When a former Prime Minister of Malaysia meets his successor in a foreign country like Japan, it is sure to make news.
This is their first public show of reconciliation since both attended a party hosted by the Malaysian royalty recently. Both were invited to speak at a Nikkei conference in different sessions on different days. The meeting is even more significant since Mahathir has been more than critical of Badawi of late on a full range of issues.
The purpose of the former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s ferocious attacks on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government, some say, are to undermine the administration and force Abdullah’s early retirement. Some say Mahathir had been slighted by Badawi’s less than enthusiastic support for the national car project, Mahathir’s brainchild and pet project.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was Badawi’s decision to drop the plans for a new bridge to Singapore first mooted by Mahathir who said that Badawi appeared to be giving away too many concessions to the city state. According to AFP reports, Mahathir even questioned Badawi’s patriotism in this issue. ”That there should be any Malaysian leader willing to entertain this idea, to destroy Malaysian seas to satisfy Singapore, speaks badly of his love for his country,’’ Mahathir said.
The meeting is more than coincidental since both were guests at the splendid Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, with more than 1,000 rooms, 69 suites and multi-wings, is so large that it was possible for them not to bump into each other. In other words, both could not deny the purposefulness of the meeting. Seniority also counted as the current Prime Minister took the trouble to meet his former boss in the latter’s room. After breakfast, Abdullah walked to the Tower Block and went up to Dr Mahathir’s room on the 31st floor and met for about 15 minutes face to face before moving on to other engagements.
The meeting could also have been made possible by the intervention of the foreign minister Syed Hamid who is seen as being close to both Mahathir and Badawi. ”The disagreements should not be escalated to the extent of creating a situation that gives rise to a perception of a political crisis,’’ said Syed Hamid. Syed Hamid has been lobbying hard for reconciliation between the two. ”We have to accept the fact that when there is a change in leadership, the current leadership may act or make a decision different from that of the previous leadership,’’ he added.
However, Badawi kept his conversations with Mahathir under wraps. "Yes, I did call on Tun," said Abdullah. "But it was only to say hello and to tell him about my visit and my meetings with several Japanese businessmen here. Nothing more than that. And please don’t speculate." Speculation is already rife. Malaysia’s current domestic situation is not ideal as fuel hikes have hit the pockets of Malaysian hard and the ruling party had also lost a crucial election in East Malaysia recently.
Malaysian police used batons and water cannons to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters in the capital, arresting around a dozen activists and beating several. A Keadilan activist sought treatment at a hospital after an alleged beating by the police. According to the AFP, some 200 people, including opposition parties, non-government organisations and student groups gathered in front of Kuala Lumpur's iconic Petronas Twin Towers in the latest of a series of rallies against steep fuel price rises. SMS messages are fuelling rumours of inflation following the fuel and electricity charge hikes.
Chanting "Protest!" and carrying banners saying "Cronies get rich while workers are oppressed", they also slammed a decision last week to raise electricity tariffs, the first hike in nearly a decade. The opposition parties are breathing down the neck of the government. "Everybody is suffering from the fuel hike. Now electricity prices are also up. These two hikes will hit us hard, whether our pay is large or small," Hatta Ramli from the opposition Pan-Malaysia Islamic (PAS) party told the crowd.
Badawi is handling a tough one. Government subsidies had previously been the bedrock of winning votes. But, under this administration, fuel subsidies will eventually be scrapped to channel funds towards building schools and rural infrastructure. In addition, Malaysians are more reliant on fuel for their own motor vehicles compared with its neighboring countries due to its ongoing upgrading of the public transportation system.
KL police crack down on protest over prices (Straits Times, 29 May 2006)
Malaysian police beat, arrest anti-government protestors (AFP, 28 May 2006)
Abdullah Leaves For Home After Fruitful Japan Visit (Bernama, 28 May 2006)
Abdullah makes courtesy call on Dr Mahathir (New Straits Times, 27 May 2006)
Mahathir seen on offensive against Badawi govt (AFP, 1 May 2006)