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A turning point in the Mahathir vs Abdullah battle?

Updated On: Aug 04, 2006

Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s criticisms of the current Abdullah administration reached a turning point last Friday when his accusations turned into personal attacks against his handpicked successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

Accusing Abdullah of nepotism and declaring publicly that Abdullah no longer enjoyed his [Mahathir’s] support, this is a marked departure from Mahathir’s initial criticisms over policy issues in the last six months since the spat started.  Mahathir’s attempt to directly undermine the current leadership has finally jolted the country's political elite to the reality that the current administration is faced with its most serious political crisis since taking over in November 2003.  Many are worried that the current political climate will worsen, deepening the already growing fissures within the governing United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and plunging Malaysia into a prolonged period of political instability.  That Abdullah urgently needs to do something decisive to counter Mahathir’s attacks on him is something that many agree on.

But analysts say a frontal assault against Mahathir, who has won every political battle during 22 years in power, would be fraught with risks that could have long-lasting consequences for the country. 

The Malaysian business community, which has long relied on the state for projects, is worried that a prolonged political slugfest would distract Abdullah from his development agenda.  Business analysts say it could also dim Malaysia's prospects of attracting much-needed foreign investment.

More importantly, they say that an intra-elite political fight could hurt Umno's credibility among Malaysians, especially amongst the dominant Malay community, which has grown increasingly restive, sparking protests over the country's weakening economic prospects and sharp spikes in the cost of living as a result of higher fuel prices.

While nothing has been revealed of Abdullah’s next plan of action to counter Mahathir, the current premier remains popular amongst Malaysians and has continued to make himself heard as a voice of reason in response to issues such as the bridge and Mahathir’s calls for the boycott of US and UK goods.

Early this week, Mahathir, well-known for his enmity toward Israel and the West, made a call on oil producing countries to stop Israeli atrocities in Lebanon by stopping all transactions in US dollars and British pounds, saying this was because the destruction and killings by Israeli terrorists would not be possible without the support and collusion of the United States and Britain.  Abdullah issued a swift response, stating that the government has no intention to boycott US and UK goods as it can backfire on Malaysia.

Additionally, the Malaysian government moved to counter Mahathir’s allegations on the Causeway bridge with an information blitz which included the release of a 43-page booklet yesterday, titled, Crooked Bridge: Straight And Transparent Facts, to be distributed nationwide to the people for free.

Sources:

Gloves set to come off in KL (The Straits Times, 2 August 2006)

Reject Dollars, Pounds To Stop Israeli Atrocities In Lebanon - Dr M (BERNAMA, 1 August 2006)

Malaysia ex-PM Mahathir calls for ban on dollar, pound to end MidEast conflict (XFN-ASIA, 2 August 2006)

Abdullah rules out boycott of US and British goods(The Star, 1 August 2006)

KL govt releases booklet to back its stand on bridge (The Straits Times, 1 August 2006)