Village a key player in political row

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2006, 12:00am

Ismail Che Ross, 47, grows pomelos, raises goats and spends his evenings drinking coffee with his friends in Padang Pasir, in the northern states of Kedah.

The hot topic in the village is the same as elsewhere in Malaysia - the fight between former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his successor Abdullah Badawi.

The only difference is that Mr Ismail and about 150 fellow villagers, all members of the dominant Umno party, have become players in the political row. They must decide whether to support local boy Dr Mahathir in his battle with Mr Abdullah or heed Mr Abdullah's call to set aside political differences and concentrate on raising rural living standards.

They are wondering if they should throw their weight behind Dr Mahathir's bid for a lowly local party post. This would give him a platform at the party's annual meeting, which he will presumably use to continue his anti-Abdullah tirades.

'We never expected to come between the battling giants,' Mr Ismail said. 'It is a very hard choice.'

Dr Mahathir, who retired in 2003, has been campaigning for months now to oust Mr Abdullah but his tirades are blacked out by the mainstream media.

In another irony he is prevented from meeting members of the United Malays National Organisation, the party he led for more than two decades.

Dr Mahathir pulled a surprise to circumvent the gag last week - he filed papers to be one of Kubang Pasu's six delegates to Umno conferences. He was the chief of the constituency for more than 30 years, a post he gave up when he retired.

'Some of us think he should not contest at all ... it is embarrassing for everybody,' said another voter, Ismail Kamaruddin.

If elected next Saturday, Dr Mahathir can formally attend Umno's annual general assembly - on November 13 - and lambast Mr Abdullah from the floor.

Mr Abdullah's supporters, who include most of Umno's top leaders, are urging Dr Mahathir to give up the challenge and stop attacking Mr Abdullah.

They claim the attacks are derailing rural development and helping the Islamic opposition. But Dr Mahathir's supporters say he has a right to be heard. 'He wants to speak formally ... let's hear what he wants to say,' said ruling party lawmaker Shahrir Samad.