The Star; 19 May 2008
ALOR STAR: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and veteran party man Tan Sri Sanusi Junid announced Monday that they are quitting Umno.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced this on Monday at 12.35pm, citing a lack of confidence in the current leadership.
"I am quitting Umno today," he told about 1,000 people, mostly Kedah Umno members, at a talk here on Monday.
"I will write a letter to Umno headquarters to inform that I have quit the party," he said.
He has been critical of his appointed successor Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, blaming the current Umno president for the party's disappointing performance in the 12th general election.
The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, of which Umno is the largest component party, won the March 8 election with a simple majority, and saw four more states join Kelantan under Opposition rule.
Dr Mahathir urged other party members to quit too, as a way of pressuring Abdullah into vacating his post.
However, he advised those who do quit not to join any opposition party, adding they can all rejoin the party once there is a change in leadership.
Abdullah has so far refused all calls for him to step down, and said he would defend his presidency in the party polls in December.
Sanusi, who is a former Kedah Mentri Besar, also quit the party on Monday.
PM Abdullah: Shocked
Meanwhile, Abdullah said he was shocked by the decision and, despite their differences, had not expected him to leave.
However, the beleaguered premier said he would stay on and fight for the party.
“Perhaps some other members might leave too, but this won’t entirely affect the party. It all depends on whether the rest want to stay on and continue to fight for the party too,” he said.
Umno Deputy President Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak expressed his shock and sadness too.
Najib, who read a prepared statement to Malaysian reporters at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, said he was prepared to meet Dr Mahathir to discuss his decision.
"I will also discuss with Datuk Seri Abdullah, whom I had contacted just now, on efforts to strengthen Umno and also the issue of leadership transition in the party.
"I hope all Umno members will stay calm and give support to our efforts to strengthen the party," he added.
In KLANG: Former Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo said Dr Mahathir’s decision will affect public perception of Umno’s strength and possibly discourage youngsters from joining the party.
Many of those aged below 40 years grew up during Dr Mahathir’s premiership and hold him in high regard.
“Dr Mahathir’s resignation will have a huge impact on the trust that this group of people, including the Malays, have in Umno and its capability to lead the country,” he said.
He said youngsters wanting to join the party now might also shy away as questions would be raised on Umno’s ability to be effective as a party.
“These youngsters might not join other parties but they will stay away until Umno can mend the current situation and avoid splits in the party,” he said.
In PUTRAJAYA, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said it was a bad time for Dr Mahathir to quit Umno as the party was going through a difficult period.
He said the resignation would not help in efforts to rebuild Umno.
"He is doing more damage than good; whatever it is, the party is still looking for a new direction and we need everyone to remain united and not split," he said.
Syed Hamid expressed fear for the future of Umno because Dr Mahathir had a great influence and a person of his stature could rattle and destroy the party.
Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad said Dr Mahathir's hatred for Abdullah was seemingly stronger than his love for Umno.
He said the former premier should realise that asking others to follow his footsteps would only make it easier for Pakatan Rakyat to take over the Federal Government.
"What he is saying is that if you love Umno, leave Umno -- it does not make sense," he said.
Shahrir also said that Jerlun MP Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir should be the first to take up his father's suggestion to quit.
Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib said he was surprised at the decision, but added that it was Dr Mahathir's right to do so.
"Every member has the right to join or leave the party," he said.
Asked if Umno would convene an emergency meeting, the former Umno vice-president and Selangor Mentri Besar said that "we will wait and see."
The next Umno Supreme Council meeting is scheduled to be held within two to three weeks.
Urged to reconsider
In IPOH, MCA secretary-general Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan called on Dr Mahathir to reconsider his decision.
Speaking at a press conference after a Wesak Day celebration at the Malaysian Buddhist Associatino (Perak branch) hall here, Ong said he was saddened by Dr Mahathir's sudden announcement.
Barisan Nasional was currently facing a huge challenge and his decision would not benefit Umno and the coalition, said Ong, who is also Housing and Local Government Minister.
As a former Prime Minister, his words carried weight and would affect all levels of the people including party leaders, he said.
“We do not hope for any more problems and neither should we create more,” he said. “Our country needs stability and not uncertainty. His decision would paint a bad impression for the rakyat (citizenry) and foreign investors,” he added.
Lumut Umno division chief Datuk Dr Zambry Abd Kadir also urged Dr Mahathir to reconsider his decision.
“I feel very sad with Tun's decision to leave the party. It should not have happened in the first place,” he said.
Dr Zambry, who is also Pangkor assemblyman, said Dr Mahathir was a great leader who provided a sense of direction and ideas for the party and country.
The problem involved a former president and the present one, he said, adding that it so happened that the predecessor had appointed the current one.
“So it is a complex issue,” he said, adding that the current leadership must immediately find ways to overcome the problems in the party.
Dr Zambry pointed out that it was not unprecedented for former party presidents to quit Umno, adding that Dr Mahathir was the party's fourth president to leave the party.
The other three were the late Datuk Onn Jaafar, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn, he added.
In PETALING JAYA, Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said Dr Mahathir's decision would not solve the problems faced by the party and would instead give more strength to the Opposition.
"At this time when the party is under stress, all parties including leaders and former leaders must work together to heal Umno so it becomes firm and strong," she said.
In MALACCA, Umno veteran and stalwart Tan Sri Aziz Tapa, 85, said that he was shocked at the news and was at a loss for words.
“How can it be when he (Mahathir) says that he loves Umno? I met him only few days ago in Johor and everything seemed okay. What he is doing is not right,” he said when contacted here on Monday.
Umno supreme council member Tan Sri Rahim Thamby Chik described the move as an "interesting but tragic development" for Umno.
"It's shocking news to me. If true, then I would say that it is an interesting yet tragic development for the party,” he said.
Reacting to Dr Mahathir's resignation, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said, “This will weaken the party at a time when it is facing its enemies.”
Dr Mahathir joined Umno at its inception in 1946.
He became a Member of Parliament in 1964 when he won the Kota Setar Selatan seat.
He lost the seat in the following general election in 1969.
Following the May 13, 1969, riots Dr Mahathir was sacked from the Umno Supreme Council on July 12 because of the widespread distribution of his letter to first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman criticising Tunku’s manner of handling the country’s administration.
Dr Mahathir rejoined Umno on March 7, 1972 and was appointed Senator in 1973. He relinquished the senatorship post a year later to contest the Kubang Pasu seat in the general elections. He was returned unopposed and was appointed Minister of Education.
In 1975, Dr Mahathir became one of the three vice-presidents of Umno.
Tun Hussein Onn appointed Dr Mahathir Deputy Prime Minister on Sept 15, 1978.
Dr Mahathir was Prime Minister of Malaysia from July 16, 1981, until Oct 31, 2003.