It has become fashionable in recent days to compare events in Malaysia with those that took place in Indonesia shortly before former president Suharto's fall from power. The parallels are superficially attractive. Until his ousting, the ageing Suharto was Asia's longest-surviving leader. Now that dubious distinction belongs to Malaysia's 72-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Like his Indonesian counterpart, he has been portrayed as out of touch with the nation's younger generation and desperately trying to cling to office. That impression has been highlighted by the power struggle with former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Even before his sacking, Anwar's supporters had sought to draw comparisons with events in Indonesia. And in the nationwide campaign that preceded his arrest, the analogy was made even more explicit with Anwar warning Dr Mahathir to step down or risk suffering Mr Suharto's fate. Even Dr Mahathir has acknowledged some parallels, accusing Anwar's supporters of trying to forment Indonesian-style unrest. But, despite such similarities, the differences between the two countries are far more relevant to the outcome of this power struggle. Malaysia is not Indonesia. Although the economic crisis has forced many to be more careful with their money, and cut back on unnecessary luxuries, that is a far cry from the food shortages and starvation in many parts of Indonesia that triggered the rioting which brought down Mr Suharto. The average income in Malaysia, at HK$33,800 a year, is still more than four times the Indonesian figure of HK$8,370. Aspirations The events of the past year may have set back, possibly permanently, Dr Mahathir's aspirations to join the ranks of the Asian tigers. But Malaysia has still weathered the turmoil far better than its southern neighbour with the ringgit depreciating by far less than the rupiah, largely due to the responsible economic policies pushed by Anwar prior to his sacking. Fiscal prudence has now been abandoned in favour of capital controls that will probably prove disastrous in the long run. But, in the short term, the effect has been to shore up support for the government: as the ringgit stabilises and returning capital boosts the Kuala Lumpur stock market. Another important difference is the absence of the ethnic tension that erupted into such violence against Indonesia's ethnic Chinese, so accelerating Mr Suharto's downfall. Kuala Lumpur's long-established bumiputra-first policy, of discriminating in favour of ethnic Malays, means there is nothing like the same resentment towards the nation's Chinese community. Resentment But the biggest difference is between the political astuteness of these two leaders. While Mr Suharto had his skills, these pale into insignificance alongside those of Dr Mahathir in maintaining the support of countless political factions. His grip on the ruling party, UMNO, is so iron-clad that no other politician of any substance has dared to speak out against him. Even the party's youth wing, which previously supported Anwar, has barely protested at the detention of its leader, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and is likely to fall meekly back into Dr Mahathir's camp. None of this is to deny that Anwar's high-profile campaign against his sacking has had some effect. Tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of middle-class Malays have been radicalised by events of the past few weeks and discovered the art of street protests. In the long-term this poses severe dangers for Dr Mahathir, as do the delayed effects of his isolationist economic policies. But those who now predict a swift, Suharto-style, palace coup in Kuala Lumpur are missing the point. Each country must follow its own road towards reform and, in Malaysia, that path still has a long way to go.