TAIPING, 6 April 2009: Only last month did Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad say that Barisan Nasional (BN)’s takeover of Perak was unlawful.
Today, however, he endorsed the BN’s menteri besar and said the new government had been accepted by the people.
The former prime minister hit the campaign trail today for the BN in Bukit Gantang, two days after he rejoined Umno. He told a crowd of at least 3,000 people that he fully supported Datuk Seri Najib Razak as the new prime minister, and Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir as Perak menteri besar.
Dr Mahathir is mobbed by the excited crowd as he arrives. Pushing and shoving ensues as bodyguards clear a path for him
At a press conference later, Mahathir was asked about the change in his stand.
“It (the BN state government) is now a matter of fact, so it must be supported unless they can prove that it is legally wrong. But at the moment, it seems the government is accepted by the people,” Mahathir told reporters.
However, at a function on 14 March, he had said the BN’s 5 Feb takeover of Perak was not in accordance with the law. He had argued then that a menteri besar or a prime minister could not be removed without a no-confidence vote in the assembly.
Asked why he held a different view today, Mahathir said, “I am not a judge, but I can give an opinion. Maybe I am wrong. It all depends on the judge.”
The Bukit Gantang by-election is seen by many as a referendum on whether Perakians support the BN’s takeover of the state government.
Earlier, Mahathir was given a grand welcome at an open air government function in Simpang. He walked in to the beat of kompang and Chinese drums, causing a minor stampede as people surged forward to shake his hand.
There were screams of “Hidup Tun! Hidup Mahathir!” when he was called up to the podium to deliver his speech.
He spoke for 40 minutes, and despite the blazing sun, people pressed themselves up to the stage to get a closer look.
Nothing Mahathir said was new, but he cracked lighthearted jokes as he talked about his return to Umno since quitting on 19 May 2008 to protest the leadership of then president and Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
He praised Najib for emulating his father, second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, in welcoming him (Mahathir) back into the Umno fold.
“When I criticised Tunku Abdul Rahman and was expelled from Umno, Tun Razak welcomed me back. This time, I was not expelled but I chose to leave. Last time, it was Razak who accepted my membership form, now it is his son.
“Now that I am back in Umno, I hope all those who left will also return. I am confident that Najib has the capability to fix problems in our country,” Mahathir said.
Delivering a 40-minute speech to a crowd of no less than 3,000 people
In remarks aimed at soliciting support from those who rejected the BN in the 2008 general election, Mahathir addressed BN component party members whom he acknowledged had felt disillusioned.
“There were many who are actually MCA, MIC and Gerakan supporters, but because they were disillusioned, they sent a strong message to the government by not voting the government.
“I am confident the government is now aware of these feelings. That is why we saw the transfer of national leadership,” he said.
Earlier, Zambry, in his speech, called Mahathir “tokoh perpaduan”.
Attacking the opposition
Without mentioning Pakatan Rakyat adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s name, Mahathir described him as an impatient man who could not wait to grab power.
“There was no one else whom I raised so high, until the sky. But he could not wait. He wanted me out quickly. You know who I am talking about,” Mahathir said. Segments of the crowd responded with of “Ceritakan, Tun” and “Bagi lagi, Tun!”
And taking a dig at PAS candidate Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, who is also the embattled menteri besar of Perak, Mahathir said, “If he doesn’t want to agree [with the sultan], he can disagree, but not until he has to ask permission to commit treason.”
Supporters with a hand-scrawled poster to
welcome Dr MMahathir is scheduled to visit Bukit Selambau later tonight to continue campaigning for the BN.
Willing to help
Later, Mahathir told reporters that he was willing to advise the government in an unofficial capacity. He said he had no interest in a senior minister post in the cabinet.
He urged Najib to select a clean cabinet with ministers whom people could trust. But when asked how he would feel if Rembau Member of Parliament and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin were to be given a cabinet post, Mahathir said it was not for him to decide.
Khairy beat Mahathir’s son Datuk Mukhriz in the recent Umno elections. Mahathir’s dislike for Khairy is well-known.
Asked about how he gauged the public’s reaction to Najib and the new Umno leadership, Mahathir said, “I think people want to see things as they used to enjoy before. Umno is now ready to hear the people. I am confident that Najib’s leadership reflects the original Umno.”