Friday, September 12, 2008

Mahathir's back...and Badawi's in trouble

Mahathir's back...and Badawi's in trouble
Fri, Sep 12, 2008
my paper

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: FOR all sorts of reasons, ex-Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad's return to the Umno party is bad news for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

"Dr M left Umno, the dominant party in the ruling coalition, after the March elections - while remaining sharply critical of Mr Abdullah's leadership.

But while he was on the outside, Mr Abdullah could ignore his criticisms as those of a voice in the wilderness.

Now that he's back, as opposition figure Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat gleefully said yesterday, "it will be exciting to see him creating chaos... I'm excited as this will weaken Umno."

Yet Dr M's return means a lot more than that. As his return became known, many party figures signalled support.

More importantly, Dr Mahathir has decided to back Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who wants to challenge Mr Abdullah in December's party polls.

Until now, Tengku Razaleigh faced a critical barrier: To stand, a candidate must earn nominations from a fifth of the Umno divisions. His base is in Kelantan, but he needs more divisions elsewhere to join him.

With Dr Mahathir, who is from Kedah state, in his corner, his chances improve.

Even more importantly, as my paper special correspondent Ahirudin Attan reports today, Dr Mahathir's return could solidify a "Dream Team" of Umno heavyweights that would pit themselves against Mr Abdullah and his remaining loyalists.

If so, the nomination barrier would be smashed. Even the loyalties of Mr Abdullah's deputy, Najib Razak, may be questionable, suggests Mr Ahirudin - despite the deal struck for him to take charge in 2010.

The idea was to avert any contest. But come an actual leadership vote, anything could happen.

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