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EIU: Mahathir's Manoeuvres
By Economist

17/5/2001 9:54 am Thu

[Mahathir kelihatan masih dapat bertahan walaupun telah dikritik oleh pelbagai pihak termasuk ahli partinya sendiri secara terbuka. Mereka mengkritik dasar menyelamatkan kroni dan Mahathir punca kelemahan Umno selama ini. Kekalahan di Lunas itu makin memberi semangat buat pemimpin BA dan telah menyebabkan ahli Umno sendiri mula menuding jari kepada presiden sendiri.

Daim yang diam itu terkata juga apa yang tidak terkata sebelumnya sehingga ia sampai ke telinga Mahathir. Daim mengkritik Mahathir tidak menyusun strategi pemimpin penggantinya kerana ini akan menggelapkan masa depan Daim yang terlalu banyak harta rompakkan untuk disembunyikan semua. Daim juga agak kecewa formula pemulihan ekonominya seperti penggabungan bank telah diubah oleh Mahathir. Malah pelantikkan penasihat ekonomi tambahan adalah seperti mahu memperkecilkan kebolehan Daim.

Sebelum ini Sharir Samad yang kelihatan berani mengkritik secara terbuka - tetapi gejala ini sudah merebak sehingga BBM pun tumpang sekaki mahu berbicara. Baru-baru ini MTUC yang tidak bertaring itu pun tiba-tiba seperti terbangun dari tidur juga untuk berpiket walaupun ia lelap pula kemudiannya. Selain sanggahan terbuka itu, faktor kemelesetan ekonomi juga turut menekan Mahathir sekarang ini.

Menyedari meningkatnya kritikkan itu Mahathir bertindak mengurangkan liabiliti. Daim kini bercuti, Mokhzani mengundur sedikit nama dari dunia koporat manakala Umno mahu ditonjolkan sebagai memusuhi korupsi. Kabar angin sengaja dibiar bertiup kencang beliau sudah renggang dengan Daim agar itu dapat menyelamatkan dirinya dari serpihan kritik mendatang nanti. Untuk menyelamatkan lagi dirinya, dia menahan pemimpin KeADILan dan aktivis reformasi yang begitu menyengat sekarang ini melalui akta ISA kerana tidak perlu mengemukakan bukti untuk menahan selama yang perlu diikutkan hati.

Walaupun di saat ini negara jiran seperti Thailand, Indonesia dan Filipina sedang bergolak Mahathir masih sukar untuk pergi. Malah beliau mahu bekerja sampai mati dan semakin berang serta banyak bermuslihat dengan kata-kata yang enak yang disertai dengan beberapa langkah berunsur silapmata untuk mengabui kebelakangan ini. Seperti biasa beliau mungkin mencari kambing hitam yang sesuai untuk menyelamatkan diri - dan Daim nampaknya begitu padan dalam beberapa segi.

Walaupun begitu Daim mempunyai banyak rahsia Mahathir sebagai insuran daripada dikenakan sebarang tindakkan. Beliau dijangka akan berundur secara diam demi keselamatan mereka berdua jika ahli Umno memberontak mahukan jawapan yang amat dibimbanginya. Krisis Mahathir dan Daim mungkin hanya satu silap-mata untuk menghadapi sesuatu di hari muka. Dan Mahathir akan melakukan lebih banyak lagi silap mata jika beliau semakin tercedera. Tetapi siapakah lagi yang akan menjadi mangsa?
- Editor


11th May 2001

Malaysia politics - Mahathir's manoeuvres.

Malaysians, like a certain category of foreigner routinely lambasted by their prime minister, are prone to speculation. Many are now betting that Mahathir Mohamad, who is 75 and has been in office for 20 years, will soon be gone. Some are even predicting a July departure. Such punters point to the sudden ouster in March of then Philippines president Joseph Estrada and the slow-motion but seemingly inevitable disengagement of Indonesia's head of state, Abdurrahman Wahid. Dr Mahathir is more unpopular and beleaguered than ever before: unprecedented public criticism of him has come lately from within the upper echelons of his own party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO); his longtime confidant and chief economic policymaker, finance minister and UMNO treasurer Daim Zainuddin, has gone on leave, apparently exasperated; the country's hitherto cowed trade union movement has denounced cronyism within the government and threatened nationwide protests; and opposition parties that made big gains in recent elections are taking a bolder stance. On top of that, the economy is slowing sharply again, presaging a possible escalation of the already intense pressure for a change at the top.

So could the resilient and wily Dr Mahathir's days really be numbered? Rumours of his imminent political demise have proven greatly exaggerated in the past. But things might just be different this time around. The government's loss of a supposedly safe seat in a by-election last November in the prime minister's native Kedah state was something of a watershed. UMNO luminaries who had reluctantly swallowed their party's heavy reversals in the general election a year earlier openly blamed the setback on Dr Mahathir's intransigence and abrasiveness. In February, during a rally organised by a group of once high-flying UMNO politicians, speakers roundly condemned the government and its key policies. The affirmative action strategy ostensibly framed to favour under-performing ethnic Malays was characterised as a vehicle for the enrichment of a small coterie of cronies rather than the advancement of the majority community generally. The critics seemed, as one opposition party leader put it, to be openly challenging "the legitimacy of Dr Mahathir to remain in office".

But the prime minister seems determined to die with his boots on. Apparently convinced that significant concessions to critics would hasten his departure, he is pursuing a hitherto successful strategy of resisting, frustrating and intimidating reformists on both sides of the political divide. Ten prominent opposition politicians, most of them members of Parti Keadilan Nasional (PKN), nominally headed by Wan Azizah Ismail, wife of his jailed former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, were arrested last month under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows indefinite detention without trial. The official justification, that they were plotting to overthrow Dr Mahathir's administration by force, has been widely ridiculed.

Opposition parties and sympathisers claim that the real crime of most of those in custody was their plan to launch a nationwide campaign, dubbed "Save the People's Money", against the persistence of costly government bailouts of already long-indulged local companies and entrepreneurs. These include the buyback of an UMNO-linked businessman's controlling stake in Malaysian Airlines for more than double its market value and the state-run Employees Provident Fund (EPF)'s buy-in to an initial public offering by a government-associated telecommunications company after the shares were shunned by ordinary investors. To the government's consternation, the previously reverent Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), which represents some 230 unions with more than half a million members, announced plans in mid-April to picket the EPF's offices countrywide in protest at the perceived official misuse of the obligatory pension scheme's money.

Within a week of the labour union protests, Dr Mahathir revealed that the country's finance minister had decided to take an extended period of leave, fuelling speculation that the long-rumoured differences between the country's two most powerful politicians had become unbridgeable. Mr Daim, who as UMNO's money-man is largely responsible for collecting and distributing the funds that help keep Dr Mahathir in office, has done nothing to dispel that impression.

But history suggests it is too soon to begin counting Dr Mahathir out. When in trouble, he seeks suitable scapegoats, and Mr Daim could merely be the latest in a long line. For one thing, the finance minister is generally perceived to be the brains behind the bailouts and the controversial award of government contracts to cronies. So the definitive departure of the eminence grise, if that is what is happening, would deflect much of the damaging flak away from the prime minister. Moreover, the seasoned politician in Dr Mahathir gives ground when he has to. On May 9th the MTUC called off its protest, scheduled for three days later, after the government agreed to address, or at least consider, most of its grievances about the EPF. Malaysia's veteran prime minister may have wriggled off the hook once again, although his detractors insist he is still mortally wounded.

SOURCE: ViewsWire London.
(c) 2001 The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited. All rights reserved.