Tuesday, July 04, 2006

TRANSCRIPT of Leslie Lopez S'PORE FORUM Talk : What LIES BEHIND the STANDOFF between Dr Mahathir and PM Datuk Seri Ahmad Abdulah in KL

The forum is organize by the Singapore's STRAITS TIMES newspaper in association with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).

Among the topics to be discussed is the on-going POWER TUSSLE IN MALAYSIA
KL-based foreign correspondent Leslie Lopez, gave a talk on
What lies behind the standoff in Kuala Lumpur?

(NB This is NOT the official TRANSCRIPT, E & O E, but 98% to the MP3)
let me know if the official one is available

"We witnessed many political upheavals in Malaysia over the last two decades especially during Dr Mahathir leadership and it is always fairly easy to determine the outcome no matter what the twist and turns were.

Dr Mahathirs always won as he set the rules of the game. The latest feud between Dr Mahathir and PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi puts the former primer at a slight disadvantage simply because he no longer control the levers of power. But underestimating Dr Mahathirs would be political folly.

For my presentation today I will like to divide it into three parts. In the first, I plan to argue that the fight isn’t simply about personality but rather about the ongoing feud or rather battle between how one shapes Malay/Malaysian society. In the second I would like to present the reasons behind this widely publicized political fight and finally why Dr Mahathir is moving at this particular time.

Without doubt Dr Mahathir harsh attacks against the government over policy issues has presented Mr Abdullah’s government, nearly three year administration with its worst political crisis, most serious without doubt. It has put the business community foreign and local on edge and raised concerns that the differences between the two men could actually trigger a split in UMNO, the ruling political party. But the differences isn’t just about policies differences or personalities clashes, it is also about how, what values should shape future ethnic Malay/Malaysian society.

Over the last two decades Dr Mahathir has very aggressively imposed his vision of modernization on his Malay race with the state playing the very central role in economic development.

His Malaysia is a country which bristling with concrete symbols and modernization skyscrapers, bullet trains superhighways, high tech society, high-tech cities by year 2020. Economic advancement during this time was accompanied by strict limits on democratic practices and in institutions too. In the process Dr Mahathir actually created very much a cult personality where Malays and Malaysians identified themselves with a strong leader, a patronage source who could dispense patronage.

Mr Abdullah on the other hand espouses a vision anchored in the thinking of the Malaysia’s political elite before Dr Mahathir came to power. It is one that places premium on consensual politics, values such as gallantarism and also a sense of affection.

The reform agenda that Mr Abdullah has outlined shortly after taking power which called for more independence for the judiciary, other watchdog agency, pushing for more transparency in the police force also the award of large contracts completely clash with what Dr Mahathir is trying to pursue and all the system and practices that Dr Mahathirs established during his time.

I think it is important to note that these two forces have actually clashed before among the political elite In 1987 if you recall forces led by Musa Hitam including Abdullah used Tengku Razeigh as a proxy and they actually fought Mahathir and his allies. Dr Mahathir f you remember narrowly scrapped through but it was enough to make sure that his rivals were actually in a position to challenge or undermine what he set out to do.

Now I come to the second part. Why is this taking place and what triggers it?. I think to understand that we probably have to back a bit in time. To understand why Dr Mahathir picked Mr Abdullah as the number two.

Dr Mahathir was a very dramatic type, after sacking Annuar Ibrahim, Dr Mahathir was fightijng for his political survivor, elections loomed and the Malay political ground was never so divided. He needed a deputy who wasn’t just politically unambitious but a loyal subservient lieutenant trusted to preserve his legacy.

Above all he needed someone who was the least likely to cut a deal with Annuar Ibrahim. Abdullah fitted this profile very nicely. Mahathir always consider Abdullah to be grassroots politician, a nice guy, and very little vision, if any. There was also no love loss between Abdullah and Annuar. Their rivalry went back a long way and they both came from Penang. And basically Mahathir thought that he would be the best guy, and in a nutshell the best policy against any kind of an Annuar comeback.

But shortly after becoming premier in 2003, Abdullah recast himself probably backed by this very sleek group of spin-doctors an antithesis of Mahathir. He overturned large contracts promoted by his former boss, initiated a crack down on corruption, charged a sitting minister, went after a closed associate of Mahathir, Eric Chia who was involved in the Perwaja scandal. Then pushed ahead with transparency in government and also measure to liberalized the economy.

Amongst politicians and government people closed to Dr Mahathir basically said that all these changes were weighted on Dr Mahathir. It was a situation he was willing to prepare for.

Then came the release of Annuar Ibrahim in September 2004. A business friend closed to both of them told me once that shortly after Annuar was relesed. an angry Dr Mahathir told Daim Zainuddin that by freeing Annuar, Abdullah had freed him from the promise not to reenter politics. To many in Kuala Lumpur, that was actually the sort of tipping point. It was a point where some Rubicon has been crossed at and differences over policies that Mahathir tolerated became just unacceptable.

Now we come to the next question. Why is Dr Mahathir moving now? I think it is safe to assume that the magic that accompanied Mr Abdullah’s takeover of the premiership of late 2003 has loss its spell. His critics argued that his reformist tools he trumpeted during the early months have not arrived.

There is also general restiveness among the public and UMNO over Mr Abdullah economics policy. His push to make the Malaysia’s economy more competitive by cutting back on fuel and power subsidy has actually raised cost of living for general Malaysians. So there is general disappointment and anger among the public.

Also there is a growing sense of disillusionment, particularly in the business community who grumbled that Abdullah’s economic measure have trimmed business and in particular it has hurt key sector like the construction sector which has been a source of patronage dishing out contracts for UMNO and for people closed to UMNO.

With all these negative sentiments, the thinking is that Dr Mahathir believes by moving now, his views, his measures actually will gain fracture, will resonate amongst the Malaysian public."

(10 mins, 3 hrs to transcribe)

An UPDATE on the Medaition effort by Zam

It is his own initiatve just like Datuk Nazri initiative to reply to Dr mahathir after his forum and dialogue on 24th June 2006. It looks like the ministers are given the free leash to do whatever is necessary.

In a statement today (July 3, 2006), Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin said it was his private initiative to get a mediator to end the public spat between the two men, whom he respected.

"It was my private initiative and I had not received a mandate from the party nor the government," he told a press conference in Parliament lobby.

"Therefore, I have to stress here that it was my own action and should not be seen as an official stand of the party or the government."

He said he had met with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak on Sunday (July 2, 2006) night to explain his stand.

"I took the initiative as I believe the government and the party will not stop any initiatives to ease the tension between Abdullah and Mahathir," he said.

"I am not the only one who can initiate the talk. Other parties who are more influential than me can also take similar initiatives to be a mediator in their own capacity for the sake of rakyat and the country."

Asked why he had to clarify this matter after meeting Najib since it was his personal initiative, he said: "I don't want the party to get confused. Who am I? I am nobody in the party."

On whether the DPM endorsed his proposal, he said: "It's not whether he has endorsed. As long as he understands, it's ok."

Last Friday (June 30, 2006), Zainuddin had said Abdullah and Mahathir have agreed to a mediator to patch the rift between them. Abdullah is taking a break in Perth, Australia, until July 14 (2006).

Without disclosing the name, Zainuddin had claimed that both sides agreed to have the mediator who was "loved by Dr Mahathir and respected by Abdullah".

In a Sunday Exculsive, Sunday STAR named the mediator as Malacca Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Khalil Yaakob. In response, Najib said had no idea about the initiative and said he would speak to Zainuddin. It looks like the STAR has been exclusivley misinformed . as Zainuddin denied it, before breaking into laughter. He said there are many veterans suitable for the role

When queried if the mediation will be successful, he said: "I cannot say. It's a very difficult task."

now read on how the down south paper S'pore STRAITS TIMES reports the mediation effort.
Mahathir-Abdullah rift: Some see no need for mediator
Khalil Yaakob keeps mum on reports that he is the mediator

Jul 04, 2006 The Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR - A PLAN by Malaysia's ruling Umno party to mend strained ties between Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has sparked controversy within the party.

A senior Umno leader shot down the idea, questioning the need for intervention by a third party.

'Both leaders are just having a difference in opinion, which I personally feel does not warrant the involvement of a third party,' said Kedah Unmo chief Mahdzir Khalid.( a former political secretary to Abdullah)

'Why do we need a third party to act as a champion?'

Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin said last Friday that the party was working to bring the two together to patch up their differences.

The mediator is expected to be Umno veteran and Malacca state governor Tun Khalil Yaakob.

Tun Khalil is said to have met Tun Dr Mahathir on Saturday as a first step in helping to mend the rift between the ex-premier and Datuk Seri Abdullah.

The 90-minute meeting with Tun Dr Mahathir is said to have taken place at the latter's residence at the Mines Resort in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday evening.

However, Tun Khalil chose to stay mum on the matter when approached by reporters at a World Health Day function on Sunday.

He declined to speak as he slid into his official car, accompanied by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali Rustam.

'I don't know whether the reports are true or not...we did not talk about the matter at all,' Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali said when asked to comment on whether Tun Khalil was indeed the chosen mediator between Datuk Seri Abdullah and Tun Dr Mahathir.

In Putrajaya, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said he would get more details from Datuk Zainuddin on the initiatives being made to resolve the differences between the two leaders.

Datuk Seri Najib said he did not know of the arrangement nor the report that Tun Khalil is the mediator.

'I will get the information from him (Zainuddin). I will have to speak to him first,' Datuk Seri Najib said.

In Ipoh, Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the mediation process should be expedited for the sake of the party.

The meeting would enable both leaders to openly express their hearts and minds in a respectable manner, he said.

Tun Dr Mahathir has bitterly attacked Datuk Seri Abdullah in recent weeks, even expressing regret that he had chosen Datuk Seri Abdullah to take over from him in 2003, saying he had been 'stabbed in the back'.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the government will not hide anything.

But he cautioned that some matters were delicate as they could compromise national interest or jeopardise talks on matters still outstanding with Singapore.

'How on earth can a government work if every time we want to do something, we have to produce all sorts of documents as proof?'

Tun Dr Mahathir had wanted documentary proof to support Datuk Seri Syed Hamid's earlier assertion that it was not true that Malaysia had proposed to sell sand to Singapore and provide airspace to Singapore warplanes.

************************************************* end *********************************************
See lastest post: An AUDIENCE with "KING' MAHATHIR - An Interview the AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORP. apparently has to "SEEK" in order to be granted the AUDIENCE

NOTE: UPDATE 5th Jul 06, Wed. 22:24 hrs
TRANSCRIPT is now available,
KL-based Malaysia Bureau Chief
Reme Ahmad explained about
Dr M vs Pak Lah and other Key Players in the SPORE Forum

Update: Jul 17 06. The following written account is found at:


Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad's harsh public attacks over policy issues have presented Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's nearly three-year-old administration with its most serious political crisis.
Dr. Mahathir's public admonishment of the Mr. Abdullah's government has put the business community on edge and raised concern that it could trigger a spilt in the ruling United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO, party.
But the deepening rift between the two politicians isn't just about policy differences and personality clashes.
At stake in this gripping political drama is a clash over what values should shape future ethnic Malay/Malaysian society.
Over the last two decades, Dr. Mahathir has aggressively imposed his vision of modernisation on his Malay race with the state playing a central role in economic development.
And to push his agenda, Dr. Mahathir was left with little choice but to adopt a very autocratic style, placing strict limits in the independence of key institutions.
In the process, he created a culture where Malays, and much of Malaysia, identified with a strong leader who could dispense patronage in a protected economy.
The vision Mr. Abdullah espouses is anchored in the thinking of Malaysia's political elite before Dr. Mahathir assumed power; one that places a premium on values such as egalitarianism, democracy and a sense of fair-play.
Mr. Abdullah's reform agenda, which includes bringing more independence to watchdog agencies, and pushing for greater transparency in the police force and the awards of large contracts, clashes directly with thye systems and practices that have been established during the last two decades of Dr. Mahathir's premiership.
That's why this fight isn’t just a clash between the current and former premiers. It also includes wide swathes of Malaysia's establishment that is resistant to
Dislodging Mr. Abdullah, however, won't be easy.
But there are concerns that Dr. Mahathir, Malaysia's redoubtable strongman who has survived numerous challenges to his leadership during his 22 years in power, could inflict some serious political grief on Mr. Abdullah in coming months.
One potentially destabilising issue is political succession in Malaysia.
The 66-year-old Mr. Abdullah and Dr. Mahathir are considered to be from the same political generation, and many UMNO members believe that the next leadership succession, which would pave the way for deputy premier Najib Abdul Razak, should take place sooner to make way for the party next generation of leaders to move up the political ladder.
Several analysts say that Dr. Mahathir's political agitation against Mr. Abdullah would fit in nicely for those seeking to push forward the succession timetable.


Blogger Borneo-Vision said...

Do you know what kind of private agreement signed before the hand over of power between the two personalities?

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Update: Jan 31 2008
The latest comment from Dr Mahathir: When a reporter asked whether he had a gentleman's agreement with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the latter would only helm the country for one term, he said:

"Even If I say that I have this gentleman's agreement, there is no way I can prove this."

5:43 PM  

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