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Interview with Malaysian Political Economist Professor Jomo K. S. on
  Recent Developments in Malaysia
 

  Q: What's going on?

  J: Basically, many informed observers seem to think that Dr Mahathir
  decided Anwar could no longer be trusted to protect Dr Mahathir's
  interests anymore, especially after Dr Mahathir is no longer PM.

  Q: Why do you say that?

  J: Dr Mahathir was certainly not too pleased with various things Anwar

  did from mid-1997. When Dr Mahathir went away for two months, Anwar
  gave the impression that he was going to be tougher on corruption.
Then
  after Dr Mahathir took over economic policy after his return, the
  foreign media began mocking his conspiratorial analysis, generally
  running him down and promoting the idea of an early Anwar succession.
  From the end of the year, Anwar seemed to take over economic policy,
  cutting government spending, raising interest rates and tightening
  liquidity, which arguably exacerbated the crisis and took the economy
  into recession in 1998, especially after the Kongsi Raya holiday
  reprieve.

  But I think the straw which broke the camel's back came around late
May
  or in June, with developments in Indonesia and the subsequent adoption

  of the reformasi slogan and the anti-KKN (corruption, cronyism,
  nepotism) campaign by the UMNO Youth leadership then, who were close
to
  Anwar. I don't think Dr Mahathir minded attacking korupsi and
kronisme,
  but nepotisme came too close to the bone. Several months earlier, PRM
  president Dr Syed Husin Ali and a couple of associates had asked the
  Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) to investigate how Dr Mahathir's three
  sons had gained stock in over two hundred companies by late 1994.
  Soeharto's resignation on 21 May and the continued attacks on the
  ex-president who had only recently joined the ranks of Forbes
magazine's
  richest men in the world - after the Sultan of Brunei and Bill Gates -

  must have upset Dr Mahathir even though there are important
differences
  between the two.

  Q: But the charges against Anwar were raised earlier at the 1997 UMNO
  general assembly?

  J: I am not sure; many believe that some of Anwar's enemies had
hatched
  up the 'plot' to finish off Anwar politically before that, but Dr
  Mahathir still felt Anwar was the Prime Minister's least problematic
  option then, and was not yet willing to go along with them at that
  point.

  Q: So you agree with those in Dr Mahathir's camp that Anwar was going
  for number one?

  J: Perhaps. I don't know, but if Anwar's camp was making a bid, it was

  naïve, ill-considered and bound to fail. As I said earlier, Dr
Mahathir
  is not Soeharto. He will go with his boots on. I don't believe that he

  was about to quit, to give way to Anwar. Besides wanting to cling on
to
  power for all the usual reasons, I think Dr Mahathir honestly believes

  that he is the best thing Malaysia has ever had and could hope for,
and
  many would agree with him.

  Q: If Anwar was not going for number one, what was happening?

  J: There were Anwar's critical Johor speech, the unevenly attended
  Pemuda economic convention a couple of weeks before the late June
  general assembly and Zahid's speech at the UMNO Youth assembly itself.

  Anwar's assembly speech did not criticise Mahathir at all, and in fact

  announced a U-turn from his December 1997 economic policy, by
increasing
  government spending and liquidity and trying to lower interest rates,
  almost as if in response to Daim's and Dr Mahathir's earlier
  criticisms.

  Others Anwar had consulted had voiced similar concerns as well. Maybe
  he was keeping his cards very close to his chest, but Anwar did not
  respond positively, for example, to those who called for him to 'lead
us
  out of this darkness' and even went out of his way to explain
Mahathir's
  concerns. There is little evidence of any serious effort by Anwar's
camp
  to mobilise forces and resources to actually try to oust Dr Mahathir.
  Pointed criticism of nepotism, yes, but a effective plan or strategy
to
  oust Mahathir, unlikely. And if there was one, it was terribly
  amateurish and bound to fail. But whatever it was, it was enough to
  convince Dr Mahathir that Anwar was out to replace him.

  Q: How did Dr Mahathir respond?

  J: Dr Mahathir was very cool. I saw him smiling proudly at the St
  Petersburg Orchestra's concert at the Petronas Philharmonic Concert
Hall
  the night before he delivered his devastating rounding-up speech and
  released the partial lists of tender, contract and privatisation
  beneficiaries from the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and the Ministry
of
  International Trade and Industry (MITI), all of which reflected sound
  preparation.

  Q: And then?

  J: Although it was later evident that a purge of Anwar's camp had
begun,
  beginning with the media, I thought that Dr Mahathir had Anwar exactly

  where Dr Mahathir wanted Anwar - weakened, compliant and constrained
  from mounting an effective challenge. I wrongly thought Dr Mahathir
  would prefer the safety of such an arrangement rather than risk an
Anwar
  challenge by sacking him or forcing him to resign.

  Q: So why the subsequent turn of events?

  J: Probably, in their calculations, Anwar's only real strength is his
  popularity based on his personal charisma and moral standing. There is

  nothing much one can do about his charisma, hence the need to destroy
  his reputation. Given the reputations of many ministers in this
  country, straightforward adultery or something in that league would
not
  be good, or rather, bad enough to damage Anwar irreparably.

  Thus, the need for something truly scurrilous or scandalous in the
form
  of the sodomy allegations given the presumed homophobia in our
society.
  At first, in the earlier version which came out with the surat layang
at
  the 1997 assembly, the allegations seemed plausible.

  But as Anwar covered himself, by the time the book came out, the
charges
  against Anwar had begun to overload. They eventually made so many
  allegations, probably making them up as they went along, in the hope
  that most people would believe at least some of them, and at least a
few
  of them would stick and do the necessary damage.

  Q: So has it worked?

  J: Partly perhaps, but certainly not as intended. They have been their

  own worst enemies. Their flagrant disregard for at least nominally
  complying with accepted procedure has shocked even those usually
  blissfully insensitive to such matters. With the benefit of hindsight,

  some now argue that Dr Mahathir should instead have first charged
Anwar,
  then eased him out of government and the party.
  Whatever the reasons for the particular sequence adopted, it
backfired.

  Q: What do you mean by backfiring?

  J: As what happened began to sink in, popular support for Anwar
quickly
  picked up. Yet, besides those completely committed to Anwar and those
  who reject everything Dr Mahathir claims, there are many who might
have
  been more receptive to Dr Mahathir's claims if not for the manner in
  which he, the police and the prosecutors have conducted themselves.

  The arrests of those closest to Anwar in UMNO as well as ABIM and
  related leaders under the Internal Security Act have reminded everyone

  what Anwar's dismissal is all about, i.e. not sex, but power. Just
look
  at the Inspector General of Police's press conference, where he
  unwittingly managed to convince those present that Malaysia becoming a

  police state. Or former Deputy Prime Minister Ghafar's Jakarta visit,
  where he managed to insult and antagonise almost everyone there. Or Dr

  Mahathir's claim that Anwar may have deliberately injured himself in
  the left eye to gain public sympathy.

  Q: So what are the changes you see?

  J: There seems to be an irreversible sea change going on in Malay
  political culture. Most non-Malays are watching quietly from the
  sidelines, partly because they see this as an intra-Malay affair, and
  also because of the fear of violence, bearing in mind the May 1969
riots
  in KL and the May 1998 events in Jakarta, particularly traumatic for
the
  ethnic Chinese. Their fear is that desperate politicians may chose to
  play the ethnic card, the traditional card of first choice in
Malaysian
  politics.

  Among Malays, even before Anwar was sacked, you have quiet, but
  widespread sympathy for jailed DAP Deputy Secretary General and Member

  of Parliament Lim Guan Eng. Not necessarily support for the DAP, but
  tremendous unease at the great injustice involved in jailing an
  opposition politician for championing the cause of an under-aged girl
  who had been (statutorily) raped and her helpless grandmother, while
the
  man widely believed to be responsible toured the country to speak in
  rallies supporting the Prime Minister.

  Q: Where will all this go?

  J: It's still difficult to say. But Anwar's dismissal and its
  aftermath have only further undermined Malay public confidence in the
  regime and the leader, greatly increasing the number of Malays 'who
can
  say no', opening up a new conjuncture in Malaysian politics.

  Anwar's forces have no choice but to build a broad coalition with
  existing opposition forces in which they hope to and should play a
  leading role. With limited and deteriorating public confidence in the
  judicial system and process, the increasingly shared belief is that
only
  an electoral victory from their combined strength can reverse Anwar's
  expected fate. That is still very much an uphill task.

  But the unexpected developments and accompanying effervescence are
also
  forcing ordinary people to think of alternatives, of reform, of new
  institutions for the creation and sustenance of a more decent and just

  society rid of the dominance of political business, money politics and

  related depravities. Beyond Mahathir versus Anwar, the legitimacy of
  many official institutions and public faith in them, especially among
  Malays, has been shaken as never before. But
  contrary to some pronouncements, this is unlikely to descend into
  anarchy, but rather, is leading to greater demands for democracy and
  accountability, though not necessarily in that language or idiom.

  While the reform movement may fail, Malaysian politics and political
  culture will never be the same again.
 

  END