Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Frontpage face-off over bridge of discontent

The Yes-N0-Maybe bridge of dream or nightmare, depending of where you stand on this issue, has finally brought out into the open the underlying current of discontent between our ex-Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the present leader Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, fondly known as Pak Lah in Malaysia.

The stark contrast between these two leaders from the same political party UMNO is played out in the leading English dailies today.

The SUN carried Dr M's photograph in its frontpage today headlined "I will continue to speak out".


PUTRAJAYA: Former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today said he will continue to give his views and opinions on issues that affected the country although he was only a private citizen now.

Asked if he was going back on his assurance not to interfere on retirement, Mahathir replied: "They think because I gave the assurance I will not interfere after I retire, therefore they can do anything they like?"

He said he may have given that assurance, but he would speak up if he thinks things are not done right as in the case of the decision not to proceed with the bridge project to Singapore.

On whether it would have been appropriate for him to give his views and opinions only if he had remained as a senior minister, Mahathir said he never wanted such a position.

"I just want to be an ordinary citizen and give my views as an ordinary citizen. It is up to the government to think whatever they want about what I have to say. You can't say I can't voice my opinion."

Mahathir added that people should not be suppressed of information, news and their right to voice their views, including his proposal about the referendum on the bridge to replace the causeway.


Over at The STAR, there's no frontpage photograph of Pak Lah but the headline in BOLD says: "9MP my answer" and "Abdullah: I am walking the talk".

KUCHING: Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his Barisan Nasional Government are determined to ensure the success of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) as this will be the best way to answer the critics.

The Prime Minister described this as his way of “walking the talk.”

He said many had asked him to “walk the talk” after the strong mandate given to the Barisan in the last general election.

"People have been saying all kinds of things against the Government. Some said we had no sense of direction and were not clear of what to do for the future. All sorts of questions were raised over the effectiveness of the Government. "

“Let me say it very clearly – the 9MP is the answer to the many criticisms against me and the Government,” he said during a state Barisan dinner held at the chief minister’s residence here yesterday.


And what about The NST? Today's frontpage headlines read: "9 years and RM200m later... Abdullah peeved over delayed prisons project".

KUCHING, SARAWAK: He was there to inspect a prisons project that was well behind schedule. Moments later, he emerged from the site, peeved at what he had seen.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi now wants the Anti-Corruption Agency to get to the bottom of the matter.

After nine years, the project is barely half-complete. It was not built to specifications, and now requires more money.

NST's decision to focus on Pak Lah's visit to Kuching and talk about his unhappiness over the failed prison project is interesting and, very telling.

But I'm still glad Dr M was not "Zam-ed" at the NST because although he was not prominently featured in its frontpage, he was still given the space to air his views in the Local News section today:-

Scenic Bridge Saga: Troubled waters over bridge
By Farrah Naz Karim

PUTRAJAYA: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad launched another blistering attack on the Government following its decision to scrap the building of a new bridge to replace the Causeway.

Dr Mahathir had mooted the bridge idea in 1996. However, the Cabinet unanimously decided last week to call it off, after Singapore, whose consent is required for the Causeway to be dismantled, had asked for one billion cubic metres of sand over 20 years and the use of Johor airspace for its military aircraft as a condition for building the bridge.

Dr Mahathir has several times expressed his unhappiness over the Cabinet decision although the public reaction, including that of Members of Parliament sitting in the current session, has been supportive of the Cabinet.

Yesterday, he asked the media not to suppress his comments and said he would continue to air his views.

Dr Mahathir also claimed that some newspapers had received phone calls asking them "not to print this and that. Where is the Press freedom? I know the reporters are also unhappy because what they report is not published.

"Broadcast what I have to say. What I say is not even accurately published in the Press," said Dr Mahathir, who was also Home Minister for nearly 15 years during his tenure as Prime Minister.

"During my time, (Anwar Ibrahim) demonstrations were reported. We never rang up the Press to tell them not to report. We do not ring up the Press."

Dr Mahathir, who retired in October 2003 saying he would not interfere with the running of the Government under the new administration, was asked whether he was going back on his word by repeatedly attacking the Government’s decisions.

He said: "They think just because I gave that assurance, therefore they can do what they like. I may give that assurance, but if somebody wants to sell Malaysia to other people ... because selling sand is tantamount to selling land to other people as the sand will be used fo reclamation.

"We made a mistake of giving Singapore to the British. You want to give some more?"

(The Cabinet scrapped the decision to build the bridge because it did not want to supply sand to Singapore or allow its use of Johor airspace.)

Dr Mahathir said he would continue to give his opinion as "I never thought in my lifetime that this country would surrender its sovereignty to anybody. We fought very hard for independence, not these people, of course ... we try to restore Malaysia’s honour. It took a long time to restore maruah bangsa. Today, people respect us. But if we do this and surrender to Singapore, then you lose your honour."

Dr Mahathir maintained there was "no legal reason for us not to (go ahead with the bridge)".

"The reason we cannot talk with Singapore is because they want to link everything to everything. One thing cannot be resolved, everything cannot be resolved, that is how they do things."

Dr Mahathir claimed that in a letter written to him by former Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong, "he said if we wanted to build bridge on our side, he would respect it even if it was not ideal to him. No conditions imposed".

Dr Mahathir, who himself did not brook much opposition when he was prime minister, cautioned the present administration that "if you don’t listen to other opinions, you will go wrong. If you only listen to your supporters, they will not say anything and you will get the wrong idea".

"Please remember what happened to Tunku for not listening to the people. The most recent example would be Thaksin. They did not listen to the people and they got into trouble. Suppress people’s opinion and you may get away with the idea that you are right but you will find out one day that you are wrong," he said.

Dr Mahathir was a strong critic of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s first Prime Minister. However, shortly after he became Prime Minister, in a highly publicised event, Dr Mahathir kissed the Tunku’s hand and sought his forgiveness.

(Thaksin Shinawatra stepped down as Prime Minister earlier this month following street protests in Bangkok. He remains popular among Thailand’s majority rural population who have continued to support him. Thaksin’s party, Thai Rak Thai, won freshly held elections in Thailand this month — boycotted by the opposition — and remains in power.)

Asked whether he wanted to be a senior minister like Goh Chok Tong since he was continuously giving his opinions, Dr Mahathir said: "I am not going to be some senior minister or minister mentor. I am an ordinary citizen and as an ordinary citizen, I will voice my opinion.

"It is up to the Government to accept my views or not. It does not matter to me."


*Sigh*

And I thought that with a decisive "NO" by Pak Lah on the issue of the contentious bridge, the subject matter would have been settled once and for all.

How wrong. Do you suppose that it is possible even Pak Lah did not figure he would receive such a ferocious response from his ex-Boss?

Much as I respect Dr M's right to his opinions and yes, he should not be censored by anyone who thinks his views are not palatable to the general public or the current party leader, in the end, it probably won't help this country at all to waste its energy on something which is going to eat up so much of our limited resources. Well, at least not at this time, anyway.

And Pak Lah has done well for himself throughout the public debate on this controversial matter. He has shown remarkable restraint and gentlemanly behaviour in the face of such a public attack by Dr M.

I don't know how long this saga is going to drag on, but it looks like Dr M is not about to let it go down quietly without a fight. Obviously, from what he has been saying in public, Dr M felt more than a little hurt by the scrapping of this bridge project. This coming hot on the heels of the MV Augusta sale AND the Proton debacle. Whether he is taking it too personally or whatever, the fact remains that he felt terribly wronged. And it is just not in his character to keep quiet about it.

So, what can Pak Lah and his spin-doctors do to cut short this damaging debate?

Maybe, by introducing a more interesting subject for the public and the newspapers to talk about?

Like what?

Hmm ... like giving the green light for the IPCMC?

That will, perhaps, kill two birds with one stone for Pak Lah and the BN government that has come under a whole lot of ridicule from the public for talking more than doing in the past 2 years.

Yeah - be a hero to the rakyat. After all, Pak Lah has already said that he always listens and takes note of the rakyat's demands. I believe the rakyat has demanded for the setting up of the IPCMC loud and clear.

Why not do it now?

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4 Comments:

Blogger Maverick SM said...

Great write-up as one day, when the pandora box crash and break, the worms will crawl out in avalance.

The Mahathir today, is not the same to that man when he was PM. This is the Mahathir of the Tunku's era; good and bad!!!!!

18/4/06 23:05  
Blogger Anak Merdeka said...

Thanks. Sometimes I surprise myself esp. when I had wanted to give this blog a short rest because I find that it has invaded too much into my personal thoughts & time. And then I go and write a lonnnngggg one.

What about you Mave? Too busy to write? But I'm glad you're not too busy to drop a note here. Cheers :)

19/4/06 09:52  
Blogger desiderata said...

anak merdeka:

When you grow UP, anak merdeka -- I'm presuming you're below Age of Non-DISsent -- build a Prim, Proper and Prime bridge so that Sinlanders and Malanders can pray-play at each other's caSINoes, enjoy each other's SIN-gers like Stefanie (I'm collecting the sperring cos I used Stephanie once!) SUN and PrettiCiti NurHA!liza ...
Also, promote-lah, Haridas Teh-C, the besta in KL, JB and Batam and Pulau Pinang2! I've been prom-PCK SINgrish-Manglish wat, via Da Desi Code.
AM, since it's still morn, come to Desi's with a D'Rty Ditty!:)

19/4/06 11:36  
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