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The Abdullah-Mahathir drama – what next?

Updated On: Jul 18, 2006

In response to recent Mahathir’s allegations and attacks on the Badawi administration with regards to the handling of various issues, particularly concerning the bridge project, Malaysia's government has declassified several secret documents detailing talks with Singapore

These include correspondence between Dr Mahathir and Singapore leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong. They also include records of a meeting between Dr Mahathir's successor, Mr Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and Mr Goh in March 2005.

The extent to which Badawi government had gone out of the way to rebut Dr Mahathir is seen in the fact, as revealed by the PM’s office, that it is “only the second time in recent history that information protected by the Official Secrets Act 1972 has been declassified and approved for public consumption”.  

As an added bonus and service to the nation, a special book will soon be issued by the PM Department to explain the government's position on issues raised by Tun Dr Mahathir. In addition, in another Malaysian innovation, two Umno Supreme Council elders will explain the issue at a road show in Kuala Lumpur.

The tussle between Mahathir Mohammad and Abdullah Badawi also highlighted the difference in their way of handling bilateral relationship with Singapore. 'Running the government is not about scoring points or engaging in brinkmanship,' the current administration explained. 'It is about weighing the pros and cons and reaching a decision that is good for Malaysia.' Dr Mahathir on the other hand preferred a more robust stance. Amongst many things, the former Malaysian leader said thatMalaysia was a 'half-past six country with no guts' after he accused the Badawi government for giving in to Singapore over bridge talks.  Whether the release of these document would lead to another unexpected backlash – against Singapore – is yet to be seen.

But will Dr Mahathir be satisfied? Early indications indicate otherwise. As analysts have speculated, this is not just about the bridge or the other issues that have been surfaced, but a far-reaching fight over his legacy. Some even believed this to be a proxy fight between Mahathir’s son and Abdullah Badawi’s son-in-law to succeed as President of UMNO Youth Wing. 

Most believed that Mahathir will continue to find faults with Abdullah Badawi’s administration, and through his attacks and criticisms wear down Badawi so that the latter will only be a one-term prime minister. This would pave the way for his “preferred choice”, Najib to take over. 

Speculations are rife over what is Mahathir’s endgame. Differences are also expressed over who will emerge the “winner” in this ongoing fight?  What is clear however is the fear expressed by some within UMNO of the adverse impact this open spat would have on the unity of UMNO and on broader issues of governance. 

Sources:

KL govt releases four letters on bridge talks (Straits Times, 16 July 2006)

M'sia releases letters between Mahathir, S'pore leaders (AFP, 15 July 2006)

KL releases secret bridge talk documents (Straits Times, 15 July 2006)

Releasing papers 'will not mend rift' (Straits Times, 15 July 2006)

The disappearing NST report (Straits Times, 15 July 2006)

Abdullah Gets Rousing Welcome On Arrival (Bernama, 15 July 2006)

Full Contents Of Letters On Bridge Project To S'pore Made Public (Bernama, 15 July 2006)

Declassified/ Setting the record straight for Malaysians: Why crooked bridge project was aborted (New Straits Times, 15 Jul 2006)

Correspondence between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Singapore Prime Ministers (The Star, 15 July 2006)

Malaysia declassifies documents on bridge talks with Singapore (Channelnewsasia, 14 July 2006)

M'sia declassifies secret documents on S'pore bridge talks to rebut Mahathir (AP, 14 July 2006)

Spot Light/ Setting the record straight for Malaysians: Why crooked bridge project was aborted (New Straits Times, 14 July 2006)

Don't throw sand at me, says Syed Hamid (Straits Times, 14 July 2006)

Think things through, Dr M urged (New Straits Times, 14 Jul 2006)