Amidst the political and economic convulsions of this week, one name
keeps recurring, even amongst those who loathe him, as an addition
to the cabinet. That this would raise the intelligence quotient of
the Cabinet by about 50 per cent -- and more, if one or two of his
colleagues follow him -- is the natural reason. The cabinet has
become a superannuated team of backscratchers, voicing its
unequivocal support for the Great One for actions taken, and to be
taken, like the "nodding donkeys" one finds aplenty in oil fields.
So, any change is a change for the better, even if the addition is a
lorry driver: at least he would come in with a fresh perspective.
But a more pressing need is a firmer hand to strengthen the prime
minister's financial and fiscal moves. With the trussing and sacking
of Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the intense capitalisis concern is on
who the next deputy prime minister would be.
The more important consideration now though
is who the next
finance minister would be. Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed would hold
the finance portfolio himself for the time being. But he cannot
hold on to that for long. The reappointment of Tun Daim Zainuddin
to the post he held before Dato' Seri Anwar would only add to the
prime minister's, and the government's, woes. (He is discussed as a
possible deputy prime minister; that is always possible as an
interim measure, but his absolute abhorrence with such petty details
of politics as mixing with people would eschew him as a future prime
minister; besides, his business activities and the abundance of
dislike he is viewed in the political and business world would rule
him out for any higher positions.) Datin Rafidah Aziz, the
international trade and industry minister, is one name that comes up
whenever the finance portfolio is mentioned, usually because she did
not get on well with the now-departed finance minister; but that
surely should not be the qualification for a finance minister. Dato'
Seri Najib Tun Razak, the education minister, at the Khazanah is one
his supporters, would like to see though not almost everyone else.
But the need now is not for a game of musical chairs, in which no
chair is ever removed, but for some bold moves.
In the present context, the departure of Dato'
Seri Anwar adds
yet another unknown dimension. It is easy to dismiss him as one of
no consequence. But the elaborate steps taken before this morning's
action indicate that the prime minister was unprepared to move until
his supporters had been "sorted out". So, the prime minister needs
a firmer hand with ground support. The one man I can think of to
fill the finance portfolio, and bring with him much needed political
support, is the Recluse of 31 Langgak Golf. Tengku Razaleigh
Hamzah's stewardship of the finance ministry in the 1970s was a
model of political and fiscal probity. He lost out being deputy
prime minister after the death of the prime minister, Tun Abdul
Razak, in 1976 and Dr Mahathir chosen instead, because he was not in
the cabinet then. The two men fell out politically, when he
challenged Dr Mahathir for the presidency in 1987, an act which led
to the dissolution of UMNO, and the emergence of two political
parties -- UMNO Baru and Semangat '46.
The two parties have now remerged, but Dr Mahathir
studiously kept out the Tengku supporters from his cabinet. He
cannot do that for much longer. In fact, insiders are already
predicting that Tengku Razaleigh could well emerge as the prime
minister. If he does, that brings him back into the UMNO and
National Front political limelight. And whoever becomes deputy
president of UMNO, and therefore deputy prime minister, next year,
he could end up prime minister.