Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dr M’s legacy at centre of war of words with Kit Siang

With elections imminent, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is once again being forced to defend the legacy of the job he left nine years ago after suggestions from his old foe Lim Kit Siang this week that he was worried about the skeletons in his closet if Pakatan Rakyat (PR) takes power.

Today, Lim described as “bravado” Dr Mahathir’s remarks yesterday that he was not afraid of any attempt to bring to light alleged financial scandals during his tenure as prime minister should PR win the next elections.

His record as PM had also been the subject of debate during the tenure of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, with Dr Mahathir constantly attacking his successor over various policy reversals that he saw as an attack on his legacy.

Despite retiring in 2003, Dr Mahathir continues to loom large over Malaysia, with his position as a leading campaigner for Datuk Seri Najib Razak sparking Lim’s suggestions that he could not afford to allow PR to take power in Putrajaya.

In an escalating war of words between the two veterans, Lim (picture) also demanded today an assurance from Dr Mahathir that he would not suffer from sudden “amnesia” when testifying before the Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants.

Lim also criticised the fomer PM’s “elephantine memory” when he pleaded ignorance during the Lingam videotape RCI four years ago.

“Can Dr Mahathir give assurance that he will not suffer another attack of amnesia when testifying before RCI in Sabah?” Lim asked.

Both political giants Lim and Dr Mahathir have been engaged in a heated exchange over the past week, with the DAP leader accusing the influential Umno veteran of attempting to delay the coming polls to save his own skin.

According to Lim, Dr Mahathir fears that the many multibillion ringgit financial scandals during his 22-year rule as prime minister would resurface should PR win the 13th general election.

But in a rebuttal yesterday, Dr Mahathir, exuding confidence, had denied this and according to newspaper reports, had said that the opposition may open “whatever files they have on me now” and that he was not afraid of any “skeletons in the closet”.

Dr Mahathir had also said he was prepared to testify before the Sabah RCI should his testimony be required.

“I don’t know what I can testify to. If I have any knowledge that they want, I am quite willing,” he had reportedly said.

“What bravado indeed!,” Lim said in his reply today, calling Dr Mahathir’s responses “remarkable”.

“There can be no doubt that the person who has the most knowledge about the long-standing problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah is none other than Mahathir, especially as the infamous ‘Project IC’ is known as ‘Project Mahathir’,” he alleged.

Lim demanded again if Dr Mahathir could pledge his assurance to offer honest answers when called before the Sabah RCI, instead of suffering “another attack of amnesia”, much like when the latter had testified before the Lingam RCI in 2008.

The DAP leader pointed out that in the Lingam RCI, Dr Mahathir had purportedly said “I cannot remember” 14 times in his 90-minute testimony.

“Would Mahathir suffer another attack of amnesia if he is to appear before the RCI in Sabah?” Lim asked.

Dr Mahathir has long been accused of spearheading “Project IC”, an initiative to award foreigners Malaysian citizenships in exchange for votes in the east Malaysian state, allegedly to help keep the ruling BN in power.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently announced the long-awaited Sabah RCI to probe these allegations, which is believed to be likely the central issue that the opposition would play up come the 13th general election.

According to replies provided in Parliament last year, Sabah’s population rose from 651,304 in 1970 to 929,299 a decade later. But in the two decades since 1980, the state’s population rose significantly by a staggering 1.5 million people, reaching 2,468,246 by 2000.

Media reports said that as of 2010, this number has grown further to 3.12 million, with foreigners making up a sizeable 27 per cent or 889,799 of the population.

Najib is likely to call for polls by September this year but recent surveys have revealed telling glimpses of BN’s flagging support, largely among the Chinese and Indian communities.

In an interview with Bloomberg in February, Dr Mahathir had said BN should delay the polls to allow time the pact to recapture some lost support from groups, including the Chinese community.

The still-influential Dr Mahathir had also said last week that BN was still weak, owing to the former premiership of Abdullah, which Lim claims is a recurring theme used by the former prime minister to stall polls.

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