An editorial by Malaysiakini observed that Mahathir had launched a war of words against the current government’s decision on the Johor Straits bridge. In fact the editorial went beyond describing the tiff as just a mere war of words, suggesting that Dr Mahathir’s offensive, triggered off by the abandonment of the bridge construction, could seriously undermined Abdullah Badawi’s position as Prime Minister. It went as far as to forecast that Abdullah Badawi could well turn out to be a one-term PM.
Mahathir had been at his most virulent in accusing a government ‘leader’ of being unpatriotic by considering the sale of sea sand to Singapore as part of now-dropped negotiations for the new bridge.
He said: "That there should be any Malaysian leader willing to entertain this idea, to destroy Malaysian seas to satisfy Singapore, speaks badly of his love for his country."
Innuendos without any name mentioned, in typical Malay court intrigue a la wayang kulit (shadow play). But I have been surprised that Malaysiakini went as far as to name the ‘leader’ as Abdullah Badawi himself. I am not too sure whether Abdullah Badawi himself had been Mahathir's target?
This is a serious allegation with an associated ominous internecine war looming ahead for UMNO. Opposition leader Lim Guan Eng* (DAP) said Syed Hamid's "Suck it man, you're no longer No 1" comments to Dr Mahathir could signal the ‘beginning of a new crisis’ in UMNO. Lim also commented that the collapse of the relationship between the two men is far more damaging than the mere ‘collapse’ of the bridge plans.
* Guan Eng is the opposition leader – I have been making the error of referring that position to his Dad (perhaps out of habit).
All Malaysians particularly non-Malays should be concerned because when Malay politicians in UMNO tussle against each other for control and dominance, the usual battle cry would assume a Hang Tuah*-ish hue.
* Hang Tuah was a legendary Malay folk hero, who symbolises to the Malays the quintessential defender of the Malay race, the very epitome of ethno-patriotism.
As the Malay proverb goes, ’gajah sama gajah berjuang, pelanduk mati di tengah-tengah’ (when elephants clash, the deer in their midst gets killed). One favourite, and utterly irresponsible, tactic of some UMNO personalities jostling their way to the top of the party's hierarchy has been the bashing of Chinese Malaysians, to demonstrate their ethnic credentials. In general, most Chinamen-bashing had been grandstanding theatrics for political posturing and advantage, with the hullabaloo usually dying away and forgotten after a few days.
After that, the Malay and Chinese politicians would once again be smiling and joking with each other as if nothing had happened. Such theatrics have been accepted as part and parcel of Malay-Malaysian politics, and usually non-Malay parties would make some 'space' for the posturing that some contestants like to adopt during UMNO party elections.
But this time, when so much is at stake (basically the Numero Uno position) all it needs is one zealous hothead to escalate the play beyond the usual bounds and the worst would be realised.
But why would Dr Mahathir chip away at the position of the man he appointed himself as his successor?
Surely it can’t just be the bridge?
Surely it can’t just be the APs?
Surely it can’t just be the sale of Agusta motorcycle?
Surely it can’t just be the change in economic direction?
Surely it can’t be even all of these?
I am sure Mahathir would have factored all these into his consideration when he handed the baton to Abdullah Badawi. But then what could it be?
We know that one of his dislikes has been Singapore.
Could it be he sees Singapore gaining an ‘unacceptable’ foothold, a ‘threatening’ purchase on the inner corridors of the cabinet?
Could he have suspected this because prior to the recent fiasco, Goh Chok Tong had already assured him the various bones of contention between Malaysia and Singapore would be negotiated separately, but then suddenly, Singapore had played renegade, going against the words of its former prime minister? Could it be in this un-Singapore-like contradiction that had raised the red flag for Mahathir, who senses mischief from within, perhaps even a musuh dalam selimut (a enemy 'within')?
Oh dear, we ordinary public are so given to speculation, but then, what else can we do when so much sand have been thrown into our eyes.
When I drafted this in the afternoon I haven’t yet read Malaysiakini’s new article that quoted Dr Mahathir denouncing Malaysia (government) as being gutless. He said that the government's decision to abandon the bridge project as the ‘limit’ for him.
He cried: "If you surrender your sovereignty to Singapore ... I think this is a ... country which has no guts. I promised not to interfere in politics and I have not said anything about many things done which were wrong."
"But this is the limit, to surrender your sovereignty to Singapore as if you are scared of them. This does not speak well of your self-respect."
However, before the opposition gets excited, Mahathir pulled back from the brink and described his relationship with Abdullah Badawi as ‘very fine and very good’. He said:
"I am unhappy only when you kowtow. This is our country, yet we have to seek permission from another country to build a bridge on our side. Where is the sovereignty?”
I have also read Utusan Malaysia’s piece, which omitted the ‘gutless’ bit, but ended up having Dr Mahathir in merajuk (sulking) mood. It reported:
Malah, beliau menambah, kerajaan masa kini juga boleh buat apa sahaja yang mereka mahukan kerana mereka memiliki kuasa.
"Saya hanya utarakan pandangan saya sahaja kerana saya tidak ada kuasa untuk bertindak lebih daripada itu. Tetapi jika rakyat sokongan keputusan itu, okeylah, walaupun kita kena bayar lebih RM100 juta (kepada kontraktor pembinaan) selain bersedia untuk akur kepada Singapura.''
Rough Translation: The government can do what it wishes because it has the power.
“I can only air my views because I don’t the power to act beyond this [airing of his views]. If the people supports the [government’s] decision, well that’s OK, though we have to pay RM100 million (to the contractor) apart from toeing Singapore’s line”
KTemoc believes that while Mahathir may not want to deliberately undermine Abdullah Badawi’s authority or position, he may want to make the PM think twice before listening to ‘bad advice’ that may put Malaysia in a disadvantaged position vis-à-vis Singapore through some insider’s meddling.