MALAYSIA: Mahathir gets forum for attack on Abdullah

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's plans to speak at meeting organized by political website shows Internet's role in criticizing the Abdullah administration

Straits Times
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

By Reme Ahmad

Kuala Lumpur --- Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will take the mike at a Johor Baru forum on Saturday in what might be the start of a series of roadshows against the government.

The 81-year-old former premier has never quite stopped criticising the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, although he was slowed down by a mild heart attack last November.

Over the past four months, he has been ready with his comments whenever he was approached by reporters.

But the mainstream media had mostly ignored or played down what he said.

The Johor Baru meeting is being organised by a political website aligned with Tun Dr Mahathir -- making it noticeable that the online media is once again playing a prominent part in a shadow battle against the Abdullah administration.

Saturday's function will allow the former premier to address the audience directly, in what could be Round 2 of the Mahathir versus Abdullah fight.

"We want people to know the real story directly. We will organise the meetings all over the country, but it depends on Tun Dr Mahathir," said an administrator of the mykmu.net website, which is organising the talk.

The website is short for Kelab Maya Umno (KMU), or Umno Cyber Club. It is one of a number of political websites and blogs that are openly anti-Abdullah.

It was the first to run a report that said Datuk Seri Abdullah had bought a US$50 million (S$77 million) jet for his personal use. The Premier said the government was the one actually buying the jet through one of its companies for top officials, including the Malaysian king, to use.

Saturday's talk is titled Umno's Challenges in Facing Vision 2020. But Tun Dr Mahathir has used such forums -- whatever the topic was -- to attack Datuk Seri Abdullah.

'Based on the title of the talk, there is nothing to worry about. But at the end of the day, if there is criticism of the government, it would not be good for the party,' said a member of Umno's decision-making Supreme Council who did not want to be named.

The last political public talk by Tun Dr Mahathir in which he attacked the government was in Kijal, Terengganu, last September. He was then scheduled to speak in Johor Baru and make an appearance at the Umno General Assembly last November, but he suffered a mild heart attack on Nov 9.

Since then, he has mostly kept a low profile until making a major speech on Monday at his annual anti-war conference.

At the weekend, Tun Dr Mahathir told an interviewer that his 67-year-old successor had failed to manage race relations, resolve problems and give the country a sense of direction.

A senior leader of Umno Youth said yesterday: "He has the democratic right to say anything. But the government has already replied to the issues raised, and we will reply again if we need to."