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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mahathir and Anwar - the top two Malay leaders

Sulaiman Kamal | 12:34 AM | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Mahathir and Anwar - the top two Malay leaders
Since 1998, no other Malaysian political struggle has had a greater impact than the one between former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim.
It has been a battle of epic proportions dividing the political landscape into two camps of thought. The Mahathir camp which sees Anwar as the mastermind for their demise and the Anwar camp which sees Anwar as the leader for change.
We have been served up every treat in the how-to-kill-off-your political rival cook-book. A relentless barrage of attacks, designed to undermine the people’s opinion of Anwar Ibrahim. Yet, in the deluge of attacks, the government has exposed its soft underside for all to see.
The depth of governmental involvement in Malaysia's judiciary decisions is glaring. The prosecutor’s department takes orders from the ruling elite. The police department is given a roster of “crimes” that top government officials want "investigated". And these are usually cases that malign the political opposition. Meanwhile, the main-stream media provides back-up vocals by singing the tunes of the ruling elite.
It was and is now an even noisier circus, and at the heart of it, was an intense rivalry between two individuals.
If we strip away all the accusations of sexual misconduct that we have been served with ad nauseum, allegations of corruption that cut both ways, and arguments for worthiness to lead a nation, then what we are left with are two very contrasting individuals. Their only commonality are their strong personalities.
Asian Financial Crisis
Anwar will be 64 this year and Mahathir 86. Both men are trim and watch their health with care.
Both are bold in their statements and headstrong in their actions when they believe they are on the right course. They will never back down from a fight, and even when they seem to be on the retreat, beware. They will spring back once they have caught their second wind and be even deadlier than before. This is their nature, they are fighters to the end.
Both men command their own following, a distinct feature for a leader. They lead the pack and stamp their authority on their followers. Both are masterful strategist, able to read the battle-field, never afraid to take risks or run with the decision they have made.
Their enmity started on December 3, 1997, five months into the infamous Asian Financial Crisis.
A meeting of the Cabinet was held on the island of Langkawi rather than Kuala Lumpur to accommodate Mahathir’s wishes to be part of LIMA that year. As Mahathir arrived at the meeting venue, to his shock he found that Anwar had concluded the meeting - without him.
It turned out that at the meeting steered by Anwar, the Cabinet had decided to adopt a plan proposed by the International Monetary Fund. The Malaysia plan was similar to the one adopted by Thailand and Indonesia, and would also cut public spending and halt infrastructure projects.
Mahathir, wily old fox that he was and is, humbly accepted the news. But quietly, he strategized his next move. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Upheaval still unresolved
It was a classic clash of personalities, spawning the greatest upheaval in the Malaysian political landscape that till today remains unresolved.
Anwar’s push for reform and transparency, his openness in asking for help from outside institutions and his non-conformist stance completely clashed with Mahathir’s I-know-best nature.
Perhaps due to experiences in his youth where he was made to feel inferior, Mahathir was hyper-critical of Western governments in his later years, and insistent on maintaining his hold on UMNO. He was not ready or keen to change the power equilibrium.
For sure, it was only possible for Mahathir to consider leaving office if the political status quo could remain 'intact' or in other words, the way he wanted. The Malaysian model thus had to adhere to what he had in mind and no other option was acceptable.
However, Anwar wanted to reform Malaysia which meant dismantling the structure laid down by his boss. And slowly, the fears grew in Mahathir’s mind that Anwar was a threat to his legacy.
This explains why, the UMNO attacks even now are all geared to discredit Anwar’s personality and character. There is clear and single-minded aim to undermine public perception of Anwar as a suitable leader. This is also the mindset and game-plan used by UMNO through the years.
The Malay nationalist party is not saying Anwar is not intelligent nor incapable of leading this nation. What the UMNO elite are saying is that he is not like Mahathir and therefore will disrupt the way things have always been done. He will break their old-boys club.
The battle for Malaysia is really about the contrasting views of the two men, who were born with a destiny to lead.
UMNO is combating a man it fears will take apart its way of doing things. It is focused on the man and blind-sided towards the bigger agenda of reform and change. But ironically, it is this need to reform and change that is biting UMNO in the back.
Malaysians have become wiser after years of public bickering and Mahathir-versus-Anwar conspiracies. The masses seem to have learnt to judge for themselves what is really important for them as a nation.
Even if the Prime Minister Najib Razak, the current UMNO head, manages to take Anwar out of the picture, the agenda for reform and change will still be championed.
This 'reformasi' agenda is not conjoined to Anwar but is the aspiration of the citizens of Malaysia.
It is the strongest possible armour and Anwar's great fortune to be allowed to wear it. This is something that Najib should understand or he will only hurt himself trying pierce through it.       

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