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AWSJ: Struggles Of Malaysia's Mahathir
By Dow Jones

14/3/2001 6:21 am Wed

[Satu kritikan lembut dari AWSJ buat yang sudah dapat mencium betapa Mahathir menggunakan sentimen perkauman dan tekanan untuk mengekalkan cengkaman. Mahathir menghulur tangan perpaduan tetapi dia tidak bersungguh mencegah keretakkan seperti di Kg Medan. Malah dia menuduh ekstrim kepada Suqui tetapi tidak pula mengenakan tangkapan. Yang terkena ialah Ezam dan komputer Raja Petra dengan akta hasutan sebagai alasan. Tindakkan ini membayangkan kerajaan begitu takut kuasa maklumat yang tersebar dari padang dan dari laman.

Mahathir tersepit bukan diluar sahaja tetapi dari dalam. Kekalahan (di dalam menang) dalam pemilu lepas semakin meresahkannya kerana golongan muda sudah bosan dengan Umno. Segala tohmahan sudah tidak laku walaupun ia dipancar terus dan terang. Sebaliknya beribu-ribu rakyat sanggup berhujan (dan disembur gas) untuk mendengar ceramah pembangkang - dan Kubang Pasu tidak ketinggalan. Pihak BA boleh menang tanpa melakukan kekacauan tetapi Umno pernah menang dengan melakukan pergaduhan (krisis Kelantan) dan masih bergaduh walaupun telah menang (kes ADUN Umno tampar ADUN DAP, Memali). Sampai sekarang dalang tidak di apa-apakan dan kes didiamkan. Bagaiman pula dengan Kg Medan?
- Editor

From The Asian Wall Street Journal
13th March 2001

Editorial: Struggles Of Malaysia's Mahathir

Dow Jones Newswires

(Editor's Note: This editorial appeared in Tuesday's Asian Wall Street Journal.)

The attacks on ethnic Indians in suburbs of Kuala Lumpur last week are reminders of the passions that lurk just below the surface in Malaysia. The choppings left six dead and more than 30 injured, and shattered any illusion that race riots like those of 1969 could never happen again. Most disturbing, witnesses said that the police were initially slow to stop the attackers. Combined with other political news out of Malaysia, this reminds us that racial tensions have been on the rise in the country, leading to fears that the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad might play the race card more intensively in order to shore up support from the Malay community.

Disunity within the Malay community has been growing, and it can be largely traced back to the sacking and trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. One result is that in the 1999 general election, Dr. Mahathir's United Malays National Organization suffered a shocking setback at the hands of the Islamic PAS Party in the north of the country. Having announced he will retire from politics in 2004, the prime minister is now seeking to patch up fissures within the Malay voter base so his legacy will be protected. But since he himself seems to be a divisive factor, this is a difficult task. One way to accomplish it is convince Malays that their special privileges are under threat, and only the UMNO-led coalition can keep them intact.

Remember that on National Day last August, Dr. Mahathir raised the spectre of Chinese "extremists" seeking to upset racial harmony. It's true that a Chinese group, Suqiu, had proposed that affirmative action policies favoring Malays be scaled back. But opposition politicians accused the prime minister of exaggerating the aims of Suqiu in order to stir up feelings of resentment. Dr. Mahathir's outburst also served notice on the minority communities that they must continue to accept an inferior political status as a price for being allowed to live in peace.

But dividing the races in order to rule Malaysia would be a risky game. Once the genie of resentment is out of the bottle, it may prove difficult to put back in. And even within UMNO, Dr. Mahathir can't count on support. He allowed some dissident members of the party to stage a rally in Kuala Lumpur last month against the perceived "threat" from the Chinese community. But the event went awry when many of the speakers used the microphone to voice their dissatisfaction not with the Chinese but with UMNO's own leaders. They accused the government of failing to wipe out corruption and cronyism, much the same criticism heard from the opposition.

It's becoming harder to prevent those criticisms from getting a public airing. In the past the government could rely on repressive laws left over from British colonial days - the Sedition Act, Internal Security Act and Official Secrets Act. The police moved in on a Web site of the Keadilan opposition party last week, raiding the home of editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin and seizing several computers. But this is a Pyrrhic victory - as soon as a Web site is closed, it triumphantly reopens on servers overseas. The government is also trying to stop criticism from abroad reaching Malaysians; it recently held up distribution of two foreign news magazines, Asiaweek and the Far Eastern Economic Review, which is owned by Dow Jones, publisher of this newspaper.

Last week the police arrested Mohamad Ezam Noor, who is head of the youth wing of the Keadilan Party run by the wife of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Mr. Ezam was accused of plotting opposition rallies with the purpose of "ousting" the prime minister, and the government evidently took ousting in the violent, rather than democratic sense of the word. But since Mr. Ezam resembles a young Mr. Anwar in terms of public appeal, his arrest is unlikely to help UMNO.

Critics like Mr. Ezam never made much of a dent in the past because most Malays recognized that the ruling party was doing a pretty good job of fostering economic development. That's no longer the universal opinion. Moreover, while UMNO could once claim that it alone was capable of navigating Malaysia through the shoals of racial conflict, the PAS Party has been doing a creditable job in the states under its control, and even seems to be solicitous of the Chinese community. So it's becoming more difficult to paint PAS as Islamic fundamentalists intent on destroying the secular state. Meanwhile, the Keadilan Party is attracting younger, urban Malays who favor a more pluralistic form of democracy.

While objectively these are positive developments, in Malaysia they may have the unfortunate effect of prompting the prime minister to up the ante with more race baiting. It will certainly be interesting to see whether there is a transparent investigation into the causes of last week's violence. It's hardly reassuring that afterward Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi advised local media to get their accounts from the police, not witnesses.

That's particularly ironic because only a month ago Mr. Abdullah told a Singapore audience that the Internet age means more pressure for democracy because "the state's control over information will decline even further, and so will its capacity to limit and shape people's choices." It appears Mr. Abdullah, Prime Minister Mahathir's heir apparent, hasn't yet given up hope of controlling the flow of information. It's worth asking whether Malaysia is in danger of stepping back from the world of democracy and the Internet into a darker age of racial conflict and government repression.