Dr Mahathir's 100 days of 'solitude'

NST Online

KUALA LUMPUR: It can be said that all eyes are on Pakatan Harapan's (PH) 100 days in government.

The Economist weighed in on Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's "second act", a reference to his return as head of government after his first tenure of 22 years from 1981 to 2003.

In an opinion piece, The Economist dubbed PH's win in the 14th General Election (GE14) in which it ended Barisan Nasional's (BN) 61 years of rule, as something that surprised the Dr Mahathir-led coalition itself.

It also observed that the fledgling cabinet has somewhat left the prime minister in a position where he has "in effect, become chief of everything".

"Most members of the cabinet are still struggling to get the hand of what being in power entails.

"Malaysia's nonagenarian new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, is an exception. He already has plenty of form as a national leader," The Economist said.

"This creates a bureaucratic bottleneck as he ponders investigations into 1MDB, diplomacy (he has already taken two trips to Japan and is due to visit China on August 17th) and ways of boosting economic growth (expected to be about 5% this year, down from nearly 6% in 2017)."

Comparing the "new Malaysia" Dr Mahathir to the one who held office for 22 years the first time around, The Economist remarked how the former Umno leader is ruling in the way he knows.

"He favours the advice of cronies, as well as of an unelected council of bigwigs selected by himself," the article said, referring to the Council of Eminent Persons, formed to advice the new government.

While initially the council was only supposed to exist during PH's first 100 days in office, Dr Mahathir recently announced that the council would remain as he still required their assistance.

The council is headed by former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin.

The Economist also opined that Dr Mahathir's "autocratic style can make people jump".

"Last month all the board members of Khazanah Nasional, the country’s sovereign-wealth fund, resigned after he criticised their investment strategy (he said they were not doing enough to help firms owned by ethnic Malays)."

Dr Mahathir has become fond of joking about remarks pertaining to his allegedly dictatorial ways back then, and the article opined that despite these "self-deprecating jokes", Dr Mahathir was still reluctant to share power with others.

Touching on reforms, The Economist was of the opinion that it would be unlikely to see radical reforms to racial policies, with regard to the Bumiputera policy in Malaysia.

"The ruling coalition hangs together in part because all of its parties have agreed to uphold this system. Politicians of every stripe fear a backlash from ethnic-Malay voters should their privileges be curtailed."

With all that said, The Economist noted how the overall approval ratings for the new administration remained high.

"But Malaysia is already wondering about its next leader. Dr Mahathir has promised to give the job within two years to (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim, a former Umno colleague who was locked up both by Dr Mahathir and by Mr Najib (former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak) on spurious sodomy charges.

"Mr Anwar was freed from prison shortly after the election and leads the most prominent party in the coalition, PKR.

"More recently, Dr Mahathir has said that letting Mr Anwar take over after two years was only 'a suggestion'. But if he does step down in the proposed time frame, Dr Mahathir does not have long to enact the policies he cares about." © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd