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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

A LIFETIME'S OPPORTUNITY

The loyal Abdullah wins his rival Anwar's job


Malaysia What Mahathir's moves really mean

Resignation Rahim takes the fall

ABDULLAH AHMAD BADAWI, the new deputy prime minister and home affairs minister, is now a leading player in Malaysia's cut-throat political game. But he acts more like the backroom civil servant he once was. Genial, soft-spoken, affable, Abdullah was tailor-made for his eight-year role as foreign minister. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad must be hoping his diplomatic manner will suit, maybe even ease, today's troubled times.

Born into a religious family in Penang, Abdullah grew up among politicians. His father, Ahmad Badawi, was a founding member of UMNO, the dominant ruling party. A major rival of the elder Badawi was one Ibrahim Abdul Rahman, an UMNO MP from Penang, former parliamentary secretary and father of Anwar Ibrahim. Abdullah, 59, and Anwar, 51, have never seen eye-to-eye; the fact that Abdullah has been given Anwar's job is probably no coincidence.

After graduating in Islamic Studies from Kuala Lumpur's University of Malaya, Abdullah joined the civil service. He might have happily remained there if politics hadn't come calling. When Ahmed Badawi died, his political associates urged Abdullah to return to Penang: "Come home or we are going to forget you." In 1978, Abdullah resigned from the civil service to run for Parliament. After his victory, he moved up the UMNO ranks quickly. In 1981, when Mahathir became prime minister, Abdullah won a senior position. In 1984 he was elected one of three party vice presidents. He later served as education minister and defense minister.

In 1987, he almost gave it all up by supporting a group of UMNO rebels that challenged Mahathir. But Abdullah didn't leave the party, and by 1990, he was back in Mahathir's good graces. Three years later, though, he lost his vice president's post to an Anwarista. Again it seemed that Abdullah's star was fading. But after Anwar, then deputy PM, began quarreling with his mentor, Abdullah moved closer to Mahathir. He also supported Anwar's rivals.

Abdullah's critics say that he is too pliant. "The investment community would have liked to see someone who could stand up to Mahathir and [Finance Minister] Daim," says the regional head of an investment bank in Singapore.

Abdullah hasn't had to defend himself yet. And he has never been one to speculate on what might happen (to him) next. "There's no point looking too far into the future," he once told Asiaweek. "I believe beyond 10 feet it's all darkness anyway." Maybe he wouldn't put it quite that way today.


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