No longer willing to turn the other cheek, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin are now publicly defending themselves in response to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s escalating and increasingly personal attacks on them - a marked contrast to Abdullah’s earlier stand of ignoring his predecessor’s attacks.
In Kelantan last week, the former premier accused the Abdullah administration of mismanagement. He also raised questions about deals that involved Datuk Seri Abdullah's family and Khairy. Mahathir's ire has frequently been directed at Khairy - currently No.2 in Umno Youth - with numerous rumours recently alleging that he plays a role in key government decisions. Just last month, Abdullah was forced to deny suggestions from Mahathir that Khairy was the power behind the throne, controlling the administration along with Abdullah's own advisers. Although the mainstream media has avoided reporting all that was said, video clips and reports of Mahathir's speech are easily available on the Internet.
In Kuala Lumpur, Khairy rebutted many of the charges raised by Mahathir, saying he was ready to step down as deputy chief of the powerful Umno Youth wing if members felt he was a liability. He said it was time to address the accusations, which he said were part of a campaign to undermine the Prime Minister. “I see many of the accusations and criticisms are baseless and what I regret is that their attacks are personal,” he said. “They attack me personally after failing to find Pak Lah's [Abdullah] weaknesses,' he added. He said that if he did not speak up, all the slander would be perceived as true by certain quarters and provide more opportunities for people to blow up the issues.
In a break from his usual silence, the Straits Times reported that Abdullah is known to have told a number of people recently that he was ‘tired’ of being Mahathir's punching bag. Indeed, the battle is just beginning, with a 40-minute “special interview” broadcast on TV (7 August) in which Abdullah defends his actions.
The unveiling of the massive South Johor Corridor (SJC) development, a $6.5 billion plan to develop Southern Johor to rival Singapore, personally overseen by Abdullah himself is perhaps one of the most ingenious battleplan that Abdullah has up his sleeve against the challenges by Mahathir. As noted by analysts, besides countering Mahathir’s charges point for point, his fight-back strategy would also include “announcing a series of big projects” to “soothe the influential chunk of UMNO chieftains who are businessmen that depend on government contracts to thrive”, and countering people’s allegations that “nothing is happening in his administration”.
All eyes will now be focused on who will benefit from business deals arising from this massive development plan. Many political observers have said that this is the opportune time for Abdullah to dish out patronage to keep groups as loyal supporters. In what appears to be an anticipation of that, Abdullah defended himself against potential attacks, saying he had never asked for kickbacks in the awarding of government contracts.
Abdullah and Khairy take on Mahathir (The Straits Times, 6 August 2006)
Khairy fights back (The Straits Times, 7 August 2006)
Khairy denies taking star as second wife (The Straits Times/Bernama/AFP, 5 August 2006)
Abdullah: I am not Mr 10% – not even 1% (The Star, 6 August 2006)
No longer just a hinterland for Singapore (New Straits Times, 7 August 2006)
Abdullah faces down his critics (The Straits Times, 8 August 2006)