[FOUNTAIN]Moderate rabble-rouserHe was a doctor. Born in 1925, he graduated from King Edward VII Medical School in Singapore, which was under Malaysia’s control at the time. Elected as a member of parliament in 1964, his political career began to thrive. He became the Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981. Immediately after taking office, he advocated a “Look East” policy to benchmark the work ethic of Korea and Japan and transformed the country whose only exports were rubber and tin into a Southeast Asian manufacturing base. After spending 22 years in the top position, he plans to step down from the office voluntarily at the end of October. This is a short biography of Mahathir bin Mohamad, the longest-serving elected leader in the world.
Mr. Mahathir is a well-known vituperator. He has no reserve when speaking ill of the Western world, criticizing international financier George Soros and other Jewish investors for manipulating the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Thanks to his candid speech, he has earned the embarrassing nickname “IBM,” standing for “international big mouth.”
Days before his resignation, he made yet more headlines. When Islamic leaders met last week at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, Mr. Mahathir said, “Today, the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” Naturally, his remarks angered the Western world. The European Union almost adopted a declaration condemning his comment at its summit meeting. Instead, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, among others, held a news conferences denouncing Mr. Mahathir’s controversial remarks. U.S. President George W. Bush was equally displeased, and when the two met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit days later, he told Mr. Mahathir that the Jewish remark was “wrong and divisive.”
Mr. Mahathir and his record have gotten mixed reviews. The International Herald Tribune recognized his efforts in “fighting religious fundamentalism and preaching tolerance and multiculturalism.” On the other hand, he is criticized as fancying himself to represent Asia and Islam while oppressing freedom of speech and human rights in his country.
But with a clear and consistent vision, he successfully transformed Malaysia into a modern state. As a leader, he might have been more authoritarian than democratic, but his achievements and contributions to the country are undisputable. He has passion and vision.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.