Mahathir is not lame-duck Prime Minister but has arrogated powers in the 16-month transition period which he had never done in the past 21 years

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Tuesday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday he was no "lame-duck" Prime Minister although he would resign in October, unlike in the United States where a second-term President on the way out is viewed as a "lame duck" president as people would not take his instructions and things would not run so well.

Referring to his own case of impending resignation in October at what he said was probably his "last encounter" as Prime Minister with top civil servants at the official opening of the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan) Management Technology Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir said: "If I make a decision, people still implement it. So I have every reason to be grateful."

Last June, following the announcement of the 16-month transition plan for Mahathir's resignation as Prime Minister after the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Kuala Lumpur on October 24 and 25 this year, I had asked whether it is a plan for a lame-duck Prime Minister and lame-duck Deputy Prime Minister for the next 16 months - whether because of one stepping on the toes of another or with each trying to avoid stepping on the toes of another.

The last five months have proved Mahathir right that he is no lame-duck Prime Minister even after the announcement of the 16-month transition plan for his retirement although the jury is still out as to whether in these 16 months the country has a lame-duck Deputy Prime Minister.

In fact, far from having a lame-duck Prime Minister, the country is seeing an even more assertive Prime Minister in the 16-month transition period, taking decisions, arrogating powers and usurpring jurisdictions which he had never done in his 21 years as Prime Minister before his sudden and tearful announcement of resignation at the UMNO General Assembly last June which later gave way to the 16-month transition plan.

A good example is the manner in which the Cabinet was completely by-passed in the important decision to establish the most high-powered committee in the nation's 45-year history to review the national education system to rectify the "hijacking" of the national education system and address the system's two biggest failures- to foster national unity and provide quality education.

UMNO Supreme Council decided on November 29 to set up the education review committee under Mahathir's chairmanship, comprising solely UMNO leaders and which started work holding its first meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya the following week, but the approval of the Cabinet was never sought in the past one month whether for its establishment, membership, terms of reference or modus operandi, reducing the Cabinet to a redundant appendage of the UMNO Supreme Council.

This should be rectified immediately, and the Cabinet at its meeting tomorrow should take the decision to give the public two weeks for feedback on the terms of reference and composition of the second Mahathir education review committee.

The Cabinet should also ensure that the establishment and functioning of the highest-powered education committee in the nation's history is also the most democratic and consultative one, with Malaysians able to participate in the process every step of the way, starting with the determination of its terms of reference and nomination of members of the education review committee representing all sections of the Malaysian society, covering the full spectrum of diverse political, educational and civil society opinion.

To set the ball rolling for the most democratic education review involving the fullest public participation and consultation, the Cabinet tomorrow should make public the comprehensive education reform report which was commissioned by the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) in May last year and which was the basis for the UMNO Supreme Council decision on Nov. 29.

Another example of Mahathir assuming more powers in the 16-month transition period as Prime Minister never the case in his first 21 years in the highest office of the land is the humiliating experience of the MCA leadership over the furore from the abstention of the two Penang MCA State Assembly members, Tan Cheng Liang (Jawi) and Lim Boo Chang (Datuk Keramat) in the vote on the motion by the DAP Assemblyman for Batu Lanchang, Law Heng Kiang in the Penang State Assembly to defer the RM1.02 billion Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project.

Never before had the MCA leadership been so publicly humiliated not only by UMNO, but other smaller Barisan Nasional component parties, in the history of the Barisan Nasional as over the case of the Penang MCA duo.

I had never subscribed to various theories about Mahathir's sudden and dramatic resignation at the close of the UMNO General Assembly last June, that it was a sandiwara (play-acting) or part of a Machiavellian plot by Mahathir to consolidate his power base or to stage a political come-back after the OIC Summit in October.

The establishment of the highest-powered education review committee in the nation's history (as no Prime Minister had ever headed such a committee), his single-minded implementation of the use of English to teach mathematics and science in schools from Std. One in primary schools and the recent Cabinet appointment of Datuk Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis as Second Finance Minister and promotions of Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor as Minister in the PM's Department and Datuk Zainuddin Maidin as Deputy Information Minister have been cited as arguments that Mahathir was not preparing to step down in October.

I do not agree as I do not see these as signs that Mahathir was preparing to continue as Prime Minister after October, but evidence that Mahathir will not let-up or slow-down in the exercise of his powers and will in fact usurp the jurisdictions of other organs and institutions of government not done in his first 21 years as Prime Minister even up to his very last days in office - and Malaysians must expect important policy changes and announcements even in his last month, last week and last day in office before he steps down as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Mahathir is therefore no lame-duck Prime Minister in the 16-month transition period but his arrogance of power is even worse than his first 21 years in office.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman