Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Sunday, 19th October 2008: 

Can Abdullah's last five months as PM survive the return of Mahathirism?

“Who is he, asks Abdullah” is the New Sunday Times headline for the report of what it described as “The gloves came off yesterday.”

The New Sunday Times reported from Kota Kinabalu yesterday that the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's “patience finally wore off and he lambasted his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad”, viz:

Abdullah said Dr Mahathir was acting as if it was he (Dr Mahathir) who should determine who played what role in the party.

"Who is he ? He has left Umno 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," said Abdullah who was here to attend the Hari Malaysia and closing of the Merdeka month celebrations.

"He is trying to create a rift and (incite) anger and hatred. What is wrong with people who work with me? He is trying to teach people to hate one another."

The Umno president said this in referring to a posting on Dr Mahathir's blog, calling on Umno to rid itself of all those who supported Abdullah, referring to them as "toadies".

“Who is he when he is no longer a member of UMNO?”

Abdullah cannot be naïve in not knowing the answer to his own query, although his rhetorical question is meant to convey his frustration, impotence and bitterness than to elicit a real answer.

The answer is clear for all – the country is witnessing the return of Mahathirism with the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad seen as having become the single most powerful and influential individual to UMNO although he is “no longer a member of the party”.

In fact it would be more congruent with the power reality for Mahathir to ask, “Who is he” when referring to Abdullah, than for Abdullah to pose this question vis-à-vis Mahahtrir.

This is because Mahathir was transformed from a gadfly into “king-maker” on October 8 the instant Abdullah announced that he had buckled down to pressures in Umno Supreme Council for an early exit as Prime Minister next March and would not defend the post of Umno President.

This is obvious from the following incidents:

• Cabinet Ministers beginning to distance themselves from Abdullah after the Oct. 8 announcement as observed and deplored by the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Johari Baharom earlier this week;

• Overnight reversal of role with Abdullah’s son-in-law transformed from “top dog” to “underdog” in Umno Youth chief election – while Mukhriz Mahathir swept nominations including securing the requisite 39 nominations to contest Umno Youth chief in the first of four weekends for nominations while Khairy is still struggling to get his “passport” to contest even after a second weekend of nominations. Mukhriz would be in Khairy’s shoes, struggling to get the requisite 39 nominations, if not for Abdullah’s Oct. 8 announcement.

• The landmark Hari Raya Open House of Umno stalwart Rauf Yusoh on Tuesday evening, where the guests and guests-of-honour signal the real wielders of power in Umno and Barisan Nasional government today – Najib Razak, Muhyiddin Yasin, Syed Hamid Albar, Shafie Apdal together with Mahathir.

Abdullah also zeroed in on Muhyiddin in his lambasting in Kota Kinabalu yesterday, as the International Trade and Industry Minister had called for the Umno party elections to revert back from March next year to December, as it is also tantamount to forcing Abdullah to an earlier exit as Prime Minister in December as well.

In fact, Mahathir had never hidden his position that he wants Abdullah to step down immediately, claiming that there is nothing Abdullah could achieve as Prime Minister in the next five months.

Abdullah should know that his writ has now shrunk to very limited power, scope and effect – whether in government or even in Cabinet.

Although in response to Abdullah’s uncharacteristic outburst, Muhyiddin has backed off and denied that his call for early Umno party elections meant that Abdullah speed up the transfer of power to Najib, Abdullah should have a healthy cynicism and skepticism when his original June 2010 power transition plan had been scuttled repeatedly by the same tactics.

The question Abdullah faces is: can his last five months as Prime Minister survive the return of Mahathirism?

Will the Umno Supreme Council meeting tomorrow decide another modification of the power-transition plan, reverting the Umno party elections to December and shortening Abdullah’s five-month exit as Prime Minister by another three months?

Even if Umno Supreme Council just decide on reverting back the Umno party elections to December without any mention about the power-transition plan, what is there to stop a resolution by acclamation at the Umno General Assembly in December demanding the immediate transfer of power for Najib to take over as the sixth Prime Minister instantly after the Umno general assembly?

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor