NAM Summit tomorrow should debate whether to make an unprecedented change to the NAM mechanism to offer the chair of NAM for the next three years to Mahathir instead of to Malaysia as the host country

Media Conference Statement
- after closing the two-day DAPSY National leadership retreat

by Lim Kit Siang

(Port Dickson,  Sunday): The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit beginning tomorrow should debate whether it should make an unprecedented change to the NAM mechanism to offer the chair of NAM for the next three years to Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad instead of to Malaysia as the host country, so that Mahathir will continue as NAM Chair even after he steps down as the fourth Malaysian Prime Minister in October this year.

This is because a lot of hopes have been placed on Mahathir that under his leadership in the next three years, when Malaysia is chair of NAM, the 116-nation movement could be revitalized - which is a tall order as NAM is regarded as more dead than alive, still at sea in its attempt to rediscover its international relevance after the end of the Cold War and bipolar world politics.

What is not generally realized is that Mahathir's tenure as Chairman of NAM would be a very brief one. Mahathir will take over the chair of NAM in the Kuala Lumpur NAM Summit by virtue of his position as Prime Minister of Malaysia, the host nation for the 13th NAM Summit, but his chair of NAM would also have to end when he relinquishes the office as Prime Minister in October this year - passing the NAM baton together with the Malaysian premiership to his successor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

This was in fact what happened to Nelson Mandela. He became chair of NAM after the 12th NAM Summit in Durban, South Africa in September 1998, but when he stepped down as South Africa President in June, 1999, the NAM Chair was also handed over to the new South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who will be handing over the Chair to Malaysia at the KL NAM Summit.

This means that Mahathir has only eight months or even less as Chair of NAM - as he would be going on leave for two months after the NAM Summit. This raises the question whether Mahathir can succeed in eight or six months to revitalize the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) where Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and other "giants" of the Third World who had served as NAM Chairmen in the past had failed for over a decade?

If Mahathir is to be Chair of NAM with the task to revitalize NAM in the 21st century so as to establish NAM as a respected voice and force to be reckoned with in international affairs, then the traditional NAM methodology of operations would have to be altered whereby the Chair of NAM is offered to Mahathir at the KL NAM summit instead of to Malaysia as the host country.

Such a break from NAM tradition has problems of its own, such as:

  • Whether this is acceptable to the host nation, as this will inevitably be an adverse reflection on Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as the successor Prime Minister to Mahathir; and

  • Whether without the office of Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir could be effective as Chair of NAM as he does not have the full clout of a government behind him, which is only possible if the Chair is the head of state or government of the host country - especially with the traditional opposition in certain influential quarters in NAM to the establishment of any permanent secretariat.

This is a question which merits attention in the first day of the NAM Summit tomorrow.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman