16-month power transition plan for lame-duck Prime Minister and lame-duck Deputy Prime Minister?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(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: 

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 later. 

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 Abdullah. 

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.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman