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BTS: Razaleigh Poised For Comeback?
By Yang Razali Kassim

20/4/2001 4:35 am Fri

[Desas desus bertiup kencang Ku Li akan dipanggil semula oleh Mahathir. Daim disahkan akan bersara di saat negara sedang sakit - dan di saat Mahathir sedang sakit (masalah gila-gila) juga - dan di saat Anwar sedang sakit tenat (akibat dipukul gila). Malah di saat Aziz Shamsuddin sedang sakit kritikal tiba-tiba (siapa mengirimnya?).

Lihatlah bagaimana negara dilanda penyakit - tetapi masih tidak bersedia untuk melakukan apa-apa untuk menanganinya - termasuk kita - rakyat yang tidak muncul di hari penyerahan memorandum kepada SUHAKAM tempoh hari sedangkan tahanan ISA sebanyak 7 orang itu amat memerlukan sokongan dan desakkan kita. Jika penyakit menimpa kita -jangan salahkan sesiapa lagi kerana kita sendiri tidak perihatin untuk mendesak dan merasa bila orang lain teraniaya dan sakit didera.... - Editor]

The Business Times, Singapore
18th April 2001

Is Razaleigh poised for a comeback?

By Yang Razali Kassim

AS expected, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday appointed former central bank governor Ali Abul Hassan Sulaiman his economic adviser.

Mr Ali is the second such aide Dr Mahathir has appointed within a year. Last May, he made former central bank adviser Nor Mohamed Yakcop his counsel on financial matters.

For Mr Ali, the appointment marks a return to high policy circles. He rose from obscurity into the limelight only in the wake of the 1997 regional financial crisis. Before that, he was a backroom bureaucrat, spending years in the Economic Planning Unit (EPU).

He surprised many when he was made governor of Bank Negara in September 1998 to replace Ahmad Mohd Don, who had clashed with Dr Mahathir on monetary policy. But the larger backdrop was, of course, the power struggle triggered by the Asian financial crisis, leading to the ouster of former deputy premier and finance minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Mr Ali was to be Dr Mahathir's Mr Fix-It - part of a grand plan to stave off the 1997 financial meltdown, which also included the introduction of currency controls and pegging the ringgit at 3.80 to the US dollar. His short tenure as Bank Negara governor bore this out. He left after only two years, replaced by someone widely regarded as the preferred choice of bankers - veteran central banker Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

So why has Dr Mahathir brought the former EPU man back as his trusted economic adviser? And why now?

The Malaysian premier gave this wry answer: 'I have a lot of work to do now and there are some things which require detailed examination, particularly financial matters. I have entrusted him to digest and inform me (on) what all these things are about so that I can make decisions.

'Lots of people write to me asking me to solve all their financial problems, personal problems, their marriage . . . The prime minister is the place where the buck stops.'

The truth is, Dr Mahathir is in a Mr Fix-It mode himself. He is surrounding himself with a fresh set of economic advisers - his crisis team, if you will - as he gears up for a new economic struggle. The economy hasn't fully recovered from the 1997 crisis, while the Anwar sacking has undermined the political ground.

Malaysia has to brace itself for a new downturn - thanks to the sluggishness of the US economy, declining reserves and downward pressure on the ringgit.

As the outlook gets tougher, it is natural for a leader to want more advisers around him - people he can trust and who will act on his policies without question.

But this begs the question - isn't he getting enough from the present crop of policymakers and thinkers, from the National Economic Action Council to the central bank. Or is he beginning to feel deficient with the people around him?

Then again, perhaps Dr Mahathir is contemplating a secret plan which nobody seems to know, until it is time for it to be unleashed on the public?

Enter the old war horse and nemesis-turned-ally - Razaleigh Hamzah. There has been talk that the former finance minister and veteran Cabinet member may be tapped again for his experience in managing the economy.

Tongues were set wagging when Dr Mahathir chose to open a political campaign in - of all places - Tengku Razaleigh's Umno division in Kelantan. And when Tengku Razaleigh praised his former foe and openly called on him to continue leading country and party.

In these troubled times, Tengku Razaleigh said, Dr Mahathir's leadership is still required. 'So I personally call on Dr Mahathir to carry on as premier and Umno president to strengthen the country and the party. If he wants to quit when the party is totally strong and could gain 100 per cent victory in the next general election, then we will leave it to him to decide.'

From a man who once quit Umno in a huff after a failed challenge to Dr Mahathir - only to return to the fold years later - such show of praise raised eyebrows.

If Dr Mahathir has any plans to bring Tengku Razaleigh back to the centre of economic policymaking, the new climate will no doubt become even warmer.

But wait. Isn't the finance minister's post already filled? Or is someone making way for the comeback kid?

The Business Times, Singapore
18th April 2001

New Mahathir adviser won't erode Daim's clout

Ali Abul Hassan will oversee Economic Planning Unit: officials

By Eddie Toh in Kuala Lumpur

THE appointment of another key adviser to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will not erode the clout of his chief economic adviser, Daim Zainuddin, according to government officials.

An official said the appointment of former central bank chief Ali Abul Hassan Sulaiman will not affect Mr Daim's portfolios of Finance and Special Functions.

'Ali will oversee the Economic Planning Unit (EPU),' said an official, referring to the agency under the Prime Minister's Department that handles the country's privatisation drive.

Mr Ali, also formerly EPU's director-general from 1991-1998, is the second high-ranking official to be named adviser to Dr Mahathir.

Last year, the premier named ex-central banker Nor Mohamed Yakcop - the man credited with the decision by Malaysia to impose capital controls in September 1998 - as his adviser on finance-related matters.

Unlike the appointment of Mr Nor Mohamed Yakcop, the latest appointment of Mr Ali has not re-ignited rumours of a growing rift between Dr Mahathir and Mr Daim.

The fissure between the two political bigwigs was more apparent over the blueprint to consolidate the banking sector in 1999.

Mr Daim and Bank Negara had initially picked six banks to house the country's 58 financial institutions in the forced merger programme.

However, Dr Mahathir, after much lobbying by disgruntled bankers who were left out of the plan, reversed the decision and allowed more than six 'anchor' banks to emerge in a market-driven approach.

Murmurs of the purported rift have also died down as Dr Mahathir continued to rely on Mr Daim to help steer the economy, which is set to register a slower growth rate of under 6 per cent this year against 8.5 per cent last year.

Dr Mahathir has roped in Mr Daim twice to help revive the economy in the last 15 years - first in the mid-1980s recession, and, more recently, in 1998 when the country slipped into its worst recession.

The appointment of Mr Ali is not expected to change the course of the Malaysian economy. Dr Mahathir and Mr Daim have agreed on the strategy to further pump-prime the economy and maintain a loose monetary policy to sustain economic growth this year.