The economic crisis is becoming a watershed not only in the financial sense but in politics, with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim's leadership skills becoming clear. Mr Anwar, the designated successor of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, gave an impressive performance at a press conference on Friday when he announced belt-tightening moves including a sharp reduction in the proposed growth rate. The measures, which were welcomed by financial markets, reflect the increasingly strong influence Mr Anwar is having on Cabinet policy. As a result, a clear distinction has emerged between practical steps the Government is taking and the slurry of market-jangling statements Dr Mahathir has made. Importantly, the Prime Minister is allowing his deputy to impose his point of view on government planning without abandoning his own anti-Western rhetoric. Some analysts believe Dr Mahathir may be content to assume an elder statesman role as a changing of the guard draws nearer. Developments last week demonstrated the at-times strained relationship between the two leaders was relaxing. As share prices and the currency continued to plummet, Mr Anwar went to see Dr Mahathir, persuading him the economy needed urgent medicine not prescribed in the Budget. On Wednesday, Cabinet agreed to the new measures. But on Thursday, a statement by Dr Mahathir that Malaysia would proceed with a plan for a M$10 billion (HK$21 billion) road, rail and gas pipeline link with Thailand threatened to undermine Mr Anwar's efforts to restore confidence in Malaysia's handling of the crisis. Mr Anwar called Dr Mahathir and was later able to 'clarify' that only the pipeline was still going ahead. Facing the press, Mr Anwar was relaxed and confident. He gave a dispassionate account of the regional financial crisis, explaining its origins without the rhetoric or rancour of the Prime Minister. Many senior members of the dominant government party, the United Malays National Organisation, believe Dr Mahathir served the country well during the 1980s and 1990s, but Mr Anwar is the man to be at the helm when the new century begins.