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National debate on the successes and failures of Mahathir as the longest-serving Prime Minister of Malaysia on tv, radio and the press - starting with why Malaysia needs 40 years until 2020 to reach developed nation status when South Korea could achieve this in 15 years starting with lower per capita income


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik yesterday praised sky-high the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as having "done a wonderful job in forging a sophisticated, extraordinary and outstanding country".

Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) in Kampar by Mahathir yesterday, Ling quoted author Michael Backman, who described Mahathir as a good example of a great leader, and declared that Malaysia had benefited much from Mahathir.

As the longest-serving Prime Minister of Malaysia whose fourth premiership spanned almost half the 45-year history of the nation since Independence, Mahathir has a mixed record of successes, failures and unfinished business.

I had only yesterday at the 13th DAP National Conference suggested that Mahathir should at least accomplish ten tasks in the nine-and-a-half months left before he passed the baton of government to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after the OIC Summit in October - tasks which are important to secure a proper and solid foundation for an united, tolerant, progressive and prosperous Malaysia to face the challenges of the 21st century.

These ten tasks include:

  1. end the division of Malaysians into bumiputras and non-bumiputras;

  2. withdraw his "929 Declaration" that Malaysia is an Islamic state and reaffirm the founding principles of the 45-year Merdeka Constitution and "social contract";

  3. Improve the quality and excellence of tertiary education in Malaysia so that Malaysia's best university is rated among Asia-Pacific's top 10 Best Universities, five best universities among Asia-Pacific's top 50, adoption of meritocracy for all academic appointments and appoint qualified non-Malays and women as university vice chancellors and deans of faculties.

  4. Restore English proficiency in the country to the standards and attainments three decades ago, full regard for Article 152 of the Federal Constitution and build new Chinese primary schools to meet increased student demands and needs.

  5. End corruption, cronyism and nepotism to give fillip to economic growth.

  6. An all-party/all religions/NGOs campaign to eradicate the international perception that Malaysia is a "terrorist centre".

  7. Restore the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the integrity and credibility of important national institutions such as the Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Agency, Suhakam, the Attorney-General's Office, Police, etc.

  8. Introduce a new democratic culture.

  9. Respect human rights and restore freedom of speech, assembly, association, a free press and the right to information and development.

  10. An intelligent and workable plan to transform Malaysia into a K economy.

There should in fact be a nation-wide debate on the successes and failures of Mahathir as the longest-serving Prime Minister of Malaysia for 22 years on tv, radio and the press, with all sectors of the Malaysian public participating.
It is better that this debate and review takes place when Mahathir is still Prime Minister instead of waiting until he had stepped down from office, as Mahathir and the country might be able to benefit from a current debate in his final 9 months as PM, while any debate after he had left office would only be useful for history.

Mahathir said recently that many people want him to do in ten months what would normally take three or four years. Undoubtedly, at this juncture of the nation's history, there are many things which only Mahathir and nobody else in the Barisan Nasional government can do, including rectifying numerous grave errors of government policies and measures.


The national debate on the successes and failures of Mahathir as the longest-serving Prime Minister of Malaysia can profitably start with the topic as to why Malaysia needs 40 years until 2020 to reach developed nation status when South Korea could achieve this in 15 years starting with lower per capita income.

When Mahathir became Prime Minister of Malaysia in July 1981, Malaysia had a higher per capita income of US$1,840 than South Korea which lagged behind with US$1,700. Two decades later, South Korea's per capita income had increased by leaps and bounds at the annual rate of 9.36 per cent, while Malaysia lagged behind with a slower growth at 3.96% per annum.

As a result, South Korea's per capita income in 2001 has not only overtaken that of Malaysia, but is 2.5 times higher. South Korean's per capita income for 2001 is US$9,400 as compared to Malaysia's per capita income of US$3,640.

From 1981 when Mahathir became Prime Minister, South Korea took 15 years to become a fully developed nation in 1996 when it joined the OECD although it had a lower per capita income than Malaysia. The question is why Malaysia has not reached fully developed nation status despite 22 years of Mahathir as Prime Minister, although Malaysia started off with a higher per capita income, and still needs another 17 years until 2020 to achieve this goal - or a period of 40 years from 1981 as compared to 15 years for South Korea!

An extensive debate as to why under the 22-year premiership of Mahathir, Malaysia lagged so far behind South Korea despite starting off with a higher per capita income can only be fruitful in identifying the factors as to why Malaysia had not developed at a faster rate, taking full account of the important factors of equity, justice, democracy, human rights and good governance.


(13/1/2003)


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman