Mahathir attacks heir for killing pet bridge project

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 April, 2006, 12:00am

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has openly attacked his hand-picked successor Abdullah Badawi for cancelling a pet project and accused him of failing to defend the country's sovereignty.

In a one-paragraph statement on Thursday, Prime Minister Abdullah cancelled the construction of a controversial bridge connecting Malaysia with Singapore - a decision many see as a slap in the face to Dr Mahathir.

The severity of the former leader's reaction, political analysts say, suggests that the 80-year-old veteran is prepared to rally his supporters to safeguard his legacy.

Singapore had opposed the bridge, but Dr Mahathir ordered it constructed in his final weeks in power in November 2003.

About M$100 million ($212 million) worth of work had already gone into the project when Mr Abdullah abruptly cancelled it, saying it was impractical, legally untenable and unpopular.

Dr Mahathir accused Mr Abdullah of caving in to pressure from Singapore, virtually calling him a coward. He pointedly visited the construction site in southern Johore state and told reporters he would have continued with it.

'I do not agree with the government,' Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying on Friday by Bernama, the official news agency.

'I cannot believe that before I die the sovereignty of our country would be violated so easily. We retreated as if we surrendered our land to others.'

He wanted a referendum to decide whether the people opposed the bridge.

'Most Malaysians see the reversal as a brave and pragmatic decision, but Dr Mahathir is angry a key legacy has been abruptly scrapped,' said National University of Malaysia political scientist Ramasamy Palanisamy.

'His strong reaction to the decision has surprised many Malaysians,' he said.

'Abdullah will have to deal with an increasingly angry Dr Mahathir, otherwise his authority will be seriously undermined.'

Mr Abdullah has not responded to the criticism, but his ministers and senior officials are refuting the criticism in the media.

The latest criticism is the most open Dr Mahathir has levelled at Mr Abdullah.

Last June, he accused Mr Abdullah's government of undermining Proton, the national carmaker, by issuing thousands of permits to import cheap foreign cars.

Mr Abdullah has also reversed Dr Mahathir's economic policies, giving greater emphasis to agriculture and fisheries, health and welfare - areas that suffered under Dr Mahathir's 22-year administration.