Respond, respond, respond. This was what some people hoped PM Abdullah will do after the scathing attacks by his former boss.
Failing to get any response from PM Abdullah, other than his comment that Mahathir was free to say what he wanted, the spotlight is back on Mahathir. The question on everyone’s lips was why he had mounted such a public attack on Abdullah, so much so that it threatened Malaysian unity.
The New Straits Times ran a public appeal to Mahathir to explain his attacks clearer. “WHY, Tun? That’s what we — the products, inhabitants, stewards and legatees of the country you designed and built — need to know. Why have you become so harsh a critic of your successor’s administration?” the public appeal ran. The New Straits Times sought to appease the former Malaysian Prime Minister who had led Malaysia’s fast growth period for the past 22 years. The editorial reassured Mahathir: “Nothing of your legacy as prime minister has been dismantled.”
Mahathir is not listening to such appeals. This whole exercise could be seen as his attempts to distinguish his hardcore supporters from what he considered as Abdullah’s lackeys. Mahathir severely attacked two former allies turned rivals - former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam and former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. He also suggested that the Cabinet ministers were yes-men who had switched allegiance.
Mahathir also wants to gauge public support for his utmost disappointment with the causeway project. Those close to Mahathir said that the cancellation of the bridge project in Johor was the proverbial last straw for the former leader. 'You people have no idea how strongly he felt about Singapore and the bridge. Tun feels that since he can no longer canvass for votes from the Umno leadership, he will do it through the masses who read the news,' said a Mahathir loyalist.
Perhaps, PM Abdullah’s silence was a good strategy. After all, there was no need to rock the boat since his support rate is rock solid. As pointed out by New Straits Times, the electorate have fallen behind the present administration with a greater mandate than Mahathir received even at the record-breaking height of his popularity. The Star of Malaysia also added that Abdullah’s silence ‘has helped Abdullah maintain his dignity while at the same time, prevent an escalating fight between the two respected figures’.
Cabinet members, state leaders and Umno leaders have rallied behind Prime Minister Abdullah. In a poll carried out by the Chinese newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau, 64 per cent of respondents wanted Tun Mahathir to stop criticising the administration while the rest felt that he should be free to express his views. The poll received more than 32,000 responses.
Meanwhile, the dominant party UMNO is working hard behind the scenes to prevent a split. Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib said that the party will call a meeting of grassroots leaders to explain the situation to them. 'We have not set a date yet, but it is quite urgent,' he said.
Not even the high-ranking Cabinet ministers are spared this additional grassroots duties. They will meet party members during their visits to the constituencies to explain that Cabinet decisions are made collectively. The party's youth wing has also instructed its grassroots leaders to address concerns of the split on the ground.
Malaysia's prime minister faces biggest crisis as former mentor turns challenger (AP, 11 June 2006)
Umno acts to prevent SPLIT (Straits Times, 11 June 2006)
Dr Mahathir takes swipe at ministers who criticised him (Straits Times, 10 June 2006)
Has Mahathir gone too far? (Straits Times, 10 June 2006)
An open letter to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad: Not going gentle into that good night (New Straits Times, 9 June 2006)
The velvet gloves come off (The Star, 9 June 2006)