Mahathir has gone too far, say critics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 May, 2006, 12:00am

Former leader is accused of undermining the government with repeated attacks

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad might have overplayed his hand when he accused his successor's government of being 'gutless', judging from the angry response his remarks have attracted.

Lawmakers, ministers and other critics have lashed out at Dr Mahathir for his latest attack on the 30-month-old government of his successor, Abdullah Badawi.

'We respect him but it does not mean he is given a blank cheque to criticise as he pleases,' parliamentary affairs minister Nazri Aziz told Parliament on Wednesday.

'He is repeatedly and openly condemning us, he is undermining the government,' Mr Nazri said. 'The government hopes he sticks to his promise not to interfere.'

Even Dr Mahathir's most loyal followers feel he should not constantly criticise Mr Abdullah.

'His criticism is clearly undermining the government's credibility,' lawmaker Shahrir Samad said.

Despite retiring in 2003, Dr Mahathir remains a powerful force and a feared enemy, but more people are finding the courage to speak up. 'He is causing disunity and damaging the government's standing,' Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told Parliament yesterday.

Malaysians are more confused than angry over Dr Mahathir's tirades, which have featured prominently in the local media.

'I don't know what all the fuss is about,' said restaurant manager Sharifah Aminah. 'This government is full of his people; he is running down his own people.

'Anyway, why be so mad over a bridge,' she said, referring to the bridge project put forward by Dr Mahathir in 1996 to connect Malaysia and Singapore, which Mr Abdullah cancelled two weeks ago. The decision enraged Dr Mahathir, who said the cancellation was a 'sell-out' to Singapore by a 'gutless government'.

Dr Mahathir said he had kept his promise not to interfere despite many things going wrong.

'But this is the limit. To surrender your sovereignty to Singapore as if you are scared of them,' he said.

Earlier, he criticised the cancellation of several multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects but upped the vitriol when protection for Proton, the troubled national car manufacturer, was removed in December.

Such direct criticism was never permitted under his 22-year-long administration, but it is common under Mr Abdullah's free-speech regime.

Many people, in letters to newspapers, worry whether the fallout will lead to an all-out war between the two men.

'People are worried about the potential instability,' opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said.

After Dr Matahir's latest remarks, fewer people are seeing him as the protector of the nation.

'He is just politicking. It is not Dr Mahathir's baby any more, he should let go,' bank clerk Vincent Lim said.

Lawyer S. Sivanesan said: 'He is making a fool of himself.'

Mr Abdullah, on an official visit to the Caribbean, has not directly responded to the criticism, except to say all his decisions have been for the benefit of the people.