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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

COVER STORY MALAYSIA

Quiet, But Not Forgotten
The Kelantan prince waiting in the wings


OFFICIALLY, DEPUTY PM ANWAR Ibrahim is still PM Mahathir Mohamad's heir. But tension between Mahathir and Anwar supporters seems to be growing. If the two top men ever had to fight for power, former finance minister and Kelantan state prince, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, is one politician both would need to court. Razaleigh's authority in influential, northeastern Kelantan is undiminished.

These days, Razaleigh, 61, keeps a low profile. He wasn't always so quiet. In 1987, Razaleigh nearly ousted Mahathir as UMNO leader in a battle that left the country's dominant party badly bruised and eventually led to a split. The courts deemed the original UMNO illegal: Mahathir formed a new UMNO without Razaleigh, while the prince tried to revive the old party. For nine years, Razaleigh ran his own political group, Semangat '46 or Spirit of '46, a reference to the year the original UMNO was founded. Semangat won little support at the national level, but the party delivered Kelantan to an opposition Islamic party. Mahathir is said to be keen to win back Kelantan before he steps down from office. In 1996, he agreed to allow Razaleigh and his supporters back into UMNO.

But Razaleigh is far from fully rehabilitated. Just a few weeks ago, UMNO's Supreme Council decreed that no one could contest the 14 UMNO divisional chief posts in Kelantan, though Razaleigh himself was given back his old divisional chief post unchallenged. At the same meeting, however, Mahathir shot down a proposal to make Razaleigh the head of Kelantan UMNO, a position he held before the party split.

Razaleigh's associates caution against reading too much into these moves. So do detractors. "I don't think he is interested in upsetting anyone right now," says Kelantan state assemblyman Kamaruddin Mohamed Nor, a close associate of Anwar and longtime foe of Razaleigh. But few in Malaysia are as aware of Mahathir's mood swings as Razaleigh. Eleven years after he almost became prime minister, and a decade after he was written off as a political has-been, Razaleigh waits in the wings. The prince could become kingmaker.

-- By Assif Shameen / Kuala Lumpur


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