On the eve of Malaysia’s National Day, it was “all systems go” to stop Mahathir from attending as a delegate and speaker at the upcoming Umno general assembly.
Mahathir’s recent proposal to contest as a delegate to address the November general assembly of the ruling party, the United Malaysia National Organization (UMNO), has received a decidedly negative response from senior figures. Senior Umno members have come out in full force to advise Mahathir to “consider the implications”.
If Mahathir wants to speak at the assembly in November, he would have to contest for a division delegates' post. Thus the decision now lies with the Umno branches in Kubang Pasu, the Umno division in Mahathir's home state of Kedah, where he is registered as a party member, to decide whether they want Mahathir to represent them at the general assembly. The division will hold its annual general meeting on 9 September when they will select seven delegates to attend the Umno general assembly.
Malaysian newspapers have reported that 32 Umno branches in the Kubang Pasu division have urged Dr Mahathir not to accept nomination as one of the division’s seven delegates. The main argument being used against his contest is the potential negative impact on Mahathir’s reputation.
Several members have come out to say that they regret Mahathir’s decision to bring himself down to the delegate-level to contest. Saying it would only tarnish his credibility as a statesman, they think Mahathir should withdraw from contesting to protect his dignity as a former prime minister, Umno president and chairman of the division.
Additionally, there is the threat that Mahathir’s standing as a leader with international repute would be tarnished if he failed in his bid to be a delegate since, "even if he contests, we cannot promise he would be chosen."
Top leaders too have been vocal about how inappropriate it is for a former premier with international recognition to contest against ordinary members for such a post. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said many feel it is not appropriate for Mahathir to contest, and he himself “followed the general feeling”.
Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Tun Hussein went further, saying that having a former prime minister among the delegates was unprecedented in the history of the general assembly. He said it “goes against the values and principles of how we were brought up and the Malay culture itself”. Noting that the assembly would be observed by the world, other races and Malays who are not Umno members, he expressed that he was worried that what happens at the assembly would reflect on the Malays’ situation and even Mahathir’s position.
Najib has warned that Umno, which has ruled since independence in 1957, could lose power over the dispute between Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and his precessor. But despite the immense influence he once held in Malaysia, Mahathir has now been accused of suffering from “post-ministerial syndrome” and politicians have lined up to pledge their support for Abdullah.
Abdullah himself however, has kept up his magnanimous public image in the midst of this spat. He was quoted as saying last Friday (26 August) that Mahathir has the right to be picked as a delegate at the general assembly of the country's ruling party in November and is welcome to attend the assembly in that capacity should he be picked.
Mahathir on the other hand, was widely reported by the international media as having complained that he is now a “pariah” in the ruling party he dominated for two decades. “I am the former party president yet they don’t want me to talk to the members. I can’t even meet them. Universities are barred from inviting me and newspapers are prevented from reporting about me,” he told the New Straits Times, adding that he was insulted over the attempts to gag him.
Ex-PM a delegate at assembly ‘against Malay culture’ (The Star, 30 August 2006)
Dr M 'should consider implications on Malays' (New Straits Times, 30 August 2006)
Don't bother to contest, Dr M told (New Straits Times, 29 August 2006)
Ruling party turns Mahathir into a ‘political pariah’ (AFP, 29 August 2006)
Mahathir has right to be picked as delegate to Umno meeting, says Abdullah (The Straits Times/Reuters/Bernama, 27 August 2006)