Mahathir loses grassroots poll

In a development which will be somewhat amusing to many Australian observers, 81-year-old former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, known nowadays more for his criticism of his successor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, lost a grassroots vote to represent his district at a party conference. More from

Former premier Mahathir Mohamed’s humiliating defeat in a grassroots party ballot shows he is finished as a force in Malaysian politics after waging a bitter anti-government campaign, analysts said.

But observers warned that although Mahathir suffered a major blow in the vote which bars him from addressing the ruling party’s annual assembly, his days as a critic are far from over.

The United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) had been fearful that Mahathir would use its November assembly to step up his attacks on the government, which have sent shockwaves through Malaysian politics.

For the right to address the forum he was forced to contest a party ballot in his home state of Kedah, but after 472 members cast their votes Saturday he came in only ninth among 15 candidates vying for seven delegates’ positions.

It was Mahathir’s smallest political contest to date and believed to be his first electoral defeat at an UMNO division he had headed for 30 years.

Abdul Razak Baginda of the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre said it was an unfortunate episode in the the political career of a man who wielded unparalleled influence in 22 years as prime minister.

“It’s a pity that he actually went through that because for someone who reached the top of his career, it is as if David Beckham was playing for some unknown club,” he told AFP.

He criticised Mahathir’s campaign in which he has peppered Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi — his handpicked successor — with accusations of betrayal, nepotism and unwise policy decisions.

“He is too emotionally driven. He as a former prime minister can criticise anybody but why do it within the system,” Abdul Razak said but cautioned that Mahathir would not “sit still” in future.

Mohammad Agus Yusoff from the political science department at the National University of Malaysia said he believed Mahathir’s defeat reflected the broad view of UMNO which has swung its support behind the mild-mannered Abdullah.

“It was one way for the people to show that Mahathir’s political days are gone,” said Agus.

“Even in his own constituency they do not want him to interfere in the aspect of division politics anymore,” Mohammad Agus said, adding that members were concerned Mahathir’s criticisms “would perhaps destroy the party”.

“To get humiliated, that was his choice, but I don’t think it is proper for Mahathir to stand for a small election, although he may have his own agenda,” he said.

Mahathir will still attend the assembly as former party leader but only top office bearers and delegates representing UMNO’s nearly three million members have the right to address the influential forum.

However, UMNO watcher Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said Mahathir’s days in the headlines are far from over.

“What he has decided politically is not to be a prime minister, but to be a critic,” said Shamsul Amri. “I don’t see Mahathir ending anything, he’s just taking another lane.”

Mahathir, one of Asia’s longest-serving leaders, is credited with turning Malaysia into a thriving industrialised economy in record time.

Despite the immense influence he once held, he is now accused of suffering from “post-ministerial syndrome”.

“The people did not reject him because of anti-Mahathir campaigns,” said Mohammad Agus. “They did not vote for him because in UMNO politics if you are not in power, you do not have influence anymore.”


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