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MGG: Where is Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed?
By M.G.G. Pillai

29/9/2001 1:26 am Sat

The Prime Minister has disappeared from public view in the past ten days. He wanted to link the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia aka Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia (as the United States has had to rename its 'Operation Infinite Justice' to a yet unreavealed name because, as the US defence secretary, Mr Donald H. Rumsfeld discovered, in Islam only Allah, not the United States, dispenses infinite justice) with the terrorist attack that shook the foundations of United States financial, military and political power. RTM and TV3 juxtaposed the television footage of the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon with insinuated attacks on the KMM. There were few takers, if only because Malaysia herself is targetted in the public hysteria in the United States that stands for reasoned debate over Osama bin Laden, that master terrorist so demonized to ready American public opinion for Washington to bomb Afghanistan from the Iron Age it now is back into the Stone Age for allowing him to stay there.

It is possible, even probable, Osama bin Laden planned the terrorist attacks in the United States last week. But no evidence has emerged that he did, only suppositions, assumptions, views, beliefs, not what can stand up in a court of law. The terrorist attack is important only in that the United States is targetted. When the United States does it as an act of state policy, she is praised for her restraint. But pray how different is Washington's attack on a vaccine factory in the Sudan to rein terror on that country to what happened in New York City and Washington DC last week? Or its invasion on spurious grounds of Grenada?

Reality has gone out the window, the brownie points Dr Mahathir expected from Washington (including a summons for tea and scones at the White House) has not materialised. This despite offering Malaysian airspace and, if necessary, bases for US forces en route to Afghanistan. More important, to his discomfiture, Dr Mahathir cannot take advantage of Washington's revenge for some revenge of his own on PAS, KMM and the mentris besar of Kelantan and Trengganu, Dato' Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Dato' Hadi Awang. He finds out painfully that cosying up to President Bush is conditional upon making life easier for the man he would like to portray as Malaysia's Osama bin Laden, one Anwar bin Ibrahim. who, unlike Osama, is now behind bars.

He cannot answer persistent Washington questions on why he allowed Osama bin Laden to have bank accounts in Malaysian banks, as it alleges. Nor why he allowed terrorists to meet in Malaysia as Washington alleges? It does not matter that Washington, aftering stumbling on the terrorist rendezvous at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport last year nevertheless gave them visas to enter the United States to under pilot training. What is allowed Zeus is disallowed the cow. But can Dr Mahathir seriously claim to be an Islamic leader if he does not accept and condone the Arab hurt and anger towards the West? Since he needs Saudi support for his role, can he refuse to allow Saudi Arabia to encourage the Taleban and others, imposing its Fundamentalist Wahabi sect of Islam into its worldview? (Curiously, the US does not target Saudi Arabia, although it is one of three countries -- the others are Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates -- which recognises the Taleban; but then Saudi Arabia is so drawn into the American network that she could be excused; indeed, has to be excused).

Dr Mahathir cannot manage the mounting problems on his plate. The Anwar problem would emerge at the Commonwealth heads of government in Australia next month. His friend, Mr Robert Mugabe, is expected to be put through the hoops for his local policy of removing land from Zimbabwe's white citizens. So, he is give it a miss. The deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, goes instead. He is not attending the Apec summit in Shanghai. President Bush has no desire or intention to have a chat with him there. The deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad, goes intead.

But is this Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi the same chap Dr Mahathir does not want as his successor? One member of the conspiracy against Anwar Ibrahim, former cabinet minister Dato' Seri Megat Junid Megat Ayob, is convinced Dr Mahathir wants Dato' Abdullah Ahmad Badawi replaced by the defence minister, Dato' Seri Dr Najib Tun Razak. An ex-commando, now of opposition persuasion, tells of a meeting of former commandoes in Malacca recently, to which he was inexplicably invited, which Dr Mahathir addressed, and the subject matter was how to stop his deputy in his tracks. He is, in the Old Man's view, not the right sort of chap who can succeed him as Prime Minister.

In the good doctor's view, the former prime minister's son however has grown up, at the right old age of 50, and can now be trusted. Dato' Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has, it seems, joined the band of his deputy prime ministers who he believes let him down, and therefore unworthy to take his place in due course. He therefore follows the path tread by Tan Sri Musa Hitam, Tun Ghafar Baba, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Tun Ghaffar Baba. Another man who cannot be trusted to high office is that non-person in Malaysian politics, The Hermit of Langgak Golf, who was once widely rumoured to return to the cabinet, allegedly as part of an elaborate plot to sideline the deputy prime minister. But Dr Mahathir has not forgiven him for his act of treachery for daring to challenge him for the UMNO presidency 14 years ago.

He now has a new problem to contend with. The terrorist attacks damapened Malaysia's growth, at least the growth we were promised, against all evidence, is around the corner. In Malaysia, only what the government has to say is news. So, if the government says the economy is strong and unlike Singapore, which has to cushion its people against a recession, Malaysia has no need to. We are led to believe that laws of economics are for other badly managed countries like Singapore; Malaysia so well managed because we have Dr Mahathir to manage it cannot have no future but up. This make-belief, a cornerstone of Dr Mahathir's economic, political, fiscal policies, is in full swing. The signs of trouble are everywhere: the emptiness of shopping malls, the thousands that are retrenched outside the public eye, the drying up of investment, the inevitable downside of even doctored official statistics.

There is therefore no secret why Dr Mahathir is not around to assure Malaysians that all is well. The Bank Negara Governor, after assuring Malaysians that the economy is so strong that it must only go up, finds the fatuity of her statements to keep quiet when the KLCI drops more than a hundred points in two days. He must be present when in the third Friday of October the budget is presented. The Malaysian budget is not an occasion for stock taking, but to assure Malaysians good times are here, but if not is around the corner. This make-belief that the government exists to lull the citizens to a soporific existence comes to a head. He must present the budget in a month, and the good statistics he had hoped to cushion it disappears from him. But he has still much reserves of power left to whisk rabbits out of a hat. Whether his luck as a political magician would hold is, of course, another matter.

M.G.G. Pillai

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