Quayle wants to be the top potato

31 January 1999

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By way of comparison, in our brief history of independence we have had eight Deputy Prime Ministers, but only three of them eventually moved on to Jalan Dato' Onn - Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir. Had Tun Dr Ismail not died in office he would have succeeded Razak.

Mahathir has had four deputies and Razak had two. The question is whether Mahathir's fourth deputy, Datuk Abdullah Badawi, will succeed him. lt depends on timing and political development in the new millennium, especially the results of the general election which must be held, unless a catastrophe strikes Malaysia meanwhile, before April 2000. It is too premature to talk about Mahathir's early retirement.

Running for presidency is a hugely, expensive business. But for credible candidates, especially those considered probable winners, raising the hundreds of millions that by way of comparison that is required for long campaigns is a minor problem. Indeed, on or two candidates in the now postponed Umno residential election would have no trouble raising the huge funds needed for the high geared hustings.

When the Umno presidential poll is held, I believe none will try to go against the incumbent. However, there will be a fierce tussle for the deputy's post. Though Abdullah is now Deputy Prime Minister he is not, deputy president of Umno, so I predict at least two candidates will try to snare the vacant spot.

Abdullah's appointment has been well received. He has to make the desired impact to minimise the chances of his opponents from seizing the coveted deputy's post in Umno from under his feet. A probable candidate told me, without discussing the specifics of his intention and political strategy, that he accepted Mahathir's choice adding: "I am keeping all options open." Another refused to discuss anything, merely saying, "Everything is fair in politics".

Mahathir has survived three serious scrapes in his 18 years of power (to date at least), each time to his credit, emerging with triumph, albeit narrowly.

The Government and Umno, he said, would continue to serve and protect the nation; each time intoning confidently that we would survive the political adventurism and machinations of those who wanted to make our nation a pawn of the superpower.

Mahathir - as I see - is far from approaching collapse as wished for by his enemies both local and foreign. Even though he is far from being infallible, he has led Malaysia well and made it respected and recognised Mahathir's, calmness and his benevolent and stubborn , self-righteousness has saved his premiership more than twice or thrice when most "experts" considered it lost.

In Mahathir's political life, even when he was a student, the fixation in his mind has always been the survival of his people and the nation. He is devoting all his waking hours to the survival and of Umno and the nation is his perceived strength which is helping to consolidate the nation and rally the people.

In American history unlike the office of of the President, the post of the Vice President has sometimes been left vacant on the death of the Vice President or his assumption of the presidency on the death or resignation of the President. Johnson succeeded the assassinated John . E Kennedy. When Richard Nixon resigned following the Watergate scandal, his second Vice President Gerald Ford moved into the White House. Ford became Nixon's second Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned because of corruption.

In our history, Razak chose Ismail first and then Hussein, speedily after Ismail died in office. Hussein took slightly more than two months to finally opt for Mahathir and Mahathir four months to determine his fourth deputy. All's well that ends well.

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United States.)

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )