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.