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IHT: M'sia's 'Great Builder' Faces Growing Dissent
By Thomas Fuller
14/6/2001 2:18 am Thu
[Apa yang telah dirancang atau dibina oleh Mahathir kini
telah menghempap dirinya. Ini termasuk Internet yang membidasnya,
Suhakam yang berkonfrontasi dengannya, Hakim yang mencabarnya,
dan Projek Penswastaan yang kini telah membebankan negara dengan
dengan amat banyaknya sehingga bising rakyat memarahinya. Akhirnya
dia terpaksa berseorangan diri tanpa Daim dan anaknya agar dapat
dilihat bersih baju yang dipakainya. Walaupun begitu bau yang
tercium masih tetap membusuk kerana mereka masih disimpan sebenarnya -
bukannya dibuang terus ke dalam penjara.
Mahathir telah bermasalah dengan ramai orang termasuk masyarakat Cina
yang tidak sepatutnya cuba diusik kerna buruk padahnya. Isu akhbar Cina
telah menyebabkan satu lagi gelombang kebangkitan rakyat berbilang bangsa
yang lebih dahsyat melalui pena. Sebelum itu ISA telah mencetus kebangkitan
kaum hawa yang amat berbisa. Nampaknya banyak betul masalah sehingga
memeningkan kepala... itu belum dikira lagi masalah rezab asing yang
menuju paras yang kritikal.....
Mahathir sebenarnya telah membina masalah atau bom jangka berbentuk
hutang dan kemuflisan serta huru-hara moden yang akan memusnahkan negara.
Terlalu sedikit rakyat negara ini yang menyanggahnya secara terbuka
dan berkesan sehingga menyebabkan beliau semakin bermaharaja gila
dan memusatkan kuasa sambil menguasai minda melalui akhbar atau mengugut
sesiapa yang berani dengan ISA tanpa memerlukan bukti apa-apa. Salah
siapa jika tidak rakyat juga.....
Thomas Fuller International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, June 13, 2001
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - As he nears the anniversary of two decades in
power, Mahathir bin Mohamad spends most of his time in a newly built,
green-domed office overlooking the beginnings of a grand city being
built from scratch.
In the valleys below are artificial lakes, meticulously planned roads and
parks, a giant pink mosque and imposing buildings to house
Putrajaya, as the budding city is known, is a fitting spot for Mr.
Mahathir's twilight years. The prime minister will perhaps be
remembered as Southeast Asia's Great Builder: He erected the world's
tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers. He created the modern face of
Malaysia - highways, airports, museums, hydroelectric dams and
Mr. Mahathir has also been described as the most forward-thinking
leader in the Muslim world. He steered Malaysia from reliance on tin,
palm oil and rubber to a thriving trading nation that churns out
microchips by the millions.
Yet the prime minister's new office in Putrajaya is fitting also because
of its distance - 50 kilometers (30 miles) - from Kuala Lumpur, the
commercial hub and erstwhile political capital. It is far from the people
who elected him, and far from the growing number of critics and
opponents who wish he would step down and go away.
Mr. Mahathir is increasingly criticized and resented for the failings of
the less tangible side of his rule: Institutions have decayed, corruption
has spread and dissent has often been met with repression.
The story of Mahathir bin Mohamad, 75, his critics say, is that of a man
who built a modern nation but destroyed a democracy, who used hope
to inspire his countrymen but then resorted to fear..
Today, partly as a result of these failings, Mr. Mahathir presides over a
country gripped by political uncertainty that verges on paralysis. His
party is losing elections, largely because of personal antipathy to the
prime minister himself. His closest business associates, the "cronies"
who helped finance and carry out his large-scale construction
projects, are deep in debt.
Judges are for the first time blowing the whistle on rigged elections and
detention of government critics.
And a conservative Islamic party is steadily winning support,
threatening the primacy of Mr. Mahathir's secular-oriented party and
putting the country's dominant Muslim community on a road toward
The success or failure of Mr. Mahathir's Malaysia in the coming years
is crucial both for the country's 23 million citizens and, to a lesser
degree, for the more than half-billion people of Southeast Asia.
Malaysia is alternatively a beacon and a warning light for Southeast
Asia. In racial and religious terms, this relatively small country is a
Southeast Asian microcosm of somewhat exaggerated proportions, a
test case of whether leaders can manage conflicts among Islam,
Christianity and Buddhism, between indigenous populations and ethnic
In economic terms, the country presents a test of whether two decades
of intensive foreign investment, now trailing off, can be translated into a
self-sustained economy able to compete with China - or whether
Malaysia and the region will be eclipsed and slide into decline.
The coming months and years will also determine whether Mr.
Mahathir's personalized, paternalistic style of government - a powerful
executive, controlled press and draconian laws - succeeds in the most
crucial test of any system: a transfer of power.
Shahrir Samad, a former government minister, calls Mr. Mahathir the
"only party leader I know who is a liability to his party." And yet for a
variety of reasons, the prime minister remains unchallenged from within:
Party officials say no one has told Mr. Mahathir that they would be
better off without him.
"No one dares say it," Mr. Shahrir said. "And of course no one would
say it to Mahathir directly."
Chandra Muzaffar, deputy president of Keadilan, an opposition party,
says Mr. Mahathir is still in power because of "his obsession with
power and control and dominance."
"He can't let go," Mr. Muzaffar said. "He cannot step down."
For many Malaysians, ambivalence is the strongest feeling they have
toward Mr. Mahathir. He is the prime minister whose stewardship over
the economy allowed a growing middle class to build their homes, buy
their second cars and hire their Indonesian maids.
For years Mr. Mahathir spoke to Malaysians' basic concerns, down to
minute details. Trained as a doctor, he is known for inspecting the
cleanliness of toilets at airports, for checking drains on city streets. He
orders bureaucrats to plant trees.
Mr. Mahathir is praised for his skill in keeping together a nation of so
many races that it is best described not as a melting pot, but a salad
Prodded by his daughter, he also has stuck up for women's rights and
"I don't care that people have negative views of him," Marina Mahathir
said about her father. "But often people have a one-dimensional
understanding of him."
One of the prime minister's sharpest critics, Lim Kit Siang, the chairman
of the second-largest opposition party, says Mr. Mahathir is "either
capable of great good or great evil." "He is driven by a conviction that everything he's doing is right and for
the good of the country."
"He is driven by a conviction that everything he's doing is right and for the good of the country."
Men like Mr. Lim know Mr. Mahathir's darker side. In 1987, the prime
minister ordered the detention without trial of Mr. Lim and about 120
other opposition figures. Mr. Lim was released after a year and a half
without ever being charged with a crime.
Today, Mr. Mahathir continues his tough, authoritarian practices. He
controls the police and towers over anyone in his cabinet.
His most famous opponent, Anwar Ibrahim, was once his designated
successor. Mr. Anwar was dismissed from government in 1998 after an
abortive effort to unseat Mr. Mahathir at a party gathering. He was
arrested under the country's Internal Security Act and subsequently
beaten while blindfolded and chained to a bed in his cell.
The national police chief, who admitted carrying out the beating but
said that Mr. Mahathir was unaware of his actions, was sentenced to
two months in prison and served 40 days. Mr. Anwar was sentenced to
15 years in prison for s###my and abuse of power, charges that he
says were politically motivated.
The dismissal and dismal treatment of Mr. Anwar were perhaps the
worst political calculation of Mr. Mahathir's career, putting a spotlight
on the excesses of his paternalistic style. The move destroyed a system
of succession that had worked smoothly since Malaysia's independence from
Britain in 1957.
"I wish that I could turn back the clock a few years," said the prime
minister's daughter. "There were certain things that could have been
avoided, like the black eye." (Mr. Anwar showed up in court with a
Mr. Mahathir has never apologized for the beating and today refers to
Mr. Anwar's spinal injuries as a "backache." (Aides to the prime
minister said he was unavailable to be interviewed.)
Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore and Mr.
Mahathir's contemporary, has described the Anwar affair as an
"unmitigated disaster." "I think that Dr. Mahathir paid a very heavy price," the elder statesman
said during a visit to Kuala Lumpur last year. "He made an error of
judgment, several errors of judgment, which I felt were most
"I think that Dr. Mahathir paid a very heavy price," the elder statesman said during a visit to Kuala Lumpur last year. "He made an error of judgment, several errors of judgment, which I felt were most unfortunate."
The dismissal was also a turning point in the credibility that Mr.
Mahathir had with ordinary Malaysians. The day after Mr. Anwar was
dismissed, Malaysians realized that the country's government-friendly
media were not there to tell them the news but to report Mr. Mahathir's
political agenda and shape public opinion.
Mr. Anwar, who for years had been praised and heralded in the media
as the next prime minister, suddenly was dragged through the mud and
accused of adultery, s###my and abuse of power. The public felt
manipulated in such a raw way that even Malaysia's nonpolitical
masses reacted. It was the beginning of Mr. Mahathir's steady decline
Today, the prime minister repeatedly and openly warns opponents of
the government what they can expect if they challenge him. In April he
told Parliament that the government was prepared to break with
"so-called international norms" to preserve "peace."
"You play with fire, you are going to get a lot of trouble in this country,"
he said. A week later the prime minister carried through with his threat.
The police detained 10 opposition figures who had vocally called for
Mr. Mahathir's ouster. Four of them are still being held without trial
under the Internal Security Act.
People sometimes speak of a climate of fear in Malaysia, in which
people lower their voices when they speak about politics, or avoid
speaking in English or the national language, Malay.
"Let's admit it," said a recent letter writer to Malaysiakini, an online
newspaper. "How many of us speak in riddles or break into a spate of
Cantonese when we are on the phone and trying to relate the latest
"It is truly sad that after 44 years of independence, our nation lives in
fear not of our colonial masters or a cruel Japanese Army but of the
government and its 'peacekeeping' regiment."
Yet the "climate of fear" has a caveat; it usually affects only those who
enter the political arena: journalists, activists and politicians. The
message from the government is clear: Stay out of politics and you can
enjoy the fruits of Malaysia's successful three decades of
Urban Malaysians are some of the wealthiest people in Southeast Asia,
living in a world of shopping malls and Western entertainment. Partly
because of this comfortable middle-class lifestyle, Mr. Mahathir
maintains significant support. Ethnic Chinese and Indian voters - who
together make up about a third of Malaysia's population - are fearful of
unrest and form the backbone of the National Front, his governing
Mr. Mahathir's power base is also buttressed by his dominance of the
country's pliant media. For much of the past two decades, the prime
minister's almost daily comments to reporters have been printed
verbatim in the newspapers. His portrait is on the walls of every
government office and most shops. His writings - he is the author of a
half-dozen books - are prominently displayed in bookstores.
In March, a top government aide suggested that the prime minister's
world view be offered as a course at universities.
"The time has come for the institutions to come up with a specific field
of study on the thoughts of Dr. Mahathir," said Dusuki Ahmad, the
prime minister's political secretary.
After two decades in power - the official anniversary is July 16 - Mr.
Mahathir's views have become the country's views. His aspirations,
prejudices and grudges and have become nationalized.
Malaysia's foreign policy is guided by the prime minister's personal
ideology. Mr. Mahathir invites world leaders like Fidel Castro of Cuba
and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela because they share his anti-Western
Mr. Mahathir's sharp tongue has gotten him noticed both domestically
and abroad. In April, he told an audience in Dubai that to avoid the
pitfalls of multiparty democracy, "some countries must be ruled by
In 1998, during the economic crisis, he said he worried that if currency
speculators continued to attack Russia, "then they may want to drop
the bombs on those who attack them."
The prime minister makes few apologies for such headline-catching,
yet sometimes offensive, comments. "I'm brash and abrasive but that's
because I've noticed when people are nice and polite, they never get
anywhere," he once said.
By the standards of his own political world, his brazen language is
unusual. Mr. Mahathir hails from a culture that values courtesy,
nonconfrontation and temperance. Rural politicians in Malaysia often
apologize after expressing strong views. Yet the prime minister seems to
thrive on verbal conflict.
Over the years, Mr. Mahathir's mastery of the dynamics of Malay and
Chinese race relations also has been paradoxical. The Malays, the
people who brought him to power, have abandoned him. And the
Chinese, who viewed him as a Malay "ultra" and were apprehensive
when he came to power, are his most solid supporters.
This is far from the only paradox closing out Mr. Mahathir's rule. The
prime minister was one of the first politicians in Southeast Asia to
recognize the importance of the Internet for economic development. Yet
today many of his critics use the global network to skirt Malaysia's strict
publishing laws and disseminate anti-government views.
The prime minister announced the formation of a human rights
commission last year in an apparent attempt to appease voter concerns
with repression in the country. Now the commission is calling for repeal
of many of the laws that Mr. Mahathir has used to stay in power.
And the students that he encouraged to go the United States, Britain
and Australia to obtain expertise in science and technology have come
back with more than just mathematical formulas.
"When he sent young people to the United States, he didn't realize they
would come back with ideas about democracy and human rights," said
Rustam Sani, a sociologist and leading member of an opposition party.
Demands on the prime minister are mounting: Lawyers are calling for a
more independent judicial system, businessmen want a system of open
bidding for government contracts, members of the governing party want
a halt to bailouts of influential cronies and Chinese voters want a more
The opposition is scrutinizing every business deal that involves Mr.
Mahathir's family, often accusing the first family of nepotism.
On Tuesday, Mokhzani Mahathir, the prime minister's son, quit his post
as treasurer of the youth wing of the governing political party, the
United Malays National Organization. He offered no immediate
explanation, but he has expressed frustration and resentment that he is
constantly accused of benefiting from his father's influence.
In April, Mr. Mokhzani announced that he was stepping down as the
head of two high-profile companies, a move that some analysts
interpreted as cashing out before his father leaves the scene.
Mr. Mokhzani says he simply realized that he is not capable of ambition
on the scale of his father's. "I've seen what my father has to sacrifice
as the prime minister of Malaysia," he told a local newspaper in April.
"I'm not sure that I'm made of the same stuff as he is."
Taken together, the pockets of dissent facing the prime minister are a
formidable challenge and could force him to either resign or crack
down harder. Already there are signs of internal rifts, such as the one
with the country's second most powerful man, Daim Zainuddin, who
resigned as finance minister this month.
When Mr. Mahathir leaves, said Mr. Muzaffar, the opposition politician,
"It will emerge from all the little things that have been happening."
He added, "It will not be like the Philippines or Indonesia: It won't be in the streets, it won't be a dramatic event. It will be something very quiet."