Malaysia's duelling leaders lock horns over poll losses
Malaysia's past and present prime ministers on Sunday traded barbs and accusations over responsibility for the ruling party's disastrous performance in the recent general elections. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi accused his predecessor of abusing his influence to destroy the ruling party while former premier Mahathir Mohamad said he will not ease off until Abdullah steps down.
Abdullah said Mahathir's recent attacks against the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leadership could destroy the party and weaken the government. "It can, why not? It can. He says he's powerful, he is undeniably powerful but he is abusing that power," Abdullah told reporters. "Give us a chance to do our best for the party and the country," he said after addressing a crowd of more than 1,000 UMNO members at the party's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to explain the dismal election results.
Abdullah has been battling for his political life since poor results in March 8 general elections by the UMNO, which leads the Barisan Nasional coalition. Government ministers and Abdullah supporters have lashed out at Mahathir, accusing him of being responsible for the losses, saying his open criticism of Abdullah was a major factor in voters backing the opposition.
But the feisty 82-year-old veteran politician hit back. "Vote for him (Abdullah) if you want to destroy UMNO," Mahathir told more than 2,000 cheering UMNO members at a talk in the city's suburbs of Ampang. "I will stop, honestly, if they (Abdullah and his supporters) will stop doing what is wrong, which has caused UMNO to lose in this election," he said.
Mahathir accused Abdullah of corruption, nepotism and weakness in his administration and said they were reasons voters snubbed the UMNO-led coalition. "We have never had such a bad election result in our history and we are supposed to support these people who led to the defeat so they can completely destroy the party?" he asked.
Abdullah, however, accused Mahathir of double standards, saying that when the BN won a landslide victory in 2004, it was Mahathir who complained that the government was too powerful and needed a stronger opposition voice. Abdullah, 68, was Mahathir's handpicked successor when he stepped down in 2003 but has been attacked by the elder statesman after Abdullah scrapped several of his high-profile projects.
In renewed criticism Sunday, Abdullah held Mahathir accountable for muzzling the press during his 22 years in power and accused him of masterminding a controversial police operation dubbed "Operasi Lalang" in 1987 to weed out dissent, resulting in more than 100 arrests under tough security laws. He said calls by activists and the opposition for Mahathir to be investigated for alleged abuse of power during his leadership would be considered if there were enough evidence. "If there are any proven accusations against anyone, we cannot just close our eyes. It is a matter for the agencies, the ACA (Anti Corruption Agency), if they find sufficient evidence," he said.
In the biggest opposition win since 1969, former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim led a three-party alliance to seize four states along the country's west coast in last month's vote, while the Islamic party PAS kept control of Kelantan state. Anwar is moving to form a new government with the help of defectors from Barisan Nasional in Malaysia's eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island, a plan that Abdullah casually dismissed. "He calls himself a leader-in-waiting. He can wait. I'm the leader today," Abdullah said.
source: AFP via MSN News - http://news.my.msn.com/regional/article.aspx?cp-documentid=1328576
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