June 20, 2015

"Asia-based journalists have missed Mahathir Mohamad since he left office in 2003."

Bloomberg The former Malaysian prime minister's mercurial governing style and fiery rhetoric made for great copy. by William Pesak

I was in a Hong Kong ballroom in 1997 when Mahathir -- the man credited with turning the agricultural backwater Kuala Lumpur, which literally means "muddy river," into one of Asia's most impressive skylines -- responded to his country's crashing economy by castigating hedge fund managers. He singled out George Soros as a "moron."

Mahathir now has a new target -- Najib Razak, Malaysia's current prime minister. The daily squabbling between Najib and his predecessor has unsettled Malaysian markets, with the ringgit falling to its lowest value in a decade. But Najib has nobody to blame but himself for the attacks, given the country's underlying economic distress. Malaysia's prolonged slow growth, which has Fitch now threatening a downgrade of the country's credit ratings, traces back to Najib's refusal, or inability, to make good on his pledges to dismantle race-based policies that strangle innovation, feed cronyism and repel multinational companies.

You don't have to take Mahathir's word for it -- Malaysia's most successful entrepreneurs say the same thing. Just ask Tony Fernandes of AirAsia.

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