Mahathir should explain why Malaysian government was not represented at the World Economic Forum in Davos although he was piqued at not being a keynote speaker

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Bernama on Sunday had reported that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, had in Paris given a more direct answer to the question of his absence from  the World Economic Forum (WEF)  in Davos than the one he gave in London on  Thursday.

 Bernama reported:

I do not believe that this can be the real reason for Mahathir’s last-minute cancellation of the WEF annual meeting, or why Malaysia did not send another  official  representative to the WEF which has been described  as the world's top networking and brainstorming session, bringing together  the most influential political, business and intellectual leaders on the globe to set the tone, atmosphere and priorities for the start of the new century.

The first time Mahathir explained why he was not going to Davos was when he arrived in London on Thursday from his Argentinian and Caribbean holidays. He said  he wanted to go home early, and not because of financier George Soros and he went into a tirade against Soros,  calling him a "nonentity whom no one listens to anymore and whose book is drivel".

This was because the Singapore Straits Times (STS) had earlier reported that Mahathir had decided to  skip the WEF in Davos because he was unwilling to sit in the same panel with former Israeli Prime  Minister Shimon Peres and financier George Soros.
However, the International Herald Tribune (28.1.2000) reported differently, quoting a  WEF spokesman at Davos as saying that Mahathir  had cited "problems at home".

A day earlier, the Financial Times of London attributed a different reason for Mahathir’s absence. In an editorial, it said:

If there is no basis in this Davos grapevine story, the government should put the record straight.

I have looked at the  original WEF programme and Mahathir appeared to have been given quite a special treatment of having two  separate opportunities to air his views, firstly in the prestigious opening plenary debate on 28th January 2000 focussing on the outlook for the world economy under the WEF Annual Meeting 2000 theme of "New Beginnings: Making a Difference", which would be telecast live as well as  webcast on the Internet.

Others slated to appear in this debate with Mahathir were Saxony’s minister president, Kurt Biedenkop, Renault CEO Louis Schweitzer and financier George Soros, with Ronnie Chan, Chairman of Hang Lung Development Company, Hong Kong SAR as the chairman.

Mahathir was originally scheduled to participate  at another  plenary session (which unlike other "interactive sessions"  are on the record and transmitted live in the press conference room, and on all the TV monitors throughout the Congress Centre and hotels in Davos), namely:

In any event, whatever the real reason why Mahathir decided at the last minute not to personally attend the WEF in Davos, he should have despatched either the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi or another senior Cabinet Minister to Davos.

The Malaysian government  is the only government which wants to be a major player in the global marketplace as well as an IT power which did not send any representative to the WEF in Davos,  the first major international gathering since the World Trade Organisation collapsed as a result of NGO demonstrations in  Seattle in early December last year.

The WEF, with the theme "New Beginnings: Making a Difference", seeks to deal with the new realities which are radically changing almost every domain of human activity with the compounding forces of globalization, the technology and biology revolutions, and the emergence of the e-economy confronting mankind with a challenge of unprecedented magnitude.

In not  sending a representative to the WEF,  the Malaysian government  is opting out of the global debate on the new orientations and strategies which are needed to address the new economic, technological, societal and geo-political realities of the 21st century.

Other countries sent their big guns like President Clinton of United States, Tony Blair Prime Minister of United Kingdom,  South African President Thabo Mbeki,  Italian President Carlo A. Ciampi, German President Johannes Rau, Danish Prime Minister Poul Rasmussen, Norway’s  Prime Minister K.M. Bondevik, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak  and  Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Asia and the ASEAN countries were also strongly represented with strong delegations from China, Japan, South Korea and India. ASEAN nations were represented by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry George Yeo and Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines Rafael Buenaventura.

Mahathir should give a satisfactory explanation why the Malaysian government was not represented at the WEF even though he had decided for reasons he has still to disclose to make a last-minute cancellation of his Davos commitment.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman