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Fwd MGG The Deputy Prime Minister Flexes His Muscles
By web aNtu

8/9/2000 8:24 pm Fri

[MGG] The Deputy Prime Minister Flexes His Muscles

THE DEPUTY prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the quiet-spoken still-water-runs-deep politician who most Malaysians, especially those in UMNO, see as a thoroughly decent man, personally popular but with no political machine or organisation behind him. His appointment as the Prime Minister's fourth deputy prime minister, so the conventional wisdom went, achieved him his personal ambition. His main role is to douse the local political and administrative fires his leader adeptly lits often without rhyme or reason. He followed the mercurial Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whose political miscalculation irrevocably changed the Malaysian political landscape. This decent man now shows unexpected virility. In the past month, he commits the government to policies his Prime Minister and finance minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin, vehemently disagrees with. The pair are the Twiddledum and Twiddledee of the present government, upon whom cabinet ministers, even deputy prime ministers (as He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost would tell you), fear to tread. But Dato' Seri Abdullah has. One shoe drops, and the deafening shocked silence gingerly awaits the other to fall.

In the past month, he cleverly distances the Malaysian government and UMNO from Dato' Seri Anwar's travails. He insists it is not officially orchestrated and sanctioned political chicanery that caused his political downfall, but by a few individuals. He did not single them out by name, but, in the present disturbed climate of fear, it is east to see who they are: the Twiddledum and Twiddledee, and one or two others. Strangely, they mirror the political conspirators Dato' Seri Anwar insists ensured his expulsion from UMNO and his freedom. While the political shocks of that is absorbed, Dato' Abdullah lands another. A week ago, he categorically rules out further bailouts of privatised and crony, sibling, courtier business empires. This, Twiddledee tetchily informed him, is not for the deputy prime minister or home minister to decide. Only he as minister of economic affairs and finance could; and ordered to keep out of his affairs. But the two published bombshells and several more not, adds yet another internal misgivings of official policy. Dato' Seri Abdullah's mention of bailouts challenges the official view at the time that this economic and financial help to these debt-ridden crony conglomerates were not bailouts.

Dato' Seri Abdullah's muscle-flexing reveals hidden truths in the government's economic and political policies. No one addresses them these days, decisions taken ad hoc than after careful thought. The government flounders. The Prime Minister would leave the country if only to keep his mind away from the ever-increasing myriad of problems which his cabinet ministers and officials would rather he decide. And the visits does not comfort him any more. The Anwarists stalk him in overseas locations: their reception of him in the United States this could well spread to his other favourite locale, Japan, where a FreeAnwar chapter has just opened. This reduces to number of countries where he could go to without hindrance. Africa wearies of him. His influence, unmentioned but widely presumed, in the Zimbabwean land grab, with its contentionous anti-colonial overtones not as policy but to remain in power, has got Africa's statesman, especially former South African president Nelson Mandela. Something must give. If he does not return to take charge, he would lose control of the political quagmire he sits upon.

The deputy prime minister understands this well. He takes the quiet initiative. He reveals indirectly that the earlier official help is nothing but a bailout. The destruction of the banking system -- the forced mergers, the disappearance of small Chinese-owned banks, especially in Sarawak, with its entrepreneurial vibrance, the continued presence of the old bankers who colluded with the government to turn it into an untrammelled, unsupervised cache for the particular benefit of cronies, courtiers, siblings, hangers-on -- is all but complete. The bankers and banks in the merges entities remain not for their banking skills but political reliability. Any linked to He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost, however capable, must be destroyed. As those who is apolitical and less than a raucous supporter of He Who Thinks He Is Lord Of All He Surveys. Nor can he not mention the unmentionable problem: the impact upon UMNO and the National Front, as political institutions and as guardians in power. The fate of Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim decides the future of the Prime Minister, his government, his political party and his political coalition. So long as this is unresolved, UMNO can but flounder as it heads for the precipice.

The government and UMNO is rudderless, the captain angry and sulking but refusing to repair the UMNO hulk damaged by the Anwar anchor it threw overboard, which the reformasi fish swimming beneath grabbing it and pushing the ship irrevocably on to the rocks. Dato' Seri Abdullah grabs the rudder but cannot yet steer it. And cannot yet lift the anchor from the choppy political seas. If he does not, he sinks with the others. As he only realises too well. He takes the politically shrewd decision to re-position himself. He has no choice. Especially, with rising pressure within UMNO for changes to its constitution to remove those power-entrenching provisions the Prime Minister insisted to prevent any one challenging him for the UMNO presidency after the 1988 split. Indeed, the present UMNO supreme council, elected last year, and its divisional and branch leaders are so ineffective and voiceless that quiet demands of fresh elections ahead of time, possibly next year, is demanded. The Malay community's political and cultural divide is focussed on the official mistreatment of its former deputy prime minister, one UMNO politicians cannot answer, and when they do try are subjected to much abuse and unanswerable questions. What Dato' Seri Abdullah does is to contain the flak and move the party forward. The future of UMNO depends upon his success.

M.G.G. Pillai