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Tuesday, Sept 22
Asian press warns Mahathir will suffer same fate as Suharto
by Jitendra Joshi

HONG KONG, Sept 22 (AFP) - Malaysia's veteran premier Mahathir Mohamad is staring at the same fate as Indonesia's Suharto by cracking down on the reform movement led by his ousted deputy Anwar Ibrahim, the Asian press warned Tuesday.

Condemning Anwar's arrest and detention under a draconian law amid allegations of sexual misconduct, regional papers saw close parallels between Mahathir's actions and those of Suharto before he was toppled as Indonesian leader in May after 32 years in power.

The Jakarta Post said the scenes of social unrest in Kuala Lumpur coinciding with the visit of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II were a ''disgrace for Mahathir,'' who was trying to deflect attention from the economy.

''Given the growing demands of the people, which are clearly shown by the enthusiasm of Anwar's supporters, Mahathir should learn from Indonesia that he cannot avoid taking responsibility for the economic crisis currently blighting the country by diverting the Malaysian people's attention to the Anwar 'indecency' case,'' the Indonesian paper said in an editorial.

''Besides, a worsening economic and political situation could trigger more massive and more violent demonstrations that could lead to his downfall, as happened to former Indonesian president Suharto,'' it said.

It said that Mahathir, in power since 1981, was dogged by similar charges of corruption which contributed to Suharto's fall.

''Mahathir, like Suharto, has ruled unopposed for years ... making him less receptive to rising demands for political and economic reform from the younger generation of Malaysians,'' it added.

In Bangkok, the Nation daily agreed that Mahathir could share a similar fate to Suharto following his offensive against Anwar.

''No doubt Prime Minister Mahathir would hate that comparison, but like it or not, he will have to live with it,'' it said in an editorial.

''For all the allegations levelled against Anwar -- from sodomy to sedition -- it is clear there is really only one reason why his No. 2 was dismissed: Anwar was a threat to Mahathir's grip on power.''

It condemned Mahathir for preventing Anwar to mount a defence by having him held under the Internal Security Act, which permits indefinite detention without trial.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong warned Anwar's detention would do nothing for Malaysia's standing in the world.

''Malaysia's international image, already badly damaged by the recent imposition of capital controls, will now be tarnished still further by justifiable suspicions that the nation's judicial system is being misused for political purposes,'' it said.

''The events of the past few weeks will leave a lasting mark on Malaysia ... And it is unlikely to be too long before someone else picks up the mantle Anwar has been forced to put down,'' it added.

Australia's Sydney Morning Herald said Mahathir's ''clumsy use'' of the security law increased the likelihood of his own downfall.

''Dr Mahathir might have the upper hand for the moment. But this is a power struggle with a long way to run yet. The forces for change might not be wholly with Mr Anwar. But they are definitely against Dr Mahathir,'' it said.

''Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad risks turning his country into a mini-Indonesia and himself into a poor man's President Suharto, as he pursues his campaign against his former deputy and finance minister,'' it said in a front-page opinion.

Taiwan's China Times said the abrupt sacking of Anwar from the government on September 2 and subsequent events showed that so-called Asian values as espoused by Mahathir were undemocratic.

''Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim belong to two different generations. Mahathir is a conservative who stresses Asian values while Anwar is a liberal who looks up to Western beliefs,'' it said.

Decrying Anwar's sacking and detention, it added: ''The democratic mechanism is what is lacking in Asian values.''