KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 : Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad has accused the government of surrendering sovereignty in a dispute with neighbour Singapore, stepping up political pressure on his chosen successor.
In his strongest criticism of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's 2-1/2-year-old administration, Mahathir was quoted today as saying Malaysia had sold out its sovereignty when it dropped plans to build a new bridge to Singapore.
The project, to replace Malaysia's half of a causeway linking the two countries, had been conceived by Mahathir towards the end of his 22-year reign.
''I promised not to interfere in politics and I have not said anything about many things done which were wrong,'' newspapers quoted the 80-year-old as telling reporters at Kuala Lumpur airport yesterday, on his return from a trip to London.
''But this is the limit -- to surrender your sovereignty to Singapore as if you are scared of them. This does not speak well of your self-respect.'' Until now, Mahathir's criticism of government policy has not been seen as an immediate threat to Abdullah's government, but Mahathir is revered in the main ruling party and remains a feared political adversary. Many powerful people are loyal to him.
The bridge, one of Mahathir's pet projects, appears to have been the last straw for the patriarch. He was also rankled by an earlier decision to scrap a major rail project he had proposed and changes to automotive policy, an area close to his heart.
He has also bridled at suggestions that he could have taken a firmer hand against corruption during his time in power.
Asked yesterday how he would pursue his dispute with the government over the bridge issue, Mahathir was quoted by the Sun newspaper as saying: ''I cannot go to war. I have no power.
If it is necessary, when the country's sovereignty is surrendered to other people, even as a citizen I have a right (to talk).'' Last month, the government dropped its plan to replace its half of the 82-year-old causeway linking peninsular Malaysia to its island neighbour.
Malaysia said it could not have gone ahead without Singapore's approval for the necessary relocation of water pipes running beside the causeway. And it said Singapore had demanded unpalatable concessions in return for agreeing to a new bridge