Despite high hopes that the peace meeting between Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad would mend the growing rift, the gulf seems to be getting wider as the latter stepped up his attacks immediately after the private meeting he had with Abdullah just before the Hari Raya celebrations.
Barely a day after the widely-touted ‘peace-meeting’ between the two, Mahathir has resumed his criticism, showing the former premier is bent on continuing his campaign against Abdullah and his administration. Despite, or perhaps because of Mahathir’s complaint that he lives in a “police-state” and “is prevented from airing his views”, pro-government newspapers The Star and New Straits Times ran front-page stories of his latest attacks on the Abdullah administration. Running alongside however, were reports of the support that Abdullah is enjoying from the crowd of at least 180,000 visitors who attended his Aidilfitri open house celebration on Tuesday (24 October). The Star reported this as evidence that politicians and ordinary Malaysians alike are rallying behind Abdullah in the wake of Mahathir’s renewed criticisms. By contrast, while the thousands of people who attended Mahathir’s open house reflect his continued stature amongst the public, only two government ministers turned up.
While Abdullah has not responded with his account of their meeting, his advisers are reportedly unhappy that Mahathir has gone public about the private talks. Umno chiefs were quoted as being shocked that Mahathir would release a press statement on what was understood to have been a closed-door meeting between the two leaders. Questioning Mahathir’s sincerity, ministers lambasted him for worsening the situation.
Mahathir’s latest attacks, coming amidst a nation-wide festive mood of Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations, are ill-timed, and smack of desperation. As influential cabinet minister Nazri Abdul Aziz said, "I don't know what's wrong with him. It is Hari Raya and we should be coming together, asking for forgiveness." Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin told Bernama that Mahathir made a political miscalculation by revealing the substance of his meeting with Abdullah at a time when the leaders, the Malays and Muslims were hoping for a settlement before Hari Raya Aidilfitri. He said that for the Malays it was a sad Aidilfitri this year because they failed to see the settlement that they had been hoping for.
In an unprecedented move, the Sultan of Johor joined in the criticism of Mahathir, calling on the former premier to “just behave like a pensioner” and “stop making noise”. This is the first time a state ruler has come out in public to defend the present administration, causing waves as rulers are supposed to stay non-partisan.
With the tide of political sentiment increasingly turning against the former premier, it seems ever less likely that Mahathir will remain a major threat to the Abdullah government.
Stalwarts upbeat on road ahead (The Star, 25 October 2006)
Shattered hopes (New Straits Times, 24 October 2006)
Mahathir hits out at Abdullah one day after 'peace talks' (The Straits Times, 24 October 2006)
Mahathir’s attacks show a ‘lack of sincerity’ (The Straits Times, 24 October 2006)
Abdullah in festive mood despite Dr M's accusations (Today/AFP, 25 October 2006)
PM inspired by huge turnout of 180,000 at Raya open house (The Star, 26 October 2006)
Leaders slam Dr Mahathir’s actions (The Star, 26 October 2006)
Dr M's still popular but ... (Today/AP, 26 October 2006)