Oct 30, 2008

Tun Mahathir is back with a vengeance

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — With a hit count reaching almost nine million in just one year, it would not be wrong to describe former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Malaysia's most successful blogger.

His blog, chedet.com, routinely attracts hundreds of comments, and is frequently quoted by the mainstream media. Ironically, he started the blog only because he was blacked out in the media for his harsh criticism of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Five years to the day since his retirement in 2003, Dr Mahathir's influence seems to be growing steadily as Malaysia readies for a new prime minister by the end of March next year.

His every move is dissected for its significance. When he showed up at International Trade Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's Hari Raya open house last week, it stirred much excitement as it was perceived as an endorsement of the minister. This can count for a lot in the upcoming election in Umno, whose members still love him.

Is Dr Mahathir making a political comeback? Not exactly. But there is a strong belief that his influence is on the rise.

Observers suggest that he could have a big say in the next administration after he played a key role in securing the early retirement of Abdullah, who was blamed for the poor showing of the Barisan Nasional in the March polls.

Many believe that Dr Mahathir's skilful manoeuvres behind the scenes were instrumental in getting Deputy Premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak to persuade Abdullah to retire earlier than his original plan of June 2010. The whiff of resurgent power has sent Umno leaders and the media flocking to Dr Mahathir again, and he is back in the limelight after five years of being out in the cold.

“His views are being reported more widely, precisely because many people think that he will make a comeback,” said political analyst Ong Kian Ming.

Professor Agus Yusoff, from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, agreed that this was one perception, but felt that the bigger reason was the weakness of the current leadership.

“His views are being heard now because people are looking for better leadership. They see Dr Mahathir as experienced, and his views relevant,” he said.

Things have come full circle for Dr Mahathir, 82. His star dimmed soon after his retirement when Abdullah won a massive mandate in 2004. But the former premier soon sprang back into limelight after he began to give voice to public misgivings about Abdullah's weak administration.

His attacks gripped Malaysians for months in 2005, but they soon wore thin — until the March election that saw the BN suffer heavy losses. His campaign to topple his successor gained unstoppable momentum, returning him to a position of influence. Dr Mahathir's recent blog entry criticising the reach of vote-buying, or “money politics”, in Umno was debated widely in Umno circles.

His most recent acerbic comments on Najib's alleged young advisers sparked even more talk.

In a blog entry on Tuesday, he warned Najib not to repeat the mistake of cloistering himself with young advisers as Abdullah had, to the anger of Umno.

Dr Mahathir named consultancy firm Ethos as the Deputy Premier's adviser, and claimed that it also had links to Abdullah's young advisers.

“They (Ethos) are interested in getting a portion of the EPF worth RM300 billion to manage its investments, apparently with returns of up to 40 per cent,” he wrote, referring to the Employees Provident Fund.

The management of Ethos was quoted in The Edge business weekly recently about their interest in managing part of EPF investments. Najib has not responded.

Political observers believe that he will not marginalise the former premier, especially after seeing how Dr Mahathir's constant sniping damaged Abdullah's reputation.

“Najib will certainly prefer to have Dr Mahathir inside as an adviser rather than outside lobbing criticism at him,” said Ong.

This has led some people to predict a return of Mahathirism, suggesting a stronger hand on government than Abdullah's looser style. But Najib's supporters have denied this perception.

“Najib is not a puppet, he will have his own way and will want to make his own mark,” said Agus.

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir's every move and word will continue to be watched, and his blog can expect to hit the 10 million mark very soon.

Oct 28, 2008

Tun Mahathir against abolishing Bumiputera equity

Malaysia should retain the 30% bumiputra equity in public-listed companies as the objectives of the New Economic Policy (NEP) have not been achieved yet, said former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 - Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad disagrees with the MCA’s proposal that the conditional 30 per cent Bumiputera equity ownership in public-listed companies be abolished.

He said this was not the right time to do so as the target for Bumiputera equity participation had not been achieved.

"If we have achieved the 30 per cent target for Bumiputeras, 40 per cent for non-Bumiputeras and 30 for foreigners, then we can do away with the condition," Dr Mahathir told reporters at the Malaysia Muslim Welfare Organisation (Perkim) Aidilfitri function here today.

“We have not reached that yet... there’s still a lot to be done. If we reduce it to 20 per cent today and it does not expand while the economy does, the Bumiputera equity participation will get smaller. We have to take all this into consideration.”.

Dr Mahathir, who is Perkim president, said although the equity ownership could be changed, the target for Bumiputeras needed to be protected.

“This is not a suitable time to make any adjustment as the world is in turmoil. It does not mean that if we abolish the equity quota it will make the companies stronger and more competitive.

“If we reduce the Bumiputera equity participation to 20 per cent, then the others must also reduce theirs,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said the issue should have been brought to the Barisan Nasional’s attention as it was raised by a BN component party.

Yesterday, MCA vice-president Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the condition for 30 per cent Bumiputera equity in public-listed companies should be abolised in order for them to remain competitive.

Liow was also quoted as saying that the 30 per cent target set was a hindrance to the creation of true partnership between Malay, Chinese and Indian businessmen in the country.

Billion-ringgit Eurocopter deal suspended

The purchase of Eurocopter helicopters has been deferred. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the postponement is until the global economy improves.He said the decision was made two weeks ago by the Economic Council.

(Malaysiakini) Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today announced that the controversial multi-billion ringgit deal to buy a fleet of military helicopters has been suspended so that the money could be used for more pressing projects.

"We have decided not to purchase the helicopters. We need the allocation for other projects and the saving is very important for us."

Abdullah said that the purchase has been frozen "indefinitely" until the economy is in better shape.

At a press conference today, the outgoing PM who is also defence minister, revealed that the purchase price for the 12 Cougar EC725 helicopters from a Franco-German firm, Eurochopter, was RM1.7 billion, and not RM2.3 billion as reported earlier.

He also said the public accounts committee (PAC), a powerful parliamentary committee tasked to ensure that public funds are well spent, can continue with its two-day inquiry from tomorrow to look into the controversy.

According to the premier, the decision to delay the purchase was made by the National Economic Council's executive committee on Oct 13.

Oct 27, 2008

Ex-leader uses blog to needle Malaysian government

(IHT) KUALA LUMPUR: In a vast office at the top of one of the world's tallest buildings, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sits at a broad, glass-topped desk, scribbling his thoughts on a pad of unlined paper.

For 22 years Mahathir was the most powerful person in this land, and his thoughts were commands as he reshaped the country in his own grand image.

But he has become an irritant and a spoiler five years after stepping down, turning against his handpicked successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and he has fallen victim to the press controls he perfected as prime minister.

It is mainly a system of self-censorship in an atmosphere of pressure and intimidation that produces an obedient press and has seen the closure or banning of many publications.

"Where is the press freedom?" he exclaimed two years ago, apparently surprised to be suddenly ignored. "Broadcast what I have to say! What I say is not even accurately published in the press!"

Earlier this year, like many other inconvenient critics, he joined what seems to be a political wave of the future, creating his own acerbic blog - www.chedet.com - an online journal where he vents in both English and Malay several times a week.

Around the region, bloggers like him are becoming a fifth estate, challenging the government's monopoly on information in Singapore, evading censors in Vietnam and influencing events in places like Thailand, Cambodia and China.

In March, political experts say, Malaysia's bloggers helped tip the balance, contributing to the biggest upset the governing party, the United Malays National Organization, had suffered since independence in 1957. For the first time in decades, it fell below two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, and it lost control of 5 of 13 states.

Two months after that, in May, Mahathir went digital, cutting and thrusting with elan.

"It is time the so-called intellectuals realize they were being duped by the Master of Spin," he wrote on Aug. 21, referring to his bitter enemy, Anwar Ibrahim, who was his deputy prime minister and now leads the opposition.

"The pious Muslim, who is also the bosom pal of Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-con Jew, the killer of Muslims," he said, referring to the former U.S. deputy secretary of defense.

Blogging on Sept. 3, he offered a sort of mission statement.

Many people are with him as he harasses the government, he asserted. "But they are not prepared to say it openly. That was why I started my blog. About six million had visited my blog site and tens of thousands have commented and supported me."

In case anyone doubts this, he posts the comments, by the dozens and hundreds, page after page, day after day. It turns out he has a lot of fans out there.

"Amazingly brilliant!" reads one comment. "I can't stop laughing... you made my day Sir!"

"HAHAHAHA :) ...This is your BEST posting so far, my dear Tun!!" reads another, referring to Mahathir by an honorific.

"Dearest Tun," reads another, "You are sooooo right.. spot on.. bulls eye.."

And just to clear up any possible misunderstanding, another writes: "You, sir, are the most brilliant politician Malaysia has ever been blessed with."

In the upheaval of the March election, several bloggers, following an opposite trajectory from that of Mahathir, used their online popularity to win seats in the national or state parliaments.

The most prominent was Jeff Ooi, 52, a former advertising copywriter who was one of Malaysia's first political bloggers, in 2003, at www.jeffooi.com.

"The government doesn't have a clue how to handle bloggers," he said in an interview. "If I were a dictator I would be despairing. What do you do against this?"

The government's assault on Ooi - "very hostile," he said - included threats of imprisonment without trial, attacks in the government-friendly press and defamation lawsuits, which are popular among leaders in Southeast Asia.

But that only seemed to make him a hero, and when he decided to run for Parliament with the opposition Democratic Action Party, he already had a big head start.

"As a person that has consistently faced threats as a blogger, I had a kind of iconism and imagery that this is someone you can trust, someone the government fears, someone you need to put into Parliament," he said.

But he said it is much harder to blog from the inside. "The trade-off is that I have to write with measured words," he said. "I am no longer my old self. I thought I had to take it to a higher level, and a lot of readers are getting disappointed. It isn't the same blogger that they used to know."

Earlier this year, Ooi said, he attended a public forum with Mahathir, and he claims that he is the one who persuaded the old war horse to get blogging.

"I threw him a challenge," Ooi said. "A blogger shares a few prerequisites. One, he is strongly opinionated. Two, he could be controversial. And, thirdly, he is an agent provocateur on issues.

"I thought Mahathir fulfilled all three."

The result, Ooi said, was "a miracle, he scored about 10 million visitors within months."

Now, a convert to free speech, Mahathir is using his blog to champion the most recent victim of government censorship, Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the country's highest-profile blogger, who posts his slash-and-burn commentary on his site, www.malaysia-today.net. The site has been blocked, but readers are redirected to another address, which continues to be updated.

The government has fallen back on the kind of tactics that Ooi said it threatened against him, charging Raja Petra with sedition and locking him up for two years without trial for comments he has posted.

Mahathir, the country's former strongman, sounded almost like Che Guevara when he said in his blog that the arrest showed "a degree of oppressive arrogance worthy of a totalitarian state."

Furthermore, locking people up is futile, he said in an interview in his sky-high office. There is no way the government can arrest all the bloggers, even if it wants to.

At least, he said, "I hope so. Otherwise I'll be in, too."

Oct 26, 2008

PM Abdullah ditches Eurocopters on gloomy economic outlook

Ever since the Eurocopters deal was published in Malaysia Today, there were much talks about it. Now after much controversies, ACA reports, and complaints from Opposition parties, the Eurocopters deal is finally off?.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 - Malaysia will ditch the RM2.3 billion Eurocopter defence deal as it battens down to face the global economic storm, sources said today.

Prime Minister and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi decided to cut out the EC725 military helicopter contract over the weekend when the government reviewed its expenses in light of falling revenues from crude oil and palm oil and slowing economic growth for the next few years.

"The Eurocopter deal is off due to the bleak economic times ahead," a source told The Malaysian Insider.

Opposition leaders and critics had savaged the purchase of the dozen EC725 helicopters, saying its RM193 million price tag per aircraft was more than double of Brazil's contract for 50 EC725 helicopters, which came tom RM84 million per aircraft. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it will investigate the deal.

Abdullah had earlier said he will investigates claims of irregularities over the purchase of military helicopters after company representing a rival military chopper, the Kazan MI-172, said it offered to sell a dozen helicopters at RM898 million, RM1.5 billion less than the Eurocopter deal.

But the Kazan MI-172 is expected to be phased out of production soon although it shares similarities with the current Nuri helicopter fleet, particularly its rear ramp door that is used for troop and materiel transport.

Opposition parties had also lodged reports with the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) asking for investigations as the tender was allegedly awarded before evaluations were completed and two days before Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak swapped the defence portfolio with Abdullah.

The government earlier through a Cabinet meeting on July 18, 2007 had made the decision to acquire new helicopters to replace the Nuri aircraft following a series of crashes for the ageing transport helicopters in the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

The Nuri or Sikorsky S-61A-4 came into Malaysian service in 1968. The medium transport aircraft has suffered 18 crashes and killed 95 servicemen and is due to be phased out in 2012. There reportedly only 31 left in RMAF service

However, sources said the Nuris would have been pressed into service with the Army Air Wing if the EC725s arrived on time. The Eurocopter EC725 or Cougar is a medium lift helicopter that is used for combat search and rescue missions.

The Cougar, which can carry up to 29 soldiers, beat out the Sikorsky H-92, the AgustaWestland EH-101 Merlin, the Boeing CH-47F and the Russian MI-172 in an open international tender issued at the Langkawi International Maritime and Air Show in December 2007.

Sources said Eurocopter won the deal as it also proposed to invest RM250 million to upgrade Malaysia's maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) capacity in its Subang facility as part of its tender.

It has already invested about RM45 million in Malaysia and had plans to spend another
RM20 million this year to expand its Subang facility as well as MRO facilities in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

Apart from the Nuris, the RMAF operates the A109 light utility helicopters and Super Pumas for VIP service.

Oct 25, 2008

Mukhriz denies dad’s role in good run

KAMPUNG GAJAH: Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir says his good run in the number of nominations received for the Umno Youth chief’s post had nothing to do with his father’s influence.

“If my father’s influence had been a criteria for me to contest, why should I have waited until his retirement to do so?

“My father headed the party for 22 years. Surely if I had wanted to use his influence, I should have been active in politics way back then,” Mukhriz said after meeting Pasir Salak Umno Youth members here on Thursday.

The Jerlun MP added that it was Tun Dr Mahathir’s principles that forbade him from active politics when his father was in power.

Earlier in his speech, Mukhriz said the upcoming Umno elections was a golden opportunity to bring about much-needed change and inject new hope into the party.

Oct 24, 2008

Tun Mahathir says Umno will lose power because of corruption

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today said Umno will lose the next General Election if nothing is done to weed out corruption in the party.

“After the defeat there will be no Prime Minister, minister and other positions. No more contracts, APs and licenses. Everyone will suffer, and be insulted by others. And that is the end of Umno,” said the former Prime Minister.

In his latest blog posting he said that he believes that many people are disappointed with money politics in Umno now.

“I know a lot of money is being used. It used to be only the division Youth heads that received the money. But this had resulted in other office bearers of the movement not cooperating. But now everyone can get it and the return is very substantial for the bribers,” said Dr Mahathir.

“The winners can become lawmakers, Exco members, ministers, deputy ministers, parliamentary secretary, chairman of GLCs and receive contracts worth millions of ringgit,” he added.

He said corruption is expected to get worse by March 2009 when the General Assembly begins.

“Looking at the positions being contested, every delegate can receive up to RM20,000,” said Dr Mahathir.

He said that the Barisan Nasional's victory in the 2004 General Election was because the people believed that the new leadership was cleaner than the previous administration, but Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi had failed to walk the talk.

“Between 2004 and 2008, they could see that Abdullah's administration was full of corruption. They noticed the role played by his family members and cronies and also Cabinet members. What they saw convinced them that the administration is not clean. The result can be seen in the 12th General Election,” said Dr Mahathir.

Corruption or money politics is a thorny issue in the Malay nationalist party.

After the last party election in 2004, newly elected vice president Tan Sri Isa Samad was suspended for three years for his involvement in money politics.

Supreme council member, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, who is vying for a vice president's post even suggested that the positions in the party be awarded to the highest bidder, since money politics is so rampant in the party.

At the Umno Supreme Council meeting on Oct 20, the issue was discussed at length and the party's highest decision making body is expected to announce tough measures soon.

Oct 20, 2008

Rais lashes out at Tun Mahathir critics

Jelebu Umno division chief Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim lashed out at those who criticised former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for making statements regarding Umno.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 20 (Bernama) -- Jelebu Umno division chief Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim today lashed out at those who criticise former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for making statements regarding Umno.

"There are many who are blasting Tun Dr Mahathir for making statements about Umno. This should not be an issue," said Rais, who is Foreign Minister.

"He has the locus standi (standing) to make any statement on Umno. He led the party for 23 years."

"If they want to say something to him, look at him straight in the eye and tell him. Dr Mahathir has every right to say what he wants about Umno," he told reporters when met at the Foreign Ministry's friends of Malaysia cultural exchange programme here.

Over the last month there had been calls by certain Umno leaders, including Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, blaming Dr Mahathir for a divided Umno.

The former prime minister earlier this year quit the party, which he once led, saying that he would only return once Abdullah vacates the party and government posts.

On another note, Rais alleged that there is a rapid rise in the menace of money politics in Umno and if left unchecked, the scourge would spell the death of the largest political party in the country.

The Anti-Corruption Commission Act, which had been proposed and is to be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat by year end, would be able to cover this practice, which had hogged Umno everytime it held its elections, he said.

Umno, the backbone of the ruling Barisan Nasional, will hold its elections in March next year. Under the party system, all 191 divisions will nominate leaders to contest for the top national positions, from the president, deputy president, three vice-presidents down to the 25 supreme council members. Rais had announced his wish to contest the vice-presidency and to date has only obtained six nominations.

A vice-presidential candidate needs at least 20 nominations to contest. The divisional meet ings are currently underway and will end on Nov 9.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein is leading the veep race with 54 nominations, followed by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (38) and Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal (32). They are just the top three of 12 Umno leaders who have received nominations for the three-seat vice-presidential race.

Rais said that he noticed that some leaders had obtained nominations "out of the norm" but did not specify the leader or the post. "Even I have been approached by some divisions wanting donations and contributions. If I had given them these so-called donations or contributions, then I would have received their nominations but I will not yield to such requests. Nominations should be based on service and capability," said Rais, who is one of the more senior leaders in Umno.

Oct 19, 2008

Not your business, Pak Lah tells Dr M

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi does not rule out that an attempt is being made to push him out of office earlier than March and slammed his key critics Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

KUALA LUMPUR: It was during his last stop on a lightning visit to Kota Kinabalu late Saturday night (18 Oct) that Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi finally gave voice to his thoughts about his resurgent predecessor.

He lambasted Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the strongest words.

"Who is he? He has left Umno (United Malays National Organisation) but he still issues orders to members of Umno. The party does not need to take orders from anyone who is no longer a member of the party," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the New Sunday Times.

He accused Dr Mahathir of behaving like a party elections director, and of trying to create a rift by inciting anger and hatred, after his predecessor urged Umno to get rid of his "toadies".

Dr Mahathir had written in his blog that Umno should vote out those who supported Abdullah.

To this, the Prime Minister said: "What is wrong with people who work with me? He is trying to teach people to hate one another."

He said it would be better for Dr Mahathir not to "speak at all today".

Their rivalry, which had intensified over the past four years as the former premier tried to topple Abdullah, has reached new heights.

The Prime Minister's outburst comes in the wake of speculation that Dr Mahathir played a pivotal role in forcing his early retirement, and that the former premier is poised to become a powerful influence over deputy prime minister Najib Razak, who is slated to succeed Abdullah by March next year.

It is no secret that Dr Mahathir pushed Najib and international trade and industry minister Muhyiddin Yassin to take an active role in persuading Abdullah to bring forward his retirement, originally planned for June 2010.

Najib and Muhyiddin are now the front runners to win the Umno presidency and deputy presidency and, by extension, Malaysia's premiership and deputy premiership. Both have easily garnered the minimum number of nominations needed to contest the party positions.

Dr Mahathir's son, Mukhriz Mahathir, is also far ahead of Abdullah's son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin in the race for nominations for the Umno Youth presidency.

This has sparked speculation about the return of 'Mahathirism', with many bloggers noting Najib's purported loyalty to the former premier. Dr Mahathir himself has dismissed the notion that he would be a 'de facto' prime minister.

Najib's supporters are also keen to dismiss the idea, knowing the old ways might not sit well with voters. They note that the deputy premier acted quickly to dispel the impression that a new set of young advisers was emerging to replace Abdullah's hugely unpopular team.

The Prime Minister has also lashed out at Muhyiddin, who called for the Umno elections to be brought forward to December from March, saying a longer campaign would distract the government.

"Is he so impatient to become the deputy prime minister? That is, if he gets the support," said Abdullah. 'What is the meaning of all this? I am not happy with this. Is he trying to stop me from making reforms?'

He added that Muhyiddin seemed to be trying to get him to hand over power in December.

Muhyiddin has since clarified that he merely wanted the Umno election to be held earlier, while a transition of power at the national level could take place in March. But observers wonder if he is trying to start a groundswell for an earlier retirement date for Mr Abdullah after successfully starting the push for him to abandon his June 2010 plan.

This latest bout of squabbling shows that Umno, while more stable now than in the early months after the 8 March polls, is still mired in internal politicking.

Najib has not commented on the developments, but in his blog on Saturday, he said Umno members should remember that the party election was just the start of the real work to revive Umno's fortunes. "In fact, this is what should be in the minds of Umno delegates when choosing the individuals who will occupy positions of leadership at all levels of the party hierarchy," he wrote.

Oct 14, 2008

Najib denies allegations of abuse, says SMS was private


Datuk Seri Najib Razak has denied any abuse of power in relation to the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder investigations and the government's acquisition of 12 Eurocopter helicopters.
(Malaysiakini) Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak today said that there was no abuse of power on his part in his exchange of text-messages with lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah in relation to the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case.

"Why do I need to comment? Nothing. There is no abuse of power. It doesn't really matter.

"The important thing is that there is no abuse of power, whatever it is, the prime minister (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) has said enough," he told reporters in Parliament today.

Pressed by reporters, the deputy premier did not confirm or deny if he had sent the text-messages and whether he was trying to help his close ally, political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda who has been charged with abetting the murder.

"Why should it be a major concern? The important thing that is of public concern is the (allegation of abuse of power). If you read it (the messages) very carefully, there is no abuse of power. Period."

Najib was responding to a report in Malaysia Today which published the alleged exchange of SMSes between him and Muhammad Shafee over the alleged involvement of Abdul Razak in the case.

Yesterday, Abdullah said he did not believe that his deputy would abuse his power.

Earlier today, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim had urged the government to probe Najib for alleged abuse of power, stating that the latest development would affect the government's credibility.

Oct 11, 2008

Zaid : No reforms as long as Tun Mahathir is around

Former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim says Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s impending rise to become Umno president and Prime Minister marks the return of “Mahathirism”. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he said, will become Malaysia’s “de facto PM”, standing behind Najib.

KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will not be able to institute any crucial reform as Prime Minister as long as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is around, claimed former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

“The 2004 election manifesto is history,” said Zaid who had been appointed minister specifically to work on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s promise to reform in stitutions of government, improve accountability and transparency, and strengthen the Rule of Law and independence of the Judiciary.

“Najib is smart and articulate but to change the course of Umno, he has to be brave and why would he take such a risk.

“Second, even if he wanted to, he would not be able to do it with Dr Mahathir around,” he said.

Asked whether that was because he thought Dr Mahathir was powerful or had a strong influence on Najib, Zaid - who resigned from the Cabinet recently after journalist Tan Hoon Cheng, Member of Parliament Teresa Kok and news portal editor Raja Petra Kamarudin were arrested under the Internal Security Act - said:

“He (Dr Mahathir) has a large group of friends, otherwise the Prime Minister (Abdullah) would not have been ‘thrown out’ just like he wanted.”

“Mahathirism was all control, control, control. He has a strong influence on the top Umno leaders who had to choose between doing his bidding or facing his wrath.

“So many in Umno are bound to the old, making it difficult to abandon old values and principles.

“Especially when if you allow for more democracy, you lose some control.

“I don’t see it (major reforms) happening but I hope that Najib will prove me wrong, for himself and for the country’s sake.”

On his recent comment that Najib has never talked of reforms, when asked why a deputy prime minister would need to do so when the agenda is set by the Prime Minister, he replied: “Yes, but after the Prime Minister talks, shouldn’t the deputy strengthen it with his own comments?"

Oct 8, 2008

PM Abdullah will quit in March 2009

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Wednesday he will step down next March and hand power to his deputy, ending months of uncertainty since disastrous general elections.

Abdullah has been under intense pressure to quit since leading the Barisan Nasional coalition to its worst polls performance in half a century, losing a third of parliamentary seats and five states to the opposition.

The premier said he expected his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the multi-racial coalition, to hand Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak the top job in a leadership vote next March.

"I am now announcing I will not seek the presidency of UMNO in the upcoming elections. I want a party that is united," he told a press conference.

"I will hand over power to... Najib after he wins the election at the general assembly. I am sure he will win," he said.

"There will be a transition of power after the new president of UMNO is decided upon."

The president of UMNO -- which has dominated Malaysian politics since independence from Britain in 1957 -- by tradition automatically becomes prime minister of the country.

Abdullah originally wanted to hand over to Najib in mid-2010 but was forced to review his departure date as he lost support from the grassroots of UMNO, which was shattered by the March election results.

He also faced a campaign by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is seeking to seize power with the help of defecting lawmakers.

Anwar says he has the numbers to form a new administration but is being blocked from triggering a change in government -- which would be the first in Malaysia's history.

Abdullah came to power in 2003 and was initially buoyed by a groundswell of support for his promises of reform after two decades of rule under veteran premier Mahathir Mohamad.

However, he was quickly seen as weak and ineffective after failing to come to grips with corruption, high crime rates and inefficient bureaucracy which he had vowed to address.

Abdullah insisted Wednesday that he still intended to fulfil his promises.

"I intend to carry out several initiatives before I leave office," he said, pointing to the anti-corruption programs, reform of the judiciary and poverty alleviation.

The political vacuum since the March elections has paralysed foreign investment and suppressed trade on the stock exchange, in a malaise which is now being worsened by the global economic crisis.


(Malaysiakini) Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has decided not to defend his Umno president post and will quit in March next year when the ruling party meets at its annual general assembly.

Abdullah told leaders of the 13 Barisan Nasional component parties that he would be stepping down as prime minister in five months at the BN supreme council meeting in Putra World Trade Centre this afternoon.

“PM to step down in March, DPM to take over. He won’t stand for Umno election,” a component party leader told Malaysiakini via an SMS message. The meeting is still underway.

It is also learnt that the BN leaders are presently thanking Abdullah for his leadership.

As the prime minister was briefing BN leaders on the power transfer plan, scores of Abdullah’s supporters gathered outside the PWTC building to urge him to stay on.

Armed with banners, the supporters are calling on the embattled premier to continue until 2010 amid speculations that he might be forced to step down earlier.

The banners read: 'Hormati peralihan kuasa, elakan perpecahan lagi' (Respect the transition of power, avoid further rifts) and 'Pak Lah, teruskan perjuangan' (Pak Lah, continue the struggle).

The supporters also chanted 'Hidup Pak Lah' (Long live Pak Lah) and 'Pak Lah presiden, Najib timbalan'. (Pak Lah as president, Najib as deputy).

Oct 7, 2008

Tun Mahathir says Khairy will beat Mukhriz

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 7 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today hinted that Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin would employ undemocratic methods to ensure his victory for the highest position in the Youth wing in March.

Dr Mahathir, in his latest blog posting, was commenting on the complaint by Khairy that he was prevented from meeting Umno Youth members while campaigning.

"I don't know whether people have heard about the thief who cried 'thief!'. Well the thief got away because people who are not very intelligent went chasing in the opposite direction. The highly educated thief then walked away with his booty," said Dr Mahathir.

"I would advise him not to be disheartened. There are so many other ways of influencing Pemuda than meeting them. I will not enumerate them as he will know how to use these other ways," said the former Prime Minister.

He added that Khairy, who became Umno Youth deputy chief in 2004 when he won uncontested, would easily defeat Jerlun MP Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir during the party election.

Dr Mahathir blamed Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein for Khairy's victory four years ago.

"Apart from Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein who gave other possible candidates a tongue lashing, telling them in no uncertain terms that they must not contest the position because it was reserved for the Prime Minister's son-in-law, others suspected of having ambitions to contest for the post received phone calls from family members of the PM and other influential supporters not to do anything to spoil the ambition of this first-time Umno member with absolutely no track record from winning uncontested," he added.

On Sunday, Khairy told reporters that he is contesting on his own merit and hoped that Umno Youth delegates would evaluate him based on his personal credibility and strength.

"I got down to the ground, I became director of the by-election machinery... I conducted programmes and various others things on my own initiative and this will not change whether Pak Lah or Datuk Seri Najib is the president. I will continue with my work as a leader of the young generation in Umno," said Khairy.

Oct 6, 2008

PM Abdullah to decide within two days


KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will announce his decision on whether he would defend the Umno presidency either tomorrow or by Wednesday.

The Prime Minister also said he hopes to convene a meeting of the Barisan Nasional supreme council on Wednesday to brief component party leaders on the revised power transition plan between him and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

He told this to reporters after opening the International Advisory Biotechnology Panel Conference 2008 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre here Monday.

On Sept 26, the Umno supreme council postponed its annual general assembly and supreme council elections to next March to facilitate the early transition of power.

Abdullah had also said then that he would decide by Oct 9 on whether to defend his Umno presidency.

"I have not announced any decision as far as this particular point is concerned. And I intend to do it before the division meetings begin," he said

He said this when asked if an "early transition" meant that he would not be contesting in the party elections.

Pak Lah will not defend the Umno president’s position?

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 - No surprises. On Wednesday, after briefing the Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional Supreme council, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will tell Malaysians that he will not defend the Umno president’s position.

His announcement, a day before the start of the Umno divisional elections, will mark the beginning of the end of his premiership, the shortest in the history, and sets the stage for Datuk Seri Najib Razak to be returned unopposed as the president of Umno and prime minister of Malasysia.

Under the transition plan accepted by Abdullah, and endorsed by the party’s supreme council late last month, the PM was expected to decline receiving any nominations from the divisions. In return, the party elections were postponed from December to March to give him the time to complete several reforms which he started.

But since the transition plan was announced, there has been speculation that Abdullah could surprise everyone by deciding to defend his position. Supporters and government officials who have met him over the past 10 days, say that though disappointed with the manner the March transition plan was sprung on him, and while he has come to believe that the groundswell against his leadership in Umno was manufactured, he did not speak about wanting to contest the party elections.

The reason: He believes that Umno cannot survive an all-out contest for the presidency between him and Najib.

An official, who attended a meeting with Abdullah, said: “He believes that the party’s biggest enemy is Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat. I also sense that he does not want to be remembered as someone who put his needs before the party’s. There was pressure from different sources for him to contest, but he just wants to complete several reforms he has started.’’

For example, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a long time critic of the leadership, believes that the transition plan is unconstitutional and Abdullah must defend his party president’s position to reaffirm the party’s commitment to democratic principles.

His critics argue that the Kelantanese prince's desire to see a contest for the top position is self-serving. He too has offered to contest the top position and his chances of garnering the 58 nominations from the divisions will be greatly reduced if the transition plan is accepted by Abdullah and supported by the divisions.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat also want Abdullah to go for broke, knowing that any implosion in the ruling party will create more uncertainty with Umno and BN ranks which can be harvested by the Opposition.

Abdullah has told government officials that he will spend the next few months pushing through judicial reforms and legislation to make the Anti-Corruption Agency more independent. This will not be a walk in the park because there is strong resistance among Umno ministers for any change which will weaken the party’s hold on the institutions.

The vexing question is this: If Abdullah could not convince his Umno ministers of the need for change when he had all the powers, how was he going to do so in a lame duck position?

His supporters say that he must be prepared to be confrontational to keep his promise of strengthening the country’s institutions. Seems like a big ask for someone who has put his party above everything else since becoming PM in October 2003.

Tun Mahathir : No Need For Team Mates

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 5 (Bernama) -- There is no need for aspirants wanting to run in the Umno party elections next March to form any team, former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said.

Instead, he said, the newly-elected leaders must be prepared to work with one another for the good of the party.

He also cautioned the aspirants not to be carried away with the trend of the US Presidential Election where the candidates were required to have a running mate.

"This is not the United States. There is no need for a team. If we win, our team wins...to cooperate with those contesting against us will be difficult.

"We can contest whatever posts and we should be able to cooperate with whoever wins," Dr Mahathir told reporters during the Aidilfitri open house at his residence in Seri Kembangan near here.

He also welcomed the decision of a number of senior party members who made known their intention to vie for the No. 2 post, following anticipation that its incumbent, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, will go for the Umno president's post.

"That's good, as long as you don't play dirty. Don't bribe. We should show our ability, God-willing, the people will choose us.

"But if you use pressure or resort to arm-twisting, then it is not democracy," he said. On his plan to rejoin Umno, Dr Mahathir said he had not made any decision on which branch that he would join.

He said several party members who followed his footsteps in quitting the party on May 1, should be allowed to rejoin the party, too.

"Now, there is another major problem. Apparently, many left Umno after I left. So, if I rejoin and these people cannot follow suit, it is unfair," he said, warning that more problems would arise if these people were not allowed to rejoin the party.

"Dont't forget that these people have the power to vote. If they are outside Umno, they will vote for the opposition parties and Umno will lose."

Oct 5, 2008

Tun Mahathir does not believe Pak Lah will leave

SERI KEMBANGAN, Oct 5 – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today that he does not believe that Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi intends to announce his departure before the start of Umno divisional meetings on Oct 9.

"He likes to change his position, so as long as he does not make the announcement I will not believe it," Dr Mahathir told reporters at his Hari Raya open house, here.

Abdullah and his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Razak had indicated that the postponement of party polls to March next year was done to facilitate an earlier transition of power and the Prime Minister had promised to decide whether he would defend his presidency or not by Oct 9.

Dr Mahathir, who left Umno in May because of a lack of confidence in Abdullah's leadership, also revealed that his plan to rejoin the party has been derailed.

"When I left I set the condition to rejoin, but now there is another problem. I found out that when I resigned many members followed me," he said, adding that he hoped those who left with him would also be accepted by the party.

When asked whether he would join his former branch, Jitra in the Kubang Pasu division, he said that he is open to any suggestion.

On the announcement made by Umno leaders Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam to contest the deputy presidency, Dr Mahathir said it is a good trend but hoped the aspirants would adhere to democratic principles.

He also hoped that the candidates would not form teams in the party election.

"When you have teams and your team mates are defeated, it is going to be hard for you to work with leaders from the other team," said Dr Mahathir.

Meanwhile, Jerlun MP Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir told reporters that it is not appropriate for Umno leaders to announce their candidacy for the party's top posts before Abdullah's announcement.

"Maybe those who announced their intention to contest are certain that the president will not defend his position," said Mukhriz, who is running for the Umno Youth chief post.

Oct 2, 2008

PM Abdullah To Brief BN Leaders On Transition Plan After Aidilfitri

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 (Bernama) -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he would set a date after Hari Raya Aidilfitri for a meeting with leaders of Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties to brief them on the leadership transition plan.

"When we meet ... we will have discussions ... after (Hari) Raya (Aidilfitri)," he told reporters at the Aidilfitri open house of the prime minister and other Muslim Cabinet ministers at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), here.

He was asked to comment on a news report that some BN leaders were unhappy for not having been consulted on a change in the transition plan.

Under the original plan, Abdullah, the Umno president, was to have handed over power to Deputy Prime Minister and Umno Deputy President Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in June 2010.

However, it was decided later that the transition of power take place earlier than that date, and the Umno general assembly scheduled for December this year has been postponed to March next year to facilitate this.

Abdullah, when announcing the postponement of the Umno general assembly, had said that he would make a decision by Oct 9 on seeking re-election as party president.

Umno divisional meetings will be held over a month from Oct 9, and nominations will be made for the posts of party president, deputy president, vice-presidents and supreme council members.

At the Aidilfitri reception today, Abdullah said he had conveyed the decision on the transition plan to some of the BN leaders informally when he met them but that a proper briefing for all BN leaders would be held after Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Asked whether he was sad that this could be his last Hari Raya Aidilfitri as the prime minister now that the transition plan was being brought forward, Abdullah said he was happy as usual.

"I am in a good mood. I am celebrating Raya. Do I look different?" he said with a smile. On the Aidilfitri open house, Abdullah said the size of the crowd was similar to last year's and he hoped that people would take advantage of the festival to make visits to open house.

Abdullah said Aidilfitri had become a national event, an enjoyable occasion for everyone.

Speaking during interviews with Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) and TV3, he said: "The visitors are from all races. We have tourists and foreigners too. The spirit of Raya is there and it (the festival) is being celebrated by all the races."

The prime minister said Malaysians must utilise festivals like Aidilfitri to strengthen unity among the various races by visiting one another.

"This will directly strengthen our unity. We should be united not only during festivals but at all times. We can organise more events which attract a multi-racial crowd and this will foster better understanding among the races," he said.

Meanwhile, Najib, interviewed by the two television stations at the same open house, said the current global economic crisis had not in any way dampened the spirit of Hari Raya.

"We need not be unduly worried about the economy because our fundamentals are good and I see that the global economic problem has not affected the Hari Raya celebrations," said Najib, who is also the finance minister.

He said that while the world economy was undergoing various problems, Malaysia was well insulated due to its fundamentals.

"We do not expect a major backlash from the global economic crisis. There will be a backlash but it would not be major, as experienced by many other nations," he added.

Zahid Hamidi to run for Umno No. 2

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 2 - Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is going for broke. The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department is going to offer himself as a candidate for the Umno deputy president’s position over the next few days, setting the stage for a face-off with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the former Umno Youth chief has decided to contest for the number two position after speaking to supreme council members and gauging the sentiment of divisional officials.

Muhyiddin, the party’s vice-president, will be the favourite to snare the bulk of nominations when the divisional meetings are held in October and November, but Zahid will not be very far behind.

The de facto minister in charge of religious affairs has a strong network of support among the party rank-and-file, nurtured from the time he was an office bearer in the youth wing in the mid-1990s.

This contest for the number two position in the party is likely to come down to the wire at the March general assembly.

The Insider has learnt that Datuk Seri Najib Razak is not going to publicly endorse anyone who offers to contest the deputy president’s position.

His rationale: If the person he does not endorse wins, it could complicate his working relationship in the party and government with his deputy.

But party officials expect Najib’s camp to send signals to the ground that he would be pleased to work with Zahid if the latter was elected deputy president.

This is not surprising given that the Perak-born politician was his political secretary and lingering trust issues that some Najib supporters have with Muhyiddin.

Though these supporters acknowledge that Muhyiddin played a pivotal role in creating the groundswell that finally led to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi accepting that he could not stay in office till 2010, they are worried that he seemed willing to do a deal with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and others to challenge Najib, if it came down to that.

Still, Najib is a realist. If it appears that Muhyiddin has the numbers and support of the divisions, he will be willing to forgive and forget.

Zahid’s decision to contest the number two position in Umno is just the latest step in the rehabilitation of a politician who became collateral damage after the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998.

A close associate of Anwar, he disagreed with the action taken by then prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and paid the price by being held under the Internal Security Act for supporting the reformasi movement.

He quit as Umno Youth chief and stayed on the sidelines of party politics for several years. He returned to the mainstage after being invited by Abdullah when the latter was the DPM.

He has served as a deputy minister in the information and tourism ministries.