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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.
The Guardian, UK
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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.
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."