(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Singapore Straits Times reported today that the UMNO Supreme Council had asked the group editor of Berita Harian, Datuk Nazri Abdullah to resign "for questioning the wisdom of the country's mega-projects and the continued diatribes by certain leaders against foreign elements".
In a report under the heading "Tone and content of his commentaries has upset Dr Mahathir", the Straits Times said:
"It is understood the decision to ask Datuk Nazri Abdullah, the group editor of Malaysia's Berita Harian, to step down was made at a recent meeting of the ruling party's highest decision-making body.
"Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who chairs the council, was upset at the tone and content of several commentaries written by the editor.
"Sources said that there was support from several other members of the council that some form of action should be taken against Datuk Nazri.
"It is not known if he has tendered his resignation. He could not be reached for comment yesterday. But The Straits Times understands that the respected columnist may be given a reprieve.
"Particularly grating to Dr Mahathir was a commentary the editor wrote on Dec 7 in his Sunday column Komentar.
"In it, he noted that there was a crisis of confidence in the country. Investors and the International Monetary Fund had faith in the fundamentals of the country, but they were puzzled with conflicting statements made by the country's leadership.
"He noted that the government had announced that all mega-projects were going to be deferred but 'even before the saliva had dried up, we announce the land-bridge project worth billions of ringgit'.
"This not only unnerved foreign investors but locals as well, he noted."
The Straits Times report continued:
"In his commentary, Datuk Nazri also said that people viewed the government's decision to cut spending by 18 per cent with some trepidation. Trepidation because there were leaders who liked making announcements on projects which cost billions.
"Moving on, he said that in a crisis like the one Malaysia was going through, it was important to speak with one voice. It was also not wrong to speak with a lower tone and humility.
"'We lose nothing if we give in temporarily to restore our strength and energy,' he said, adding that there was a need to restore confidence in the economy.
"He concluded: 'We cannot afford to go to war with anyone but ourselves. If we have a tendency to talk too much, then we should do less of it so that people are not hurt by what we say.
"'We only possess a gun without bullets, so why should we fire at the wind.'"
Nazri Abdullah will be a test case as to whether there is going to be more democracy or repression in Malaysia in the worsening economic crisis in the difficult months and years to come.