Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had no effect on the April 7 by-elections and this shows that people do not want him anymore, says Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
The former law minister, who has had a running feud with the former prime minister since his move last year to compensate judges sacked by Dr Mahathir in the 1987 judicial crisis, said this in an interview on the “Fairly Current Show” [video below], a short programme that aired on the Internet yesterday.
Zaid, who is widely expected to join Pakatan Rakyat — most likely PKR — soon, also added that his former party, Umno, was too weak to stand up to Dr Mahathir and members were afraid of being ousted like Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who stepped down as prime minister last week after years of criticism by his predecessor Dr Mahathir.
"There were thousands of people in Sungai Petani they say, but clearly there was no effect," he said of Dr Mahathir's stop in Bukit Selambau in a two-stop blitz that included Bukit Gantang on the last day of campaigning in the by-elections.
PR, in fact, increased its majority in the two seats which, Zaid said, was an indicator of Dr Mahathir's unpopularity.
"He feels that people still want him. This is the problem with strongmen who some call dictators. Sometimes, they don't know they are surrounded by people who tell them their leadership is still needed," he said.
He added that it was the same throughout history, citing Suharto, the former president of Indonesia, and Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who also "do not know when they are unwanted".
However, in a recent blog posting, Dr Mahathir continued to insist that Abdullah was still "entirely responsible for all the ills" in Barisan Nasional which led to the electoral defeats as "a leader plays a big role especially in Malaysia and the quality of his leadership affects the behaviour and performance of his subordinates."
Zaid also mocked the idea that Umno wanted its longest-serving president back.
"It is not that Umno wants to take him back but he wants to rejoin. But nobody is brave enough to stop him. This shows Umno is very weak and its leaders are not brave enough to stand up to him because they are afraid of ending up like Pak Lah," he said of Abdullah, who was handpicked by Dr Mahathir but then suffered years of harsh criticism from him.
Zaid cited, as an example, the fact that Khairy Jamaluddin, Abdullah's son-in-law, won comfortably ahead of Dr Mahathir's son Datuk Mukhriz in the Umno Youth chief contest because "he interfered. If not it would be a tougher fight".
Zaid and Dr Mahathir most recently clashed in a war of words over the appointment of Datuk Seri Najib Razak as prime minister, with Dr Mahathir calling Zaid's plea to the King not to appoint Najib "very stupid".