(Petaling Jaya, Friday): When Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed returned from his two-month leave overseas on 22nd July 1997, he was asked by reporters to comment on various current national issues.
One issue was the anti-corruption campaign which was spearheaded by the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir said the government would go all-out to fight corruption, "but we donít need to have public meetings and demonstrationsÖshowing placards and all that".
What happened to the anti-corruption campaign is now a matter of history.
The question I want to ask is, if there is no need for public meetings, demonstrations, showing placards to support an anti-corruption campaign, why then is there a need for public meetings, demonstrations, placards, car stickers and even wearing badges expressing support for Mahathir as Prime Minister just because of unfavourable foreign mass media reports?
Mahathir should be consistent and call a halt to the unproductive activities of mobilisation of support for him as Prime Minister and to advise Malaysians to concentrate on focussing on the economic crisis.
The Opposition had not asked for the resignation of Mahathir as Prime Minister. However, if Mahathir feels it necessary to demonstrate to the world that he still commands the confidence of the people to continue as Prime Minister, then he should defer the debate on the 1998 Budget on Monday and move an emergency motion of confidence in him as Prime Minister.
With the nine-tenth parliamentary majority enjoyed by the Barisan Nasional, there should be no doubt that such a confidence motion would get overwhelming parliamentary support, unless something is brewing inside the government and the ruling party.
With the passage of the confidence motion in Parliament, the country can move on to address the national economic crisis rather than indulge in the unproductive activities of public demonstrations and wearing North-Korean type of badges to show support.
Mahathir should also send out a clear signal to the Malaysian press that he is serious about the Information Society he is advocating, and that the government accepts there would have to be a free flow of information which is travelling at the speed of light in the era of Information Technology and there is no need for the press to impose self-censorship.
A good example of such press self-censorship by many local newspapers is the suppression of an Associated Press report from Hong Kong on Wednesday on the "strongest response yet from a foreign government to Mahathirís increasingly virulent statements about the reasons for the 20-30 per cent plunge in the value of Malaysiaís currency since July".
The AP report datelined Hong Kong said:
Hong Kong - A senior US official said today that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamadís allegations of a Jewish conspiracy against his country are outrageous and self-defeating.
It was the strongest response yet from a foreign government to Mahathirís increasingly virulent statements about the reasons for the 20-30 per cent plunge in the value of Malaysiaís currency since July.
"Of course that characterization is utter nonsense and thereís no one in the region who takes that seriously," Stanley Roth, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said at a news conference.
Roth was attending a conference organized by the World Economic Forum.
"I think it is an embarrassment," Roth said. "I think it has hurt Malaysia, that we have seen a direct correlation between some of these outrageous allegations and the fall in the currency in Malaysia as well as the stock market."
He said he hopes the remarks will end so that attention can focus on resolving the region-wide currency crisis.
I hold no watching brief for Stanley Roth, who either does not know that Mahathir had denied the next day that he had alleged that there was a Jewish conspiracy against Malaysia, or who did not give much weight to Mahathirís denial. It is also up to the Malaysian government to make the appropriate response to Roth.
Malaysians, however, have a right to know that a senior US official had made such a strong statement to the reports about Mahathirís speech in Kuala Terengganu last Friday, and local mass media which had exercised press self-censorship in not informing their readers of this news item are not contributing to the development of an Information Society.