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ATimes: A Strident Mahathir Sets The Tone
By Anil Netto

23/6/2001 5:19 am Sat

[Mengapa Mahathir menghentam tidak sudah-sudah reformis, KeADILan, PAS, lapuran media asing dan lain-lainnya? Ini adalah kerana mereka telah berjaya menggugatnya atau sudah mendapat tempat di hati rakyat sehingga menghakis sokongan buat dirinya. Dengan itu dia berharap pewakilan dan rakyat akan mencurigai musuhnya. Sebab itulah dituduhnya menggila seolah-olah dia dan Umno sahaja yang betul dan membela rakyat. Kalaulah benar media asing tidak betul kenapa tidak disaman sahaja kerana mahkamah sentiasa terbuka untuk itu semua. Kenapakah begitu takut tikus di situ tetapi berani bukan main di pentas PWTC?

Yang anihnya Mahathir tidak pula menyebut sesuatu yang sudah luntur sekarang ini. Masalah ekonomi, bail out atau isu Daim dijauhi pula. Dia menyelar demo jalanan kerana tidak demokrasi tetapi lupa ISA dan pengekangan media itulah kuku besi. Dan jangan lupa pengundi hantu dan kemenangan BN di saat akhir pengiraan undi. Mengapa kes seperti ini sunyi ketika era Eusoff Chin dan cuma bergegar selepas beliau pergi?

Rakyat Malaysia, khususnya orang melayu sekarang sudah cukup pandai untuk mengajar Umno. Dan parti seperti KeADILan cukup sesuai dengan diri mereka kerana ia lebih moden, terbuka dan berbilang bangsa. Tidak seperti PAS, Keadilan adalah milik semua, walaupun berlainan kaum dan ugama.
- Editor

Asia Times
22nd June 2001

A strident Mahathir sets the tone

By Anil Netto

PENANG, Malaysia - Three closely watched party assemblies this weekend could shape Malaysia's political direction and set the tone for debate in the near future.

The much-anticipated annual general assembly of Malaysia's largest political party began on Thursday morning with a strident opening address by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir, who is also president of the United Malays National Organization (Umno), lashed out at various quarters in a trademark opening address that lasted nearly two hours, the longest in more than two decades. But the 2,000-odd delegates at the assembly appeared less than enthusiastic in their reaction despite sporadic applause and a brief standing ovation at the end.

Mahathir fired his opening salvo at the country's reformasi movement, unleashed in September 1998 after the sacking of then deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, now serving jail terms totaling 15 years for abuse of power and s###my.

The Umno president, into his 20th year of power, alleged that the movement espoused "mob rule", which could derail Malaysia's economic growth. He drew parallels with the situation in "neighboring countries", now experiencing instability and threats to the rule of law.

Although he avoided mentioning Anwar by name, the premier lambasted the reformasi movement and opposition politicians for seeking moral support from the orang putih (white man). He said Malaysia did not need reformasi as it was a democratic country with periodic elections.

His remarks are in contrast to the opposition's insistence that their gatherings have been peaceful and that their struggle is non-violent. Analysts and election observers have often pointed out that even though Malaysia does hold regular elections, the campaigning is less than fair. During election campaigns, opposition parties are allowed very little access to the largely government-linked mainstream media, which are largely transformed into mouthpieces of the ruling coalition.

Claiming that Western nations hate Malaysia for not turning to the International Monetary Fund during the Asian economic crisis in 1997, Mahathir accused them of hypocrisy in promoting human rights. He pointed to their reaction in the Balkans, to the suffering children of Iraq, and to the violence inflicted on the Palestinians.

The 75-year-old party head also chided ethnic Malays for not making full use of affirmative action opportunities to increase their economic participation. Instead, he lamented that they seemed content to open up road-side stalls or roll out a mat and sit with their wares around them waiting for buyers. At the same time, he lambasted Malays who were out for quick gains through special allocations of shares and licenses. "All I want to say is that those who want to get rich quick will become poor quickly," he said.

Carrying on, he criticized Malay students as being lazy and not interested in science and technology and pointed out that females now outnumber males in higher education. "Only those hard-working and industrious will succeed in the economic field or any other field," he said. If Malays failed to advance themselves, they could end up re-colonized, Mahathir warned.

His voice growing hoarse, Mahathir also defended his administration's "mega projects" and said they were for the country's benefit. For good measure, he aimed verbal pot shots at the opposition Islamic party PAS, which rules the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. Mahathir said a federal coalition government headed by PAS would be unstable and vulnerable to horse-trading among component parties.

There was little or no mention of abuse of power and corruption in the country, the poor state of many rural schools, the economic slowdown and job layoffs, the shortage of low cost houses in urban areas, the growing income disparities between the rich and the poor - all of which have contributed to the disquiet among the Malay grass roots.

Neither was there any mention of the arrests of 10 reformasi activists in April under the feared Internal Security Act. Six of them remain under indefinite detention without trial.

The Umno assembly was convened exactly three weeks after Mahathir's key ally Daim Zainuddin resigned his post as finance minister on June 1. Some analysts interpreted Daim's departure as a move to appease Umno supporters unhappy with recent bail-outs and perceived favoritism in the economy as well as a means to deflect potential criticism away from Mahathir.

On Wednesday, Abdullah Badawi, who replaced Anwar as party deputy president and deputy premier and is also Home Affairs Minister, railed against money politics in the party in his address to the youth and women's wings of the party.

So intertwined is business and politics in Malaysia that the issue of money politics never fails to surface every year. But there is growing realization within Umno, which claims a membership of 2.9 million out of a population of 23 million, that the party could either self-destruct or face defeat in the next general election due by 2004 if the problem is allowed to fester. Although disciplinary action has been taken against middle-rung leaders, it is difficult to see how similar action can be taken against the upper echelons of the party in the absence of stronger political will from the party leadership.

Analysts will be watching closely for clues on how Umno delegates feel about Mahathir's leadership and for signs of possible dissent. Seated at the front row during the presidential address were the heads of component parties in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition (of which Umno is the dominant partner). Looking solemn was Ling Liong Sik, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the second largest party in the ruling coalition.

Ling faces a crunch vote at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on Sunday to decide whether the party can go ahead with its takeover of two relatively independent Chinese-language newspapers. The deal has roused much opposition both from within and outside the party. Many see the takeover as a blow for press freedom especially for the Chinese community, which makes up 25 percent of the population.

The takeover had earlier been approved 32-8 by MCA's central committee. But if the 2,385 delegates on Sunday shoot down the takeover proposal, Ling's leadership of the MCA could be in jeopardy and the party could be thrown into turmoil, adding to Mahathir's problems.

The MCA's EGM on Sunday is set to coincide with a special general assembly of Keadilan (the opposition National Justice Party), headed by Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah. Some 300 Keadilan delegates to the assembly are expected to discuss a proposed merger with another opposition party, the Malaysian People's Party (PRM), a multi-ethnic Malay-based party with socialist origins. Such a merger, if it eventually goes ahead, could broaden support for a "third force" in Malaysian politics. Within the space of two years, Keadilan - also multi-ethnic and Malay-based - has proved to be a potent alternative in Malaysian politics.

Often underestimated by analysts who still look at Malay politics as essentially between Umno and PAS, Keadilan has attracted droves of younger Malays, both urban and rural. These younger Malays are not enamored by Umno's nationalistic rhetoric and its claim to be the community's protector. Many of them, though devout Muslims, are also less inclined towards PAS's Islamic world view. Instead, with increased education, they have broader interests in human rights, transparency, justice, and good governance - an awareness that was largely triggered by Anwar's ouster.

Keadilan, PAS and the PRM are grouped in the opposition Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front) coalition, which also includes the multi-ethnic Chinese-based Democratic Action Party.

Certainly, Kuala Lumpur will be a hive of political activity this weekend. Whatever the outcome, the three assemblies will have far-reaching implications for Mahathir, the ruling coalition and opposition politics, and will be closely watched for clues on Malaysia's political direction.