The Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, is on holiday. He left on Friday for New York and the World Economic Forum aka the Davos Forum to speak on Islam in the modern state and attend a workshop on risk-proof capital flows. I assumed the Davos Forum is in New York this year to "express solidarity with post Sept 11 New York". Wrong, the New Sunday Times tells me this morning (03 Feb 02); it is held so "3,000 presidents, prime ministers, CEOs and other movers and shakers" could network and listen to Dr Mahathir Mohamed. Malaysians should not ever forget that even on holiday he miss not an opportunity to tell the world Malaysia cannot be ignored because he is prime minister. And when he appears on the world stage, he is waited upon by the likes of President Bush, Mr Blair, Mr Putin, Mr Jiang Zemin and the band of movers and shakers. This happens when self delusion strikes as he loses his grip on power -- not politically but culturally. He becomes more autocratic, demands to be fawned as the world's Great White Hope, and nothing short of sycophantic adulation pleases him.
But if he was all the New Sunday Times said he was, why did he arrive two days into the conference, spend a day there for his two sessions, visit the site of the World Trade Centre, now renamed Ground Zero, and speed off to Argentina before the sessions ended. Argentina? Yes, Argentina. He has a ranch there, where he spends his holidays. Would not the world's movers and shakers riot like they did in Buenos Aires at being denied of a chance to meet the world's main mover and shaker? We live in Bolehland, remember. What is is not what is but what one insists is. It is not the Prime Minister's sin alone. It is a national disease, fanned and encouraged by those who exist to praise Dr Mahathir to the skies.
Is it the right time to visit Argentina? Yes. The Argentinian crisis, with rioters demanding their money from the banks, is a mirror image of what could happen in Malaysia. It requires but an unintended miscalculation or faux pas to turn the country belly up. The two countries have about the same amount of private and sovereign debt -- about US$100 billion -- though two ambassadors -- one Latin American, one Southeast Asia -- assures me that unlike Argentina, Malaysia has the capacity to repay. Perhaps. But as the Asian financial crisis in 1997 showed, it takes little to turn a setback into a rout when the barbarians are at the gate. Ask Thailand. Malaysia is worse off than Argentina, what with off-the-cuff prescriptions for national disasters. Every policy is made on the run, without discussion or thought, delivered in the most inappropriate of places, and on the whim and fancy of the prime minister.
Is it how Malaysia be run? Perhaps he should use the holiday to reflect on how he administers his country, look at what happens around him in Buenos Aires en reoute to his ranch and if it could happen in Kuala Lumpur, and if the devastation he sees is not serious enough, reflect on what Malaysia would be like when he tours the desolate Antarctica. He continues to insist Malaysia is flush with cash, and has nothing to worry about; and Singapore and others who impose a tighter fiscal regimen are way off mark. He now wants to pick a fight with Singapore. Nothing unites the Malays than accusing a non-Malay neighbour of perfidy and worse. Singapore was wrong to insist, amidst this worldwide war on terror, on a ban on tudungs (Arabic headscarf widely worn by Muslims) for pupils. But what is it to Malaysia if she did? Or did not? It is her right to disallow it in the name of racial and cultural integration. We gave up the ghost, forced a change in our school dress, imposed Islamic forms that instead of uniting Malaysians into one nationalist, we are dispersing them into their tribal roots. And the only option for a united Malaysian nation, it appears, is Islam and nothing else.
Argentina does not have these problems, and could get out of its mess quicker than we could. The Mexican and Brazilian fiscal crises were quickly sorted out in their countries. They could because there is a reservoir of talent and remedies that could be brought out quickly to revamp the system. This is not available here in Malaysia. Our future is linked, as matters stand, to the mayhem of Africa than the resoluteness of Latin America. So, when Dr Mahathir addresses his audience -- he is one of a hundred speakers -- he ought to find out who amongst his listeners would rush to Malaysia when the chips are down. It is time to play the supplicant in world affairs, especially when the home fires dim.
To come back to the Davos Forum, it is a living exampale of what marketing can do to a product. For years it met in humdrum existence, and it was not until after the Soviet Union broke up in 1989, and the organisers brought in Mikhail Gorbachev as the star that it acquired the status it now has. And with free advertising from those who pay nearly RM25,000 to attend, if only to prove spending that much money is worth it, how could it fail? The NST diaryist describes it as "the earth's pre-eminent political and economic powerfest". Really? So, when Arthur Andersen or its Malaysian equivalent comes to check the books of a losing company, as the NST is, the extravagance could be justified? It is not the NST alone?. Eighty-eight others went along for the ride. They have done it for years. What good has it done for us? But it has made the Davos Forum organisers very rich indeed. At our expense.