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Guardian: M'sia's Strongman Sounds The Alarm
By John Aglionby

23/6/2001 4:41 am Sat

[Ahli Umno lebih tertarik dengan parti keADILan kerana ia lebih sesuai dengan jiwa mereka. Mereka mungkin menyukai PAS tetapi tidak menyertainya kerana terasa janggal dalam beberapa perkara. Pendekatan keADILan lebih mesra begitu juga pembawaannya. Inilah antara sebab pemimpin hebat dan muda-muda dari parti keADILan disumbat ke penjara ISA di Kemunting. Mahathir sudah tidak terdaya melawan secara jantan sebenarnya. Alangkah malunya dia menerima gelaran wira dunia ketiga.

Walaupun parti pembangkang seperti keADILan masih bayi dan belum cukup ramai, ia lebih bersatu dan jitu kerana bukan ugama dan bukan kaum yang menjadi teras perjuangan - tetapi keadilan yang sekaligus meliputi semua kaum dan ugama. Umno sekarang seperti mahu meniru kepelbagaian kaum dan golongan di parti itu tetapi ia terbelenggu oleh fahaman sendiri yang kolot itu. - Editor] international/story/0,3604,510802,00.html

The Guardian, UK
22nd June 2001

Malaysia's strongman sounds the alarm

In the first of a two-part series, the Guardian looks at the forces trying to prise power from Mahathir Mohamad

John Aglionby in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia's increasingly autocratic prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, warned his supporters yesterday that they had better shape up if they wanted their party to retain its 44-year grip on power.

As Asia's longest-serving ruler prepares to celebrate 20 years in office amid growing opposition within his party and in society at large, his countrymen are starting to contemplate what has been unthinkable for the past two decades: Dr Mahathir, 75, may now be a liability to Malaysia's long-term prosperity.

But with the traditional feistiness that has seen him outlast many of the region's dictators, he is refusing to go quietly. A master tactician, he fired an opening salvo at opponents yesterday, the first day of his party's annual congress. He told grumbling members within his usually sycophantic party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), that they must change their attitudes or face dire consequences.

"Power by itself will not ensure success for us," he told the 2,000 delegates. "Power can actually destroy us. And today we see how power has made many of us irresponsible and very greedy to the extent that the goals we had set out when struggling for independence are now forgotten."

His alarm about dissent is not without foundation. Some members of the closely controlled media and judiciary have been showing a new independence, and support for the increasingly hardline leader is waning. Opposition leaders, however, admit it will take years rather than months to see the back of Dr Mahathir, and no one expects change to come from mass protests of the sort seen in the Philippines and Indonesia.

But analysts, diplomats and the opposition agree that the outrage sparked by the sacking, humiliation and incarceration of Dr Mahathir's former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, in 1998 has transformed itself into a growing reform movement.

No street protests

Dr Mahathir promised yesterday, however, to make it extremely difficult to topple either him or his National Front coalition government. He told the UMNO congress that he would never allow street protests or a more open democracy as these would result in weak government, permanent economic stagnation and dependence on other countries.

"The changes being made in other countries have already been implemented in Malaysia," he said. "Why do we need to reform our democratic system? Why do we need street demonstrations which only cause small businesspeople to lose? Those who rise through street demonstrations will fall through street demonstrations."

In April, Dr Mahathir detained 10 pro-democracy activists without charge for organising street protests but accused them - without producing any evidence - of threatening to topple the government through an armed uprising. Six of the prisoners have been detained indefinitely; four have been released.

Despite waning popularity, Dr Mahathir shows no sign of surrendering power. "If I had my way I would have stepped down in 1998 but circumstances did not allow me to," he said yesterday. "I want to step down, but it's not so easy."

UMNO is unlikely to push him out, according to Shahrir Samad, a member of the party's supreme council. "The party would not be in a position to make him go," he said. "Every leader of UMNO is given the opportunity to decide when they want to go."

This may in fact work to the opposition's advantage. Most opposition leaders are hoping he will not quit before the next election, which is due before 2004. "Many Malays are leaving the National Front because they are dissatisfied with Mahathir," said Syed Husin Ali, the leader of the Malaysian People's party. "Considering his character, it's unlikely we'll see him implement the changes needed to turn things round.

"So the longer he stays in office, the weaker he will become. If he leaves, many waverers might well return to the fold and give the National Front another chance."

Dr Mahathir is particularly out of touch with the younger generation, the vast majority of whom have known no other leader, according to Terence Gomez of the University of Malaya. "On the ground, there's a lot of discontent that so much power is concentrated in the office of the prime minister," he said.

Opposition grows

Much of this discontent is finding solace in Keadilan (Justice), the party formed by Anwar's wife, Wan Aziza Ismael, and supporters following his incarceration. After less than two years, it holds more than a dozen seats in the 193-seat parliament. This is the first time in his 20 years in office that he's had to face this sort of opposition," Chandra Muzaffar, the Keadilan deputy chairman, said. "And it's growing all the time."

The opposition's problem, though, is that while it is attracting a lot of sympathy, its disparate membership is united by little more than a desire for greater democracy, and Dr Mahathir's downfall.

"If we can go beyond a common manifesto to showing at a concrete level that we are together, without threatening drastically people's lifestyle, then we will succeed," Mr Chandra said. "Otherwise, particularly if the economy suddenly recovers, we could be in for another decade of Mahathir."