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The Nation (Bangkok)
Editorial
Sept 4, 1995

Mahathir sidelines yet another serious rival

A prime minister sacking a senior Cabinet minister is normal for a democracy
if there is a sufficient ground to do so. But what Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohammad did on Wednesday -- removing his heir-apparent Anwar Ibrahim from
all Cabinet posts without any reason -- amounted to an act of absolute
authoritarianism.

This is not the first time that Mahathir has carried out such deeds: his
former colleagues Musa Hitam and Razaleigh Hamzah, who dared to cross swords
with him, are living examples.

This time around, however, Mahathir has been more blatant.

Obviously, even without Anwar telling it, it was a conspiracy at the highest
level, an organised campaign to discredit the young leader who in the past
few months has attacked vigorously his country's cronyism. The publication
of the book "Fifty Reasons Why Anwar Cannot be Prime Minister" was a good
affidavit to that concerted effort to humiliate Anwar and set the course to
boot him out.

Dirty minds use dirty tricks. Odd as it is, while the book's several
allegations have been challenged by Anwar in court and the authors were sued
for defamation, the authorities and police are taking them as established
facts without any questioning, even during court injunctions.

Don't get it wrong. The Mahathir-Anwar feud is not about differences in
economic management, although the government wanted the public to believe
so. In the past few months, through Daim Zainuddin, Mahathir has overturned
Malaysia's economic policy based on tight money control and austerity
measures. On Tuesday, he shocked the world by announcing stringent rules for
foreign exchange controls and curbs on stock purchases. The Malaysian
government wants to stimulate government spending and offer cheaper interest
rates. Having done that, Mahathir wanted to be finished with Anwar. In the
past weeks, Anwar had resisted repeated demands by Mahathir to step down. He
did not comply.

In more ways than one, the current political crisis in Malaysia is about the
struggle between the authoritarian rule of one man and his cronies and
democracy and civil society. Like other Asian economies, the financial
tsunami has decimated many big enterprises. In Malaysia, those connected
with the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party and its
leaders, including the prime minister, have likewise suffered.

Anwar's supporters now surrounding his house must not leave. They should
stick with him and show the world that Mahathir's action was his own doing
without any grassroots backing. Otherwise, Malaysia could slide into a state
governed by the much-hated Internal Security Act (ISA) and controlled by the
powerful police force. Mahathir could utilise absolute power with impunity.

Although, we do not agree with everything Anwar has said, he is one of the
most enlightened voices of Malaysia in recent times. He has in past years
managed to blend the cultures of East and West. He is comfortable with
Muslims and Christians, not to mention Confucians. He represents, if
anything, the Asian renaissance. He has articulated the moderate voice of
the region for the rest of the world. There is no one in Malaysia of the
calibre of Anwar.

One cannot help but wonder that if a deputy prime minister can still receive
such unfair treatment, what else is left for the common man and the rest of
the country?