Bitter feelings ‘awakened’

The two Tuns have never enjoyed much political chemistry but Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s remarks about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in a book about Abdullah’s administration may reopen old wou

On hindsight, it seems like Abdullah and Dr Mahathir simply do not have political chemistry. During the Team A-Team B debacle in Umno during the 1980s, Abdullah was in Team B whereas Dr Mahathir was in Team A. 

Joceline Tan, The Star http://www.thestar.com.my/~/media/Images/TSOL/Website/Columnists/col_JocelineTan.ashx?h=140&w=140

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad looked sweet in his pink baju melayu when he turned up at the Prime Minister’s open house on Thursday. The former premier has been a prominent and regular guest ever since Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak moved into the top job.

But his mood this year may not be as sweet as his pink outfit.

Everyone is bracing for his reaction to the reported commentary by Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi published in a new book titled Awakening. The book is a collection of 37 articles by an array of contributors and edited by American Prof Bridget Welsh and Prof James U.H. Chin from Malaysia.

Dr Mahathir has held his tongue so far but pro-Mahathir bloggers have begun lashing out at Abdullah, the authors and even his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin who had nothing to do with the book or comments.

It was obvious that none of the critics had read the book because one of them claimed that Abdullah was the author while another accused an anti-government non-governmental organisation of being behind the publication.

Another blogger said the book was timed to stir up things ahead of the Umno election.

But that is Umno politics for you; it is never short of conspiracy theories.

Abdullah’s comments actually stemmed from an interview he granted the editors of the book while the publisher is quite an established company albeit left-leaning in nature.

The title of the book, was evidently a pun that was as much about Abdullah’s attempts to open up the social and political space as it was about his habit of dozing off at inopportune moments when he was prime minister.

But Awakening will probably awaken and reopen old wounds between the two Tuns.

“It’s not going to improve their relationship,” said ISIS chief executive officer and director Tan Sri Dr Michael Yeoh.

The last couple of years have seen Dr Mahathir ease off his successor.

Even die-hard Mahathir supporters or what some call the mati-mati sokong Mahathir gang had ceased their attacks.

One reason is that Abdullah has kept a low profile since his retirement in 2009. He does not blog, he is not on Twitter and he has given his successor space and support. He attends his share of public functions where he smiles a lot and says pleasant things.

It says a lot about the man, actually. He may not have been the best man for the prime minister’s job but he is without a doubt a gentleman, who has kept his word not to interfere in Najib’s administration. He was said to be delighted when his son-in-law, whom he is known to refer to as “my Khairy”, was appointed to the Cabinet after May 5. But neither did he make a fuss when Khairy was left out in the cold after winning the Umno Youth leadership.

But beneath the genial demeanour, Abdullah felt hurt about being blamed for the 2008 political tsunami and also that he was forced out of office.

However, it seems like nothing had rankled him as much as Dr Mahathir’s attacks on Abdullah’s family.

He said it was “hypocritical” of Dr Mahathir to say that his businessman son Datuk Kamal benefitted during his time in office.

He also defended Khairy and wondered if those who had criticised and forced Khairy into the wilderness were happy that they had broken his rice bowl.

Welsh, who is based in Singapore, had also strung together a collection of articles on Dr Mahathir around the time of his retirement but it attracted little attention and compared poorly to later efforts such as Barry Wain’s biographic tour de force, Malaysian Maverick. The Abdullah book is not exceptional either but it will probably sell well thanks to the publicity on the interview with Abdullah.

Journalist-publisher Datuk A. Kadir Jasin said the only surprising thing about Abdullah’s comments is that it is coming so late in the day.

“Tun Mahathir has commented significantly on Tun Abdullah. It was a matter of time that Tun Abdullah would say his piece,” said Kadir.

Besides, said history expert Dr Neil Khor, the opinions expressed by Abdullah are hardly new.

“All the hurtful things have been said before by one party or the other. But it is Pak Lah’s comments about Umno that are interesting, about how he failed to reform Umno from within.

“He must have seen the writing on the wall. He is not the master of the ground but he saw that the ground had moved. Having said that, Umno is in a stronger position now than during his time but it is still struggling to cap ture the middle class and the middle ground,” said Dr Khor.

On hindsight, it seems like Abdullah and Dr Mahathir simply do not have political chemistry. During the Team A-Team B debacle in Umno during the 1980s, Abdullah was in Team B whereas Dr Mahathir was in Team A.

Throughout the 1990s, Dr Mahathir was grooming Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who quickly overtook Abdullah as the numero uno in Penang Umno.

Abdullah’s career path has often been a case of being in the right place at the right time. But his relations with Dr Mahathir headed downhill almost from day one of his administration.

Hari Raya is a time to forgive and forget, to let bygones be bygones. Whether the two Tuns have forgiven each other, only they can tell. But it is clear they have yet to forget what went wrong between them.

But the word is that Dr Mahathir may not be as interested in the Abdullah book as he is in the just launched book One Man’s View of the World, by his old nemesis Lee Kuan Yew. Dr Mahathir’s guns may be aimed outwards rather than inwards.

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