Opposition politicians who fought Mahathir flock to hear him

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am

The opposition politicians who once fought former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad are now clamouring to hear him speak.

Dr Mahathir, Malaysian leader for 22 years, spends much of his time criticising his hand-picked successor.

It was standing room only at one such forum at the weekend where Dr Mahathir, 81, again attacked Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi as incompetent and the leader's influential son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, as a dangerous meddler in government affairs.

Leaders of all the main opposition parties, including from Keadilan, the party of opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, attended the forum. Nasharuddin Mat Isa, deputy president of the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), was present, and others included human rights activists, lawyers, former newspaper editors and several retired ministers.

Mr Anwar, who is suing Dr Mahathir for defamation and demanding M$100 million ($220,000) in damages, was not there.

Ironically, the forum was organised by Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the man who operated the www.freeanwar.com website that kept the world informed of Mr Anwar's plight during his six years in jail.

'He has everything - inside knowledge of government dealings, wit and courage to criticise with style,' said Ronnie Liew, a senior Democratic Action Party leader.

'He attracts us like magnets,' Mr Liew said, quickly adding that his party was not supporting Dr Mahathir.

'He has a right to speak and we came to listen,' he said.

Dr Mahathir, who retired in November 2003, had held his tongue for a while but soon began to gripe in private.

Late last year he exploded, publicly accusing the government of killing Proton, the national carmaker he launched in 1982, by allowing excessive imports of foreign models.

Since then, he has raised a number of issues and finally last month said he regretted picking Mr Abdullah as successor and even advised the ruling Umno party to show the door to Mr Abdullah.

'In just three years he has evolved from a powerful prime minister to an honoured retired person to a one-man opposition party,' said Mr Kamaruddin, who was detained by Dr Mahathir without trial in 2001 for campaigning to free Mr Anwar.

'We are neither supporting nor promoting him. We have not forgotten his past misdeeds,' Mr Kamaruddin said. 'We only defend his right to speak although as prime minister he trampled on us. We hope now he sees the importance of free speech.'

Since last week, the government-controlled mainstream media has enforced a complete blackout on Dr Mahathir, including his speech on Saturday.

It was the same kind of censorship Dr Mahathir had ordered against his own critics, such as Mr Anwar, who still suffers from such treatment under Mr Abdullah. His speeches, however, are circulated through e-mails and the internet.