It has been 18 years since a Malaysian Prime Minister
appeared on the cover of Time. Tunku Abdul Rahman was first featured on its
front page in April 1963, following the inclusion of Sarawak, Sabah and
Singapore into Malaysia. Tun Hussein Onn, the third prime minister got on the
cover in September 1978. Now, Dr Mahathir has been given the honour under the
headline Master Planner in his 15th year in office.
In its 10-page report, Time has painted a rosy picture of Malaysia, pointing out its “eight continuous years of
eight per cent economic expansion only
China has grown faster and hardly any unemployment in a land of 20 million
On Dr Mahathir, it reported that “with the exception of Singapore's largely retired Lee Kuan Yew and China's
indisposed Deng Xiaoping, Asia has no leader with Mahathir's determination and drive some call it hubris
or such a remarkable record.''
Of interest to readers would be a one-page story on the day in the life of Dr Mahathir, where the reporter recorded
that the Prime Minister woke up at 6.30am and “has a quick breakfast of fruit
and toast, dresses and retires to his study to write.''
At 8.41am, the Prime Minister met the King to give his weekly briefing. The
magazine reported: “If not for his earlier meeting, he would have been at the
office by eight. The time card for the past week reads 7:57, 7:56, 7:59,
When he left his office at 7.10pm, it was for a quick change at home before heading to another official
Time devoted two pages to a question-and-answer session, touching on race, the
West and the economy mostly views that Malaysians are familiar with.
There are, however, several blots in the reports. Notably missing is a profile on Dr Mahathir's assertiveness in
international fora as a spokesman of the Third World. Besides the country's
economic performance, it cannot be denied that Dr Mahathir's outspokenness has
attracted the attention of the Western media.
There is also no mention of Dr Mahathir's Vision 2020 in turning Malaysia into
a developed country.
Quite infuriating is the constant reference in the feature to the May 13, 1969,
racial riot, which seems to be compulsory background reference in all reports
on Malaysia filed by Western news agencies, including those based here. No
reporter in Malaysia, when writing about Britain or the United States, would
remind readers of racial riots in Brixton or inLos Angeles, and more recently in Florida.
The position of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was brought up again, to which Dr
Mahathir replied that “his qualities are okay. I think he can step into the
job for some reason I should drop dead or become disabled.''
Somewhat unflattering is a piece headlined The Masters of Mahathir Inc, which
Time has chosen to describe a group of businessmen as “croonies'' and “small
group of favoured businessmen.''
Dr Mahathir has made public his unhappiness at the report. The write-up would
have been balanced if more research was done on the role of the private sector
in the economy.
Generally, privatisation has been successfully carried out in Malaysia although
there are snags in some sectors and misgivings by the people when it comes to
having to dig deeper into their pockets.
In most areas, however, privatisation has brought a greater degree of
efficiency and the contribution of the business sector should not be under-played. Big business need not be a
dirty word if businessmen are good corporate citizens.
The Republican Party in the United States and the Conservative Party in
Britain, for instance, have close ties with big business. Many Republican
leaders are multi-millionaires.
It would have been interesting had Time dealt a little on the growing Malaysian
middle-class and their role in local politics.
The buoyant economy has created affluent, educated and well-travelled
Malaysians. What will they look for in the national leadership?
Our leaders will have to respond to this group of expanding electorate in
guiding the nation into the next century.