Mahathir's attacks on Najib reminiscent of jibes at predecessor

Malaysians have watched former premier Mahathir Mohamad harangue Prime Minister Najib Razak in recent days with a sense of deja vu. In 2009, Datuk Seri Najib's predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi resigned after coming under withering criticism from the same man.

"This is not the first time a sitting Malaysian prime minister took to the airwaves to defend himself against a predecessor.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak did yesterday what his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had done in August 2006," said an editorial in The Malaysian Insider.

Tun Dr Mahathir was furious when Tun Abdullah, who became prime minister in 2003, cancelled several of his mega projects, among them, the Crooked Bridge to replace the ageing Causeway and the double-tracking railway to Singapore.

"I make a habit of choosing the wrong people perhaps... I chose him and I expected a certain degree of gratitude," Dr Mahathir said back in 2006.

The Crooked Bridge appears to be a project close to Dr Mahathir's heart. After Mr Abdullah resigned, he asked Mr Najib to revive the project, but was turned down.

In an interview published in a book called The Awakening: The Abdullah Badawi Years In Malaysia, Mr Abdullah said the country could not afford the mega project as it was the 2008 financial crisis.He sees Dr Mahathir as someone who is set in his ways and cannot accept others' views.

Dr Mahathir had called the Abdullah government "half-past six" and "corrupt", similar words he is now hurling at Mr Najib.

He accused Mr Abdullah's son- in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, the current Youth and Sports Minister, of exerting undue influence over the government despite not holding any position, and Mr Abdullah's son Kamaluddin Abdullah of receiving government contracts worth millions of ringgit.

He also accused Mr Abdullah's national automotive policy of putting the national car Proton at a disadvantage. He claimed that Malaysia was intimidated by Singapore and had shelved negotiations to revise the price of water sold to the Republic.

The soft-spoken Mr Abdullah earned the biggest mandate from the electorate in 2004 when the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) won the most seats in a general election since 1969.

But he missed the opportunity to carry out reforms. Combined with attacks from Dr Mahathir, the 2008 poll saw BN lose its customary two-thirds control of Parliament.

Mr Najib and Mr Abdullah are by no means the only prime ministers to run afoul of Dr Mahathir.

History has shown that the outspoken Dr Mahathir does not hesitate to speak his mind against those whom he disagrees with, including Malaysia's founding father, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Unlike Mr Abdullah, Mr Najib seems to be holding up and his position as Umno president looks secure for now. Umno's Constitution allows for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to be called to vote on, say, a no-confidence motion against the president, but there is no precedent.

An EGM can be held only if the president calls for it; or if two-thirds of the party's Supreme Council asks in writing; or if the divisions agree to send a request in writing.

In short, the only way a president can be removed is via a scheduled party election, or if he decides to step down himself, like Mr Abdullah did.

This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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