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SCMP: Stubborn Mahathir to Stay Put
By Ian Stewart

25/6/2001 11:38 pm Mon

[Perhimpunan agung Umno baru-baru ini menunjukkan Mahathir masih enggan untuk bersara dan Dollah Badawi masih belum bersedia. Ini menunjukkan Umno tiada pemimpin yang berkaliber kerana semua yang hebat telah dicela dan sengaja dipinggirkan oleh Mahathir juga. Ia juga bermakna hasrat untuk berhenti dulu cuma mainan kata sahaja.

Perhimpunan kali ini sedikit berbeda kerana begitu banyak tuduhan yang tidak enak di dengar telinga terhadap anak bangsa menyelubungi suasana. Mahathir mempersalahkan semua orang termasuk ahli Umno padahal tidak banyak ahli Umno yang memboikot arahannya. Dia lupa agaknya Umno sebenarnya dipenuhi oleh golongan oportunis belaka. Mereka akan bersandar kepada yang kuat sahaja dan merasa terhina kerana presiden tidak menghargai pandangan dan penat-lelah mereka. Apa gunanya mereka memilih kalau pilihan presiden mengatasi segala-galanya?

Apa yang menarik perkataan 'lupa' dan 'haprak' serta pelbagai celaan diulang-ulang bagai rekod yang sudah sumbang dan tersekat kerana sudah terlalu usang. Beberapa pewakilan pemuda menganggap itu amat tidak adil dan golongan vetren berpendapat undi parti akan merosot lagi kerana menghentam orang melayu. Mahathir telah mempamirkan satu kebiadapan sedangkan orang melayu sekarang sudah cukup pintar untuk menilai keadaan. Jika ahli Umno sendiri keresahan inikan pula rakyat yang kebanyakkan. - Editor]

The South China Morning Post, HK
25th June 2001

Stubborn Mahathir to stay put

Despite grumblings, PM seems to have changed his mind about leaving the stage

IAN STEWART in Kuala Lumpur

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last week chalked up 20 years as leader but let it be known he is unlikely to step down soon, despite acknowledging that "lots of people" do not like him.

He made a lot more people unhappy with his speech and remarks at the opening of the annual general assembly of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the dominant government party, in his role as party president.

First of all, when asked about his retirement plans, he said it was a difficult question to answer. While some people would like to see him "disappear or disintegrate", others insisted he should stay on. He had to "find the right time to step down".

About 18 months ago he said this term, ending in 2004, would be his last.

Second, Dr Mahathir returned to an old refrain that many delegates did not want to hear.

For more than 30 years he has been telling the majority Malays that they have "weaknesses" that can only be overcome with hard work.

In his general assembly address, he portrayed Malays as "still weak in all areas". They were unwilling to acquire knowledge and unwilling to work hard, they were "not smart, easily bribed", they became drug addicts and suffered from Aids. "We topple, steal and we will do anything to achieve our great dreams," he said.

Dr Mahathir's reiteration of the disheartening message provoked grumbling among many delegates.

Younger representatives who have grown up knowing only one leader and feel it is time for a change were especially caustic in their comments.

Some delegates said it was like listening to a stuck record. Umno Youth members complained that the president was lecturing them unfairly. An Umno veteran worried that Dr Mahathir's hard-hitting criticism of Malays would lose the party votes.

But Dr Mahathir was undaunted by the possibility of a voter backlash, despite indications of a continuing erosion of support for Umno following its loss of 22 parliamentary seats to the opposition in the 1999 general election.

Asked whether his harsh words might be counter-productive politically, he said some people would "feel unhappy about it" because they did not like to be told the truth.

"But I suspect a lot of people will heed the warning," he said. "They have been told that they are not doing the right thing and they must do the right thing." He said that as a leader he had to lead.

Dr Mahathir said it was too bad if some people did not like it and the party lost votes.

But he does not want the party to lose votes. He warned that if the opposition gained a further 21 seats, which was "no longer that difficult", Umno would be outnumbered 53 to 51, with non-Malay parties holding the balance of power.

A Malaysian political analyst said the party president was taking advantage of the fact the next election was three years away and it was relatively safe for him to try again to needle Malays into being more achievement-oriented and less dependent on the special privileges accorded their race.

He also knew he was under no threat from any single leader or faction within the party.

The political analyst, who has close links with Umno, said no one in the top leadership had reacted negatively to his "clear indication that he is going to stay on". "It was expected," he said.

The analyst said several senior leaders felt the Deputy Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, who is in like to succeed Dr Mahathir, was not yet ready to take over.

"They think Badawi needs a little more time," he said.

The only obstacle to Dr Mahathir continuing to head the Government for the foreseeable future would seem to be the failing of his health. He will be 76 in December and underwent a multiple coronary bypass in 1989.

But he looks fit and well and stood for nearly two hours delivering his speech at the general assembly without any signs of fatigue or discomfort.

He has taken on the extra task of running the Finance Ministry, following the resignation of Daim Zainuddin, but is expected to appoint a second finance minister to reduce his workload.

But the support of Dr Mahathir's Umno colleagues may fray if the opposition can capitalise on any backlash against his tongue-lashing of Malays.

Dr Mahathir has outlasted three deputy prime ministers (and deputy Umno presidents), who expected to succeed him. The fourth, Mr Badawi, is still waiting in the wings.

In these circumstances, it is quite possible Dr Mahathir will still be Malaysia's leader when he reaches his 80th birthday in 2005.