Abdullah Ahmad Badawi:
With general elections just within sight, Malaysia stands at an important crossroad. The people are faced with two choices: to remain with the current power, or form a new government with the opposition. Like a boxing match, there are only two political forces in Malaysia today, and that is the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition controlled by the ruling UMNO party, versus the Pakatan Rakyat opposition party, led by Anwar Ibrahim.
After Anwar was absolved of sodomy charges in January 2012, the group of dissenters began their attack on the party in power. Public protests challenging government policies took place more frequently, from the Bersih movement and more recently, to the People's Awareness Association (Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat), which claimed to have mobilized 500,000 people to demonstrate on the streets of Kuala Lumpur on January 12.
Faced by this mounting opposition movement, UMNO and Barisan Nasional did not remain still. They consolidated, and set out to win the people's hearts. The government promised to amend laws so that they supported human rights. Other populist policies included providing direct cash assistance and housing facilities.
UMNO, which has been in power for the past 55 years, does not seem worried about facing the growing opposition groups, calling them political liars. "Their campaign is standard, let them be," said Malaysia's fifth prime minister, 73-year-old Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to Tempo reporter Sandy Indra Pratama, who found the former prime minister at the ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta last week.
What do you think of the opposition groups' charges against UMNO and the Malaysian government?
Charges by Anwar Ibrahim and his group are nonsense. Leave it alone.
Is UMNO ready to take part in the general elections?
We must. We are preparing everything, and may I stress that UMNO and the National Front are very ready, whenever the elections are held. But what the preparations are, we will not be announcing about it yet. That's part of the strategy. But we are optimistic.
How is the situation inside UMNO?
The situation within UMNO is good, we are ready to face the elections. I predict that everything will go according to regulations, towards a positive direction.
How will UMNO and the National Front face a stronger opposition? They won some seats in the previous elections.
I will not discuss that matter. Clearly, we should wait for the results, but we are sure to win.
Reportedly, a leading National Front figure jumped over to the opposition?
Who said so? No one has done it.
What about discussions within UMNO on when the Malaysians polls will be held?
No problem. UMNO has submitted all decisions to Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Will UMNO suggest a date for the elections to the prime minister?
There was no recommendation at all from UMNO to Pak Najib on a date for the elections. UMNO, as well as other parties, are waiting for an announcement by Najib. Elections are nothing new. This system has been operational for the past 50 years in Malaysia. So, to us, the elections is about following regulations. As to who will come up the winner, it will be someone with the most votes. Campaigning here and there is normal. There is nothing to shock UMNO, and there is no movement that can threaten UMNO.
What about findings gathered by the opposition on the list of manipulated voters?
That's nonsense by them (opposition). UMNO has never seen it. Both UMNO and the government said that is not our game. There is now a voters list which we think is no problem at all. We have also discussed this with the general elections commission (Suruhan Jaya).
Last year, The Kuala Lumpur Post reported that one of the opposition parties asked you to join them.
When was that? I don't think so (laughing).
No. 23/13, January 29, 2013