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BW: The Curse of Dr. M
By Bruce Einhorn

29/3/2001 12:44 am Thu

[Mahathir memang gemar memuntahkan kata-kata yang kesat untuk memperlekehkan seseorang dan dia tidak ambil perduli jika itu bercanggah dengan norma hidup dan batas-batas keugamaan. Anwar dan Ku Li diaibkan sebegitu teruk sehingga kerier mereka terus terpadam dari dalam walaupun ia mungkin menyala di luar.

Pihak asing juga menjadi mangsa tuduhannya yang celupar walaupun mereka jugalah yang selama ini menolongnya keluar dari tersepit krisis ekonomi.

Mahathir gemar bermain kata kerana dia kerap menang walaupun banyak katanya tidak berfakta. Banyak pihak termakan apa yang dikata bila kepentingan diri sudah menjadi raja. Kalau tidak termakan pun, mereka akan dituduh mementingkan diri juga - juga dengan kata-kata. Itulah putar alam Mahathir sehingga musnah negara dan rosak ugama dibuatnya. Hidup kini menjadi penuh dengan prasangka.... yang tidak berpijak di alam nyata.

Perception is deception.
- Editor

MARCH 19, 2001

By Bruce Einhorn

The Curse of Dr. M

Malaysia's Mahathir has been so bad for his nation that his name has become a verb, meaning "to wreck a country's fortunes"

In any contest for worst ruler in Asia, you would have to consider Malaysia's longtime leader, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. But do it carefully. Remember, the septuagenarian Prime Minister is a bit, well, sensitive to criticism. And he comes up with ingenious ways to get rid of annoying rivals.

How many other global leaders have had the nerve to lock up a popular critic on trumped-up charges of homosexual shenanigans? And how many other self-described lovers of democracy have the nerve to blame the victim when the same locked-up critic complains of police beatings in jail? That's what Dr. M (he's a medical doctor, not a PhD) famously did with protégé-turned-opponent Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 and 1999.

If that were all, of course, Mahathir would not rank too high in the Asian pantheon of failures. Oh, it's headline-grabbing stuff, all right. But these days, the competition is pretty heavy. There's bumbling Japanese Premier Yoshiro Mori, the man who decided to continue his golf game after learning that a U.S. submarine had struck and sunk a Japanese fishing boat filled with teenagers. And then there's Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, who elected to fly off on a trip to the Middle East while his citizens engaged in brutal ethnic cleansing in Borneo.


Asia has no shortage of political stupidity. But let's consider some of Mahathir's other "achievements." Take, for starters, his blatant anti-Semitism. During the worst of the Asian financial crisis, Mahathir hauled out a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and blamed Muslim-hating Jews -- rather than his own mismanagement -- for doing in Malaysia's economy. Then there's his America-bashing. Never mind that Malaysia depends heavily on American markets for its exports of electronics goods and on American investment to produce much of those goods. That has never stopped Mahathir from tearing into the U.S. when it's convenient.

Why stop there? Look at his xenophobic attacks on the foreign press. And his penchant for supporting outlandish grand projects -- the world's tallest building, the world's longest building. You name it, if it involves setting some type of record for Malaysia, Dr. M has been for it. There's Mahathir's refusal to push for the sort of widespread reform that Malaysia and other Asian countries desperately need in the wake of the 1990s boom and bust.

And he keeps on keeping on. Japan's Mori and Indonesia's Wahid have been in office for only a short time -- and may not last much longer, either. Dr. M, on the other hand, is the longest-serving leader in Asia, having run Malaysia for two decades.


It's likely few will remember Wahid or Mori-san a few years from now. You can't say the same for the colorful Mahathir. His most lasting legacy may be his contribution to the Queen's English, which is perhaps most ironic of all, since he rails frequently about Britain's colonization of the country in the 19th and 20th centuries. You see, Mahathir is no longer just a name. It's also a verb -- as in "to Mahathir an economy." That means to almost single-handedly bring down a country's fortunes by shooting off at the mouth.

I realized this a few days ago when I came across an opinion piece on the Bloomberg news wire by William Pesek Jr. In his column, Pesek pointed out the problems that Japanese Finance Minister Keniichi Miyazawa encountered when he proclaimed that the Japanese financial system was close to "collapse," the sort of word that is not likely to inspire confidence among global investors.

Pesek also mentioned how U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney fell into a similar verbal trap shortly after the November election by saying that the U.S. economy was falling into a recession. Cheney's goal was probably to help pave the way for the Bush Administration's tax cuts -- and to make sure that any downturn in the U.S. got blamed on the outgoing Clinton Administration. In the process, though, he and other Bushies have run the risk of saying such irresponsible things that they damage the economy with their own rhetoric. "Officials," Pesek writes, "have to be careful not to 'Mahathir' their economy."


When you're the leader of a small, relatively poor nation in Southeast Asia without much strategic importance to the rest of the world, that's the kind of global recognition that money can't buy. Sure, newly elected Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra may already be a billionaire (unlike former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos or Indonesian President Suharto, who had to wait until getting into office before making their fortunes). But don't count on anybody using Thaksin's name as a verb anytime soon. And diminutive Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may have succeeded in ousting one of the more corrupt regimes in recent Philippine history, but I wouldn't expect many people to incorporate "Macapagal-Arroyo" into their vocabulary, either.

But Dr. M isn't one to rest on his laurels. The most recent debacle surrounds the initial public offering of telecom provider Time DotCom. The company manages Malaysia's biggest fiber-optic network. And it's part of Time Engineering, which is controlled by the Renong Group, a conglomerate with strong ties to UMNO, which is the biggest party in Malaysia's coalition government. Mahathir is president of UMNO.

That political pedigree didn't help Time DotCom much with investors, who bought only 25% of its shares in the recent IPO. After the offering, a state-run pension fund admitted that it had given Time DotCom a $260 million injection for a 10% stake in the company. That has prompted critics to accuse Mahathir's government of leading yet another bailout of a well-connected company.


Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang points out that, following the dismal public reception of Time DotCom's offering in February, the pension fund intervened and bought up leftover shares from the underwriters, paying the IPO price of 39 cents, even though everyone knew it was sure to plummet as soon as the shares started trading. And sure enough, once they did in March, Time DotCom's stock plunged 31%. "The use of public funds to bail out the Time DotCom 75% IPO shortfall," Lim writes on his Web page (, is "tantamount to criminal breach of trust and criminal misapplication of public funds." Lim has called for a police investigation.

Now, knowing what we do about Dr. M, guess how a police investigation in Malaysia will turn out.

Einhorn covers technology from Hong Kong for BusinessWeek.

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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