Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dr Mahathir's extended shelf life to neutralise Anwar Ibrahim

by: Azmi Anshar
DEWAN RAKYAT Nov 24, 2008

Apparently, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's shelf life in the Government’s big department store is stubbornly refusing to expire though the ex-Prime Minister has moved on light years ahead to become the unrepentant chief critic against the Government, the prolific operator of a burgeoning blog with the potential to become the biggest ever in the region, and to operate behind-the-scenes as a primary mover and shaker of national politics, especially that affecting his erstwhile party Umno. Not bad at all for an old geezer in his twilight years.

While his non-Government fussing and fighting have taken centre stage and filled hard drives with stimulating copy, especially in his cavalier clashes against the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues, and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his cohorts, Dr Mahathir and his influential team of low-profile statesmen has been actively troubleshooting and prodding key political movements within Umno.

It is also thought that Dr Mahathir had been the prime mover in ensuring that the "right" people be placed to fight for top party posts – to break the inertia of certain leaders reluctant to enter the ring, especially during the tense divisional elections that ended early this month – while sheltering behind his incendiary blog postings in chedet.com.

If one was to conjecture why Dr Mahathir still harboured his "bombs away" attitude, it would be that at his age, he cannot afford to remain idle and tinker in his garage lest his famed faculties desert him. Hence, his political derring-do that bulldozes anyone who tries to set up hurdles to stifle his rampant renaissance in the national consciousness.

That was all that is until last week when out of the blue, the volatile backbencher Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (BN-Pasir Salak), the one with the acidic tongue, slipped in this juicy overture that the good doctor take over the National Economic Action Council once Prime Minister-in-waiting Datuk Seri Najib Razak officially assumes office in March next year. The reaction inside the house ranged from the wowed to the flustered and the floored to the disgusted, depending on their political persuasions and how strongly they still felt about the ex-PM who had provoked, riled, instigated, pushed and inspired them for the good of 22 years until the end of 2003.

The way the MPs reacted, it was as if that Dr Mahathir never actually left the building, never changed the wry hectoring of his voice, never metamorphosised the texture of his advocating skin, never altered the pointedness of his epigrammatic missives and never wavered from the bulwark of his principles and struggles.

"Dr Mahathir is the right person for the job," intoned Tajuddin in characterising Dr Mahathir as the appropriate veteran with the calibre and knowledge in economics to take charge of the NEAC, usually the domain of the sitting Prime Minister. "Datuk Najib is the future PM. He needs to be advised. What is wrong if Tun advises him?" Tajuddin further intoned when seeking a response from Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister Department S. K Devamany on Thursday.

There is perhaps cogency in Tajuddin's proposition, one to immediately check the emergency motion filed by Anwar last week to debate the decreasing foreign direct investment flow into Malaysia. Deputy Speaker Ronald Kiandee failed to see the merit in Anwar's initiative when he soundly scuppered the motion while acknowledging it to be specific and of public interest, but of no immediate concern. The Deputy Speakers also pointed to two instances when the International Trade and Industry Minister and the parliamentary committee dealt with the issue.

Expectedly, Anwar, who didn't need any talent for clairvoyance to sense the prospects of his motion, denounced the rejection in a media conference and criticised the Government for being in denial of the pending global economic crisis. Conversely, he softened his harsh rhetoric by suggesting that the Government conduct a bipartisan discussion on the state of the economy. "We are here to engage and assist," was how he defined his assistance when suggesting that the Finance Minister take the initiative to discuss the matter either in Parliament or through a roundtable discussion.

There is already a strong indication that the Government is not in denial. Najib, in an AFP interview at Lima today where the DPM is attending the APEC summit, acknowledged that "it is going to be tough". "I've got my hands full," Najib admitted as he laid out plans to sharpen Malaysia's competitive edge and regain the Barisan Nasional's two-thirds majority in Parliament after he is sworn in.

Worried over financial turmoil that will roil Malaysia, Najib laid out the possibility of lower revenues due to plummeting petroleum and palm oil prices and drop in overall exports and foreign investments that had driven previous economic growths. Is this the mark of a Government in denial?

Anwar may be awarded brownie points for lamenting that the latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development World Investment Report 2008 showed outflow of the foreign direct investment at RM38 billion compared to inflow of RM29 billion in 2007, resulting in what he highlighted is the negative FDI of RM9 billion. Give him credit too for raising the alarm of what the Malaysian economy might be if no direct government intervention to boost economic competitiveness and development is kindled, compared to its neighbours, who secured better foreign investments.

But Anwar was quick to pre-empt rationalisation for the FDI outflow to movement of local funds abroad, claiming that they left due to lack of confidence in the local market. While he acknowledged that some outflows were understandable as they were Malaysian investments, the total amount draining out was questionable. "Not all are funds leaving for investment. We would know if they are," he countered.

But back to speculative nature of Dr Mahathir's chairmanship of the NEAC as toyed by Tajuddin: there is some method in the madness. Back in 1998 when Dr Mahathir formed the NEAC to tackle the global financial meltdown of the decade that trampled the stock market to a grisly sub-500 points, he instituted various public and investor confidence to prevent the ringgit from being hijacked by currency speculators while reviving the economy.

The NEAC was also a powerful and influential body that encompassed all levels of representations – a diverse mix of political, racial, economic, social and business organisations who meet under strict confidentiality because once inside, everything that is essential in Malaysian life, including time-honoured policies, was priced apart for deeper articulation or criticism. Nothing was deemed too sacred. And that was why it was minutely effective in dealing with the global economic crisis then for its chief mantra was to not go the World Bank’s or International Monetary Fund’s destructive paths. Instead, a new paradigm was conceived – corporate bailouts, a slew of currency exchange controls, ringgit pegged to the greenback at RM3.80, the bailouts being emulated in the US but alas, not credited to Dr Mahathir's administration.

For the financial panic at that time, the NEAC worked wonders, with Dr M at the helm then. Now he is being recommended to helm it again. Is it a co-incidence that in anticipation of the financial meltdown deriving from the super tanking American financial market and economy that Dr Mahathir is being asked to get a handle of things while battling Anwar again in what is an economic déjà vu? Whatever you may think of Dr Mahathir, no one knows rogue financiers with the propensity to burn down Malaysian markets better than the ex-PM, whether in Malaysia, Singapore or the United States.

The Government would be wise to be reminded that during the 1998 crisis, they, including Dr Mahathir, were somewhat sidewinded in their desperate efforts to rail in the economy, first by Anwar's insistence that Malaysia apply the fatal prognosis demanded by the IMF, and later, by his sacking as DPM and his subsequent sensational arrest and lurid abuse of power and sodomy trial. On hindsight, Anwar would realise that his motion was disregarded not because it was pertinent but because the Government would have already devised their own game plan to buttress head-on the maraudingly hostile economic and financial elements soon to beckon on our daily lives. But this time, they would execute the plan on a smoother and surer footing – not in denial as Anwar wants people to believe as he remains, excruciatingly painful to his ambitions, outside of the configuration and not within.

Dr Mahathir's extended shelf life to neutralise ...
New Straits Times, Malaysia