Jan 9, 2007

Mahathir says Barisan Nasional could lose January by-election

(RS) Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition could lose the up-coming Pahang by-election due to unpopular policies.

During the press conference for his next peace symposium, Mahathir also resumed attacks on the current management of Malaysian car Proton which is suffering from poor sales.

These comments mark the end of a two-month break of Mahathir’s on-going criticisms of Prime Minister Badawi’s administration, after the former leader suffered a heart attack.

What might have led Mahathir to predict a possible poor showing by Barisan Nasional at the up-coming January by-election?

Justin Teo spoke to Professor Shamsul Baharudin from University Kebangsaan Malaysia for more.

SB: I think what he is mentioning is more of a sense of fear and worry that what has happened in this country economically and politically; he feels isn’t very satisfactory, so it may have an impact on the up-coming by-elections. So I think what he’s telling people should be seen as a warning. But really, a by-election is not an indicator of anything in Malaysia. Really, from all the by-elections that we have gone through so far, most of these by-elections are not a general indicator. You cannot determine much because there are so many local issues that have to be dealt with. And so many of the local people would understand very barely, very little about what the national issues are.

Mahathir also criticized the current Proton management. How badly has the company performed since the change in management and in Malaysia’s car policies?

SB: Well, I think the reports are quite clear that Proton has not performed very well at all but this is not due solely to Proton’s situation because Proton was supposed to be Malaysia’s sole national car and then we had back-door approaches by other groups of people through the corporations and Ministries providing APs, so there is an almost systematic dismantling of Proton, from my point of view, and its the principles and policies within the company. So I’m surprised that it is still surviving. Very surprised.

Mahathir isn’t happy about plans for the South Johor Economic Region although it could rejuvenate the area. Would people in Johor agree with Mahathir’s comments?

SB: At the moment in this euphoria, they might not agree. But after they see the results in five years time, they would probably feel that Mahathir’s comments could be important. So I think this is what’s going to happen.

Mahathir mentioned that he has been told to scale back his participation in peace negotiations between insurgents in southern Thailand and the Thai government as he held too high a profile. Could Mahathir still play a part in the peace talks?

SB: Well, the situation now is that the Malaysian government doesn’t want any of its citizens to get involved in any of this. But I think the Malaysian government policy or position, which is not very different from when Mahathir was Prime Minister, is never to allow anyone to become ‘bigger’ than the government. But internationally, Mahathir is sometimes perceived to be ‘bigger’ than the Malaysian government. So I think this ironical situation has to be somehow addressed, but I’m not really sure if they can de-emphasize his role. This is because right now the insurgents could possibly trust Mahathir more than the Malaysian government during talks. So I think this perception has to be addressed.

Professor Shamsul Baharudin from University Kebangsaan Malaysia, speaking to Justin Teo.

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