts, if Abdullah fails to deliver on his promises of reform, he could lose much more than investors’ interest and lose his grip on the Umno party especially in the face of factionalism with Mahathir’s criticism. “The Malays will be more split, if not in vote at least in discourse,” said political analyst Ooi Kee Beng.
The recent attention given to Mahathir and his achievement in championing peace may also give him a greater voice against Abdullah. Earlier this week, the Bosnian civil society groups have nominated Dr Mahathir for the Nobel Peace Prize in helping the country after its bloody civil war, describing him as the developing world’s ‘most courageous advocate’. The civil groups’ former president Ejup Ganic said that Dr Mahathir had influence the world with his lessons on managing diversity, solving conflicts and harnessing a multi-ethnic population to build a vibrant economy.
Despite the political spat, PM Abdullah claims that he was proud to see Dr Mahathir being nominated for the Nobel. “I will be happy together with all Malaysians if he wins the Nobel Peace Prize. But it will be up to those who are evaluating it,” he said.
Dr Mahathir had also launched an unofficial war crimes tribunal last week to investigate potential abuses in Iraq, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories by heads of government, including U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (8 February 2007)
Mahathir gets forum for attack on Abdullah (Straits Times, 7 February 2007)
State of the economy: How healthy is it really? (New Straits Times, 6 February 2007)
State of the economy: Better days (New Straits Times, 7 February 2007)
Analysis – Malaysian reform inertia threatens growth – and PM (Reuters, 7 February 2007)
Mahathir nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (Straits Times, 4 February 2007)
PM Abdullah wishes Mahathir well on Nobel nomination (Straits Times, 5 February 2007)
PM happy Dr M nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (The Star, 5 February 2007)
Mahathir to launch war crime tribunal (The Star, 31 January 2007)