Blaming globalisation for the economic crisis which hit Malaysia and
other East Asian countries in 1997, Mahathir said: "They tried and
nearly succeeded but we were able to foil the attempt this time and
we were able to revive our country's economy.
"But we are not safe yet. Attempts are still being made. If not for the demonstrations against the WTO (World Trade Organisation) in Seattle, maybe another part of our border will have collapsed."
This is the first time in Mahathirís 19-year tenure as Prime Minister that he had conceded that demonstrations have an important role in national or international civil society - and is particularly significant after the hardline crackdown against the Reformasi demonstrations sparked off by the sacking, selective prosecution and persecution of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, which were definitely much tamer and more civil as compared to the Seattle demonstrations.
More than 500 people were arrested in Seattle where thousands of street protestors blocked the roads to shut down the WTO, forcing the abandonment of the opening ceremonies and disrupting the 3rd Ministerial Conference of the WTO on 30 November 1999.
The Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference that was supposed to launch a new Round collapsed, with no new Round, no Seattle Declaration, or even a brief joint statement to thank the hosts or decide on the follow-up process.
The most basic causes of the Seattle protests were the non-transparent and undemocratic nature of the WTO system, the blatant manipulation of that system by the major powers, the refusal of many developing countries to continue to be on the receiving end, and worldwide NGO calls for globalization with a human face with greater equity in the globalization process.
The Seattle demonstrations herald the advent of a global civil society. The WTO was shut down by thousands of NGO activists worldwide with nothing but determination and unarmed human bodies. The protests helped bring a halt to the Third Round of negotiations between powerful world leaders who wanted to trade in more of the earth's forests, compromise more laws protecting public health, and open up the public services for sale to corporations. With little help and every hindrance from the corporate media, activists brought this secret new oligarchy, quickly expanding its powers over democracies around the world, into public view.
Mahathir has reason to be grateful for the collapse of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, as it embodied an increasingly powerful worldwide response to the human costs of an unworkable global regime and signalled the beginning of another era. Power is passing from transnational institutions to national governments and NGOs. At the same time that power is passing to the NGOs, it is flowing back to national governments.
But Mahathir cannot apply double-standards, supporting NGO activism internationally and the emergence of a global civil society while suppressing local NGO activism and the development of a vibrant civil society in Malaysia.
Before Mahathir goes overseas for leave, he should direct the Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday to adopt a new policy position on NGOs where the government fully accepts NGOs as an integral part of the nation-building and development process.
For a start, the people in the Klang Valley, particularly Shah Alam and Klang, should take inspiration from Mahathirís praise for the WTO demonstrations at Seattle to mount massive demonstrations of protest against PLUS and the authorities for recurrent floods coupled with massive and prolonged traffic jams.
On Wednesday, for the second time in a month, thousands of motorists were caught in a massive traffic jam when all three highways linking Kuala Lumpur and Klang were cut off by flash floods.
A two-hour downpour that began at 4pm in Shah Alam caused rivers to burst their banks and stretches of the North Klang Valley Expressway (NKVE), Federal Highway Route II and the Kesas Highway to be flooded, forcing the concessionaires to close off several stretches of all three major links between the Federal capital and Klang.
Barely a month ago on Dec 6, 1999 flash floods cut off the Federal Highway and the NKVE. The blame then was on poor drainage in the vicinity and this was followed closely by promises of remedial works by both the Public Works Department and the toll concessionaires involved.
Motorists caught in the big jam on the way back to Kuala Lumpur from Shah Alam after work at 5 p.m. complained that they finally reached home at 11.30 p.m. What they found galling was that after being caught in the jam for almost seven hours, PLUS "had the cheek" to demand payment of toll at the Klang and Shah Alam toll booths.
As another motorist wrote to the press:
"It took me five hours to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Shah Alam on Wednesday (from 5.20 p.m. to 10.15 p.m.) all because of flash floods in these places. Why havenít authorities done something about it? It is always the same places that are hit. Why wait?
"The worst thing is that Shah Alam becomes totally inaccessible - not through NKVE, KESAS or the Federal Highway!
"The NKVE to Batu Tiga was closed and we were diverted by PLUS authorities to the Subang exit where we were greeted by the Federal Highway traffic mess (Kelana Business Centre) and left to fend for ourselves.
"Will the authorities please cut the red tape and address this matter, and do it fast?"
PLUS is trying to pass the blame to others by claiming that efforts by the company alone would not solve flooding problems and the ensuing traffic gridlocks. This is totally unacceptable.
PLUS and other toll concessionaires should not only waive toll collection each time a highway user is inconvenienced by floods on its roads, but should waive toll collection for three consecutive days whenever such massive and prolonged traffic jams take place as a gesture of remorse and penance for its incompetence and failure to meet its contractual bargain to provide a smooth and comfortable journey to highway users.