Question: Select one of Malaysia’s past Prime Ministers and discuss his contributions to the country.
Title: Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad: Malaysian Mindset and Modernization Metamorphosis.
In its forty-nine years of independence, Malaysia has been governed by five Prime Ministers, namely, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad; and the current Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. However, it was Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who brought about the greatest changes to our nation.
In my opinion, even though the other Prime Ministers have also made numerous contributions, it was Tun’s contributions which made the most impact on Malaysia as his visions were thought of to be radical yet extremely effective.
Tun’s contributions can be classified under two aspects. The two aspects which will be discussed are the change of the nation’s mindset and the modernization of Malaysia, respectively.
Based on my analysis, I find that Tun has tried to change our conservative beliefs so that we can move forward as a modern independent nation. Although it was Tunku Abdul Rahman who first took the initiative to change the nation’s mindset to claim independence from the British colonists, Tun Dr. Mahathir has actually taken the idea to the next level.
Tun believes that our people can achieve anything we wanted to, an idea clearly reflected in the ‘Malaysia Boleh’1 spirit he promoted. One example is the outstanding achievement of Malaysian university student Leonard Lee, who swam non-stop across the English Channel2. This shows that Malaysians now have the self-confidence and patriotic spirit to excel in the international arena.
Tun’s other contributions in this aspect include the construction of mega structures such as the Penang Bridge and the Sepang Circuit3. These large-scale projects have never been executed before during his predecessors’ tenure. This has given our people a sense of confidence that we are capable of producing world-class infrastructures equal to those of other developed countries.
During the Economic Crisis of 1997, this self-belief spirit weathered us through the financial storm. Tun had done the unexpected by fixing the value of the Malaysian Ringgit and succeeded in preventing our economic downfall as other countries have experienced at that time. According to Prof. Dadi Rodrik from Harvard University, the capital control decision made by Tun was proven to be effective4. On a personal note, the capital control has saved my family from losing our home5.
Other than that, Tun’s ‘Leadership by Example’ principle has taught us to learn from those who have succeeded. This was the reason the Look-East Policy6 was first introduced in December 1981 as an effort to emulate the Japanese managerial system. Tun’s point of view was that the Japanese are a perfect example of a successful eastern nation and that our people should practice their work ethics. By doing so, our country can be as competent as any other modern nation, independent of any foreign resources and workforce for development.
In the second aspect, which is modernization, Tun was able to make Malaysia change from an agricultural-based country to an industrial manufacturing machine. During Tun Abdul Razak’s tenure as prime minister, most of the development plans mainly revolved around education, agricultural production and rural development.
Tun’s focus on industrial manufacturing greatly improved Malaysia’s economic performance and productivity. Malaysia has been able to achieve outstanding growth, given the fact that forty-six years ago we lagged behind Haiti in per capita income. We have since grown annually at an average of 7%, which places us third in per capita income in the Western Hemisphere7.
Aside from the integration of Japanese work ethics in our managerial system, the Look-East Policy has also allowed our nation to gain access to Japanese technical training and transfer of technology to improve our technology and human resources. Malaysia’s industrial revolution soon began to take shape. The pioneer to the revolution was the production of our first national car, the Proton Saga, released in 19858,9.
Another step in Malaysia’s modernization is to reduce the incidence of poverty amongst the people which led to the formulation of the New Economic Policy launched by Tun Abdul Razak in 1971. The basis of this policy came from Tun’s first self-written book, ‘The Malay Dilemma’. The NEP actually aims to create a balanced distribution of wealth in the multiracial community10. Statistics show that the incidence of poverty has dropped from 37% to 7.5% in the last twenty years11.
Even though Tun Hussein Onn was known as The Father of Unity, Tun has also greatly contributed to inter-racial unity. According to Scott McConnell;
“It has been Mahathir’s great accomplishment to create a sense of balance and accommodation between the Malays and the 25-30 percent Chinese and 10 percent Indian minorities…”
With this financial progress, more rural areas were urbanized and the infrastructures have also been enhanced to gain efficiency and productivity. For example, the North-South Highway was opened in 1994 to improve transportation12. This cuts down transportation time by half in the Malaysian peninsula.
All of Tun’s contributions were actually part of a bigger plan. He believes in our country’s potential to become a well-developed nation by 2020. The blueprint for his vision was outlined in the 6th Malaysian Plan, which is known as Vision 202013. To me, Vision 2020 is the incorporation of Tun’s forethought in balancing the changing of Malaysians’ mindset and the modernization of the country.
In his poem14, he expresses the importance of a new mindset and modernization as a step to retain our nation’s independence and achieving Vision 2020. By implementing new policies and national development plans, this objective has been accomplished.
As a conclusion, Tun has brought about the greatest changes to Malaysia with his visionary development plans. He was able to change Malaysians’ mindset and the nation from a backwater of Asia and in certain aspect of development, to be on par with other developed nations. Although no longer holding Malaysia’s highest office, he should be appreciated for his countless contributions in establishing a new Malaysian mindset and molding the modern Malaysia. The current and future Prime Ministers shall build on the foundation laid by Tun Dr. Tun Mohamad.
1. Available online at http://allmalysia.info/msiaknow/malaysiana/malaysia_boleh.asp
2. Lee Yuk Peng (2004)
3. Joan Fam Li Hing and others (2006)
4. Ethan Kaplan & Dadi Rodrik (2002). The paper was written and revised in 2001 concludes that the capital control “worked very well indeed”.
5. My family will always be grateful to Tun Dr. Mahathir for cushioning the impact of 1997 economic crisis through the capital control which curbed the rising interest rate.
6. Lim Hua Sing (1984)
7. Scott McConnell (2003)
8. Malaysian Business (2005)
9. Clarence Y.K. Ngui (2005)
10. Dr. Mahathir Mohamed (1998)
11. Rehman Rashid and James Wong Wing-On
12. S. Hashim Ahmad (2001)
13. Diplomacy (1994)
14. The poem titled ‘Di atas Runtuhan Kota Melaka, Kita Dirikan Putrajaya’ was written in conjunction with Pesta Puisi Patriotik 2001 at Taman Putra Perdana, Putrajaya. Available online at http://www.beritakmu.net
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Dato’ Zainol Rashid, Dr. Zahidi. 2003. Mahathir Menjulang Martabat Malaysia. ALF Promotions.
Diplomacy. 1994. “Malaysia: Powerhouse of the 90’s” Malaysian Prime Minister at International Conference, vol. 20, no. 8, August, 22-23 cont. 30.
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Hing, Joan Fam Li and others. 2006. Tun Dr. Mahathir’s Legacy: An Inspirational Learning Experience. Kuala Lumpur: Krista Education Sdn. Bhd.
Kaplan, Ethan & Rodrik, Dadi. 2002. “Did the Malaysian Capital Control Works?” In S. Edwards and J. Frankel, eds. Preventing Currency Crises in Emerging Markets. The University of Chicago Press for NBER
Malaysian Business. 2005. “Not Simply A Car.” July 16th- 31st, 31-32.
Mohamed, Dr. Mahathir. 1998. The Way Forward. Wiedenfeld and Nicholson, Orion Publishing Group Ltd.
Ngui, Clarence Y.K. 2005. “Challenging Road” Malaysian Business, July 16th- 31st, 24 20.
Rashid, Rehman and James Wong Wing-On. 2003. “Malaysia in Transition: The Battle for The Malay Mind” Trends in Southeast Asia, no. 8, August, 1-20.
Sing, Lim Hua. 1984. “Japanese Perspective on Malaysia’s Look East Policy” Southeast Asian Affairs. 231-245.
Taib, Abd. Halim. 1999. Lahirnya di Bumi Kubang Pasu Menggegarkan Dunia Nov. Datuk Mohd. Ghani, Publisher.
Welsh, Bridget. 2003. “Malaysia’s Transition: Elite Contestation, Political Dilemmas and Incremental Change” Asia Program, no.116, September, 4-8.
Yong, Hng Hung. 1998. CEO Malaysia Strategy in Nation Building. Pelanduk Publications (M) Sdn. Bhd.
Kent, Jonathan. 2003. “Mahathir Sets Retirement Date.” BBC Kuala Lumpur. 28 September.
Mat, Dr. Rabieyah and Siti Asiah Ahmad. “Utilizing Census Results In The Malaysian Development Plan 2001-2005” Department of Statistics Malaysia.
McConnell, Scott. 2003. “The Malay Dilemma: A New Prosperous Nation Faces Islamic Fundamentalism” The American Conservative. 8 September.
Mohamad, Dr. Mahathir, 2001. “Di Atas Runtuhan Kota Melaka Kita Dirikan Putrajaya” 29 August. http://www.beritakmu.net Accessed 23 December 2006
Peng, Lee Yuk. 2004. “Student Swims Across Channel in Less than 10 Hours” Star Online. 16 July. http://www.thestar.com.my Accessed 21 November 2006
Word count: 995.