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‘Mahathir group’ – vocal and visible - Implications for power configuration in the Malay polity

Updated On: Apr 28, 2006

Ambassador-at-large Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak has issued a 17-page statement on Monday (April 24) to explain the government’s stand in scrapping the bridge project.

As the Foreign Ministry’s former secretary-general who led Malaysia's negotiating team, Tan Sri Fuzi was appointed by the Cabinet last week to reply to former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s six-page open letter criticising of the Abdullah administration’s decision.  Such a move deflects direct confrontation between Pak Lah and his predecessor, a reflection of Pak Lah’s non-confrontational style and his astuteness.

However, as a sign that Mahathir is perhaps trying to make a comeback into the political scene to protect his “legacy”, the bridge issue offered an opportunity for him to hit back and hit hard.  Instead of letting the issue rest after Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi’s statement, Mr Matthias Chang, a former aide of Tun Mahathir, said in response to Tan Sri Fuzi’s statement that that it was “clear evidence” of Malaysia being outflanked and out-manoeuvred by Singapore over the annulled bridge talks.

While the Abdullah administration has received majority backing for its decision, opposition leader Lim Kit Siang has noted that the “Mahathir group cannot be ignored” and Former Deputy PM, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim predicted that Mahathir’s criticisms will not let up.

Several possible scenarios for the Malaya polity may arise in the future. First, Mahathir’s continued attacks may rouse uncertainty towards the stability of the state and adversely affect the stock market. Second, Mahathir’s appeal to Umno may weaken Abdullah’s leadership and prompt a fast forward of the succession timetable, with Deputy Premier Najib Abdul Razak, a Mahathir supporter, next in line.

Another view offered by Professor Shamsul of the National University of Malaysia is more optimistic. “Apart for a small group of people who have an axe to grind with Abdullah, I don't think Mahathir's attacks, past, present or future, will have any huge conflict-generating impact,” he says.

According to him, unseating an incumbent is extremely difficult in a political system which is largely patronage-driven for awarding contracts to Umno politicians and business groups, and PM Abdullah’s new RM200 billion (S$87 billion) five-year development plan will give him the position and power to dispense patronage.

Sources:

KL refutes Mahathir's claims over bridge issue (The Straits Times, 25 April 2006)

Mahathir's attacks fuel talk of comeback (The Straits Times, Review, 26 April 2006)

KL 'let S'pore outflank it over bridge' (The Straits Times, 26 April 2006)

Dr M issues six-page open letter on scrapped bridge (The Star, 26 April 2006)