(MalaysiaKini) Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi continues to feel haunted by his most vocal critic Dr Mahathir Mohamad, despite claims that the latter was ‘finished off’ in political terms after being defeated in the Umno Kubang Pasu divisional election prior to the party general assembly.
Mahathir’s allegations of nepotism within the First Family - which fingered both son-in-law and Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin and son Kamaluddin - appear to have cut deep, going by Abdullah’s response in an interview with the Bangkok Post.
In the interview, Abdullah apparently lost his characteristic calm.
That Abdullah has the right to defend himself when attacked or when political attempts are made to erode his credibility, integrity and legitimacy is beyond doubt.
However, the fact that he has had to mount a public defence yet again, in addition to a counter-attack, proves that his ‘elegant silence’ - in vogue for several months in the mainstream media after being coined by former deputy premier Musa Hitam - is certainly going to be interpreted by critics and sceptics as a sign of declining credibility of his leadership.
If that interpretation is correct, it does not augur well for the country as Abdullah is also in charge of the critical finance and internal security portfolios.
His opponents and enemies within Umno, especially Mahathir’s supporters and followers, will see it as their victory as they try to break his ‘silence’ and bait Abdullah into public polemics. They could be emboldened to launch more attacks, including even character assassination.
Already, there is a widely circulated Malay-language pamphlet entitled ‘70 Dalil Pak Lah Hilang Kelayakan Memimpin Negara’ - reminiscent of the 1998 booklet ‘50 Dalil Kenapa Anwar Tidak Boleh Jadi PM’ which eventually led to then deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim being sacked and six years of trials and tribulations.
Clearly, both publications were written for popular mass consumption. Whether or not the allegations against Abdullah are true, this is not the real issue.
The point is that his image has been tarnished in the popular mind because of, among other factors, the inexperience and clumsiness of his spin doctors and the low credibility of the mainstream media that defends him.
Receptive to criticism
The public has become highly receptive to any idea that is critical of top political and economic decision-makers, partly due to their distress over rising crime and unemployment rates, higher cost of living and economic uncertainties, identity crisis in all communities, widespread corruption and inter-communal tensions.
Abdullah does not help himself by introducing seemingly neo-conservative measures of economic austerity that have led to the higher fuel prices and increased toll charges this year.
All or some of these economic restructuring measures could succeed in the linear long-run, but the very nature of electoral politics is based on short-run considerations and cyclical calculations.
What matters most to people in the streets is not whether Abdullah and his government will succeed in the long run, but whether they can repay debts owed to ‘Ah Longs’ or finance companies and if they can maintain their income level in the immediate future.
As British economist John Keynes (1883-1946) said: “In the long run, we are all dead.”
Whether the tide will turn for Abdullah before the next general election, which must be called by early 2009, will be closely watched.
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