Magazine article Business Asia

Mahathir Down but Not Out

Magazine article Business Asia

Mahathir Down but Not Out

Article excerpt

A "mortally wounded" Dr Mahathir Mohamed still has the personal drive -- plus the political advantage of a Malaysian electoral gerrymander -- to win a likely early election in May, according to the nation's leading political commentator.

Mr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, regarded as one of South East Asia's leading analysts, said Malaysia's middle class remained faithful to Dr Mahathir because there was a "perception that he had contributed to an improvement of the country's economic situation".

He said this support was likely to hold, notwithstanding controversial capital controls and the furore over the sacking of former deputy leader Mr Anwar Ibrahim.

The nation's older generation, especially Chinese Malaysians, felt the Prime Minister had protected Malaysia from Asia's financial crisis.

Mr Jomo said the past few months had worked in "contradictory ways" for Dr Mahathir.

"At one level I would argue that he has been mortally wounded, that his legitimacy is finished, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he will bow out," he said.

A likely scenario was that the Prime Minister would call -- and subsequently win -- a May election aided by a "severely gerrymandered" electorate. Dr Mahathir's term officially ends in mid-2000.

Mr Jomo said the electoral bias towards Dr Mahathir was founded on racial and regional issues. The nation's northern states, historically critical of the ruling party, have proportionately less seats than central and southern provinces.

According to Mr Jomo, there is a flawed "perception that Mahathir is what stands between Malaysia and chaos".

Mr Jomo, of the Faculty of Economics and Administration at the University of Malaya, made the comments at a recent seminar in Sydney hosted by the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific (RIAP).

He was guarded in his comments about corruption in Malaysia because of a (A$65 million) libel suit hanging over his head following an article published in The Asian Wall Street Journal in December 1998, headlined, "Malaysia Props Up Crony Capitalists". …

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