Mahathir beginning to  show signs of “lame-duck” leader which will increasingly become evident in the next 15 months until he steps down as Prime Minister next October

Media Conference Statement 2
- launching of the second phase of the “No 911, No to 929, Yes to 1957”  People’s Awareness Campaign in Jelutong at the Jelutong Market
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Saturday): When the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad spoke at  the Johore Barisan Nasional convention in Johore Bahru on Thursday and called on all Barisan Nasional component parties to accept his decision on the allocation of seats in the next general election as final and appealed to them to accept his decision, it set off political reverberations he never intended  as his speech was  immediately interpreted  as a hint and possible pointer to early general elections as well as pre-empting and undermining the position of his designated successor, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.  

Mahathir had explained that he was making the appeal to the Barisan Nasional  component parties  at this early stage so that when a decision had been made by him as the Barisan Nasional  chairman, they would abide by it. 

He said: “Let's say there are additional seats available (in the next general election). Inevitably, there will be BN component parties which will not get everything they want . . . but none will not get anything at all.”  

He said that all the 14 BN component parties must abide by the decision because the allocation would be done fairly.  

It is not my reading that Mahathir had intended to hint in his  Johore Barisan Nasional speech of early general election.  It was in fact a faux pas on Mahathir’s part, stumbling inadvertently into a “lame duck” situation, requiring him to correct it the next day at Genting Highlands with the statement that he did not rule out the possibility of his deputy Abdullah leading the Barisan Nasional in the next general election.  

In such a situation, Mahathir said, Abdullah would then  decide the seat allocation formula for all Barisan Nasional component parties as he would be Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional Chairman – and he would assist Abdullah from “outside” during the general election as he would no longer hold the post of UMNO president. 

This is not the first “lame duck” incident after Mahathir’s dramatic  and  emotional announcement at the UMNO General Assembly in June on his resignation as Prime Minister and UMNO President, which was later transformed into a 16-month transition period to hand over full powers to Abdullah next October.  

The first “lame-duck” instance – where he could not follow through and achieve  what he wanted - was Mahathir’s attempt to foist Datuk Seri Najib Razak as the new No. 2 on Abdullah and pressure his deputy  to make an immediate public commitment – which created such pressures on Abdullah that he had to buy time by stating that he would announce who would be his No. 2 after the Pendang and Anak Bukit by-elections.  

But immediately after the two Kedah by-elections, Abdullah avoided the issue by postponing  the announcement of his new No. 2 to an  “appropriate time”.  

In the next 15 months until he steps down as Prime Minister next October, there will increasingly be more such “lame-duck” incidents because they are inherent in the 16-month power transition plan – what I said in my media statement of 26th of June 2002 that  it is a plan for a lame-duck Prime Minister and lame-duck Deputy Prime Minister for the next 16 months or two Prime Ministers whether because of one stepping on the toes of another or with each trying to avoid stepping on the toes of another.   

Mahathir will not be the only “lame-duck” political leader in the Barisan Nasional however, as the MCA Team B team has been spreading word that the address by the MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik at the 49th MCA General Assembly today would be his “swan song” as he would be eased out as MCA President under the Mahathir MCA “peace plan”, which suspended MCA elections and froze  MCA party democracy.  

The chances of early general election being imminent, to the extent that it could be held at the end of this year, has largely disappeared as a result of the Pendang and Anak Bukit by-election results.  If UMNO had swept both Kedah by-elections, then general election at the end of this year becomes imminent.  But with the two by-election results, although UMNO won one seat back from PAS, the political scenario is back in a state of  flux, as the results showed that although the non-Malay votes are solidly behind the Barisan Nasional in the two-by-elections, UMNO has still to convincingly establish that it has won back the Malay rural  heartland from PAS.  

Although Mahathir had all along claimed that Kedah UMNO was united and that there were no problems over the choice of UMNO candidates in the two by-elections, and Mahathir and other UMNO leaders are trying their utmost  to blame the UMNO’s defeat in Anak Bukit and wafer-thin majority in Pendang to the “crude, callous and violent” tactics of PAS,  the admission to Malaysiakini yesterday by the UMNO Vice President Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib that UMNO internal problems were the main cause of the Barisan  Nasional defeat in Anak Bukit is probably the most honest and sincere assessment made  by any UMNO leader on the two Kedah by-elections so far.  

The far-from-impressive UMNO results in the two Kedah by-elections may have greater implications than generally realized.  As a result, the question as to whether Mahathir would lead the Barisan Nasional into the next general election as Prime Minister, UMNO President and Barisan Nasional Chairman has become very open and uncertain..


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman