Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Dr M's Legacy

Former Keadilan leader, Chandra Muzaffar, said something very interesting about Dr Mahathir:
"I don't think Dr Mahathir is very fond of the ISA. In contrast to previous leaders, he has favoured relatively shorter periods of detention".

This comment was made in the wake of the release of 4 ISA detainees on Monday. Many of the younger generation today are familiar with all the nasty labels hurled at Dr M, such as "dictator", "Mahazalim", "Mahafiraun" and others. Very few remember that when Dr M came into power as Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981 after the retirement of Tun Hussein Onn, the first thing that he did was to release many long-serving ISA detainees. Dr M together with Datuk Musa Hitam, his hand-picked Deputy Prime Minister - the so-called "2M" administration - was a breath of fresh air to the Malaysian political scene. They were young, energetic and visionary, promising a new administration that was bersih, cekap dan amanah (clean, efficient and trustworthy). Though Datuk Musa Hitam resigned as Dr M's deputy not long after, Dr M continued to transform Malaysia from an agricultural backwater to one of the leading industrialised developing countries in the world.

When one travels to other third world countries such as Indonesia, one begins to appreciate how far Malaysia has progressed. This was not achieved without great difficulty and many I think, underestimate the achievements of Dr M. We all know about the Penang Bridge, Proton Saga, Twin Tower and the MSC. Not many however remember the small but not insignificant things that Dr M initiated like how he forged closer integration with Sabah and Sarawak by putting the whole of Malaysia on a single time zone (Peninsula Malaysia had to move its clock half-an-hour forward and Singapore had to follow suit). We have Dr M to thank today if we are pleasantly surprised that when we fly to Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai or Beijing, we do not have to readjust our watches.

The ISA could be an anachronism in today's world where human rights and freedom of speech are considered as basic a need as food and water. But Malaysia is transforming, albeit slowly. The Malaysian government is cautious about drastic change. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the present Deputy Prime Minister sums up the Malaysian approach succinctly when he said:
"If we have erred, we have erred on the side of caution".

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