Mahathir should spell out clearly Abdullah’s powers as Acting Prime Minister in the next 16 months and whether Abdullah   can exercise the full powers of an Acting Prime Minister when he is on leave without having to refer to him or  get his  final OK

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Tuesday): The media has been informed by the Information Ministry that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad would return home from his 10-day Mediterranean leave tomorrow and would meet the local and foreign media the same morning. 

UMNO on its part is organizing a welcome-home reception by  10,000 UMNO members at  the Subang airport complex, which is now reserved specially for Mahathir as the people are now compelled to use KLIA  in Sepang as all domestic flight services through the Subang Airport ended two days ago.

What Malaysians are interested is to hear from Mahathir  the “what” and the “why” of his June 22 action  - what resignations he had intended to announce at the closing session of the 56th UMNO General Assembly when  he was stopped by the emotional  eruption of UMNO leaders and  members and the reasons for the sudden announcements.

If what Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir, the Prime Minister’s son, and Datuk Seri  Rafidah Aziz, Wanita UMNO chief had said in their interviews with Mingguan Malaysia on Sunday were the truth, then it meant that Mahathir had wanted his resignations  from all government and party posts, including the position of Prime Minister, to take immediate effect on June 22, and that he was persuaded to change his mind by the emotional outbursts of UMNO leaders, delegates and members to decide on a 16-month transition period to pass the reins of government to Datuk Seri  Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after the  Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Kuala Lumpur in October 2003, with Abdullah becoming Acting Prime Minister when he is overseas or on leave.

From his frenetic pace of overseas travel, making 46 overseas trips costing taxpayers over RM12 million in the 30 months since the November 1999 general election, together with his  two-month leave before resigning as Prime Minister, it is likely that Mahathir will be out of the country or on leave  for more than half of the 16-month transition period. 

In his media conference tomorrow, Mahathir should also spell out clearly Abdullah’s powers as Acting Prime Minister in the next 16 months and whether Abdullah   can exercise the full powers of an Acting Prime Minister when he is on leave without having to refer to him or  get his  final ok.

This is important for two reasons:

Firstly, Abdullah will be assuming the office and powers of Acting Prime Minister for the first time, as he was never made Acting Prime Minister in the 42 months he had been appointed Deputy Prime Minister since  January 1999 although Mahathir must have made 50 to 60 overseas trips during this period.

Secondly, the chequered history of Mahathir’s  two former  Deputy Prime Ministers who had been appointed Acting Prime Ministers – Musa Hitam and Anwar Ibrahim, the former forced to resign because of “incompatibility” and the latter sacked, persecuted and jailed.  (Ghafar Baba, another of Mahathir’s trio of  former Deputy Prime Ministers, was never appointed Acting Prime Minister although he was Mahathir’s longest-serving  Deputy Prime Minister for over seven years from 1986 to 1993).

Nobody expects an Acting Prime Minister to announce new policies  at variance from those of the Prime Minister, but being an Acting Prime Minister is different from continuing as Deputy Prime Minister. As Acting Prime Minister, Abdullah  must take all the responsibilities and make all the decisions belonging to the Prime Minister, without referring or waiting for the return of  Mahathir to the country or from leave. 

One important reason for the  rupture of the “2-M” Administration of Mahathir and Musa in less than five years (July 1981 – February 1986) was  because of Musa’s diligent and conscientious discharge of his duties as Acting Prime Minister when Mahathir was on leave, taking decisions in line with declared government policies but which displeased Mahathir.

Two major instances stood up during that period. The first was the 1985 Sabah state general elections, where during the election campaign Mahathir pledged that the Federal Government would “sink or swim” with Harris Salleh’s BERJAYA against Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s PBS.

The election results were both unexpected and devastating for the Barisan Nasional. BERJAYA retained only 6 seats, compared to the 44 it previously held.  Tun Mustapha Harun’s United Sabah National Organisation (USNO), which had been expelled from the Barisan Nasional  in 1984, took 16 seats, and the PBS won a clear majority with 26 seats. 

Despite the clear majority, the losers engaged in a last-ditch unconstitutional  intrigue to prevent the PBS from coming to power.   Harris Salleh telephoned Musa who was acting as Prime Minister and BN leader while Mahathir was overseas for Federal government support. 

The request was refused by Musa, who issued a statement affirming the respect of both the Barisan Nasional  and the Federal Government for “the wishes of the majority based upon the system of parliamentary democracy”.   

Mahathir would probably have given the green-light for Harris’ unconstitutional  power-play as illustrated by subsequent Sabah political developments if he was not on leave or if Musa was not the Acting Prime Minister and had to seek his approval before refusing Harris Salleh’s request – and it is open knowledge that Mahathir was mightily displeased with Musa’s decision. 

The second incident was Musa’s decision when he was Acting Prime Minister in favour of the people of Papan in Perak protesting against the siting of the radioactive waste dump in Papan, although the issue was not resolved as the radioactive waste dump was moved to near Bukit Merah – but Musa’s decision again displeased Mahathir. 

In the case of Anwar, his shepherding of the new Anti-Corruption Acf 1997 in his two months as Acting Prime Minister, was sufficient to threaten the equanimity and security of the old-timers to lay the seeds for his downfall -  though the DAP regarded the new  legislation as inadequate and not courageous enough to fight the war against corruption.

Mahathir should spell out clearly Abdullah’s powers as Acting Prime Minister in the next 16 months as Abdullah should not be Deputy Prime Minister when he is Acting Prime Minister. 

In his 42 months as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Abdullah has yet to stamp his  character and personality  of “Mr. Nice Guy” and “Mr. Clean” on the various departments in the Home Ministry under his direct responsibility, as making them more people-friendly, acquire  a human face, and respect human rights and Suhakam to  start the painful process to restore public confidence in the institutions of government.  

Will these two persona of Abdullah be able to begin to  emerge from their shadows in the 16-month transition during the  period when he is Acting Prime Minister before he takes over the full reins of power after the OIC Summit in October next year? This will completely depend on the will and wishes of Mahathir.   


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman