"I have not spoken to him because he is on leave. I am sure if anything happened, I would have been told. No news is good news." (New Straits Times).
Normally, when the topmost government leader in the country has spoken on a subject, the matter should come to a rest and there would be no need for other leaders to return to the subject.
However, first Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin must have realised that Abdullahís Kota Kinabalu speech had intensified rather than scotched the rumours and speculations surrounding Mahathirís condition and he had to try to salvage the situation.
As a result, a normally-reticent Daim had to tell reporters after the opening the Southeast Asia Central Bank Governors Conference in Kuala Lumpur that the Prime Minister "is fine and enjoying his holiday" abroad.
"I am in touch with him all the time," Daim said this morning and volunteered the information that Mahathir would be flying to London soon and would be in Paris on Jan 29 for a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.
Daimís intervention raised a very big question as to Abdullahís real influence with Mahathir - for Daim said that he was in touch with the Prime Minister "all the time" while the Deputy Prime Minister, the person earmarked to succeed him, had not spoken to Mahathir since the Prime Minister went on leave and that "No news is good news"!
Malaysians would also contrast Mahathirís relationship with Abdullah to that with Anwar Ibrahim when the latter was Acting Prime Minister in mid-1997, as it was public knowledge then that Mahathir kept almost daily contact with Anwar through video-conferencing during his entire period overseas.
Of course, such close proximity between Anwar and Mahathir did not prevent Anwarís undoing - but the total cut-off between Mahathir and Abdullah while Mahathir kept in touch with Daim "all the time" does not augur a healthy relationship at the top of the UMNO and government leadership!
The last-minute cancellation of Mahathirís commitment at the World Economic Forum in Davos without any reason being given to the public had only given wings to rumours about the Prime Ministerís physical condition, despite denial by an unnamed Prime Ministerís Department official in the New Straits Times of 24th January 2000 that Mahathir had fallen off a horse in Argentina the previous week.
He said: "There is absolutely no truth in the allegation. It was someone in the Prime Minister's group who fell off the horse but it was definitely not the Prime Minister."
In Kota Kinabalu this morning, Abdullah again urged the people not to listen to rumours and instead to get information from official sources.
He said the people must know how to differentiate between truth and falsehood.
He said: "If there is no official statement, it means that it is not true. That's the formula to know whether something is true or not."
Malaysians must be excused for being very wary and skeptical about the credibility of such official statements. On Sept. 24, 1998, the then Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor gave a public assurance that Anwar Ibrahim, who had been detained by the police, was "safe and sound". Actually, Anwar had been assaulted to an inch of his life, leaving him with a "black eye", and at the time Rahim Noor was telling the world that Anwar was "safe and sound", he was languishing in the Bukit Aman lock-up and denied medical attention for five days.
The issue here is not whether the government wants to release information
Malaysians are entitled to a full and frank statement on the Prime Ministerís physical condition as it is not just a private matter but of great public and national interest.
Preferably, such a statement should be issued by the personal physician who is accompanying the Prime Minister in his overseas trip as the people would have more confidence in the statement made by a professional than by a political leader who has no direct information or contact with Mahathir.
Furthermore, Malaysians are entitled to know who exactly fell off a horse in Argentina during the Prime Ministerís holiday there.