(Straits Times) KUALA LUMPUR – Ruling party dissidents in Malaysia launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Tuesday, saying there is ‘something very wrong’ with his leadership following disastrous election losses last month.
Led by former leader Mahathir Mohamad, about 2,000 party members gathered at the Singgahsana Hotel in Petaling Jaya, in the most serious challenge to Mr Abdullah’s leadership since he presided over the ruling National Front coalition’s dismal show in the March 8 elections.
The meeting’s agenda was to analyse the unprecedented losses suffered in the vote. But as speaker after speaker took the stage, the meeting turned into a free-for-all session to bitterly criticise the 68-year-old prime minister, who is watching his grip on power weakening day by day despite claiming to have the full support of his United Malays National Organisation.
The party is the dominant component of the 14-party National Front.
‘We cannot deny the truth when there is a cancer,’ said Mahathir, adding that Mr Abdullah has lost touch with reality because he is surrounded by ‘yes men.’
‘I call on him to resign. Anyone else would have done so already, but he is shameless,’ Mr Mahathir said.
Mr Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years before handing over power to Mr Abdullah in 2003. Although Mr Mahathir hand-picked Mr Abdullah, he is now the prime minister’s most vocal critic. His son Mukhriz, a senior party official, also urged Mr Abdullah to resign.
‘We have reached a crossroads. There is something very wrong with our leadership, which is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,’ Mr Mukhriz said to loud applause.
Clear sign of deep crisis in National Front
The open display of anger is a clear sign of the deep crisis in the National Front, which is reeling from its worst electoral performance ever, raising the possibility of the opposition dislodging it one day.
For the first time in history, the National Front lost five of Malaysia’s 13 states. It also lost its traditional two-thirds majority for the first time since 1969.
The election results were ‘not a wake up call but a slap in the face,’ Mr Mukhriz said.
He also accused Mr Abdullah of failing to control rampant corruption, nepotism and cronyism at high levels, apparently referring to his son-in-law, Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, who is believed to wield enormous influence in the government.
Mr Mukhriz said party members had received anonymous messages warning them not to attend Tuesday’s conference.
‘We have been told to keep silent … I urge you to stand with me to seek the truth and find a resolution,’ Mr Mukhriz said, adding that it was vital for the party’s survival.
An Abdullah loyalist, Mr Mohammed Khir Toyo, acknowledged that the party needs reforms but stressed that a leadership change was not necessary. As soon as he finished speaking, he was bombarded with questions from the audience whether Mr Khairy had influence in choosing election candidates.
‘There was some influence by some people,’ Mr Mohammed Khir acknowledged, without naming Mr Khairy.
Forced on the back foot, the enfeebled Mr Abdullah has postponed party elections, which were due in August, to December. Critics say he is trying to avoid losing a re-election to the post of party president, but Mr Abdullah says he is not running away.
However, postponing the elections will also give more time to his detractors to gather support against Mr Abdullah. Party rules require a challenger to be endorsed by 30 percent of the party’s 191 divisions in the country, a tough proposition for someone not entrenched.
Dissidents have demanded that the 30 per cent clause be abolished to allow a more democratic election. — AP, REUTERS
It’s high time Pak Lah steps down from his cherished throne of power. An ineffective, inefficient and a disrespected leader like him can’t possibly have the clout and charisma to lead the nation anymore. Metaphorically, a CEO of a company who has been rendered useless by the stakeholders couldn’t possibly bring about a better business growth for the company. He therefore must be removed in the AGM or be forced to retire. And that’s what Umno should do.