(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad told a media conference early on Friday morning after a four-hour UMNO Supreme Council meeting on Thursday night which expelled Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as an UMNO member that he would act as finance minister and that he would not likely fill the post of deputy prime minister.
I would call on Mahathir to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister so as not to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis and chaos should the Prime Ministership suddenly become vacant for whatever reason.
Mahathir did not make clear whether he would leave the post of Deputy Prime Minister vacant until the next UMNO party elections or the next general elections. If it is the former, this would mean leaving the government without a clear No. 2 for another year or so until the UMNO party elections next year - which is clearly not in the interest of political stability and continuity of the government. However, if Mahathir is thinking of keeping the No. 2 position vacant until the next general elections, and he is seriously considering snap general elections in October after the Commonwealth Games, his decision on not appointing a Deputy Prime Minister might be more understandable though still unjustifable.
The appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister is not merely a personal matter of prerogative of Mahathir, but concerns the stability and continuity of the government and the people are entitled to a clear-cut answer from the Prime Minister.
When in the last week of August, the government announced the shocking second quarterly returns of the Malaysian economy showing a -6.8 per cent contraction of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), I had called for the government to immediately make public its latest revised forecast for the GDP contraction for 1998 as Malaysia has formally entered into a recession - two consecutive quarters of negative growth technically constitute a recession.
The then Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had said that he would announce the government’s revised forecast for this year’s GDP in the 1999 budget to be presented in Parliament in the third week of October.
I found this unsatisfactory for I did ask myself whether Anwar would be around as Finance Minister to present the 1999 Budget in Parliament in October but I had not put such a doubt into writing.
With such a recent example that anything can suddenly happen in politics, I would seriously urge Mahathir to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister without too much delay.
Yesterday, more and more UMNO leaders and Cabinet Ministers were berating Anwar for not being responsible in taking his sacking as Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister and UMNO Deputy President to the people.
I do not want to comment on the sacking of Anwar as UMNO Deputy President as this is an UMNO matter, but his sacking as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister is clearly an issue of great public importance and not just a private and personal matter between Mahathir and Anwar. Anwar’s right to take the issue of his sacking as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister to the people in a peaceful, orderly and democratic manner should not be questioned or challenged.
The sacking of Anwar as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister raises issues of far-reaching implications going beyond the political future on Anwar himself, encompassing issues like democracy, justice, accountability, integrity and morality, and Mahathir owes Malaysians a full, satisfactory and convincing explanation for his decision against Anwar.
It is for this reason that I have proposed the establishment of a Royal Commission of inquiry to conduct full and independent investigations into the very serious allegations made against Anwar as well as Anwar’s equally serious allegations that the instruments of government had been manipulated in a political conspiracy to topple him as Deputy Prime Minister.