Aug 31, 2006

Will Dr Mahathir be allowed to speak at UMNO General Assembly?

Will Dr Mahathir be allowed to speak at UMNO General Assembly?
Click to listen to interview

The upcoming November UMNO general assembly in Malaysia could bring the spat between Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's government and his predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohamad to a new level, if the former Prime Minister is allowed to address the assembly.

While both Prime Minister Badawi and UMNO’s Supreme Council have decided not to oppose Dr Mahathir’s bid to speak, he has not yet been granted formal approval to take the floor.

So what are his chances of being allowed to address the governing body of Malaysia’s ruling party?

Joel Chua spoke with Dr. Zakaria Haj Ahmad from the HELP University College in Malaysia for more.

ZA: Certainly Dr Mahathir stands a good chance of speaking at the Assembly. But it is somewhat unusual for a former president (of UMNO) to be present at this meeting in that capacity. Even if the procedures are laid out where a limited number of speakers are allowed to speak, in this case I think the party leadership would find it very difficult to refuse Dr Mahathir to speak.

If given the opportunity to address the UMNO assembly, do you think Dr Mahathir will likely continue his attacks or could he take a different approach?

ZA: Dr Mahathir has been known to be very outspoken and forward, he doesn’t hold his punches. So if he speaks he definitely will deliver many messages. I’m not sure if it will be confrontational but if he is allowed to speak, my guess is that he will want to review many of the government’s policies, especially with regard to the policies that he himself had initiated and have clearly been revoked.

Do you think Dr Mahathir’s very confrontational approach will eventually backfire on him?

ZA: Dr Mahathir is a fighter. He is confrontational, yes. But in the past, some have pointed out, he has won every bout whenever there was a challenge to him. In this case it all depends on political climate and the nature of the divisions within the party. So that’s the situation I think we will see.

These divisions within the party that you’re talking about, UMNO has unreservedly given its support to the Badawi government. However there are obviously some quarters in UMNO that support Dr Mahathir. Who are these people and why do they support him?

ZA: Malaysian politics is very complex and many things are not exactly how they appear. So from that standpoint, when an incumbent is in power, all support will be voiced in his favour. But clearly there are divisions.

What do you think Dr Mahathir stands to lose or gain depending on how this fight turns out?

ZA: At the moment Dr Mahathir has nothing to lose. Whether or not he will gain is difficult to say. But the point is that he has left a legacy and that is being pulled aside or being replaced. So this is what we have to take into consideration. Not just in terms of the physical edifices he has built but also in terms of his ideas. This is the great situation and challenge that we see. It’s puzzling in some ways but in other ways it is quite fathomable.

Do people support Dr Mahathir because of him being a figurehead and the historic role he’s played in Malaysia or do they objectively support his criticism of the government?

ZA: I think many people are caught (in the middle). It’s not a question of whether you support Mahathir or not. It’s just that people have a certain view of him and he has left the scene and no longer in power. So the question is if he can now be considered an elder statesman and do you then give him the kind of respect and deference or do you want to criticize the man. But I think a lot of people are perplexed if not finding themselves in a very difficult position in terms of their views on the man.

There are reports that PM Badawi might call for early elections next year. How will the outcome of the UMNO general assembly likely impact these elections?

ZA: If you look at it over a period of time the ruling party is strong, so it’s not likely to lose. It’s a matter of the number of seats they win or lose. It is very hard to find grievances with the government. They could be just two separate events altogether.

And that was Dr. Zakaria Haj Ahmad from the HELP University College speaking with Joel Chua.

**Extracted from Radio Singapore International

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