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AWSJ: Mahathir's Swan Song
By Barry Wain

27/5/2001 12:15 am Sun

[Mahathir semakin digenangi masalah ekonomi dan politik akibat kedegilan dan cara dirinya sendiri menerajui negara. Beliau menjadi liabiliti bukan sahaja kepada Umno, malah kepada BN, Malaysia dan rantau ASEAN. Tidak ada jalan keluar melainkan berundur secara hormat dan membebaskan Anwar. Tetapi itu akan mencederakan kepentingan dirinya dan anak-anaknya yang kaya raya yang lebih dipentingkan olehnya dari masalah negara. Isu perkauman dan politik wang tidak akan mampu menetak arus bertukar. Rangsangan ekonomi juga sudah tidak mampu mengalih selera pelabur bertukar. Mahathir sudah kehabisan idea menghadapi masalah yang bertali arus menimpa akibat perbuatan dirinya juga.

Kedua-dua Mahathir dan Anwar telah tersilap anggar (under-estimate) kebolehan masing-masing. Anwar tidak menyangka Mahathir sebegitu kejam menggunakan segala-galanya untuk memusnahkan dirinya. Tetapi Mahathir pula tersilap menjangkau isu Anwar akan padam begitu sahaja setelah diaib dan dipenjara. Tektik itu sudah tidak efektif kerana rakyat kenal siapa Anwar sejak di bangku sekolah dan universiti lagi. Apa yang telah dilakukan terhadap Anwar telah membuat rakyat semakin pandai menelah siapa yang berada di pihak yang benar. Ia mencetus rasa simpati nasib yang menimpa Anwar yang tidak dapat dibendung walaupun bertahun-tahun cuba dihumban keluar.

Selagi isu kepimpinan dan kecelaruan dalam politik dan ekonomi Malaysia ini tidak ditangani segera Malaysia akan semakin dipinggiri oleh pelabur luar. Malaysia akan kehilangan sebahagian besar pelaburan penting sektor elektronik dan IT dunia yang sudah beralih ke negara China. Membunuh karekter Anwar akan menjahanamkan lagi mada depan ekonomi dan politik Malaysia. Siapa yang akan akan menderita nanti jika tidak kita rakyat Malaysia. Lihatlah nasib pekerja kilang yang terbuang dan kaum petani sekarang - khususnya penanam kelapa sawit. Mereka itu semua menjadi mangsa kawalan matawang dan kedegilan Mahathir yang berpanjangan. Ramai lagi akan menderita - bursa saham ada menyimpan pelbagai kisah yang akan mengalirkan air-mata.
- Editor

May 24, 2001

Dow Jones Newswires

AWSJ: The Region

Mahathir's Swan Song


Journal Reporter

KUALA LUMPUR -- Ferdinand Marcos fled at night, whisked out of the Philippines by the Americans, to die in lonely and reviled exile abroad. Suharto quit the Indonesian presidency when isolated, abandoned by his cabinet and threatened by street mobs, to be saved from prosecution only by his feeble mind. Mahathir Mohamad's departure from Malaysia's leadership, for all its unhurried appearance, could turn out to be the saddest of all.

Malaysia is sliding inexorably into political and perhaps economic crisis, generated almost entirely by Dr. Mahathir's continued insistence on running the country his way, as he has done for almost 20 years. With problems mounting on all fronts, Dr. Mahathir, at the age of 75, has simply run out of ideas, energy and time. He has become a liability to his United Malays National Organization, the core of the National Front coalition government, to Malaysia and to the rest of Southeast Asia. While he has characteristically equivocated, he has noted on more than one occasion that this will be his final parliamentary term. He should keep his word.

Dr. Mahathir's terminal political decline began when he sacked and jailed his deputy and heir-apparent Anwar Ibrahim in 1998. His determination to crush and humiliate a talented rival impaired his judgment and brought him domestic and international opprobrium. The only way to recover a modicum of the respect he has lost is to pardon Datuk Seri Anwar before quitting. Such a move, unlikely though it is, would be in the national, as well as their personal, interests.

The two have had the chance to reflect on the fact that both miscalculated in their deadly confrontation at the height of the regional economic crisis. Although each has suffered for his underestimation of the other, Datuk Seri Anwar, 53, has turned in the better performance. From his jail cell, in the role as victim of a high-level political conspiracy, he has been able to keep the pressure on Dr. Mahathir, who finds that the prime minister's office no longer allows him to dictate the course of events.

While Dr. Mahathir employs heavy-handed tactics to keep critics in line, those customary measures don't work anymore. He jails opponents without trial under the Internal Security Act and restricts their opportunities to organize and protest, but they won't be intimidated or silenced as in the past. He complements his ongoing crackdown by destroying the business activities of Datuk Seri Anwar's associates, playing the communal card in championing Malay rights and by creating other diversions.

Yet it is Datuk Seri Anwar, bashed almost to death in a police cell the night he was arrested and recently denied permission to travel abroad for a back operation, who evokes public sympathy. More and more Malays are deserting UMNO. With billions of dollars being spent to bail out politically connected businessmen and some services having to be renationalized, Dr. Mahathir has to contend with what political scientist John Funston calls "a massive loss of trust in the government and UMNO leadership."

Just the same, Dr. Mahathir gives every indication that he thinks he can tough it out, as he has always done. He faces no open dissent within senior UMNO ranks, whose members are beholden to him, even though party strategists know UMNO cannot arrest the slide in its popularity while he remains. He may also be concerned how his family will be treated if he leaves, notwithstanding one son's recently announced divestment of his business holdings to become more active in UMNO.

While Dr. Mahathir isn't in danger of being forced out in the near future, it is only a matter of time before the forces against him become overwhelming. In the maneuvering for the post-Mahathir era, contenders for his position will need to adopt attitudes, or internal policies, on Datuk Seri Anwar, especially his continued incarceration while significant segments of the population think he is innocent. One faction could easily do a deal with residual Anwar supporters - estimated at up to 25% of UMNO - to capture the leadership.

Dr. Mahathir's only realistic chance of ensuring that his retirement is peaceful is to reach an accommodation now with Datuk Seri Anwar. If he misjudges again, at the very least he could be removed ignominiously by his own party. And if the political wheel turns, not only would his admittedly battered legacy be threatened, but his nightmare scenario could also come true. Datuk Seri Anwar just might stage a comeback that puts him in the premier's seat.

For Datuk Seri Anwar, there can be little doubt that his political resolve is unshaken by the tumultuous events, including his two trials, at which he was jailed for a total of 15 years after being convicted of abuse of power and s#d#my. With his eyes on the future, he treated his court appearances as political theater, which is almost certainly the way most Malaysians saw them. It was no surprise that he expressed disappointment recently at the decision of prosecutors not to proceed on five additional charges against him.

Datuk Seri Anwar undoubtedly finds repugnant the acceptance of guilt implied by a pardon granted after an appeal to the king. His stand, conveyed to his inner circle, is that he will accept nothing less than a retrial to vindicate himself. But he has to keep in mind that his health has deteriorated in prison, where he has been confined since his arrest more than two and a half years ago. After suffering initial loss of weight and hair, he has spent months in hospital with a slipped disc that causes him constant pain. Further, his absence from home places a heavy burden on his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, who leads her own opposition party as well as raising their six children.

More importantly, there is no guarantee that Datuk Seri Anwar won't have to serve the full 15 years he has been handed, no matter how flawed the process appeared to independent observers. Should Dr. Mahathir's chosen successor, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, take over, he may not see the need to make a gesture to Datuk Seri Anwar. Datuk Abdullah's likely challengers may be more conciliatory, though they might also view Datuk Seri Anwar as a potential rival they would prefer to do without.

Dr. Mahathir and Datuk Seri Anwar, who operated for years as political father and son, will never be friends again, but they can reach a truce that serves their respective purposes and benefits the country. It must be a genuine compromise that involves no prospect of revenge or retribution. Dr. Mahathir needs to step down with dignity. Datuk Seri Anwar should get on with his life. It could start with the prisoner going overseas for medical treatment and returning a free man, though not until the doctor has departed.

Once the succession issue is resolved, it will be possible to address Malay unity and other sensitive questions. Politicians will have no need to play with racial fire. Foreign investors will take a fresh look at Malaysia, which must put its house in order without further delay to cooperate with its neighbors and compete with China.