Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is out to topple successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as fears grow over divisions in the ruling party, reports said yesterday.
Influential Cabinet Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz, citing information that he said he had gleaned from Mahathir's conversations with friends, said the ex-prime minister was working to unseat Abdullah, who is also president of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO).
"If he continues his actions to destroy UMNO, to bring down the president, I will be at the forefront as a warrior to defend the party," Nazri was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times.
Nearly 200 UMNO divisions are now holding their annual meetings nationwide and the dispute between the two has featured high on the agenda.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, insisting there were no serious party rifts, said UMNO's leadership still supported Abdullah, who went on national TV last week to deny Mahathir's claims of corruption and nepotism.
"We are not supporting the prime minister because we have to. We are supporting him because we want to," Najib was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times.
The row has led to worries among UMNO members of growing strife in the party, and concerns that opposition parties will capitalize on the bitter public dispute.
UMNO Secretary-General Mohamad Radzi Sheikh Ahmad warned over the weekend that the quarrel could affect the outcome of the next general election, due by 2009, and called for party unity.
"We will not be able to face the election confidently if our leadership is not stable. I pray [Mahathir and Abdullah] will find a way to resolve this issue," he was quoted as saying by the state Bernama news agency.
Mahathir has vowed to continue his attacks on a number of government policies, including the scrapping of plans for a bridge to Singapore, as well as alleged nepotism in business dealings by some of Abdullah's family members.
The elder statesman on Saturday denied he was causing divisions within the party or that he wanted to see Abdullah step down.
"That is for UMNO to decide, not for me to decide," Mahathir told reporters.
Mahathir also began circulating a letter to some 3 million UMNO members alleging the party's leadership was stifling him by pressuring UMNO groups to cancel his party speaking engagements.
In a related development, Abdullah's son-in-law said yesterday that he has sold his stake in an investment bank after drawing criticism of nepotism from Mahathir.
Khairy Jamaluddin sold all of his 10.2 million shares of ECM Libra Avenue to Amcorp Group on Friday, the Edge business weekly said.