KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday he would remain a thorn in the side of his successor in the run-up to elections, and would continue to speak his mind.
Until subdued by heart problems last year, the outspoken Mahathir was the most vocal critic of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, accusing his government of lacking “guts” and selling out Malaysian sovereignty.
“I still disagree on several of his policies, mainly allowing Malaysians to be subject to Singapore’s wishes,” the 82-year-old told select foreign media in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s launch of his new book.
The book published for the first time his personal correspondence with world leaders including U.S. President George W. Bush, on issues ranging from terrorism to Islam and Myanmar.
“We are not as independent as before in terms of our attitude towards international affairs,” said Mahathir, who ruled the nation for 22 years with an iron grip. “We tend to be very accommodative.”
In the interview, he took Abdullah to task for “wasting (public) money”, dismissed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as a “daydreamer” and asserted that the domestic economy was in “bad shape” without a rally in commodity prices.
Mahathir said Abdullah’s ruling front would be returned with a strong majority in the polls, widely expected by March, but said voters must get rid of dead wood in the coalition.
“But there are certain people whose contribution is negative. These people should not be chosen as candidates,” Mahathir, wearing a collarless Nehru suit, said at his office in the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers.
“I still support the party and I still believe the party will win with a good majority but one must not confuse support for the party with support for the individual,” he said.
On Anwar, Mahathir said his political enemy would not be a major factor in the coming elections.
“He’s not a real factor,” he said. “There’s no more political future for him. If he thinks he’s going to be the prime minister, it’s daydreaming of the worst kind.”
A charismatic speaker, Anwar was sacked from government in 1998 after falling out with Mahathir. Anwar then led street protests before he was arrested and later jailed on what he called trumped-up charges of graft and sodomy.
Released in 2004, his corruption conviction means he cannot stand for elected office or hold political office until April this year.
Mahathir, who has a history of heart problem, underwent a heart bypass in September and doctors have advised him to cut down on travel and other activities, including horse-riding.
The operation was Mahathir’s second such surgery since 1989 and followed two heart attacks over the past 13 months.
His quarrel with Abdullah came to the fore after the government scrapped Mahathir’s idea to replace a causeway linking Malaysia and Singapore with a bridge.
Asked if Abdullah should quit, he replied: “It is up to him to decide. It’s also up to the people to decide. If the people want him to move on, if they think his administration is not benefiting them, they should make a decision.”
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