Sunday, April 06, 2008

Malaysia premier lashes out at Mahathir attacks

Sun Apr 6, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi accused his predecessor on Sunday of misusing his political strength and endangering the ruling party.

Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years before stepping down in 2003, has called for Abdullah to resign after his ruling coalition suffered the worst election setback in its history last month.

Abdullah's National Front, or Barisan Nasional, coalition lost five of the country's 13 states to the opposition, and secured just a simple majority in parliament.

Abdullah has refused to step down and on Sunday made his strongest public criticism yet of Mahathir's attacks.

"Dr Mahathir said he was strong, but he has misused that strength," Abdullah said, adding that Mahathir's volley of accusations risked destroying his party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the ruling coalition.

Last week hundreds of UMNO supporters met in Kuala Lumpur to demand Abdullah resign over the election results. The calls have resignation have been led by Mahathir and his son, elected MP Mukhriz Mahathir.

Party dissident Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has offered to challenge him for the party presidency at the next general assembly, which is not due until December.

Mahathir, 82, is still widely respected within the party. During the last two years, he has accused Abdullah, his handpicked successor, of lacking "guts", selling out Malaysian sovereignty and seeking advantages for his family.

Abdullah dismissed Mahathir's charges that he had tried to limit freedom of the press and stifle criticism by party members, saying Mahathir's record was not blemish free.