People and events in 2020 – Part 1

Mahathir & Anwar: Is there a succession plan?

Of all the people and events to watch in 2020, the top two have to be Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his deputy – oops, his successor-in-waiting – Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the top event is the succession of the latter to the former’s position.

Will it happen? Well, we will know this year and most erudite observers are looking at the year-end after Malaysia hosts the 2020 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November.

Mahathir would like to break yet another record, after he became prime minister again, albeit interim, following the 2018 general election in May – after an absence of 15 years at the top. He will become the first prime minister to host the conference twice – if he is still PM then.

The irony of ironies is that Mahathir last hosted the Apec summit in November 1998, when Anwar was already held in prison. It would be almost exactly 22 years since then if he hosts the next summit. 

At the time of that summit, Mahathir’s deputy then, Anwar, had been unceremoniously arrested at machinegun point by commandos and taken from his residence barely two and a half months earlier under the infamous Internal Security Act to be later charged for abuse of power and trumped-up charges of sodomy. 

He was eventually freed of both charges only to be charged for sodomy again in 2013 when Datuk Seri Najib Razak was in power and jailed. He only gained a full pardon after the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which he headed even in jail as the de facto leader, won. The coalition had agreed that Mahathir would only be interim prime minister until Anwar was able to take over.

Well, the whole nation knows the storyline Mahathir now maintains – there was no fixed date, he has plenty of things to do, he needs five years to put right the wrongs of the previous government etc, etc. But Anwar won’t wait – after Harapan badly lost the Tanjong Piai elections the tea leaves read trouble unless Harapan does something.

Mahathir is not the type to set a date – he maintains it will make him a lame-duck prime minister. Others will argue he already is. He is smart enough to realise that if he does not step down in 2020 or shortly after at the latest, there will be trouble.

The last time he called upon commandos to arrest Anwar at gunpoint, the reformasi movement which, with some help from Mahathir, unseated the kleptocrats was born, took to the streets and 20 years later came into power. Anwar was free to take his place in politics and as prime minister.

It is unthinkable that the same tactics can be used to stop Anwar this time, especially since there is already a rapprochement of sorts underway between Anwar and his PKR deputy Azmin Ali which may lead to a united front within PKR, the largest party in the coalition. 

It will not be easy for Mahathir to continue given his age and his lack of support amongst both Malays and non-Malays. Most likely he will step down after making a deal with Anwar. 

It will not be another chapter, but another story of what Anwar will do then. Twenty-two years later, 1998 will not be repeated, at least as far as Anwar is concerned. – by P Gunasegaram


The power of Daim

When Tun Daim Zainuddin was appointed to head the influential Council of Eminent Persons by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in May 2018 post GE14, this already powerful billionaire businessman saw his standing shoot up several notches.

It would probably be accurate to say that he was, and still is, the most powerful person when it comes to decisions on who heads what among government-linked companies and the broad decision-making process when it comes to all things related to economics, business and finance. And then some more too.

That extends to negotiating contracts with China and its state companies involving such things as the RM46 bil East Coast Rail Link or ECRL, a deal inked with China by the previous government which the Pakatan Harapan coalition said it will stop but subsequently revived.

Not just that, Daim is also involved in the renegotiation of the near-RM10 bil gas pipeline with a China company. His fingers are in numerous economic pies and because of his closeness to Mahathir and the confidence he enjoys, pretty much what he proposes goes. 

Why he may even be more powerful than the rest of the cabinet put together given that he routinely interferes with and decides on many things across many ministries with ministers having little or even no say in what is decided.

Take the ECRL project. In January 2019, Economics Minister Azmin Ali and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said contradictory things about it – Azmin said it was cancelled and Lim said there was going to be an announcement.

Four months later in April, it was announced that the ECRL will resume at a reduced cost of RM44 bil, RM11 bil less. But there was no mention or explanation of a very important point – reports had said, which Mahathir indicated had substance, that the ECRL and the pipeline contract had been inflated by about RM30 bil to fill the hole in 1MDB.

However, no details were given in the announcements about whether there was a recovery of a reported RM20 bil paid via improper means to an overseas company in relation to the ECRL. Meantime, Daim is negotiating with China over the unnecessary pipeline project for which over RM8 bil has been paid.

Officials say Daim is also quite deeply involved in matters related to 1MDB, making him a rather powerful person all round. What irks many is that Daim does not quite operate in the open. While he makes announcements about the agreements, not enough is disclosed to make a proper assessment of the new agreements.

For instance, contract law clearly states that an agreement becomes void if there are illegal elements involved in it but Daim just waves that away by saying it is a binding contract without giving details. The negotiation details are a black box with insufficient public explanation as to how they were concluded.

Three reasons why the ECRL should have received the red light are we don’t need it, a very corrupt government signed it, and it was an illegal act. Full stop. But now it has been greenlighted. One waits to see how the pipeline – described by finance minister Lim as the pipeline to nowhere will be greenlighted. 

Daim’s fortunes are pretty much tied up with Mahathir. If Mahathir goes and Anwar Ibrahim succeeds him, Daim won’t quite ride gently away into the sunset but he will still be a force, albeit diminished, to contend with. But he won’t be so public anymore. – by P Gunasegaram

People and events in 2020 – Part 2

People and events in 2020 – Part 3

People and events in 2020 – Part 4

People and events in 2020 – Part 5

People and events in 2020 – Part 6

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