He said there should be no comparisons between his relationship with Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to that of ex-Indonesian President B.J. Habibie and his predecessor, Suharto.
Disagreeing that his close friendship with the Prime Minister would be a disadvantage to his own future as a leader, Abdullah said it would serve no purpose to show that he was better and more competent.
He said: "What can one do if people want to talk about my being a Habibie to Dr. Mahathir as Suharto?
"Dr Mahathir is not Suharto. Malaysia is not Indonesia.
"We succeed on our own capability although we face all kinds of problems and challenges.
"I do not support Dr. Mahathir based on blind obedience. I support his good leadership in UMNO for the sake of members and the people."
Abdullah said he was a deputy and not an alternative leader, and that other than discharging his duties, he need not compete with Dr Mahathir.
Abdullahís "No Habibie" explanations have thrown up several issues, the first of which is whether he has a "close friendship" with Mahathir, which became a national question when it was revealed that during the Prime Ministerís two-week holidays in Argentina and Caribbean in January, Abdullah had no "direct contact" with Mahathir while the Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin, was in touch with the Prime Minister "all the time".
The second question is why UMNO members are referring to him as a Habibie. The reason cannot be that Abdullah is not acting as an alternative leader to Mahathir when nobody is certain whether Abdullah might end up like his three predecessors, namely Tan Sri Musa Hitam, Tun Ghafar Baba and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim - out of favour.
If Abdullah does not want to become a Habibie, he must dissociate himself from Mahathirís phobias and manias and quickly develop his own vision and mind on justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
If his vision and mind is the vision and mind of Mahathir, then he is a pale shadow of Mahathir and on the way to making himself into another Habibie.
Abdullah was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister with the reputation as "Mr. Clean". But what has he done in the last 13 months as DPM to declare war on corruption as was done by his predecessor, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? In fact, public confidence in the independence, professionalism and integrity of the Anti-Corruption Agency has fallen to a new low, with so many questions about investigations into Ministers and high-flyers remain unanswered!
Abdullah had the reputation of "Mr. Nice Guy" but he now relishes the image of a ĎMr. Bad Guy" in the clampdown against democracy and human rights as in the arrest and prosecution of DAP Deputy Chairman and former five-term MP for Jelutong Karpal Singh, Parti Keadilan Nasional Vice President Marina Yusoff, KeADILan Youth chief Mohamed Ezam Mohd Noor, Harakah editor Zulkifly Sulong and Harakah printer Cheah Lim Thye under the Sedition and Official Secrets Acts as well as intensified harassments against press freedom, as in the victimisation of publications like Harakah and Detik.
If Abdullah adopts all the phobias and manias of Mahathir, even if he eventually succeeds as the fifth Prime Minister, he would be so discredited that he would neither be able to win the hearts and minds of the people nor be the rallying point in UMNO for party renewal. His final role would be to preside over the final years of UMNO in the way that Habibie presided over the end of Golkar.
When Abdullah was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in January last year,
I had proposed five priority areas where he could start the
painful process to restore public confidence in the institutions of government
and give a distinctive stamp of his character, personality and leadership
without posing a challenge to Mahathir, namely:
But Abdullah has not focussed on anyone of these five priority areas in his 13 months as the fourth Deputy Prime Minister in the country.
May be the greatest test as to whether Abdullah will avoid the fate of a Habibie is whether he is prepared to take the initiative at the UMNO Supreme Council to propose the revocation of the "no contest" rule for the two top UMNO posts in the May party elections for the simple reason that such a decision is undemocratic and unacceptable and that Abdullah, unlike Habibie, is prepared to state his disagreement with Mahathir within the confines of UMNO democracy.
Furthermore, this will give Abdullah the opportunity to establish his
legitimacy as the No. 2 in the party by demonstrating his own separate
support in UMNO which is not based on Mahathirís grace and favour.