Mahathir: 'Crooked bridge' not reason for criticisms of Najib

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday denied that his calls for Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign had to do with the latter's refusal to build the so-called "crooked bridge" that the former premier had proposed to replace Malaysia's half of the Causeway.

Datuk Seri Najib suggested in last Thursday's televised rebuttal of the former prime minister's attacks that the bridge was central to Dr Mahathir's withdrawal of support for his administration.

Though Dr Mahathir accused Mr Najib in an interview at the weekend of breaking a vow to build the bridge and of being cowed by Singapore's resistance to the project, he said in a blog posting yesterday that he would have called for the Prime Minister's resignation even before the 2013 General Election if he had been angered by Mr Najib's snub.

"If it were because of the crooked bridge that I am angry, I would have called for his resignation before the 13th General Election. Instead, I campaigned for his victory. His leadership in Selangor was ineffective," he wrote, referring to the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition's loss in the country's richest state.

Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years, explained instead that he was posing questions to Mr Najib because "the public do not ask (him). Many ask me. But I cannot answer".

"I ask the one who can answer (but) many questions were not answered," he said, referring to Mr Najib's hour-long interview carried on TV3, a station controlled by Umno.

Dr Mahathir first mooted replacing the Causeway with a bridge in 2001 to ease traffic congestion, allow stagnant water to flow and improve the marine environment, as well as to allow ships to sail across the Johor Strait - which would be a major boost for Johor's two ports.

But to Singapore, the project would incur huge financial costs without bringing significant benefits. This led Dr Mahathir to announce in 2003, just before stepping down, that Malaysia would go ahead with a crooked bridge if Singapore refused to demolish its half of the Causeway.

The bridge envisioned is a six-lane S-shaped highway that would curve in such a way that it would allow vessels to pass under it.

His successor, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, was tasked with ensuring the bridge was built and early negotiations saw a full bridge back on the cards. But Mr Abdullah announced in January 2006 that Malaysia would go ahead with a RM640 million (S$239 million) "scenic bridge", taking Singapore by surprise.

But he made a turnaround less than three months later, announcing the entire bridge project would be abandoned despite the RM100 million already committed, citing public concerns over the sale of sand to Singapore and the use of Malaysian airspace by the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

Mr Abdullah's failure to push ahead with replacing the Causeway led Dr Mahathir to launch his attacks that eventually saw Mr Abdullah resigning in 2009.

This article was first published on April 14, 2015.
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