On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Take heed of the people’s grouses

THERE are plenty of good reasons why Barisan Nasional leaders are
worried over the harsh criticism by former Prime Minister Tun Dr
Mahathir Mohamad against his successor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad

Dr Mahathir, who led Malaysia for 22 years, is highly respected and his
views are taken seriously. Whether we agree with him or not is another

Unlike others, he does not speak in broad and generalised language,
which can sometimes give the impression that the speaker does not have
a strong grasp of the subject that he is speaking on.  

With Dr Mahathir, his choice of words is always direct and easily
understood. He calls a spade a spade. He always has his facts and
figures in hand, which gives him the edge when he faces his listeners. 

So, when Dr Mahathir levelled his attack on Abdullah, using very strong
language, it was headline news in all newspapers and numerous websites.
The television stations, for some strange reasons, pretended it didn't

The reaction from Barisan and Umno leaders was swift, with many calling
up their media contacts to rally behind Abdullah. The expression of
support is certainly essential for the leadership. 

A united front would show that Abdullah is still the commander and he
is still very much in control. Such support, which may be dismissed as
sycophancy by the sceptics, should not be under-estimated. 

The solid backing has sent the message to Dr Mahathir that the party
disapproves of his hurtful words. Some would even say it was an attempt
to undermine the authority of the prime minister. 

The general sentiment of ordinary Malaysians is that Dr Mahathir must
learn to give up his control on the Government now that he has retired.
In short, he must give Pak Lah a chance to steer the ship. Pak Lah has
just been in charge for three years, which is not even a full term yet. 

Judging from the letters, e-mail and phone calls from readers, the
outburst has not gone down well with Malaysians. They expressed their
gratitude for the development Dr Mahathir brought to Malaysia but
expressed their sadness, even outrage, at his outburst against Pak Lah. 

But these may not be enough. While the politicians and elites have made
their stand, either out of genuine loyalty to Pak Lah or to ensure
their political survival, it is the feeling on the ground that the
leadership needs to seek. 

The politicians and the media must find out from the rakyat what they
really think of the spat between the two leaders. The media has only
reported what the politicians think, so far. It is the voice of the
people that matters the most. 

Dr Mahathir's harsh remarks would certainly increase the possibility of
many middle-class Malaysians, especially those in urban areas, being
emboldened to be more critical of the Government. 

The former PM must have surely understood the unhappiness, if not
resentment, of the common people against the increase in petrol and
electricity tariffs.  

For wage earners who do not expect much pay increase or a fat bonus
this year, it has been hard. Barisan politicians should not believe
that the blatant propaganda interviews with "common people" over RTM
truly reflects the feelings on the ground. 

The call to ordinary Malaysians to change their lifestyle, for example,
has been greeted cynically. For many, who already lead modest
lifestyles, there isn't really much to change. People are prepared to
sacrifice but they won't tolerate the mismanagement of public funds. 

The loudest grouses in the country are those relating to the escalating
cost of living. The leadership must feel the pulse of the nation. No
one is sure whether Dr Mahathir has intentionally tapped into the
disenchantment of a large section of Malaysians when he made his
outburst but the leadership must not take lightly the grumbling in
urban areas. 

Dr Mahathir has exerted pressure on Abdullah because his views carry
weight. If he says that the leadership has not done a good job, that
remark in itself is bad for the leadership. 

Now, the opposition will exploit the situation by saying that even Dr M has lent credence to what they are saying. 

The former premier has said that he is aware that the opposition wants
to use him to attack the Government and that he will not allow that as
he is a Umno loyalist. But the reality is that the price for doing so
can be politically costly. 

The results of the Sarawak state elections have made many Barisan
leaders uneasy. Sarawakian voters, except those in Kuching, have a
record of being pro-establishment but the good showing of the
opposition is not good for the Barisan. 

If PAS, which lost its deposits in past polls, can secure over 1,900
votes in the sole Sarawak constituency it contested, the Barisan must
wake up.  

Many have openly asked whether the same voting pattern would take place
in other states if elections were to be called tomorrow. They want to
know whether the inflationary trend, which has hurt many Malaysians,
would have dire repercussions for the ruling coalition. 

Are they merely angry over the price hike or do they also have other
unhappiness over the state of the country? Were Sarawakians merely
unhappy with Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud alone or the
state policies?  

Are urban voters upset that the promises of the last general election,
particularly on corruption and accountability, were not carried out
fast enough?  

It is good that Barisan leaders have started to take stock of these
questions because they must gauge the feelings of the people at the
early stage. 

The Sarawak elections have shown that the electoral pact between the
DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat has worked well. Lawyer Dominic Ng of
Keadilan beat Barisan's Lily Yong in a straight fight.  

The same arrangement between Keadilan and PAS would probably take place in the next general election. 

Dr Mahathir and Abdullah need to sort out their differences because if
the matter is not resolved, it does the country no good. Dr Mahathir
appeared to have softened his stand on Friday, saying he was not
fighting with Pak Lah and merely wanted an explanation on certain

It is best for the two leaders to have a heart-to-heart talk, without
their aides and advisers. After all, they do have one thing in common –
to make Malaysia a better country for us.