Conflict with Dr M takes up just 36 pages of book

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (front).

MALAYSIA/SINGAPORE - The book that discusses the legacy of Tun Abdullah Badawi's premiership does not put him on a pedestal to attack his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as has been made out by angry pro-Umno bloggers in the past week.

Tun Abdullah's defence of his time as prime minister from 2003 to 2009 is found only in the interview he gave to the two Singapore-based analysts who edited the 620-page book.

That interview runs over 36 pages.

The book, Awakening: The Abdullah Badawi Years in Malaysia, was edited by Associate Professor Bridget Welsh and Professor James U.H. Chin. Prof Welsh teaches political science at the Singapore Management University, while Prof Chin is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

A copy of the tome obtained by The Straits Times found that the rest of the book contains long essays by, and interviews with, 38 academics, journalists, researchers and politicians such as Mr Abdullah, offering a wide spectrum of views.

Like most academic books, some of the detailed discussions on Mr Abdullah's five-year legacy would make for a pretty boring read to the casual reader.

Pick up the book only if one is keen to know about the tumultuous times when Mr Abdullah took over after 22 years under Dr Mahathir's rule, and faced stiff resistance as he tried to reform the government and opened up the democratic space.

The book is divided into sections, discussing his ideas on transforming Malaysia, the domestic arena as he tried doing this, the socio-economic dynamics and obstacles faced, and his foreign policy and outreach.

The discussions naturally include issues such as Dr Mahathir's long shadow, the Level 4 unofficial advisers of the prime minister, the vague Islam Hadhari concept, the role of the Internet in weakening the government's hold, the huge street protest by Malaysian Indians in November 2007, and the image of the sleeping Mr Abdullah.

The book's editors wrote in the introduction that Mr Abdullah's legacy is similar to that of other transitional leaders, such as Indonesia's Dr B.J. Habibie, the Philippines' Mrs Corazon Aquino and Singapore's Mr Goh Chok Tong, who took over after decades of "strongman rule".

They found it tough to effect major changes as the old political system continued to hold sway.

"The affable, people-centred gentleman may have failed to meet expectations and his flaws apparent, but he has left Malaysians with greater expectations than before he took office," the two editors said.

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