By Vasyl Shcherbak, Political Scientist
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Mahathir bin Mohamad: a few touches to the political portrait
"During 22 years of premiership he created himself a global image of one of the most frank-and serious-governmental leaders of our time. " 1
When the famous Ukrainian anthropologist Micluho-Maklai explored the aborigines of the Moluccas in 1875-1876, he represented the developed and rich European civilization, and aborigines were miserable savages. When Asiatic leader Premiere Mahathir visited Ukraine in 2003, he already represented the high tech and rich state, the per capita GDP in which made $10,300 2 , while in raw-materials-oriented Ukraine the same index made only $860 3 . Malaysia produces microprocessors, compact disks, cars...
Doctor M (this is a respectfull and unceremonious name given to the Malaysian premier by peoplein a spoken language) as an amateur of modern information technologies promotes the economy of knowledge, innovative business and Islamic banking (an effective form of venture business: repaid interest-free loans plus bond premium). As of 1999 he is the monthly political columnist of the Japanese Mainichi Shimbun Daily writing "Doctor Mahathir: Global Analysis". Big doctor's glasses- chameleons are inalienable features of his image.
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Mahathir bin Mohamad is a very influential and uncommon politician. In 1981 he became the fourth prime minister of Malaysia, and in October 2003 he sent in his resignation. However this retirement does not mean political nonexistence.
By the way, there is good reason to believe that-like China and Singapore-Malaysia develops a new mechanism of political inheritance, the Malaysian one. Two years ago in this open address to 2,300 delegates of the ruling party Doctor M criticized his fellow party members for the sluggish development of entrepreneurship. And then all of a sudden, in the spirit of father which assumes the guilt of his children, the 75-year- old patriarch with 21-year experience of premiership begged his people's pardon: "They say there was a bit of success. However, disappointment is felt as well, as I achieved too little in comparison with my primary objective-to make my race successful, respected, noble, and highly valued. I am sorry for this my failure. Let there be a Malayan leader capable of changing certain national haracteristics. " 4 The delegates persuaded Doctor M to retain his capacity. But soon Mahathir bin Mohamad unequivocally presented Datuca Sir (Shri) Abdulla Ahmad Badavi as the future premier. For more than year the power shifted hands. The image and quotations of Ahmad Badavi appeared on the front pages of malaysian printed media all the more frequent. In the end, after Abdulla Badavi had been sworn in and succeded Mahathir as the minister for finance, the solemn ceremony of gratitude and celebration of merits of his predecessor took place. Consequently, there were two-way wide gestures. Abdulla did not reshuffle furniture, but moved to the furnished study in a newly built complex Putra Perdana in the new capital of Malaysia-Putrajaya.
In order to understand Mahathir, mahathirism, we will start with the outline of political culture in which they had formed and exist now.
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy, tropical industrial country inhabited mainly by Malay people, Moslems (influences: some Buddhism, traditional beliefs, Confucianism). The country has 13 states and two federal territories. In 1511 Malaysia was conquered by Portugal. In 1641 with support of Sultan Johor the Netherlands ousted Portuguese from Malacca. In 1785-1819 Englishmen, diplomatically plotting with sultans and expanding the sphere of influence of the East India Company, occupied this country. During the WWII Japan temporarily knocked out Englishmen from there. Malaysia won its independence in 1957.
Aborigines of Malaysia-Negroid Orang Asli-married Mongoloids, which had come a few centuries before from the North, to bring forth creoles-the Malays. The Malays make the relative majority of population of the state, and together with aborigines they prevail ethnically in the community known as bamiputra-"children of Earth". In addition, during colonial times the British systematicall brought here and recruited Chinese and American Indians which have numerous communities up to now. The offsprings of Chinese-Malay
(babasi) and Indian-Malay marriages gravitate to Malay naturalization.
Decolonization of Malaysia (and Singapore) was carried out alongside with the flourishing Chinese city communist movement and sympathy of Indian community. Therefore colonial administration passed power over to the semiliterate majority of rural Malays, and not to townsfolk. According to colonial rules, political parties are differentiated by national and, to a certain extent, religious characteristics. Some of them, say, support "progressive Moslems" of bamiputra (UMNO), Chinese (MCA, Gerakan), Islamic traditionalists (PAS), Indians (DAP) etc. The sultanate is substantially limited by constitution; it maintains legal and political stability and supports education. The old colonial administration rule about persecution of communists in Malaysia (and Singapore) is still valid. It permits to nip activity of pro- western politicos and Moslem traditionalists. During decolonization there were regular pogroms, performed by Malays in towns inhabited by foreigners.
Political system. From the first Malaysian premier on there is a constitutional norm preventing the "commotion" of prime ministers: the ruling coalition is created after and not before the elections. Malaysia maintains social peace by external protectionism and perceptible internal redistribution of national riches for the benefit of bamiputra. Education is the humanitarian priority of the state; the basis of economic protectionism is the encouragement of high technologies. The tax system disguised as a 10% turnover tax (sales tax is the worst variety of VAT); actually it is a unique Malayan invention sponsoring export-oriented high technology. Therefore raw material productions barely make ends meet here. For example,
tin extraction, which thrived under colonialism, is becoming exhausted (the "tin capital" Campar is presently the "food production" capital), and technetium extraction (is in mobile telephones and rockets) is performed mostly illegally.
Where is he from? His views and his family
Mahathir bin Mohamad was born in Alur Setar, capital of the northwestern state of Kedah in 1925. His father was a head master. Mahathir went to primary school and boarding-school founded by the ruling sultan Abdul Ahmid. During the WWII Mahathir's brothers lost their jobs, and he joined them operation a coffee shop.
In 1947 he entered the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. On graduation, Mahathir entered government medical service as a practitioner on Langkaw Island (Pulau Langkawi) in 1954.
The "Populist Modern" became the style of Doctor M from the very beginning of his political career. He became a political activist still in 1945 when the UMNO (United Malayan National Organization) was founded (1946) of which he is a member. This party was intended to defend the interests of bamiputra in a counterbalance to other ethnic groups, especially Asiatic and British, whose expansion "threatened to convert independent Malaysia inhabited by the Malay into a multiethnic country. " 5
Having married doctor Hasmah, his colleague and a daughter of a Moslem dignitary, he remained in public service as a physician. But for the lack of money he quitted in 1957 and initiated his own medical practice in Alor Setari. When he earned some money he became the known upper class representative and began his public work in UMNO.
In an opinion of a western observer, Mahathir personally was not a perfect embodiment of Malay elite. Only his mother was Malay from Siamese Kedah. His father was Indian, a minority national. Mahathir went to Malay University in Singapore speaking English (and published English books in Malaysia). He took an international businesses course at Harvard. It is interesting, that two of five his children married foreigners (the eldest son married an Indonesian Chinese, and senior daughter married a Frenchman.)
No wonder, nationality problems never bothered both Dr. M and his relatives. When the future of his country was at stake 6 and later Dr. M went in for international problems. Not without reason he was appointed the Malaysian UNO representative (1963). In 1964 he was first elected to parliament (UMNO delegate).
The Dr. M's policy was to separate Singapore (populated mainly by Chinese) from the Malay Federation and insisted on abolition of economic privileges of the Chinese minority. It led to radicalization of electorate (the Malay and Chinese brought accusations against one another and blamed their politicians for the lack of national consciousness.) There were complications in the moderate coalition government UMNO-MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association). And Mahathir lost his seat in the 1969 elections.
Out of power, he staked on his career, publishing the book The Malay Dilemma that was immediately banned; nevertheless a small number of books circulated illegally. Here are but a few
quotations: "Taking into account the ingrained post-feudal traditions, Malays are not ruiners. If people agree, that society can be divided into citizens with different degree of plenary powers and rights, they can easily create a sustainable society and nation... That is why the post-feudal society is not necessarily inactive or regressive. It can be dynamic..., if there is dynamism from above. But when the ruling clique lets down or goes about questions of self-interest only, masses find themselves without a stimulus to progress." (p. 170-171) "Even feudalism can be advantageous, if it facilitates the changes. Therefore political rajas today can wake up changes, if they want to change." (p. 173)
Having won the sympathy of his readers, Mahathir sent an opened letter to Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman 7 , accusing him of neglecting the interests of bamiputra. After his retirement and coming to power of Tun Abdul Razaka 8 in 1970, a steadfast admirer of Malays, Dr. Mahathir became a state official once again. He becomes the first Head of the Council for Higher Education, Associate University Justice and member of the Malayan University Council, Head of the National University Council. In 1973 Dr. Mahathir was appointed a senator. He gave up the office to contest the 1974 general election, in which he was returned unopposed. Then he had already been the president of the FMA 9 . After elections he was appointed Minister for Education and deputy prime minister in 1976.
After the cabinet reshuffle in January 1978 he moved from the ministry of education to the ministry of trade and industry. At the time he was elected one of three UMNO vice-presidents, and in 1978 he was elected deputy president of UMNO and in 1981 was appointed president of UMNO, a post he has held ever since. Doctor M won 1987 elections and repeated the victory in 1990 and 1993. Under his leadership, the ruling National Front coalition, led by the UMNO, won landslide victories in the 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995, and 1999 general elections. As the Premiere Mahathir curbed the prerogatives of sultans.
His political preferences of dynamic stability and prosperity are complemented by his domestic life. Dr. Mahathir and his wife, Dr. Hasmah, have seven children and ten grandchildren. Mahathir's family, like the state elite, is not superstitious and aboriginal. Mahathir's wife is a decent woman and politician. She is a symbol of family prosperity: one marriage, three sons, two daughters and two foster children. They quarrel now and then, Dr. M admitted, but he is no "boss" at a home.
The wife used her husband's premiership to campaign for a woman's health, family planning, medication and drug control, education of adults. Growing as a specialist, this woman emphasizes role of parents in teenagers' drug addiction control. As the BAKTI President, Dr. Hasmah did her best to explain young persons the danger of medications abuse.
As an activist of the IFAD and dozens of organizations she went for the real progress in technologies, education and medicine in the rural areas. On this point she co- operated with the wives of Reagan and Carter, queen of Belgium of Fabiola, first ladies of South Asian region.
Domestic information. As Moslems, Malayans may have up to four wives. However, the followers of
Doctor M practice monogamy, and Mahathir backs legal norm in accordance with which the category of socially deprived includes both separated, and families comprising one husband and more than one wife. At the UMNO 2002General Assembly he once again read a lecture to some of his coreligionists, because of complaints of the groups of women about the cruelty of bills drafted in a spirit of sharia, e. g. the requirement to produce four witnesses to pronounce a woman a raped one. At the same time Doctor M maintains that the Malaysian state is backing fundamental Moslem values. The constitution names Islam the state religion, though a European may not "feel" it in practice. In Malaysia he will not see brothels, strip bars sex-casino, porno shops etc. In addition, the state creates an off-budget subscription fund for worship (for example, haj subsidies). But this isn't a kind of worshipers' fund, because in emergency it may be used as an insurance reserve.
Difficult relations with the West
Doctor M succeeded to retain an open economy and democratic political system, to control Islamic traditionalism and Chinese expansion, and... not to lose wide support of Islam and Chinese community, be expressive critic of the faults of western civilization, but... without a hint of a hatred in relation to all western.
"Geographical" information. In political and economical and ideological geography of Doctor M the West is not an ordinary opposition to the East or Asia, global South, Moslem, second, third world etc. His publications and speeches are saturated with such rich gamut of assertions and hints, that there the impression spring up: the West is a disguised furtive little state somewhere in offshore, mogul City and military bases of Anglo-Saxon Maryland which through dummies and hirelings carries out transnational expansion into the respectable countries of the world.
According to M. Mahathir, neocolonialism is an uneven expansion of state authority stepping into the seemingly self-regulated but in fact strictly ranged markets. Transnational companies structure them as an asymmetric pyramidal cooperation for the benefit of the West.
And vice versa, Thinks Dr. M, attempts of alternative integration run into neocolonial intriguing. The same was with the cooption of Australia and New Zealand to ARES. It is intended to prevent consolidation of Asiatic: "It seems extraordinarily unfair, that East Asia cannot do so, when Europe can form European Union, the USA, Canada and Mexico back NAFTA, and even Latin-America has its regional organizations. If nobody knows why, there is a temptation to believe that it is a racial barrier." He dwelled on it at length.
Mahathir boycotted 1993 and 1999 APEC summits, at first objecting against the membership of Australia and New Zealand, and afterwards reproaching them for their "unwillingness or weakness to help South Asian countries during depression. " 10
The world view of Mahathir
Mohamad 11 are well reflected in his many books published from 1986 on 12 .
He wrote mostly economic and technical aspects of the methodology of regular crises generation permitting to maintain "western" hegemony. The examples include Malaysian crises from 1985 on and administrative instruments to control them.
According to Doctor M, the world history is a "sequence of conquests and subjugation of weak", and the world economy is only a representation of the interests of rulers. Both capital and commodities are liberalized by the "depersonalized monetary accommodation" which only strengthens the advantages of the West. However, Mahathir or Malays have no allergy to the West. Nothing of the kind! He is ready to adopt all the best. The Malaysian flag is in American style. Mahathir calls the ringgit, the national unit of currency, the "Malay dollar". He created technopark like the American Silicon valley, built skyscrapers-twins higher than the former World Shopping Center. And in the Putra Java Province he made the replica of the French Versailles.
Doctor M has developed and implements the policy of paternalism in relation to Malays, especially young persons, students, patronizes national banks, technoparks, and paperless technology in medicine and information engineers for
Here is how he explains the differences of this paternalism from socialism and neoliberalism: "If you take away a lot from the rich to give it to poor, like communists and socialists, you do not take into account the ethnic structure of the society and create social tension. We do not want this Robin Good strategy, when you rob rich to help poor, because it may lead to racism. We have to make the other way out. We give shares to those whose economy growth is nil. That is how we can help them."
Now for Malaysia and the international division of labor. Mahathir believes that "when Asian countries open their economy, they let in major western companies. In the opened society you do not think about boundaries. You lower nationalistic indexes. However there is your own pride. We want to say: "These are our banks, these are our companies." Richness is a concrete thing, but not the most important. We want to be ourselves. " 13 . Consequently, it is a kind of careful redistribution of public riches for the benefit of all layers of society with avoidance of secret intrigues of national and transnational companies.
Mahathir is for the state and cooperative international defense of sovereignties from neocolonialism. He condemns brainwashing, because international establishments are structured to back western hegemony. The WWII winners monopolized veto which substantially conflicts with the democratic functioning of the UNO. Through the UNO the West manages the market of armaments, kindling "fear of war, collision between China and Japan."
According to Mahathir, the modern ideological manipulation is the worst of all: "All systems which were hopefully intended to improve life were imperfect; they multiplied when clever people sanctified them." The Malaysian thinker considers the west as historically poor choice. "We, the Malay, witnessed how the British colony was taken over by Japan, which showed, that this force was only seemingly indomitable. This western model will vanish the same way all its predecessors did. All systems-feudal, republican, capitalist, socialist or communist-were considered a faith." Therefore, any criticism was considered heresy. Actually, they came to a bad end. In its time the same will befall democracy.
There is a kind of contradiction between the image of Malay modernist which, after the stereotypes of operating (western) model of globalization, is to be a
pro-western aborigine with rising criticism of Doctor M. The problem is, who and how makes it.
Data on generous upkeep of Malay civil servants and strict control of the sources of their enrichment allow concluding that M. Mahathir is implementing his ideas about creation of modern Malay elite which is in harmony with its country.
Virtuoso of paradoxes and master of breakthroughs
It should also be noted that Doctor M is a virtuoso of paradoxes, coryphaeus in defending his opinions, master of carefully prepared, decisive and radical breakthroughs. Brilliant speaker and publicist, Mahathir showed surprising ingenuity and political will. For example, from April 1987 on his presidentship in UMNO was contested by Tengku Razaleyh Hamzah. During their rivalry in February 1988 the Supreme Court illegitimated the UMNO party, some its regional branches failed to pass registration. Then Mahathir immediately forms the UMNO Baru (New UMNO), and most party members join him. Razaleyh, aiming at leadership, created the Semangata party. But in 1996 he disbanded it joining the UMNO.
He shoed the same resoluteness during the 1996-97 Asiatic financial crisis when his government turned down the much advertised emergency loan of the IMF and World bank, because the credit rode on the so called "structural organization", which would rescue bankers, but starve workers to death. 14
At the time the representative of the premier Anvar, the favorite of international financial institutions, preferred the shock therapy after the IMF recipes as a way out of Asiatic financial crisis. As a result foreign investors preserved and multiplied their investments and helped to buoy up production. In 7 years the IMF admitted that the Malaysian premier was right. The country found the best way out of the Asian crisis and embarked on the long-term economic growth.
Protecting national financial system from aggressive external environment Mahathir introduced gold dinar. In brief, modern gold dinar is a means of payments in any currency carried out with the gold equivalent of the currency rate. Mahathir created a new dinar despite the IMF ban on gold in international trade.
Presently Malaysia has a booming trade with countries which agreed to carry out mutual payments setoff in gold equivalent balancing accounts and redeeming difference once a year. New such agreements are being drawn up now. Private trade follows the same way today.
At the same time...
The political portrait of Mahathir Mohamad would be one-sided, if we go on describing his valor and achievements only.
It is difficult to find harmful habits or disgraceful passions in M. Mahathir; more often than not he fails to convince his political colleagues. He failed to convince (togeher with his future political opponent Anvar) Indonesian political patriarch Suharto to turn down the IMF loan. And soon Suharto was forced to resign. His regime was accused of corruption. The country found itself indebted to IMF; the deep socio- economic crisis followed. Another example. During the regional
forum in Baoa (China) he did his best to persuade Japan and other countries to create the fund of communications reconstruction in developing countries imposing small duties on TNCs for high-grading of raw materials. However, the officials ignored this suggestion.
In 1993 Doctor M objected against Australian affiliation with the Association of Asiatic Countries and boycotted meeting at the top level of APEC, for what the Australian Prime Minister John Paul Keating angrily (he was sorry later) called him "stubborn". Later, when, taking into account the geographical location and economic ties of Australia, leaders of Asian countries, inclusive with Mahathir, politically recognized the south continent a part of Asia, with the triggering of wars on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq with participation of Australian contingent, Mahathir had but consider the inclusion of Australia into Asia a failure (in his message to the new Australian premier John Howard).
By the way, his extensive work on the new currency, gold dinar that is a real success with business has not been internationally backed yet. There are also difficulties with his fellow party men: in 1998 Mahathir barely escaped dismissal for "neglect of alternative thoughts" and "frightened off investors by his anti-west speeches"; at the 2003 party congress, after stormy debates, Doctor M submitted his resignation, explaining the decision that he was extremely dissatisfied with the way his fellow party men and Malayans in general went about business. 15
Mahathirism as the political phenomenon
The political, ideological and economic practice testifies that there is the definite phenomenon in societies of Malaysia, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, and-to a lesser extent-Indonesia, and Philippines. It is the synthesis
of various foreign and intermingling of domestic ideas. In the sense of geopolitics and civilization these countries belong to Oceania, where China and India are primary dominators contrary to Anglo-Saxon encroachments.
Doctor M is a modernizer ready to prosper on unfashionable ideas, herald of nationalism and common-effort partnership, authoritarian populist, admirer of advanced technologies and Islam. 16
His father, like most Indians of the region, supported Bosa 17 , which fought against English colonialists together with the Japanese, and most Malays collaborated with Japan during the WWII. Only Chinese community upheld armed resistance.
His severe criticism of G. Soros was considered anti-semitic. 18, 19 Neoliberal agitators, in addition, exaggerate irredentism of Mahathir. 20, 21
It is only natural, that there is an implacable opposition to Mahathirism. It consists of pro-western media and local Moslem traditionalists. Their actions never gained considerable support in Malaysia. Firstly, the population supports power which limits the rate of enrichment of national minorities. Secondly, the government regulates the living standard of civil servants providing prosperity to the majority of bamiputra. 22
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Today, following his last year retirement over his statements considered anti-Semitic and scandalous, Mahathir bin Mohamad is at the height of his fame. Some countries move away from the West and its reforms and approach Malaysia with its rising economic dynamics. They also preserve the high defensive potential, which is essential now. They demonstrate restraint and will, defending their right to say: "The world is different from the model promoted by some people. "
2 According to mid-2000 data: http://www.1uptravel.com/international/asia/malaysia/economy.html.
3 See: "Україна у цифрах у 2002 році". - К.:Консультант. Короткий статистичний довідник. - С. 22. UAH converted to USD using the rate of 5.33.
4 http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/mnt/media/image/launched/2002-06- 0/mahathirspeech.html
5 http://www.atimes.com/se-asia/CC22Ae01.html Marie-Sybille de Vienne. "Що коли раптом доктор Махатір виявиться правим?" If another source is not indicated, all following quotations are from the above work.
6 The Federation of Malaya gained independence in August, 1957; but a part of Malayan territory was annexed by British protectorate Singapore, as well as Sabah and Saravak. 9.07.1963: creation of Constitutional Monarchy and Federation of Malaysia (Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore), but political disputes based on racial differences led to Singapore's exit in 1965, while Sabah and Sarawak still preserve some prerogatives.
7 Abdul Rahman, Tunku (1903-1990), first prime minister of the Federation of Malaya (1957-1963) and of Malaysia (1963-1970). Son of the sultan of Kedah, he was born in Alur
Setar and was educated in Malaya, Thailand, and England. As head of the United Malay National Organization, he became chief minister of Malaya after an election victory in 1955, and when Malaya attained sovereignty in 1957, the tunku (prince) became its prime minister. During the Japanese occupation of Kedah Tunku was appointed the supervisor of education; Mahathir's father was his subordinate.
8 Tun Abdul Razak (1922-1976). As a prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak, announced a new program called the New Economic Policy (NEP) to alleviate poverty in general, but also to improve specifically the economic condition of the Malays.
9 At the time Malays' part in agricultural modernization made 2% against Chinese 36 %; the rest made comers from India and the west.
11 Dr. Mahathir's world view is best reflected in his speeches following the 1997 financial crisis.
12 Mahathir Mohamad & Shintaro Ishihara, The voice of Asia: two leaders discuss the coming century, translated by F Baldwin, Tokyo & New York, Kodansha International, 1995.
14 See: Джеймс Бейкер (James Baker). Националист-популист одерживает победу в Азии! // Прожектор (Spotlight). - 2000. - 17 січня.
15 Before Mahathir pogroms were an everyday occasion in Malaysian cities. The colonial administration imported Chinese and Indians to work in urban areas. Malays populated rural areas. Breaking into the cities they plundered all foreigners.
16 See: Paradoxes of Mahathirism: An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad by Khoo Boo Teik Paperback, 375 pages, 1995, Malaysia, 1st Edition ISBN: 9676530948.
17 Podah Chandra Bos (1897-1945), from 1938-President of the anti-British All- Indian Congress Trade Union; with the help of local Indians and backed by Japan he created the Liberation Army which managed to win the Manipur State and other territories from British India. He headed the provisional government of Singapore.
18 Cf. J Sikes & Pete Engardio, "Malaysia's Mahathir: leading a crusade against the west", Business Week, April 25, 1994.
20 Irredentist is a member of a group of people who support the return to their country of territories that used to belong to it but are now under foreign rule.
21 One of the causes of unrest was the introduction of the VAT backed by pro- western forces and IMF.
22 See: http://www.zhakiyanov.info/wrb/konf2.html.
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