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Economist: Business As Usual [After Umno Assembly]
By Kean Wong
22/7/2001 1:50 pm Sun
[Apa yang Mahathir lakukan pada perhimpunan agung Umno
yang lalu telah menjejaskan lagi perniagaan. Kenapa agaknya?
Dengan menuduh orang melayu bukan-bukan Mahathir semakin
mengundang kebencian terhadap dirinya dan Umno. Kini NST
sedang terkapai-kapai. Malah semua akhbar pro kerajaan
sedang diambang kerugian kecuali Star (Rujuk tulisan MGG).
Menghina dan mengherdik orang melayu bukannya jalan penyelesaian
untuk membaiki Umno. Begitu juga mengejek bahasa orang asing.
Telatah Mahathir itu hanya memalukan Umno sahaja. Itu semua bukan
membaiki namanya tetapi merusakkan lagi Umno dan negara. Mengapa
bertepuk bila bangsa sendiri diaibkan sedemikian rupa? Bukankah
Mahathir menggalakkan orang melayu membuat kerja sia-sia termasuk
menghantar tiang layar untuk sebuah kapal mengelilingi dunia?
Business as usual
After an unexpectedly harsh browbeating by Dr Mahathir Mohamad
at the opening of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)
annual assembly, party members complained the prime minister's
closing address a few days later was more in keeping with a leader
unwilling to quit. The improvised closing speech was a modest 90
minutes and raked over old themes first raised in his 1970 book,
'The Malay Dilemma'.
Dr Mahathir, the UMNO president, again berated the majority Malay
community for its socio-economic shortcomings and lamented how
recent Malay disunity has threatened UMNO's political supremacy.
The solution to UMNO's woes, Dr Mahathir advised, was to "love
the president, obey him".
The Malays are lazy, Malaysia's prime minister accused, and have
wasted the opportunities given to them by the government; the
Islamist opposition party Pas, on the other hand, misuses religion
and cheats the Malays. And of course, the foreign media lies and the
West hates Malaysia for its maverick defence of the developing
world. Paradoxically, Dr Mahathir's calls for the Malays to "put in
enough effort" to build a burgeoning middle-class came with threats
to the community's "special privileges" and subsidies should UMNO
By the time Dr Mahathir regaled his party faithful with spoken
parodies of Australian English and other barbs for various enemies,
the 2000 delegates were on their feet applauding. It was a rousing
close to the annual party convention increasingly stuck, said one
provincial UMNO delegate, "in the old man's groove". For most part,
party delegates have been glum about UMNO's hold on power beyond
the 2004 general elections. Dr Mahathir had not helped matters when
he bluntly reminded delegates the slim margins in many parliamentary
seats held by UMNO and its partners in the ruling Barisan Nasional
coalition, and how the opposition winning a majority was "no longer
Dr Mahathir celebrates 20 years in power next month (July 16). But
even senior leaders and cabinet ministers in the dominant UMNO
party admit that the succession plan for Dr Mahathir is still
uncertain. After the departure of three previous deputies,
including most spectacularly the now-imprisoned Anwar Ibrahim,
UMNO members are wary of anointing the present deputy prime
minister Abdullah Badawi as Dr Mahathir's successor as prime
minister and UMNO leader. One member of UMNO's Supreme Council
conceded that Dr Mahathir remains the "best leader we have" to
lead the fight against an increasingly popular opposition alliance
led by the Islamist Pas. Another veteran member said the deputy
prime minister was not "ready" for the top job, and may be subject
to challenges from better-funded party rivals.
Despite this, there are no excuses not to institute fundamental
changes in the party, said the outspoken Supreme Council member
and former minister Shahrir Samad. Applauding Dr Mahathir for
finally admitting that UMNO has serious problems of corruption, Mr
Shahrir said changes had to start at the top: "It must change itself
and start doing the right thing. It's very important that government
funds are well-utilised and well-allocated... the right people get to
do the jobs and not just given (out) on the basis of favouritism and
But Dr Mahathir was resolute in his opening speech to delegates,
slamming the reform, or 'reformasi', tendency, where "excessive"
democracy and street protests had to be stopped. His point was
reinforced outside the convention with vivid posters of property
damage and human victims in the aftermath of such demonstrations
in Indonesia and elsewhere.
Not far from many delegates' minds as the convention drew to a
close were two unresolved issues. One was the sudden resignation
last month of finance minister and UMNO treasurer Daim Zainuddin,
Dr Mahathir's long-time confidant. There was hardly a mention of
Mr Daim's departure and, as a result, much speculation about an
increasingly isolated leader and the danger this poses to the party.
The other issue remains the seeming inability of UMNO's leaders in
mending the fundamental split in the Malay community, sparked off
by the sacking and jailing in 1998 of UMNO's former deputy leader
Anwar Ibrahim. Although Mr Anwar is in jail, younger voters find him
and his cause appealing, and many of them make up the 650,000
new voters registered for the next general elections due by 2004.
Changes are already afoot in the opposition alliance, as two of the
four parties voted for a historic merger last weekend, a day after
UMNO's meeting. The National Justice Party, led by Anwar
Ibrahim's wife Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, voted to approve a merger of
the party with the smaller but much older Malaysian People's Party
(PRM). Popularly known as Keadilan, the party's icon and defacto
leader is the imprisoned Mr Anwar. Although Keadilan's Muslim
youth faction, amongst others, had raised objections against the
merger because of PRM's "unIslamic, socialist" origins, Mr Anwar
was reportedly behind the merger proposal.
"Both parties are Malay-based and multi-racial and represent a new
kind of politics," said Dr Wan Azizah, "where racial sentiments will be
minimised." The PRM youth leader Latheefa Koya was more bullish:
"This will eliminate UMNO, Barisan Nasional and its racist ideology in
time to come." While Dr Mahathir has to rebuild his credentials with
the Malay electorate as a defender of ethnic Malay rights and
privileges, the opposition Islamist party Pas on the other hand
hopes to impress the ethnic Chinese minority by appointing to its
central committee one Chinese member.
Opposition leader and Pas president Fadzil Noor knows, like Dr
Mahathir, how important a minority community might be in close
electoral contest. Capturing the loyalties of the Chinese electorate is
proving elusive for Dr Mahathir, and his scolding of community
organisations such as Suqiu and Chinese education groups has not
been well-received. The recent controversy over the takeover of a
large Chinese media company by Dr Mahathir's coalition partner, the
Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), has also angered the community,
and rival factions in the MCA and others have questioned the
accountability and transparency of the buyout.
But it has become unclear if traditional, racially-based politics can
still deliver the electoral results, or whether the "new kind of politics"
promised by Dr Wan Azizah will come to pass. In a week when both
views have been debated and decided upon, the only certainty is Dr
Mahathir remaining in office beyond his 20th year. As one
newspaper editor wryly noted outside the UMNO convention, these
developments signal "business as usual but now it's bad for