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Rebuilding the nation and the region

By Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia

The 14th General Election last May was intense and Malaysians will remember it long after the settles. Not only will they remember the gruelling month-long campaign but more than that, was their sel­fless commitment to end the powerful Barisan Nasional’s 61-year rule. The victory defied all the odds, something that from the outset pundits, journalists and analysts, both local and foreign, had declared nearly impossible. 

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia

On the 9th of May 2018, Malaysians rallied together to vote in a new government, a government that they hoped would wash away all the dark and dirty stains left behind by the previous regime. It was the end of a dark period; a period when Malaysia was known to the world as a kleptocracy.

In the early hours of May 10th, when news of the victory swept across the nation, the sense of relief was pervasive. Clearly, democracy had been restored and restored in the best manner possible. The peaceful transition of power signified maturity and good sense. It was an epochal moment, a new beginning. It meant that the time for us to rebuild and re-energize our past achievements had dawned.

However, stark realities soon emerged and it was obvious the damage left by the previous administration was far greater than what was believed. The government’s first steps involved a massive rehabilitation of the civil service, which had become widely corrupted and politicized. This was done within the first six months of our administration and will continue to be our focus in the years to come. Businesses will profit from the eradication of corruption and reduction of bureaucratic delays. The private sector is expected to grow from hereon. As I write this, Malaysia is already No. 1 in the emerging markets list.

Internationally, our reputation had taken a beating because of a slew of cases involving 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad), whose tentacles spread across the continents. The priority is to let the rule of law return and prosecute all perpetrators of wrongdoing. Those who abused their position of power for personal benefit will be brought to justice. We are serious in recapturing our respectability and reputation.

Malaysia is a trading nation. Trade is the main driver for our economy. Our principle of being friendly to every nation has benefitted us since our independence in 1957. Any disputes and disagreements will be resolved at the negotiation table, not through conflict.

In terms of foreign relations, Malaysia has always been neutral and, more often than not, has spoken out to defend the rights of weaker nations. We endeavor to be the voice of developing countries. ‘Prosper thy neighbor’ is the principle we adhere to, especially in a world facing many economic challenges.

Our closest neighbors in ASEAN are our allies. We admit that ASEAN as a grouping lack the cohesiveness and the potential to be an economic powerhouse. There are more than 600 million people in this region, yet the market is severely underutilized.

Close cooperation in areas that can bring about mutual benefit must be encouraged. Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things have greatly changed the business landscape and ASEAN cannot afford to be left behind. Working cohesively as a unit will ultimately give a lot of reward in the face of trade wars and economic sanctions.

Malaysia 2019 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

PDF of the printed report

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