KUALA LUMPUR: Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving former prime minister, is now lauding Indonesia for its political stability, which he says is helping the neighbouring country outdraw Malaysia for foreign investment.
Mahathir noted that Malaysia went for five days without a prime minister after the general election on Nov 19 produced no clear winning party or coalition. Pakatan Harapan led by Anwar Ibrahim was the best-performing bloc, though it fell short of a majority. It then took days of inter-party negotiations to form a government, and Anwar ultimately won the top job.
The previous administration, Mahathir told Nikkei Asia in an interview, thought that by holding elections, Malaysia “would have a strong government and be more politically stable. But, unfortunately, the elections did not result in any party having enough seats to form a government”.
He said the result – opposing political forces coming together to forge a government – “is not a very good solution to the problem”.
“Before elections, if you work together, that’s fine. But after elections … that’s a marriage of convenience. Sometimes the newlyweds get along well, sometimes they don’t.”
Mahathir is now contrasting Malaysia’s political shake-ups with what Indonesian President Joko Widodo has accomplished since first being elected in 2014.
He said Indonesia’s political stability as well as Widodo’s strong and efficient leadership have allowed the country to overtake Malaysia in recent years in attracting foreign investment and “many projects”.
Describing Widodo as “much stronger” than recent leaders, he said: “When a country has a good, steady and stable government, foreign investments will come in. (And) that contributes to the growth of the economy.”
Since 2008, Indonesia has attracted more foreign direct investment than Malaysia in every year except 2016. And although the gap narrowed in 2021, the overall trend has been for it to widen.
Mahathir said Widodo has done a “better job” than some other Indonesian presidents. He also called Widodo a leader who loves his country and is focused on developing it, saying that in this respect, he and Widodo are similar. “We both want to do our best for our countries,” he said.
“So far, his family does not interfere, doesn’t demand anything,” he said. “He is able to carry out his work without interference from his family.”
Experts agree. Yeah Kim Leng, an economics professor at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur, said Indonesia is winning over more investors than Malaysia “because Jokowi’s leadership has continued with the drive to bring down corruption and elevate the country’s governance system, and (along the way, Widodo has) greatly enhanced the quality and effectiveness of (Indonesia’s) institutions.”
Mahathir said Indonesia is not easy to govern, given its more than 17,000 islands and 270 million people who make the archipelago the world’s fourth most populous nation.
He marvelled at Widodo’s ability to “hold (Indonesia) together, which is very difficult for a country of that size”.