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ATimes: Malaysia Adjusts To Life After Daim
By Anil Netto
12/6/2001 11:52 pm Tue
[Kalaulah tawaran Singtel itu diterima dan rencana penggabungan
bank Daim tidak dirosakkan mungkin Daim tidak akan berakhir sebegini.
Beliau pernah mengeluh campurtangan dan desakkan pihak tertentu akan
menyusahkan beliau merencana formula diamnya. Akhirnya terpaksalah Daim
mengorak langkah yang lebih berbahaya lagi terang yang kini telah
menimbulkan kebisingan dan penentangan sehingga membunuh kariernya.
Salah siapa lagi jika tidak seseorang yang tidak sepatutnya mengacau
beliau bekerja sebagaimana yang dijanjikan dulunya.
Mahathir telah menyelamatkan kroninya terlebih dahulu melalui kaedah
yang sebegitu tersembunyi (dengan menjadi Menteri Kewangan menggantikan
Anwar) tetapi Daim terpaksa merentas jalan yang penuh berduri kerana
terpaksa mengusik dana rakyat yang memang diperhati. Kemelesetan ekonomi
tahun ini telah menyebabkan beliau dipinggirkan untuk menyelamatkan Mahathir
dari diserang dalam perhimpunan agung umno nanti. Itu satu pengorbanan
demi mengabui mata yang memandang kerana tidak mungkin Mahathir tidak tahu
penglibatan dana awam. Beliau sengaja membiarkan agar mudah dipersalahkan
kerana akar-umbi sudah bosan dengan politik wang.
Malaysia adjusts to life after Daim
By Anil Netto
PENANG, Malaysia - Uneasy questions about Malaysia's political and
economic landscape are rising in the wake of the falling out between
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and a long-time ally and a key
political meeting coming up later this month.
Nearly a week after Mahathir confirmed the resignation of Daim
Zainuddin as finance minister, coffee-shop talk has now shifted to who
will succeed him after Mahathir announced he was taking over as acting
finance minister. The departure of Daim, who had been a key Mahathir
ally until he went on leave two months ago, comes at a restive time
Apart from the fact that it triggered political speculation - about
rifts in the political elite and its happening as the prime minister
prepares for a June 21 general assembly of his United Malays National
Organization (Umno) party - it is also a major blow at a time when
economic growth prospects are fading.
Officially, the Malaysian economy is expected to grow by 4 to 6
percent this year, but private analysts are predicting growth rates of
as low as 2 percent. That is a far cry from the 8.3 percent growth
rate that Malaysia's economy posted in 2000. For the first quarter,
the economy's growth rate was just 3.2 percent. Whoever eventually
takes over as finance minister will have the unenviable task of
steering the economy away from recession - a subject that is on many
Malaysians' lips these days.
The relationship between Daim and Mahathir spans two decades, but
analysts believe it was strained as a result of major policy and
corporate decisions made by the influential finance minister that
created tensions with Mahathir. The last finance minister to fall out
with Mahathir was former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked
from the cabinet in September 1998 and is now serving a 15-year
sentence for corruption and s###my. Anwar's ouster unleashed the
reformasi (reformation) movement calling for wide-ranging reforms.
"The Mahathir-Anwar rift had significant political implications," says
political economist Terence Gomez, "but the Mahathir-Daim rift has
Some believe the purported rift between Mahathir and Daim may be
traced to the bank merger exercise that was announced soon after Anwar
was removed from office in 1999. Under the initial scheme, the
government decided to forcibly merge 54 financial institutions into
six designated anchor banks. In March, Singapore-based BusinessWeek
magazine said under the six anchor-bank scheme, they would have been
headed by banks known to be run by associates of Daim. After the banks
missed deadlines to merge, the government announced that it was
enlarging the controversial scheme to 10 anchor banks. Rumors about a
rift between Mahathir and Daim circulated at the time.
Daim's departure also comes on the heels of a series of controversial
corporate deals, including the government's buyback of Malaysia
Airlines at more than double the market price of the shares, in a deal
widely seen as a bail-out. It also follows the hugely undersubscribed
listing of Time dotCom, whose shares were only 25 percent subscribed.
The remainder was taken up by underwriters, who eventually passed it
on to three firms including two state-managed workers' pension funds.
This triggered a public outcry as the Time dotCom share price slipped.
While Daim was on leave, Mahathir's son Mokhzani announced that he was
divesting all his corporate holdings, including in companies that had
a stake in Phileo Allied bank, acquired during the bank consolidation
exercise two years ago.
More controversial news followed: the profitable national postal
system was abruptly privatized to Phileo Allied, despite criticism
that the national postal system could have secured a market listing on
its own merit instead of being privatized.
Some also believe these controversial deals have contributed to or
were the result of the souring of the relationship between the two
most powerful men in the land. There is also talk that the perceived
bail-outs were eating into Malay support for Umno and that Daim's
departure could have been aimed at deflecting potential criticism at
tbe Umno general assembly.
But, unlike in the Mahathir-Anwar rift, there has been no public
backlash between the premier and Daim.
Still, there are likely to be repercussions. "The key focus will now
be on what happens to Daim's boys" in the business world, says Gomez,
pointing out that there would be implications on ownership and control
of politically linked firms.
Opposition politician Lim Kit Siang said the Mahathir-Daim fall-out
would only aggravate market uncertainty and depress investor
confidence, but sees no changes in economic policy otherwise.
"There are no indications that Daim's departure will signal
long-awaited economic reforms toward greater transparency,
accountability and good corporate governance and an end to the policy
of bail-outs and buy-outs of crony companies and individuals at public
expense," he added.
According to Lim, the Mahathir-Daim fall-out is not over policy
differences on whether to end the policy of bail-outs and buy-outs.
Rather, he claimed, it was "over differences as to who should be the
beneficiaries of such government bail-outs and buy-outs at a time when
the government must pick and choose the beneficiaries as public
resources are stretched to the limit and are incapable of saving all
crony companies and individuals".
Meantime, as economic conditions worsen, Mahathir is seen as likely to
rein in dissent. In April, 10 key reformasi activists were detained
under the harsh Internal Security Act. Two of them were freed by the
High Court on May 30 and another two have since been released by
police, leaving six still in detention.
On May 30, a key partner in the Umno-led ruling coalition, the
Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), announced that it was taking over
two relatively independent Chinese-language newspapers despite
protests from Chinese associations and media activists as well as from
within the MCA. Many read the move as an attempt to tighten control
over the media and narrow the space for dissenting views, as well as
another sign that the ruling coalition has been increasingly relying
on non-Malay support after its traditional Malay support base was
split following Anwar's ouster. Almost all the major electronic and
print media are now controlled by parties friendly to the ruling
Meantime, Mahathir appears to be in no hurry to name a successor to
Daim as finance minister. "The [job application] forms have been sent
out. I have finished the forms already," he joked to reporters.