Sunday, April 22, 2007

Malaysian ex-PM Mahathir renews criticism of government

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad resumed his criticism of the government on Saturday, sinking hopes he would tone down his attacks as the country heads toward a possible early election in early 2008.

The outspoken 81-year-old, who has been relatively quiet since suffering a heart attack in November, accused his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, of poor economic management after addressing about 300 members of the ruling UMNO party.

Mahathir, who has many sympathisers within UMNO, slammed the government's indecision over a multi-billion-dollar rail project, which was shelved in 2003 and revived this year.

"At one time, they say mega projects are a waste of money. Now they are going for mega projects -- very, very mega -- so this is flip-flopping," Mahathir told reporters after his speech.
Abdullah had shelved the project, one of Malaysia's biggest ever state projects, in late 2003 saying that the money would be better spent on healthcare, education and agriculture. With an election expected in the next 12 months, the project is back on.

Mahathir's renewed attack could give the opposition ammunition to use against the government, which is widely expected to call a general election by early 2008. The next general election is not due until 2009.

Mahathir, who chose Abdullah to succeed him in late 2003, has turned against his protege over a range of issues, including the shelving of large state projects and the government's decision to scrap plans for a bridge to neighbouring Singapore.

There had been talk the two men would bury their differences as the government shifted into election mode, especially as it faced a possible political comeback by opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim, who was released from six years' jail in 2004