This is because over 30 heads of state or government including US President Bill Clinton, United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, South Africa President Thabo Mbeki and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will be joining more than 2,000 corporate movers and shakers in the world, such as Microsoft's Bill Gates, America Online's Stephen Case and media magnate Rupert Murdoch as well as leaders of civil society, including many Nobel Prize winners, in what has been described as the world's top networking and brainstorming session at the Swiss Alpine resort.
Did Mahathir make the last-minute cancellation of his Davos appointment to elude world media questioning on his latest crackdown against democratic rights and fundamental freedoms in Malaysia with the arrest of Karpal Singh and other Opposition leaders and activists?
Mahathir should be aware that the arrest of Karpal and other Opposition leaders and activists would dominate all his appearances with the international media as the international civil society had united in its condemnation of the latest crackdown against democratic rights and fundamental freedoms in Malaysia.
Among the international NGOs which have denounced the Opposition arrests are Amnesty International, the International Press Institute, the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers, US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the London-based ARTICLE 19 International Centre Against Censorship.
The questioning by the world media in Davos on the latest crackdown against democratic rights and fundamental freedoms is likely to be even more rigorous than in the past as for the first time in the 30-year history of WEF, leading representatives of the international civil society have been invited into its plenary sessions and workshops to debate with heads of states or government and corporate moguls on the challenges of the 21st century.
Leading civil society representatives attending the WEF in Davos include Pierre Sane of Amnesty International, Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, Thilo Bode of Greenpeace International, David Bryer of OXFAM GB, Peter Eigen of Transparency International, Walden Bello of Focus of the Global South, Martin Khor of Third World Network and Aryeh Neier of Open Society Institute.
This is one positive outcome of the NGO demonstrations at the WTO Seattle Conference which broke up the World Trade Organisation Conference in early December last year.
Even if Mahathir had decided 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 for the first top-level meeting of the millennium bringing together the most influential political, business and intellectual leaders to set the tone, atmosphere and priorities for the start of the new century.
As it is, the Malaysian government is probably the only government among the developed and emergent nations which is not represented in Davos, as the other original ASEAN-five nations like Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and Indonesia are all represented by top officials..
The WEF, which will be its 30th annual meeting, has the theme "New Beginnings: Making a Difference" 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.
It is a matter of grave concern that the Malaysian government, with the last-minute cancellation of Mahathirís commitments in Davos without sending a representative, 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. Is Malaysia, under Mahathir, turning more and more inwards away from the process of globalisation?