(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The morning after the announcement of the 16-month power
transition plan for Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to finally hand over the
powers and office of Prime Minister to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the
nagging question is whether it is a plan for a lame-duck Prime Minister and
lame-duck Deputy Prime Minister for the next 16 months until the Organisation of
Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 24 and 25, 2003.
Will it result in two Prime Ministers and two Finance
Ministers during this period or without a proper Prime Minister and Finance
Minister whether because of one stepping on the toes of another or with each
trying to avoid stepping on the toes of another.
When Abdullah was first appointed Deputy Prime Minister cum
Home Minister on 9th January 1999, Mahathir said Abdullah should
normally, by tradition, succeed him as Prime Minister but he could not be
sure as he already had three deputy prime ministers who were
not succeeding him.
Nobody expected Abdullah as DPM and Home Minister
to strike out on new policies and directions different from those of
Mahathir, but with his unassuming personality and reputation as “Mr. Nice
Guy” and “Mr. Clean”, the Malaysian public had high
hopes that he could stamp a new character and personality on the various
departments in the Home Ministry which is under his direct responsibility,
rather than allowing them to stamp their character and personality on him. In
other words, that he would provide new leadership to the Home Ministry, rather than be
led by the various Home Ministry departments.
Abdullah’s 30 months as Home Minister had been a
disappointment, as he seemed to be more worried in not ending up with Musa Hitam,
Ghafar Baba and Anwar Ibrahim to form the quad of Mahathir’s former DPMs who
never made it to the top, then in stamping his character and personality on the
various Home Ministry departments under his charge to make them people-friendly,
give the Home Ministry a human face and start the painful process to restore public confidence in
the institutions of government.
The question is whether during the 16-month power
transition period, Abdullah’s “Mr. Nice Guy” and “Mr. Clean”
characteristics can come out of their shadows to display themselves not only as
Home Minister but also as Acting Prime Minister, or whether these persona of
Abdullah had been completely smothered in his 30 months as Mahathir’s deputy.
When Abdullah was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home
Minister in January 1999, I had made various proposals for him to infuse his
persona of “Mr. Nice Guy” and “Mr. Clean” into the government,
especially in areas directly under his charge whether as Home Minister or Chief
Whip in Parliament, such as:
Loosening up and removing the press controls in the
country to usher in an era of free, fair and responsible press;
Initiate a more consultative and participatory form of democracy, where there is respect for dissent whether from Opposition parties or NGOs;
Introduce Parliamentary reforms to restore meaning to the system of parliamentary democracy where Parliament is the highest legislative and political chamber of the land, and not just a rubber stamp of the Executive;
Protect and promote human rights in Malaysia; and
Spearhead a renewed campaign against corruption.
Unfortunately, Abdullah’s report card in the past 30
months as Deputy Prime Minister, Home Minister and Chief Whip in Parliament has
not only nothing positive
to show, there had been worsening of the conditions in all these areas.
I have never subscribed to the view that Mahathir’s
sudden and dramatic resignation at the close of the UMNO General Assembly last
Saturday was a sandiwara (play-acting)or part of a well-thought-out
Machiavellian plot by Mahathir to consolidate his power base.
I also do not subscribe to the view that the 16-month
transition plan for Mahathir to relinquish all posts in government and party in
October next year is merely a ruse for Mahathir to make a political come-back
The scene is firmly
set for Abdullah to become the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia although it is
legitimate to question whether the 16-month power transition plan will be
efficacious and is in the best interest of the country, including Mahathir and
While Abdullah is firmly set to become the fifth Prime Minister, there will be a 16-month jockeying for the new No. 2 in UMNO and government, and this can plunge UMNO into a ferocious and unprecedented power struggle inside the ruling party.