Mahathir takes 'New Malaysia' to world stage

NEW YORK - Returning to the United Nations after a 15-year absence, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad held up "New Malaysia" to the world as a shining example of a country committed to fairness, good governance and rule of law.

Losing none of the outspoken nature that made him famous in his 22-year tenure as the country's fourth Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir said small countries remained at the mercy of the powerful and repeated his call for reform of the UN.

"After 15 years and at 93, I return to this podium with the heavy task of bringing the voice and hope of the 'New Malaysia' to the world stage.

"The people of Malaysia, proud of their recent democratic achievement, have high hopes that around the world, we will see peace, progress and prosperity.

"In this, we look towards the UN to hear our pleas," the Prime Minister said in his speech during the general debate of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly yesterday.

Dr Mahathir also outlined his vision for the "New Malaysia".

He said the new government was committed to ensure every Malaysian has an equitable share in the prosperity and wealth of the nation.

Malaysians, he added, want a nation that upholds the principles of fairness, good governance, integrity and the rule of law.

"They want a Malaysia that is a friend to all and enemy of none. A Malaysia that remains neutral and non-aligned."

Dr Mahathir said Malaysians want a nation that will speak its mind on what is right and wrong, without fear or favour.

The "New Malaysia", said the Prime Minister, would firmly espouse the principles promoted by the UN in the country's international engagements.

"These include the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability.

"It is within this context that the new Government of Malaysia has pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights," he said.

But Dr Mahathir pointed out that the process would not be easy as Malaysia is multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual.

"We will accord space and time for all to deliberate and to decide freely based on democracy," he said.

In contrast to the optimism and hope in Malaysia's future, Dr Mahathir's assessment on the state of international affairs was bleak.

He said that when he last spoke in 2003, he had lamented how the world had lost its way.

"But today, 15 years later the world has not changed much. If at all, the world is far worse than 15 years ago.

"Today, the world is in a state of turmoil economically, socially and politically," he said.

Referring to the trade war between US and China, Dr Mahathir said the rest of the world was feeling the pain.

He pointed out the hypocrisy of rich countries, preaching the importance of open markets while invading smaller countries with infant industries and their products.

The simple products of the poor are subjected to clever barriers so that they cannot penetrate the market of the rich, he said, citing the victimisation of Malaysia's palm oil as an example.

Rich countries label Malaysian palm oil as dangerous to health and the habitat of animals while food products of the rich declare that they are palm oil free.

Palm diesel is also condemned for allegedly decimating virgin jungles.

Employing his trademark sarcasm, Dr Mahathir said: "These caring people forget that their boycott is depriving hundreds of thousands of people from jobs and a decent life."

He defended Malaysia's concern for the environment, pointing out that 48 per cent of Malaysia remains virgin jungle.

The Prime Minister lamented a dangerous trend among countries leaning towards inward-looking nationalism, pandering to populism, retreating from international collaboration and restricting their borders.

"While globalisation has indeed brought us some benefits, the impacts have proven to be threatening to the independence of small nations," he said.

Turning his attention to the UN and its roles, Dr Mahathir called for an end to the dominance in the world body of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely China, France, Russia, Britain and the US.

"Five countries on the basis of their victories (in World War Two) 70 over years ago, cannot claim to have a right to hold the world to ransom forever.

"They cannot take the moral high ground, preaching democracy and regime changes in the countries of the world when they deny democracy in this organisation."

Dr Mahathir said he had suggested that the veto should not be by just one permanent member but by at least two powers backed by three non-permanent members of the council.

"The General Assembly should then back the decision with a simple majority. I will not say more," said Dr Mahathir.