Mahathirism: The single most important era in Malaysian developmental economics history


Recently, Malaysian Insider, an online news based political portal reported a story on upcoming Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Mohd. Najib Tun Razak was bringing back the “Mahathirism” era, when he comes in at the helm by March 2009.


His running mate, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd. Yassin was fast to respond when press ask him for an opinion on the matter. The Star has the story:

Sunday October 12, 2008 MYT 8:33:04 PM

‘No return of Mahathirism’


MUAR: Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin does not believe Mahathirism will return when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak becomes the Prime Minister next year.

He insisted that Najib had his own ideas, vision and strong political determination to lead the country towards a new era not only for the Malays but for all Malaysians.

“It will be improper for anyone to say the country and Umno would be under the control of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when Najib takes over the premiership,” said Muhyiddin, a contender for the deputy president’s post.

“I don’t think Najib would want it to happen as he has his own political programmes to re-strengthen Umno and regain the people’s confidence,” he told reporters Sunday after opening the Pagoh Umno division general assembly.

He was commenting on former de facto Law Minister Senator Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s comment in the Sunday Star that Najib’s impending rise to the Umno presidency would mark the return of Mahathirism.

Jerlun MP Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir said Zaid’s comments only showed he was anti-Mahathir.

He said Zaid revealed his anti-Mahathir streak when he called on Cabinet ministers to seek forgiveness from the judges who had been sacked or suspended in the 1988 judicial crisis.

Mukhriz said Zaid had asked the Cabinet to do so even before he took his oath of office as minister.

He added that Zaid’s latest remarks truly showed his hatred for Dr Mahathir, who had lifted Malaysia’s image, dignity and prosperity to a level never achieved before.

Speaking to reporters Sunday before attending a Hari Raya gathering with Umno Youth members here, Mukhriz claimed that Zaid’s efforts to make the judicial appointments system more transparent and to allow the Bar Council to be involved in the appointment of judges would not play much of a role in the nation’s progress.

He asserted the reform issues raised by the former minister, if not implemented, would not cause the nation to crumble, adding that Malaysians had lived all this while without them.

“Zaid claimed he wanted to reform the system and to save Umno but I don’t see how all the issues he mentioned will benefit the Malays or Umno,” added Muhkriz who is vying for the Umno Youth presidency.


Lets recap what “Mahathirism” was all about.

In 24 years of managing the economy post independence, where the mainstay then were primary products dependent and secondary low end manufacturing economy, Tun Dr. Mahathir had brought Malaysia to be the most promising new ‘tiger cub’ economy of East Asia, after South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. The economic growth was promising enough that by 1990, the consistent annual expansion of 8% coupled with the vast economic and human capital resource available, meant Malaysia had potential to be developed nation status. Hence, in 1991, the ‘Vision 2020’ was launched and Malaysia was driven towards a developed economy within 30 years.

It was during this time infrastructure, especially logistics were developed immensely. This enabled the economic growth to be more robust. The single most important infrastructure project which is thought to the backbone of Malaysian economic growth is the ‘North South Expressway’, fully completed and operational by 1993. Of course one should not forget the development of ports like North Port and West Port in Klang, Kemaman Port and the latest, which managed to take on the “giant” in this region, the Port of Tanjung Pelepas. Then there is also the new KLIA, moved from Subang to Sepang. KLIA managed to somewhat gave a direct competition against Changi.

Malaysia managed to move upwards in the industrial sector. It became a preferred destination for investments in the electronics and ICT industry by the early 90s. Of course, the once primary based economy of this once a British colony took a bold move under Tun Dr. Mahathir’s stewardship and gambled on going into high technology. Proton rolled out its first car in 1985. Within less than 15 years of promising growth, Proton not only recovered the Federal Government initial investment by 20 times, also managed to developed their ‘Detroit like auto city’ in Tanjong Malim with purely internally generated funds.

The economy also went into diversification where more services sector was introduced, to support the growing physical economy. Capital and financial market related services grew exponentially during this economic boom era. Wall Street, European and Japanese firms were busy setting up offices and alliances with local firms. More so, during the ultra bullish period of the Malaysian capital market in early to late nineties.

Let us not forget Tun Dr. Mahathir’s strong vision of Malaysia to play the ‘catch up’ game of being a developed nation, with the launch and high octane drive on the Multimedia Super Corridor. A dedicated ICT city was developed, Cyberjaya, to make sure the industry has a home. Mastering the game is one single most strategic vision and policy Tun Dr. Mahathir had to place Malaysia well into the top echelon of then, a dynamic world with the globalisation challenges.The International Advisory Panel set up managed to get support from some of the world leaders in ICT.

Construction and property development sector is one of the most rapid and progressive within the economy, throughout Tun Dr. Mahathir’s time. Physical and tangible growth is promoted and it has a far reaching spiral and multiplication effect into the economy. So many new township, industrial areas and commercial centres grew in exponential proportions, especially the last 10 years of Tun Dr. Mahathir’s tenure due to the economic climate created by the Government policies and inducement programs. The spin off of this is that Malaysian corporations managed to place themselves as an international player, elsewhere.

The management of the nation’s most important mineral was in good hands, during the Mahathirism era. Petronas, which started as a joint venture partner with major players, brought themselves up along the learning curve and evolved into becoming the lead in markets elsewhere. The corporation emerged as the most profitable state owned oil company in the world and currently, exploring in 20 different countries. Petronas is now taking head on against once their own senior partners. Petronas also diversified into becoming a world class premium property developer and a formula one motor sport co-owner.

People development, (now commonly referred as ‘human capital’) saw termendous growth and new opportunity opened during these 22 over years. More public universities and new campuses built. This include the UIA. Sabah and Sarawak got their own universities, and eventually the rest of Malaysia. Corporate universities were added (which eventually became public universities), Petronas Technology University, Uniten, MMU and IKRAM. Then, it was the liberalisation of private universities and upgrade of colleges into university colleges, throughout the country.

Tun Dr. Mahathir as the Prime Minister had high respect for the civil service, the main engine for the Government. More structured system for the civil service were put in place, with better working conditions. Even a new purpose built administrative capital were built in Putrajaya. To many, it was a simply huge waste of money. To date, even the same critics and skeptics ten years ago find the city as the pride of the nation.

Private sector driven economic growth is encouraged and promoted during the Mahathirism. His privatisation policies, amidst strong criticism, helped to propel the nation much further and enabled its full potential. Government no longer involve with services, which was transferred into private sector hands. This gave the edge of lesser public capital expenditure (CAPEX) and reaped better returns, from taxes and dividends earned. The Government promoted the ‘Malaysian Incorporated’ (Malaysia Inc.) policy, where the public and private sector jointly rolled up their sleeves and achieved progress, especially in economic programs.

During Tun Dr. Mahathir’s tenure, the nation saw through two economic recession period; one in the mid eighties and the other after the Asian financial crisis (1997-98), from the deliberate attack by rogue currency traders.In both cases, the country’s economy was managed to be put on track and saw rapid recovery and growth. Especially in 1998, where Tun Dr. Mahathir enforced radical capital and currency control measures, which saw tough criticism from the global players. In no time, they have to eat their own words back and affirmed the ‘doctor’s’ prescription really worked.

In all, in 25 years (1980-2005), the Malaysian economy grew by almost a whopping figure of 500%. At his retirement, Tun Dr. Mahathir had placed the Malaysian economy and the system at its best.

Developmental economics, especially taken into the perspective as a world class player, cannot simply be taken without talking about international politics. Between 1981-2003, Malaysia has placed itself as a force to be reckoned with, within the international diplomacy. Tun Dr. Mahathir, is his attempt to detach and our over dependence and reliance on Britain as a former colonial master, adopted the “Buy British last policy”, which irked Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s most prolific leader  (in the perspective of economy) end of the 20th century. In the same breadth, Malaysia went into the “Look East Policy”, which strategically benefited us immensely.

Then Malaysia promoted the expansion of ASEAN, to include nations which were non favourable to the West like Vietnam, Cambodia (then Kampuchea) and Laos. Of course, Malaysia pushed for Myanmar to be included. Malaysia, is a founding member of ASEAN Free Trade Area.

There were international armed conflict which Malaysia played pivotal role. Malaysia was the solitary voice against the bloody Balkan conflict, when Muslim Bosnians were slaughtered by their own neighbours and kin, in a genocide far worse than those of World War II in Europe. Malaysian armed units participated peace keeping missions in Bosnia, Iraq-Kuwait, Lebanon, Cambodia and the most memorable, Somalia where the Royal Malay Regiment earned their international accord for bravery.

Tun Dr. Mahathir as a world leader should not be mentioned without his role in promoting the South-South Cooperation. As a spin off, Langkawi International Dialogue was created and a mirror, South African International Dialogue. Much can be said about his vocal and unrestrained opposition against the white hegemony, back by the international jews. As such, first time in history, a leader of a nation was elected the Chairman of the Non Alignment Movement and Organisation of Islamic Countries, in the same time.

That earned many stars for the man and naturally, the nation. Superpower leaders such as Russian Vladimir Putin, French Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schrodder called on him here in Kuala Lumpur. He also had good relations with Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao of China. Anti US leaders Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Huga Chavez showed termendous support, respect and admiration for the fourth Malaysian Prime Minister, who was seen as the champion of the third world nation.

Putting Malaysia on the world map is something Tun Dr. Mahathir carefully thought of and well implemented. Till present, the tallest twin office building in the planet is in Kuala Lumpur, on a site where it used to be a race course. It is an icon not only of the city, but the nation. In his dedication speech, “We need a box to stand, as tall as others. This twin tower is the box”. Somehow rather, that day, Malaysians have arrived as a group of people to be reckoned with.

In the final analysis, observe where the common Malaysians have been placed throughout the past 28 years. They say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. The standard of living and income per capita says it all. The number of Malaysians, especially in previously under developed and deprived communities being allowed education all the way and ability to get jobs (which include MNCs – something previously unthinkable) contributed immensely on the household progression. The number of unit trust schemes introduced since 1981, also illustrated the progression. The number of private cars owned, even in far flung rural areas also shows it all. The socio-economic transformation of Malaysians, especially the majority is significant, despite the challenges it faced being in a very complex multi pluralistic society and external variables.

Of all these, promoted Malaysia into being the 17th most important trading nation in the world. By far, the Mahathirism era brought upon progress to all of us and this beloved tanahair. If Dato’ Seri Najib wants to bring back all of the progress brought along during the ‘Mahathirism’ era, so it shall be then.

Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 08:18  Comments (20)  

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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mahathirism? Still could not understand why they made it sound so bad. We should realize what is the possible scenario if Anwarism was the order of the day in 1998. We experienced badawism and gosh, we still do not know when the nightmare will end.

    Even US and Europe are embracing Mahathirism these days in dealing with their economic problems, right? So, Najib should take note and learn a thing or two from the grand old man. You know what happened when someone decided to become “bodoh sombong.”

    Give me Mahathirism any time.


  3. I don’t see anything wrong or bad about Mahathirism because during that time, inflation was low, employment rate was high, cost of living was low thus price of goods were affordable. Definitely I am for it.

  4. zaid tak dapat tender semenjak anwar kene jail pasal pondan dan mahathir plak tak ambik pot ngan dia. tu la pasal zaid marah giler!!
    mujurla ada pak lah. Naik cikit revenue company dia.


  6. this is good news if we return to the Mahathirism. I life was good then. Even my children still thinks he should be PM. How about that?

    Exactly. By far, so many Malaysians grow up during his tenure.

  7. This may come as a surprise but some Chinese, and not just my mom 😉 , thinks the return of “Mahathirism” is a good idea….They look around and remember what “Mahathirism” brought KL…..Dunno about younger cikus…

  8. every single thing u wrote is right about him. consider these things – he was not an engineer, let alone knowing anything about automobile/ web of roads. he was never a very good financial mind, although he was surrounded by perhaps the best of economic advisers. certainly he was never be an architect, yet during his time we got the tallest twin towers in the world. and it still is!

    the fact that matter is, mahathir excelled in administration. i believe his vision and way of thinking in term of administrating the country is the solely most important aspect in the entire 22 years. plus with his mind that be able to look beyond the recent situations, he also was very confident and brave on deciding things.

    i am not saying that he was someone with super-witch capabilities, but to be a leader, you must have these criterias. and he was a very very good politicians.

    lets take one thing – the Sepang F1 circuit. he admit in public last few years i think, that he was not the one that to be credited for that. i remember he said F1 was Bashir’s work. of course Bashir can bring everything on table and make very clean and proper paperwork etc etc, BUT, mahathir was the one to make decision. and he took everything into considerations before giving thumbs up or else.

    see, some people ridiculed that he was not even a sportsman, yet why people giving him credits on something he was never near of (F1 for example). the answer is, MAHATHIR LOOKED FURTHER than YOU DID.

    owh yeah. now only singapore realized how important such events. now they got the F1 contract sown up and also up coming MotoGP in 2010/11.

  9. In desperation seeing their spin to portray Najib as an unfit PM, the Opposition especially DSAI will continue to say and do anything to dim Najib’s prospects as the imminent PM even though realizing their continuing efforts to disturb the functioning of the Government under these precarious economic times merely jeopardizes the prosperity of the Malaysian people.

    Their most recent act of desperation cum frustration is when they walk out of parliament during Najib’s winding debate on the 2009 Budget regarding mere procedures ie politely requested that he answers only after his speech. The opposition wants only Abdullahrism where they can manipulate the masses to achieve their personal selfish objectives.

    As Karim Raslan puts it Malaysian politicians are playing the “politics of fear” and he points to UMNO as the culprit. Are the opposition members and outcast politicians like Zaid Ibrahim playing politics of fear by voicing a return of “Mahathirism”?

    Give me Mahathirism anytime; my middle finger to Amwarism, Malaysian Malaysia and/or Ketuanan Rakyat!

  10. BigDog,
    If put on a pedestal between Mahathirism and Dollahisme or for that matter Zaidisme, we Malaysian as a whole knows better – between an ordinary piece of worthless glass and a brilliant and magnificient diamond. For whatever he is worth, dont mind Zaid b’cos we know better. He was cast off even by his own bahagian and nobody wants him. Let him talk all he wants b’cos nobody really cares about him. I believe it is a mistake for us to take him seriously but it was a greater mistake for anyone (or someone) to take him up, especially making him a senator and a minister.

  11. Sudah la..Dr M petualang melayu dan Islam.

    Dr M mcm ular..cakap tak serba bikin.

  12. Mahathirism? For a man who held in complete contempt everyone who dared to question his policies & decisions, it comes as a complete suprise that in retirement Mahathir Mohamad has suddenly taken a high moral ground. He was the cause of the problems he is now speaking about and probably he has nothing much to do in retirement that he needs to continually hog the headlines to supplement his profile as the former dictator of this country. He will continue to do that (behind Najib, of course). God bless our country!


  13. Well I think on balance one has to agree that ‘Mahartism’ brought more good than bad. Now I am no great fan of the ex-PM but would like to blog with credibility. Needless to say, critics can disagree with the ex-PM but lets face the facts – the results do seem to speak for themselves.

    Now at least we have some basis for comparison – 5 years of Abdullahism and 22 years of Mahatirism. For Mahatirism one can evaluate over 2 decades of massive geopolitical changes, 2 mega economic crisis, numereous domestic crisis and come to the conclusion; were Malaysians better off after 22 years of Mahatirism, and the answer is a definite yes. For those who disagree, Malaysians have progressed across every statisitc i.e. income, healthcare, housing, education, industry, GDP – you name it.

    Now, if u ask people, they will certainly complain that they are worse off under 5 yrs of Abdullahism.

    However I do disagree with the general tone of the posting that seems to suggest everything Mahatir did was right. Under his watch, whilst the number of universities can increase, the quality of the workforce on balance has decreased substantially. This can be evidenced by the steady drop in rankings of our university. But of course we can argue it away, and so why not. It does not affect me one bit, but it could affect your children.

    But on balance, we do not need to create a new word called ‘Mahatirism.’ His policy was to grow trade by investing in the necessary infrastructure and taking a lot of risky projects whilst doing so. Now on balance it paid off, and I think his final masterpiece of doing the rail link to China as well as the development of a logistics hub in Johor, if undertaken could have given the country the much needed growth.

  14. anybody for neo-mahathirism?
    i hate that as well as pseudo-mahathrism.
    i wonder if Mahathir will be the only UMNO retired PM
    in the Majlis Presiden…

    mahathirism ends up with tears

  15. If the economy grew a whopping 500% between 1980 and 2005, how is it that the Malay’s share of the economic pie is still languishing at supposedly 19%? I am quite sure that the majority of all these infrastructure projects were given to either bumi or bumi led companies.
    That math does not add up.


    Yes, the economy grew. The Malay holdings in the economy also grew. When Amanah Saham Nasional was introduced in 1981, it was not as big as it is today. More Malays can afford holdings, even plc. Savings of the Malays also grew, in Lembaga UrusanTabung Haji etc.

    However, the Malay portion of the pie (equity) of the published economy, grew 19% from the 500% growth in the economy from 1980-2005. Mathematically, the growth is stagnant as in general, the Malaysian economy, market value of listed company and capital and financial markets grew.

    It just a simple math.

  16. If we look at ancient civilizations – Aztec, Egyptian, and maybe closer to home Angkor Wat or even the Srivijaya. What ties all of these together are the monuments they left behind – pyramid like structures.

    And most likely since they have such capability to build those enormous and intricate structures, they would also most likely have a great wealth of knowledge and technology that surpasses the other regions during their time.

    What also ties all of them together today is that despite a time of greatness and perhaps a glorious or golden age, all these civilizations crumbled and are just UNESCO heritage sites today.

    What you have listed here is no different – buildings, structures, and construction and maybe some stand on certain issues.

    But what of the people? He has shown clearly that he has his favourite child / ‘anak emas’ in the family, which is not wrong if he believes the child is weak and therefore needs more guidance and support than the rest.

    Anyway, to not drag on further, I think it’s obvious what I’m trying to say is that, its the people that makes up the civilization and perhaps the ‘monuments’ will stand the test of time, but people come and go, and so civilizations crumble.

  17. Mahathirism rocks!

    ”Malaysia’s Obama: Khairy Jamaluddin or Mukhriz Mahathir”

  18. As a leader who seems to thrive on unfashionable ideas, controversial policies and a contentious diplomacy, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is an enigma.

    He remains an enigma who thrives on unfashionable ideas, controversial policies and a contentious diplomacy. He seems to be most approachable when regarded as a series of personae, and most comprehensible when taken as a composite of personal and social paradoxes.

    The term Mahathirism to capture the particular ethos of Malaysian society at this juncture, an ethos which is rooted in a core of ideas, policies and political practice which has impact way beyond the man himself.

    Mahathir is a complex personality who is important to Malaysian politics and recent history. We must try to understand his background, ideas, politics, world-view and impact.

    Paradoxes is not a mindless putting-down of what he has done. And until now, the old man is still going strong.

    In the year of Mahathirism, many of the powerfully creative ideas that pop out of his mind are being successfully implemented and many more presumably in the works.

  19. Very well said! one of the best articles in this blog..

  20. […] ‘Mahathirism Economics’ where Federal Government work hard-in-hand with private sector in the ‘Malaysian […]

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