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FEER: Final Sacrifice: Daim Bows Out
By S. Jayasankaran
8/6/2001 4:51 am Fri
[Daim berundur untuk menyelamatkan Mahathir. Begitu juga
Mokhzani. Mahathir sengaja membatalkan beberapa rancangan
ekonomi ilham Daim seperti penyelamatan LRT. Dia juga berlembut
dengan pelabur luar dengan mengundurkan kawalan modal agar Daim
terkena nanti. Tindakan disiplin politik wang bertujuan untuk
mempamirkan imej bersih kerana inilah isu panas sekarang ini
sehingga BBM menjerit tahun ini. Surat layang dan buku ditulis
agar Daim tiada pilihan melainkan berhenti supaya semua fokus
jijik tertumpu hanya kepada Daim seorang diri.
Untuk menguatkan lagi kedudukkannya menjelang perhimpunan agung
Umno Mahathir menggunakan ISA. Mahathir begitu bimbang kebolehan
Ezam dan rakan-rakannya kerana cara mereka menyerang boleh membuat
beliau tumbang. Semua pemimpin BA harus meneliti perkara ini.
Selain ISA, akta internet juga muncul bulan lepas dan akhbar Cina
telah ditelan bulan ini. Ini semua adalah langkah penting agar
semua bangkangan dapat dicengkam dan dipenjarakan.
Apa yang dilakukan oleh Mahathir sekarang adalah langkah-langkah
untuk mendapatkan markah dan tepukkan gemuruh dalam perhimpunan
agung nanti. Walaupun begitu Hakim Hishamuddin telah menyebabkan
arus berubah rentak dan sakit Anwar membuat Mahathir sedikit
tersedak kerana Suhakam telah menyokong rawatan luar. Besar
kemungkinan keadaan sakit Anwar akan digelapkan dari media agar
tidak terlepas ke dewan PWTC. Nanti akan bergemalah (agaknya) dewan
itu nanti dengan seribu pujian agar Mahathir berkhidmat sampai mati.
Final Sacrifice: Daim Bows Out
With the resignation of his finance minister, Premier Mahathir
Mohamad's strategy is revealed: Shed liabilities, quell dissent and
woo the public
By S. Jayasankaran/KUALA LUMPUR
ON JUNE 1, Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin resigned from government,
reinforcing speculation that he had fallen out with Premier Mahathir
Mohamad, his friend and mentor since the 1980s.
The parting had little of the acrimony associated with Mahathir's 1998
ousting of Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim, but it stoked suspicion that
Daim, widely associated with several recent and hugely unpopular
deals, was paying a price for increasing public disenchantment with
Mahathir's administration. "No reasons [for the resignation] have been
given, so people will speculate," says Shahrir Samad, a member of the
powerful Supreme Council of Mahathir's United Malays National
Organization, the main party in the ruling coalition. "And no one will
say the truth, that they are happy to see him go."
Everyone agrees on who will benefit. "This could make Mahathir look
good," says a Malay businessman who knows both men. "It shows he's
willing to sacrifice close friends."
To read the tea leaves of Malaysian politics is to always refer to the
man who calls the shots. And there are two schools of thought
regarding Mahathir Mohamad. One has it that the ageing Malaysian
leader--he will turn 76 in December--is preparing an exit strategy for
an honourable retirement soon. The other is that he's digging in to
consolidate his power because he has no intention of going.
Cynics overwhelmingly plump for the latter view. It's not hard to see
why. Mahathir has said repeatedly that this would be his last term,
but he's said such things before. Over the past six months, the
premier has moved to consolidate power by dishing out carrots and
wielding sticks. Perceived liabilities, including Daim, have been
excised, while sops to popular opinion have been thrown--including the
removal of six senior Umno officials from their party positions for
their involvement in money politics.
Meanwhile, as if to remind people that leadership is also about making
unpopular decisions, Mahathir has moved to quell external dissent.
In the short term, he may have boosted his popularity within Umno,
which will help him later this month when the party convenes for its
annual general assembly. Daim's departure also means that Mahathir has
not only taken over Malaysia's economic management but will supervise
the powerful Finance Ministry closely from now on. Mahathir has named
himself acting finance minister, and no new minister is likely to have
the free hand that Daim enjoyed. That implies that if the Malaysian
economy rebounds strongly sometime in the next few years, no one
except Mahathir will be able to claim credit. In such a scenario, the
timing for an honourable exit is auspicious: The next general
elections must be held by 2004.
But there is an obvious potential downside. Business deals, especially
those involving taxpayers' money, have come under a critical spotlight
amid increasing awareness regarding good governance. That means that
the premier will have no one to blame but himself for financial
foul-ups such as further bailouts or falling reserves. The Mahathir
legacy will depend, ultimately, on whether the premier really intends
to introduce more-transparent governance.
One of Mahathir's biggest political liabilities is the involvement of
his sons in business. In April, that diminished considerably when his
second son, Mokhzani, announced that he was withdrawing from the
corporate sector in order to shield his father from accusations of
nepotism. Mokhzani sold his stakes in two listed companies at a
decided loss. Political analysts conceded that the move would, at the
very least, reduce criticism of Mahathir.
Meanwhile, Mahathir said that "filthy rich" businessmen would not be
allowed to vie for Umno positions, and that Umno chieftains would no
longer be allowed the government contracts that were once viewed as
their rightful due.
Mahathir also revealed a less unbending side: In May, he unexpectedly
bowed to union demands that the Employees Provident Fund, the
country's largest private pension plan, be more accountable to its
members. He's also postponed and called for a review of a planned 6 billion
ringgit ($1.6 billion) government rescue of two urban light rail
transit systems, one of which is linked to a protégé of Daim. "It's
not something Mahathir normally does," says a university economics
lecturer in Kuala Lumpur. "He's becoming populist."
He's also postponed and called for a review of a planned 6 billion ringgit ($1.6 billion) government rescue of two urban light rail transit systems, one of which is linked to a protégé of Daim. "It's not something Mahathir normally does," says a university economics lecturer in Kuala Lumpur. "He's becoming populist."
At the same time, however, Mahathir has cracked down on the
opposition: In April, police arrested 10 dissidents under the Internal
Security Act, which permits detention without trial. Two have been
released, while on June 2 four others were imprisoned under the ISA
for two more years, by order of the home minister.
Meanwhile, the premier "gave his blessings" for a political party
allied to his ruling coalition to take over two independent
Chinese-language newspapers frequently critical of the establishment
(see story below). Also, the government has announced rules to govern
Internet journalism and the alternative, mostly anti-establishment,
Web sites that have become very popular among middle-class Malaysians.
In between carrot and stick, the biggest casualty may have been Daim.
Analysts say that Mahathir began distancing himself from Daim after it
became clear that two business deals associated with the finance
minister were terribly unpopular. Mahathir associates also allege that
Daim "undermined" the premier by complaining about his children's
business interests and implying, at meetings with individual
businessmen, editors and Umno politicians, that Mahathir ran both
party and government arbitrarily.
A business associate of Daim says that the cabinet "drove a wedge"
between the two men. While Daim was on leave from April through May,
and wasn't attending cabinet meetings, he and his ministry came under
severe criticism from his cabinet colleagues. Complaints included
allegations that the Finance Ministry interfered with awards of
government contracts from other ministries, and criticism of two
controversial deals involving a bailout of Malaysia Airlines and the
use of pension funds to underwrite a telecoms listing. Both deals
involved companies controlled by Daim protégés.
In explanations to the party faithful, Mahathir said he had been
"inadequately briefed" about the airline deal while he "knew nothing"
about the involvement of the pension funds.
Some analysts wonder if the attack on Daim has been orchestrated ahead
of the June assembly. Letters detailing his alleged business dealings
have begun circulating in Kuala Lumpur while a new, mostly critical
book on Daim sells briskly in bookshops throughout the country.
For his part, the former finance minister has maintained an aloof silence. In the past, Daim has often taken the heat for Mahathir. This time he may have done so for the ultimate goal: preserving the Mahathir legacy