KUALA LUMPUR - FORMER Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad urged his supporters on Tuesday to openly rebel against the prime minister after massive losses in general elections plunged the ruling party into its worst crisis.
About 2,000 members of the United Malays National Organization party gathered to hear Dr Mahathir speak at a hotel conference hall in the biggest display of defiance so far against the party's leader, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The meeting's agenda was to analyze the unprecedented losses suffered by Mr Abdullah's National Front ruling coalition in March 8 general elections.
But it turned into a free-for-all session to bitterly criticize the 68-year-old prime minister, who is watching his grip on power weaken despite insisting he has the full support of his party.
'I call on him to resign. Anyone else would have done so already, but he is shameless,' Dr Mahathir said. 'If he waits until the party is totally destroyed, it would be useless.'
Dr Mahathir accused Mr Abdullah of failing to curb unbridled corruption, nepotism and cronyism. He referred repeatedly to Mr Abdullah's son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, who is believed to wield huge influence in the Malay party, which is the dominant group in the National Front.
Dr Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years before handing power to Mr Abdullah in 2003.
Although he personally picked Mr Abdullah, Dr Mahathir is now the prime minister's most vocal critic. His son Mukhriz, a senior party official, also urged Mr Abdullah to resign.
Although now an ordinary party member, Dr Mahathir still has considerable influence, and his criticism will likely resonate among the party's grass-roots workers.
'We have reached a crossroads. There is something very wrong with our leadership, which is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,' Mr Mukhriz said to loud applause.
The show of anger is a clear sign of the deep crisis in the National Front, which is reeling from its worst electoral performance ever. The coalition lost five of Malaysia's 13 states and its traditional two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time since 1969.
Dr Mahathir urged disgruntled party members to organize themselves against Mr Abdullah.
'We must arrange our moves,' Dr Mahathir said. 'It is pointless if I am alone. All of us must be brave. If you love your country, be brave and speak out.'
An Abdullah loyalist, Mohamad Khir Toyo, acknowledged the party needs reforms but said a leadership change was not necessarily the solution. He was bombarded with questions from the audience about whether Khairy had influence in choosing election candidates.
Mr Abdullah has postponed party elections to December that had been set for August. Critics say he is trying to avoid losing re-election as party president.
M'sia opposition forms alliance
Malaysia's opposition parties agreed to form a coalition in an effort to present themselves as a credible alternative for government, while the main ruling party sank deeper into dissent.
The three main opposition parties won a record number of seats in Parliament at elections on March 8, dealing the ruling National Front coalition the biggest setback in its 50-year reign and spelling trouble for the prime minister's future leadership.
'In today's meeting, it was proposed to consolidate the cooperation among the three parties under the name Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact),' de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told reporters on Tuesday after a meeting with fellow party leaders.
Malaysia's opposition has been weak and ideologically divided for many years, comprising two parties that appeal mainly to urban, liberal voters and an Islamist outfit that attracts mainly rural votes and wants to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.
The three parties tried once before to form a coalition with a single policy platform, during an election campaign in 1999. But the pact fell apart two years later over the issue of Parti se-Malaysia's (PAS's) call for the creation of an Islamic state.
Mr Anwar, a former deputy premier, said the parties were still working on a common policy platform on Tuesday.
But he insisted PAS's stand on an Islamic state would not sink the new alliance, which also includes his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People's Justice Party) and the Democratic Action Party.
'It is not an issue as far as we are concerned,' he said. -- AP, REUTERS
[Comment: Does Mahathir not realise that in trying to take down Abdullah, he is in fact creating the very rift that will divide and destroy UMNO? Mahathir is a prime example of all things that are wrong about Malaysian Politics: Strong egos, cliques, cronies, pride, intrigue, hypocrisy, self-serving policies, gutter politics, entrenched interests, and a cult of personality. Does he not realised that if he wins, he loses? What he is doing will not make UMNO stronger. Because what divides UMNO will only weaken it.]