Malaysia's embattled prime minister has declared that he is "here to stay" in the top job despite political uncertainly created by withering attacks on his leadership by predecessor Mahathir Mohamad.
"I will continue. I am here to stay," Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in an interview published yesterday by Mingguan Malaysia, a Malay-language weekly controlled by the main ruling party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).
"The policies and the strategies are good and I plan to implement them successfully. I have a long-term plan," he said.
Abdullah's leadership has come under question inside and outside UMNO, since Mahathir went on the attack six months ago, fuelling talk that the incumbent may not survive long as prime minister.
Abdullah will be facing a test of his grassroots support within UMNO during the party's annual assembly this week, although he will be spared a face-down with 81-year-old Mahathir, who will skip the meeting after having suffered a mild heart attack on Thursday.
Abdullah told the newspaper he would not be distracted by the Mahathir row and would focus on implementing a US$54 billion five-year development blueprint he had unveiled in March.
"This debate will not decide whether we will win the next general elections. What is important is whether the government implements its development plans," Abdullah said.
"I have too much work. I want to focus on my work," he said.
Mahathir has accused Abdullah of personal betrayal, penny-pinching and nepotism and the government of lacking "guts" and selling out national interests in Malaysia's recent decision not to go ahead with Mahathir's idea for a bridge to Singapore.
Abdullah has so far declined to return fire, although he has told the Mingguan Malaysia that Mahathir was opposing the whole government, not just some of his policies.
"He is opposing me and the government in total," he said.
Though Mahathir will miss the UMNO assembly, he has strong party sympathy and his criticisms may be voiced by supporters, setting the stage for some potentially divisive debate during this week's assembly.
One of Mahathir's sons, Mukhriz, told reporters yesterday that he hoped his father's supporters within UMNO would speak up and defend his stand at the assembly.
"I hope at this UMNO general assembly we will see some of the speakers who still raise these issues and I hope it will be adequately debated," Mukhriz, a senior UMNO Youth member, told reporters at the hospital where his father was recuperating after his heart attack.
Mahathir will not give up his anti-government campaign despite his recent heart attack, his son said yesterday.
"Knowing how he has been going at it, it [the heart attack] doesn't at all put a damper to his spirit," Mukhriz told reporters last week.
"He is the type of person who will probably ... go into a depression if he stops working, if he is not active, if his mind is not working," he said.
However, doctors have advised Mahathir to take it easy for at least two months before resuming normal activities.
Mahathir's heart attack has been expected to temporarily halt his steady stream of criticism against Badawi.