May 18, 2007

Tun Mahathir is one of "Top 20 Asian progressives"

Michael Backman, the famous Australian journalist that penned "Malaysia BODOH" article, has listed Top 20 Asian Progressives. They are the top 20 modernisers and reformers steering the region towards good business practice, transparency and management excellence. (Article link)

Tun Mahathir is listed as No. 7

MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, MALAYSIA

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's prime minister from 1981 to 2003, was perhaps Asia's most misunderstood leader. Mahathir had plenty of critics, but the country's impressive development under his stewardship is undeniable. Also undeniable is his popularity among Malaysia's minority ethnic groups, particularly the Chinese, who comprise about 30% of the population. Mahathir managed to persuade different ethnic groups to think of themselves as Malaysians, despite economic and education policies that favoured the majority Malay population at the expense of the commercially successful Chinese minority.

These policies helped to break the nexus between great wealth and (Chinese) ethnicity, thus making the Chinese less of a target politically in the event of unrest. Mahathir also kept a lid on Islamic fundamentalism, showing not just Malaysia but much of the Islamic world that economic progress and Islam can go hand in hand. Under Mahathir, the media and the judiciary lacked independence, but Malaysians enjoy far more political freedoms than the citizens of neighbouring Singapore.

Mahathir resigned as prime minister while still popular and at a time of his choosing. In retirement, he has emerged as a loud critic of the new administration, bringing to Malaysia a level of public debate that few would have thought possible. His regular interventions on policy issues have almost given Malaysia the strong opposition voice that it has not previously had.

He has attacked the government for not doing enough to tackle the widespread corruption, and has criticised the concessions given to foreign firms that invest in an economic zone in southern Malaysia. Even out of office, Mahathir continues to modernise his country.


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