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Strong words used as the Mahathir-Abdullah battle heats up

Updated On: Aug 18, 2006

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi clearly and bluntly rejected his predecessor Mahathir Mohammad’s call to revive plans for a bridge to replace the Causeway, in exchange for Mahathir’s offer to end attacks on the government.

Though appearing unfazed by the heightened pressure from Mahathir, the usually mild-mannered Abdullah retorted his predecessor's offer with no uncertain terms so far: “Never mind, he [Mahathir] can say anything he wants.  I am the Prime Minister and I have a job to do. I decide what is best for the people.  Once a decision has been made means it has been made.”  Abdullah said he would not bow to Mahathir's demand and senior ministers from the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) rallied behind him, closing ranks against the former premier, calling the demands “incredible,” “impossible” and "unrealistic". 

Nazri Aziz, an influential minister in the Prime Minister's Department described Mahathir's remarks on the scrapped bridge as “tantamount to political blackmail” and said it was merely an excuse for him to continue criticising the Government.  Nazri claimed to have evidence to show that the former premier had indeed tried to topple Abdullah and was willing to reveal it, though he did not.  Pointing out that Mahathir had never denied his allegations, Nazri said several statements by the former prime minister published in The Straits Times previously clearly showed Mahathir wanted Abdullah's downfall.  He said the problem had indirectly resulted in the creation of “several groups” in the Cabinet and UMNO itself, and the situation, if unresolved, would worsen during the next general election.

Abdullah said that in his closed-door meeting with Johor UMNO leaders on Monday (14 August), he had put the issue concerning the scrapped bridge project to rest once and for all, stressing the need to stop discussing issues pertaining to Mahathir and to move forward to focus on the new growth corridor being developed inSouth Johor.  However, some UMNO delegates maintain that many questions remain unanswered. 

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak echoed Abdullah, telling reporters that the issues had been answered and explained repeatedly by the government and should not be raised again.  Accordingly, for the first time since the spat began, the Malaysian media on Thursday (17 August) kept eerily silent on any Mahathir-Abdullah related reports. 

Abdullah made a strategic visit to Johor, an Umno stronghold, amid fears of a growing split within the ruling party, Umno, because of Mahathir's verbal volleys. The visit is clearly being used to rally support for Abdullah, with the announcement of pump-priming projects to propel Johor as an economic hub.  Abdullah said he was now in "implementation mode" and wanted to realise plans spelt out under the Ninth Malaysia Plan.  A whole slew of development projects were announced, with the new buzzword being the South Johor Economic Region (SJER) masterplan, which includes the construction of a Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Johor Cyberport to turn South Johor into a major outsourcing and software hub.  Other plans unveiled include the setting up a 485 hectare biofuel park and a dedicated port on the eastern tip of Johor.  Abdullah also launched infrastructure development projects such as a third port facility in Johor, new facilities in the Pasir Gudang port, the expansion of the Port of Tanjung Pelepas terminal and upgrading of the Senai Airport cargo terminal – all part of plans to upgrade Johor's logistics network to serve as a major growth catalyst for the southern state.

In the lead-up to the UMNO General Assembly in the middle of November, Abdullah is expected to continue with his campaign to explain to the party grassroots and to reassure the people who have voted him into power - with the biggest mandate in history - that he knows what he is doing, and he is very much in charge.

Sources:

Dr M: Build bridge and I'll stop criticising. Abdullah: No way I'll change my mind (New Straits Times/Bernama, 15 August 2006)

No! It's Not On : 'I am the Prime Minister' (New Straits Times, 15 August 2006)

Malaysian PM says scrapped bridge will not be revived (Channel NewsAsia, 14 August 2006)

Ministers back Abdullah's bridge stance (AP, 16 August 2006)

Dr M resorting to 'political blackmail' (Today/Agencies, 16 August 2006)

PM ready to roll out vision, walk the talk (New Straits Times, 16 Aug 2006)