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MGG: Political power play behind Daim's departure
By M.G.G. Pillai

6/6/2001 9:55 pm Wed

[Rencana dalam Bahasa Inggeris ini disiarkan dahulu untuk menguji beberapa perkara.

Daim mengumumkan untuk bercuti sebaik sahaja lapuran kewangan Umno diminta. Mokhzani mengundur nama dari beberapa syarikat besar kerana ditekan oleh bank yang pro Daim agar melunaskan hutang hampir RM1 bilion dengan segera. Disinilah segala-galanya bermula. Cara Daim dijatuhkan lebih kurang sama sahaja dengan cara Anwar diaib dan dipenjara. Surat layang dan penulis upahan telah memainkan peranan dan ahli Umno (khususnya) telah menjadi sasaran. Sebaik sahaja penguguran jawatan, telah berlaku penggelidahan. - Editor]

Tuesday June 5

Political power play behind Daim's departure


MGG Pillai

1:47pm, Tue: A few days before Merdeka (independence) Day, Aug 31, 1998, the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed, irritated at reporters' questions of a rift between him and his deputy prime minister, snapped: "Do I have to kiss him in public to show all is fine between us?"

A week later, on Sept 2, Anwar Ibrahim was sacked, detained under the ISA, manhandled and jailed.

Two days before the Yang di-Pertuan Agung's official birthday celebrations, Dr Mahathir denied Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin had resigned.

The next day, it became a fact.

The two events, disparate as they are, are linked; it even has a 'biter bit' quality about it. Yet one more who plotted the destruction of Anwar Ibrahim bites the dust. Dr Mahathir is forced to dismiss his erstwhile confidant as Malay opinion decides Daim must go for what Anwar Ibrahim tried to reverse but failed: Daim's Rasputinesque influence in government and business. When Anwar as finance minister targetted Daim, it backfired on him; he now is in jail for s###my and corruption.

In the two years since, this anger at Daim's acquisitiveness intensifies, with even Umno now demanding a full account of its finances from its erstwhile and long-time treasurer. Dr Mahathir, when all is said and done, realises Daim to be a liability to Umno more than he. He had no choice but cut his links with Daim or face more resolute action from the Umno ground.

More than that, how Dr Mahathir removed Daim is reminiscent of how he removed Anwar. A recent Malay political best seller, Diam, Diam Daim (Quiet, quiet, Daim), written by that intrepid pen for hire, Syed Hussein Alattas, has a cover montage of Daim sitting behind prison bars. The first edition of 20,000 is sold out at double its recommended price, with a new edition due shortly. Another on the same theme by Khalid Jaffri, who wrote the anti-Anwar book in Malay, Fifty reasons why Anwar cannot be prime minister, is about to hit the streets.

As with Anwar, immediately after the fall, investigatory agencies raided the offices and homes of those closely aligned to him. After Daim resigned, those of one of his wives and two close associates were raided. One had earlier faced a similar raid when he was asked in Parliament who the mysterious Josephine was. He had been seen in Parliament only once since - at the presentation of the OPP3.

Fatal flaw

Much is made of Daim's two months leave. He was pushed into a corner, with the Umno Supreme Council wanting a detailed report of its investments, which he as treasurer was responsible for. He went on leave shortly after.

So the breast-beating of Malaysian cabinet ministers at the unexpected departure of an incomparable finance minister is political gobbledygook. For the long and short of it is that, however brilliant and clever, he had, like Hamlet, an over-riding fatal flaw: Hamlet's was indecisiveness; Daim's, acquisitiveness. That he is out of the scene evokes more genuine pleasure than the crocodile tears in the official media.

In office, he leaned towards his cronies and satraps when dispensing contracts and privatisation of government utilities. Danaharta and Danamodal, the government agencies formed to prevent the banking system from collapsing in the weight of loans granted with the usual checks and balances benefit his cronies more than any other group.

But the tide turns. There is talk that whoever is appointed finance minister, possibly today, would have to review every contract Daim has given out in the past three months. Letters of intent given out for the Bakun hydroelectric project and the Sepanga Bay naval base, amongst others, are also affected.

Daim misjudged the Malay mood when he orchestrated the MAS bailout, which benefitted his crony, Tajudin Ramli; the Time dotCom fiasco; the Phileo-Allied purchase of Pos Malaysia at distress sale prices.

The MAS bailout upset even cabinet ministers when it was presented to them as a fait accompli. In short, like Dr Mahathir, he overstayed his welcome. The first hint of this came when Dr Mahathir's second son, Mokhzani, melodramatically withdrew from the commercial world. What forced him to was a demand from the regrouped banks under the control of Daim cronies to repay nearly RM1 billion in loans immediately; he got a respite when he disposed off two potentially most profitable companies in his grasp.

Umno and the Malay cultural world would have ignored all this if Dr Mahathir had not reacted as he did over Anwar. It is highly probable he would not have but for Daim's pressure. Daim saw his commercial empire in danger if Anwar brought order into the finance ministry.

Pressure from Umno

The Malaysian economy is damaged, perhaps irrevocably, because Daim as finance minister encouraged the belief that building grandiose projects with little or no money on hand to pay for it, and ignoring the disincentives of a crony economy, coupled with a Prime Ministerial belief that because Malaysia proved the IMF wrong on one occasion, in the aftermath of the1997 Asian meltdown, it is secure from other financial and fiscal crises.

But he forgot, or refuses to accept, that Malaysia's is a bubble economy in which churning financial paper is more important that producing anything worthwhile. Daim at the treasury pushed this view forward - to his considerable benefit and his ultimate fall. He is, also without doubt, the richest politician around, and with no vitally important industries linked to him.

The more frightening is its impact on Umno. Rumours abound on what could happen at the Umno General Assembly on June 21 this year. There is talk amongst divisions of a vote of confidence: against whom varies from Dr Mahathir, Daim to the Umno Supreme Council. So, when Dr Mahathir treated the Daim resignation as a huge joke on his return from Jakarta, he misjudged the Malay mood yet again.

The pressure on him is immense. His fear of addressing Malay audiences is real. He is unsure if the Malay would back him as feudal leader, right or wrong. The Daim affair challenged his hold on power so soon after the judiciary did with its unexpected pronouncements on ISA detainees.

The mystique of power, that undefinable quality that ensures power when all else fails, deserts Umno and its president. This saved Dr Mahathir time and time again, but he began to lose it after how he destroyed Anwar.

But while Anwar is in jail, he is not forgotten or sidelined. Not yet. So long as Dr Mahathir misjudges the Malay mood, Anwar becomes an attractive alternative as a future prime minister. How or when that would be is not the issue. That, in his predicament, he rises high as an alternative leader, is what makes Dr Mahathir have to remove Daim from his side. He would not be the only one. And pressure would come not just from him, but from Umno first.