KUALA LUMPUR - Former Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Badawi on Monday flatly denied that he was behind the publication of an academic tome in which he sharply criticised his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad, as the book drew a torrent of criticism from Umno.
In a media statement, Tun Abdullah said he had neither written the book - titled Awakening: The Abdullah Badawi Years In Malaysia, nor had he sponsored it, or asked for it to be published.
He said he agreed only to be interviewed by two Singapore-based political analysts on the principle of openness and balanced debate.
The book - a collection of essays by some 30 contributors - was edited by Associate Professor Bridget Welsh and Professor James U.H. Chin. Prof Welsh teaches political science at Singapore Management University, and Prof Chin is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Pro-Umno blogs and the mainstream media have picked up portions of the interview, and some attacked Mr Abdullah for the critical views on Tun Dr Mahathir, 88, who is still a popular figure in Malaysia's biggest political party.
Mr Abdullah, 73, was prime minister for 51/2 years from October 2003. He is praised by the opposition and a section of Malaysia for opening up the democratic space, but reviled by his critics in Umno for weak leadership.
In his interview with the book's editors, the mild-mannered Mr Abdullah said that when he came to power, he cancelled some of Dr Mahathir's mega-projects so the country would not go bankrupt. He also said he did not appreciate Dr Mahathir's frequent attacks on the Abdullah administration. The controversy was further fuelled when several Malaysian media outlets erroneously claimed the book would be launched in Singapore by MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim.
In his statement on Monday, Mr Abdullah, who is widely known as Pak Lah, hit back at his critics.
"The principle of openness means that we must be ready to give space for anybody to speak. But do not make an assumption that the book was written by Pak Lah who has conspired with the opposition to attack his own party," he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.
Prof Chin, asked on Monday to comment on Mr Abdullah's statement, said the former premier was reiterating what he and Prof Welsh said in a joint statement last Saturday. The two analysts had said media outlets had "mistakenly labelled the book 'Pak Lah's book' ".
Prof Chin said on Monday that Ms Nurul Izzah was to be invited as one of a panel of speakers on the Abdullah years, and not as the person to launch the tome. The planned launch in Malaysia and Singapore has been postponed by its editors.
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