Congrats to Abdullah for getting the “ pass with flying colours” accolade  from Mahathir although what should be most reassuring to him  is the Prime Minister’s  confirmation of leaving office by end of October

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Friday): Congratulations to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for getting the “pass with flying colours” accolade   for his two-month stint as Acting Prime Minister from the Prime Minister,  Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad yesterday. 

However,  what should be most reassuring to Abdullah is the Prime Minister’s  confirmation of leaving office by the end of October, which will upset the plots being hatched by various people, including one involving a former Cabinet Minister, to derail Abdullah’s succession plan by getting Mahathir to stay beyond the October deadline. 

It is not that the one other time in July 1997 when Mahathir ended his  two-month leave, he had not praised the then Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, for doing a “good job” – but such an accolade could  not save Anwar from being subsequently sacked from government, expelled from UMNO and jailed  at  Sungei Buloh prison for 15 years. 

In a democratic country, it is not just for Mahathir but even more important, for the people to grade Abdullah’s two-month stint as Acting Prime Minister. 

Abdullah himself said that the SARS scare and the ban on the Iban Bible were two of the “most challenging” issues that he had to tackle  in his two months as acting Prime Minister. 

Abdullah deserves credit for the handling of both these issues - in the former, ending a three-week  denial syndrome of the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng,  by ordering  full transparency and no “cover up” of SARS  outbreak at the Cabinet meeting of 2nd April and in the latter, lifting the insensitive and unconstitutional  ban on the Iban Bible which had been widely used by churches in Sarawak  for the past 15 years since its first edition in 1988.  

But even in these two instances, Abdullah could have done more, as for instance, ending  the Health Ministry “black out” of news about the worst dengue epidemic in the nation’s history which has killed more people than the SARS outbreak and revoking the ban of another 13 Christian publications in Bahasa Malaysia in line with  the constitutional guarantee on  freedom of religion.  

There were  both plus  and minus in Abdullah’s  two-month stint  as Acting Prime Minister – an example of the former was Abdullah’s decisive and  courageous apology to the Indian government for the police maltreatment of Indian IT professionals preventing  a full-blown  diplomatic row with the Indian government while his failure to ensure that the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) pay a more reasonable dividend for last year to the 10.3 million EPF contributors or be more transparent and accountable stands as  an example of the latter.

Undoubtedly, Abdullah started on a very high note when in his first public address as Acting Prime Minister in early March, he made the brilliant diagnosis of the Ugly Malaysian, the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise and “the danger of possessing the hardware but little software”, which will obstruct the achievement of the Vision 2020 objective of a fully developed nation.

Unfortunately, Abdullah did not unveil  any strategy to expunge this Malaysian malaise to ensure that Malaysia has “First World Infrastructure, First World Mentality”, raising the question as to whether he has any  strategy and a concrete plan of action in place to terminate this Malaysian disease.

There were at least four major areas where a solid start could have been made during Abdullah’s two-month stint as Acting Prime Minister  to attack the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise, but  the opportunities were missed, viz: 

  • A free, independent and responsible press - especially on the occasion of the 2003 World Press Freedom Day four years after his promise to study the memorandum of some one thousand Malaysians journalists for press liberalization. Instead, the country’s commitment to press freedom came under a darker  cloud as a result of the politically-inspired furore over The Economist special survey on Malaysia – some three weeks after its publication.
  • Human Rights – the release of the  third annual report of Suhakam and its "Review of the Internal Security Act 1960" in April were occasions for the government to demonstrate a new seriousness and commitment to protect and promote human rights – but both Sunhakam  reports were dismissed with contempt as with previous Suhakam reports and findings.
  • Just rule of law and truly independent judiciary  – one of Abdullah’s last pronouncements as Acting Prime Minister was that there would be no change to the present system of appointing judges, when he should be encouraging instead of shutting  off public  debate  to review the system of judicial appointments as part the larger judicial reforms needed to fully restore public confidence in the judiciary after more than a decade-long  ravages of repeated crisis of the judiciary.
  • “Black Gold” Politics -  the inconclusive outcome to the serious allegation by the MCA Youth leader Datuk Ong Tee Kiat about “black gold” politics in MCA, although Ong had given him two names to substantiate his allegation.

In less than five months, Abdullah would succeed Mahathir as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia.  Abdullah should convene a roundtable conference of all political parties, NGOs and eminent Malaysians to formulate a strategy and a concrete plan of action which could be implemented immediately on his becoming Prime Minister to declare an all-out war against the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise. 

There will undoubtedly be strong objections to such an idea of a roundtable conference involving all political parties, NGOs and the civil society – but this will only be a manifestation of the strength of the ‘First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise in the country. 


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman