In response to internal criticisms that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has yet to deliver on his campaign promises of reforms, top Barisan Nasional leaders have come out in defence of Abdullah and reaffirm the support he enjoys from Parliament, the Cabinet and Umno.
The huge mandate Abdullah – formerly viewed as the “Mr Clean” of Malaysian politics – won on a campaign promise of reforms three years ago, led Barisan Nasional MP Zaid Ibrahim to question in Parliament how Abdullah had not delivered on his reform promises since taking over as premier. On top of that, another Barisan Nasional MP, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah questioned whether the Official Secrets Act was hindering efforts to combat corruption and abuse of power. While such remarks by the opposition are not uncommon, the criticism from within Abdullah’s own camp was unprecedented and sparked talk that the prime minister was losing control of the government, prompting Barisan Nasional leaders to come out in full force.
The internal criticism prompted Abdullah to emphasise to reporters in Cuba on Sunday (17 September) that he was “in control”. Abdullah said he was committed to carrying out reforms but he would do it his way. He also argued that it was wrong for some people to assume that he was losing control just because some ministers had differing opinions on certain issues.
Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said Abdullah’s “democratic leadership style” should not be misjudged as losing control of the government. Emphasising that Abdullah heads a government that received a huge mandate in the last election, Najib said he could not fathom how talk of Abdullah losing grip of the government could arise. “Each prime minister has his own style but what is important is that the head of the Government has strong support so that he can make the right decisions that benefit the people and country,” Najib told reporters.
Playing up freedom of expression under the Abdullah administration, Najib made it clear that no action would be taken against Zaid for speaking out as “he was just presenting his views”. Najib said MPs could give their views as long as they did not go against the rules of Parliament.
Other ministers praised the incident as an illustration of the liberal style of government under Abdullah. Housing and Local Government Minister Ong Ka Ting said that Abdullah’s methods suited the people who wanted a transparent Government. Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the prime minister was well in control of his administration and the country and pointed out changes Abdullah has made since he took office, such as reform in the police, fighting corruption and development of human capital.
Drawing comparison to the past to illustrate the improved political climate under Abdullah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz, said there was lack of freedom and some dictatorial tendencies during the previous administration and that if now, the freedom to speak up about the prime minister is construed by some people as losing control, critics are welcome to propose a return to the old ways to Parliament.
Najib brushes off talk about PM losing grip (New Straits Times, 19 September 2006)
Don’t misjudge PM’s style (The Star, 19 September 2006)
At the Dewan Rakyat yesterday: Nazri: Lack of freedom in previous government (New Straits Times, 20 September 2006)