(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): On Friday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said in Kota Bahru that he would hand over his duties as Prime Minister to his new deputy, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in a smooth transition of power when he is ready to retire.
He said that upon his retirement and barring unforeseen circumstances, Abdullah would succeed him as Prime Minister.
There is something eerie in this statement by Mahahtir as Malaysians had heard it before, not once, but three times.
In the past 18 years, Malaysians have heard Mahathir repeatedly giving such an assurance but three Deputy Prime Ministers have fallen by the wayside - Musa Hitam, Ghafar Baba and now Anwar Ibrahim.
In fact, almost seven months ago, on 3rd June 1998, Mahathir had used almost the same language to talk about a "smooth transition" of power to the then Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Mahathir, who was in Tokyo to attend economic symposiums and meet the then Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, was asked in an interview "if the transfer of power would come next year". He said the transfer of power could come "any time at all" but added that Malaysiaís first goal was to resolve its currency problems, and that that there would be "no problem" with a change of leadership after Malaysia had resolved its currency problems.
He said: "What is important is a smooth transition, and it is my hope that I can turn over the reins of government and party and will hand over the whole."
In retrospect, it is now clear that when Mahathir was speaking in Tokyo last June about the "smooth transition" of power of the Prime Ministerís office to Anwar, he knew there was not going to be any such "transition" as he was already "clipping" the wings of his Deputy Prime Minister and hemming in his powers as Finance Minister with the appointment of Tun Daim Zainuddin as Special Functions Minister for national economic recovery.
Nobody knows whether Abdullah Badawi would be able to break the jinx of the three previous Deputy Prime Ministers and eventually succeed in becoming the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia.
If Mahathir is serious in wanting to hand over the office of Prime Minister
to Abdullah Badawi, why did he take four month before appointing
Abdullah as Deputy Prime Minister. Even more important, why didnít Mahathir
propose that Abdullah become the Acting Deputy President of UMNO which
would really signify that Abdullah is now the Prime Minister heir-designate?
Mahathir should propose Abdullahís appointment as Acting Deputy President of UMNO if he is serious about wanting to handle over the Prime Ministerís post to his fourth Deputy Prime Minister as it is clear that unless Abdullah can become the UMNO Deputy President, his claim to be the next UMNO President and Prime Minister is not fully assured.
When he was in Kota Baru on Friday, Mahathir avoided the question whether he was prepared to relinquish his power by handing over some of his duties to others.
Has Abdullah, for instance, been given all the powers and functions previously exercised by Anwar as Deputy Prime Minister, as heading the various Cabinet Committees which had been chaired by Anwar?