Tuesday May 20, 2008
A desperate plea to Umno
By JOCELINE TAN
By resigning from Umno, Dr Mahathir has taken his long-running battle against his handpicked successor to a new and final level. Whether this gamble to force the party to decide pays off, remains to be seen.
THIS is Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's most dramatic move yet against his chosen successor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
It sent shockwaves through the party because it was no small thing for a former Prime Minister and Umno president to quit this way, what more, when that person is Dr Mahathir.
The extreme move has taken his battle against Abdullah to a new level.
Dr Mahathir was basically telling the Umno body politic that his differences with his successor were so severe that he can no longer remain in a party led by Abdullah. It is also an ultimatum to the Umno grassroots that he will remain in the political wilderness unless they change the leadership of Umno.
It was what one Umno politician from Kedah called “Tun Mahathir's final rejection” of his handpicked successor.
The bombshell announcement was made at a gathering in Alor Star yesterday and the packed hall was stunned into silence for a brief moment before erupting into loud applause.
Still, there were mixed feelings among the Umno members, who made up the bulk of the audience.
Suraya Yaakob, the assemblywoman for Sungai Tiang, felt very uncomfortable with Dr Mahathir's decision even though she has long been an unwavering admirer.
“Tun wants to help Umno recover but the best way to do it is not as an outsider, but from within the party. I am begging him to reconsider his decision because I cannot bear the thought of a former Prime Minister being outside Umno,” said Suraya who was among the audience.
It was certainly not a spur of the moment move by the former PM.
Dr Mahathir is a very strategic and tactical man. He has his eye on the party's branch and division meetings which will begin in July. These meetings will set the stage for the election of Umno leaders for the next three years.
It is probable that he is using this radical decision to trigger debate and force the Umno grassroots to seriously evaluate Abdullah's leadership and to choose between Abdullah and him. If they want Abdullah as party president, then he has no choice but to be an Umno outcast, to perhaps even die outside of Umno.
Dr Mahathir's quarrel with Abdullah began two years ago over what he saw as the current regime's repudiation of his policies. The quarrel has escalated to a point of no return, especially after Barisan Nasional's losses in the general election.
“He seems to hate Pak Lah more than he loves Umno,” said Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad.
It is unlikely that other Umno leaders will heed his call to leave the party. There is too much self-interest at stake.
“Tun Mahathir still loves Umno. This is an ultimatum for Umno members to show their dismay with the leadership and return the party to its original purpose,” said Mahathir loyalist Zakhir Mohamed.
But his move puts his son Datuk Mukhriz, who has ambitions to be the next Umno Youth leader, in a fix.
Said Shahrir: “Tun Mahathir has asked other Umno leaders to resign and I suggest that Mukhriz follow suit. He should also resign as Jerlun MP since he won the seat as an Umno candidate.”
This is the second time Dr Mahathir has been outside Umno. The first was in 1969 when he was expelled for criticising the Umno leadership over the defeats suffered in the 1969 elections. This time around, he is equally critical of the party leadership for election losses but is leaving on his own accord.
Some say he was pushed to the edge by reports that he, acknowledged as the leader who transformed the country, could be dragged to court in connection to the V.K. Lingam video clip debacle. He saw it as a bid to “checkmate” him.
But his resignation is more likely a progression of his battle to unseat Abdullah. He had initially hoped that the Umno supreme council would move against Abdullah. When that did not happen, he tried to egg Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak against his boss but Najib did not take the bait.
So the next move was to play his final trump card – resign, paint Abdullah into a tight corner and force the party to make a choice.
Whether this gamble pays off, remains to be seen.