Mahathir had not given all the reasons, including the more important ones,  which prompted him to make the surprise resignation announcements at the close of UMNO General Assembly on June 22

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has returned to an UMNO-staged “hero’s welcome”, where he publicly  explained for the first time what resignations he had intended to announce at the close of the 56th UMNO General  Assembly on June 22 before he was stopped and mobbed by hysterical UMNO leaders and members and the reasons for his action. 

While I had never doubted the genuineness of his resignation announcements  and intention (including the unannounced one concerning the office of Prime Minister) of  June 22 or the subsequent  16-month power transition plan, only the gullible will accept at face value the  simplistic reasons he gave at Subang yesterday as it was clear that he had not given all the reasons, including the more important ones,  which had prompted him to make the surprise resignation announcements at the close of the UMNO General Assembly. 

The reasons given by Mahathir yesterday were that he had served UMNO and the nation for 21 years, a period that was far too long for a Prime Minister,  and that UMNO had regained strength after having gone through a turbulent period in 1998 and 1999. 

He said he had much earlier spoken to several party leaders, including UMNO deputy president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and UMNO secretary-general Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob about his intentions to resign but they kept asking him to continue. 

The reasons given by Mahathir cannot be the only or even the most important   factors that resulted in his precipitate decision at the close of the UMNO general assembly to want to announce his resignation from all government and party posts with immediate effect, for he would then at least  have confided in his wife, Datuk Seri Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and his family who had stated that they had long wanted him to retire as Prime Minister. 

Furthermore, if Mahathir had for some time been seriously thinking about a “smooth and orderly transition” of power culminating in his resignations from all government and party posts at the 56th UMNO General Assembly, then a case could be made out that he had acted rather irresponsibly, for three  reasons: 

Firstly, he had never allowed Abdullah  to be Acting Prime Minister for even once in the 42 months he was Deputy Prime Minister since January 1999, when Mahathir  must have made 50-60 overseas trips, including the very long absence of a month  when he went to the Andes and Antartica early this year. 

Secondly, it was rather irresponsible for Mahathir to precipitately resign from all posts after 21 years without a “smooth and orderly transition”, especially as he also held the important post of Finance Minister, without a second Finance Minister  and was in the final stage of preparation for the 2003 Budget which was to be presented to Parliament and nation on 20th September 2002 (more than a month earlier than the traditional annual budget presentation because of the earlier Muslim puasa month and Hari Raya  this year). 

Thirdly, in contrast to the view that the changing of the guard after 21 years as Prime Minister was long overdue, there is the opposite  view that Mahathir was irresponsible in not seeing through to their success the initial moves he had taken to remove the subsidy mentality of the bumiputeras as a result of the affirmative policies under the New Economic Policy of which he was the chief  promoter and to enhance the country’s international competitiveness by restoring the people’s former mastery of the English language, on the premise that Abdullah would not be politically strong enough to overcome the powerful resistance and political forces  that would be marshaled against these reforms. 

Whatever the truth of the third factor, there can be no doubt that there were  weightier and  more important reasons than the stated ones resulting in Mahathir’s precipitate resignation announcements on June 22 and explaining for his unusual public emotional display which cannot be solely attributed to “getting old” and therefore being “a little bit emotional”. 

Be that as it may, now that a 16-month transition period for the full transfer of the office and powers of the Prime Minister from him to Abdullah after the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Kuala Lumpur in October next year has been decided upon, it is incumbent upon Mahathir to focus his attention and energies on what he could and should do in the last 16 months of his 22 years and 3 months as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. 

This is not the time for Mahathir to dwell on his achievements or  legacy but to try to rectify the fundamental flaws and weaknesses of his administration of over two decades, the foremost of which is undoubtedly the centralization of power in his hands as a result of the twin developments  of the  subversion of the doctrine of the separation of powers and the undermining of the independence, integrity and professionalism of key institutions of state, whether the Judiciary, Parliament, the Attorney-General, the Auditor-General, the Police, the Election Commission, Bank Negara, a free and independent media or a vibrant civil society. 

Mahathir should seriously consider the appointment of  an Eminent Persons Group to report within a month what he could do  in the next 15 months before he finally steps down as Prime Minister to rectify these flaws and weaknesses to leave behind a healthier and more solid  foundation for Malaysia to face the challenges of the new century. 

Malaysians tapped for this Eminent Persons Group should be of impeccable credibility, independence  and integrity, covering a representative cross-section of Malaysian society, such as former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Musa Hitam, human rights advocate Raja Aziz Addruse, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, DAP Advisor Dr.  Chen Man Hin, renowned thinkers like Dr. Chandra Muzaffar and  Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, among others. 

The areas which such an Eminent Persons Group should address include: 

  1. International competitiveness and a revisit of the New Economic Policy; 

  2. A world-class education system. 

  3. A just rule of law and truly independent judiciary. 

  4. Upholding the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, “social contract” and 1963 Malaysia Agreement that Islam is the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic State. 

  5. Parliamentary Reforms to restore Parliament’s role to legislate, deliberate and hold the government to account and not be a rubber-stamp of the Executive. 

  6. Human rights – in particular the fundamental liberties of freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association and the rights to information and  development.   

  7. Corruption. 

  8. Information Technology – how (i) to close the digital divide and (ii) bridge the gap between the rhetoric and reality  to position Malaysia in the very forefront of the  Information Age. 

  9. A world  model of inter-religious and inter-civilisational dialogue and understanding; and 

  10. World-standard sports achievements –  a serious lag highlighted by the recently-concluded World Cup, where the football standards of  South Korea, Japan and China have improved by leaps and bounds with  South Korea qualifying for  the World Cup semi-finals when not so long in the past, these nations  were regularly defeated by Malaysia in soccer tournaments!



*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman