The return of Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister of Malaysia has to be one of the greatest comebacks in political history. Malaysians must know something about age not being a barrier to national leadership. At age 92, Mahathir is back with vengeance. And no, he’s not going after his enemies mainly for political reasons.
Mahathir stepped out of retirement to implement a scorched-earth policy in cleaning up government corruption in his country. The sight of five trucks hauling away luxury items from a Kuala Lumpur condominium owned by former Prime Minister Najib Razak was a sight to behold. Live mainstream coverage fed by Malaysian TV showed luggages and boxes of luxury goods owned by his wife such as jewelry and designer handbags Gucci, Ferragamo and Birkin.
Razak had been the subject of whispered rumors of corruption among the people in a country where gossip is punishable with a stiff penalty of fine and imprisonment. But the truckloads of confiscated expensive items owned by his wife proved to be the smoking gun. Earlier there were allegations of Razak dipping his hand into the country’s coffers. The graft charges were filed during the time Razak was brokering a peace settlement between former President Noynoy Aquino and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao. As he was still in power, nothing came of the case against Razak. But for sure it will be a different story now with Mahathir back at the helm in Malaysia.
Mahathir was biding his time for his dramatic comeback while Malaysians thought he had quietly settled into retirement. This is a man known for his resolve in standing up for what he believes in. Mahathir proved international financier George Soros wrong in their feud several years back. Mahathir turned his country’s economy around and Malaysia into a global player despite Soros’ dire prediction.
Soros, born Georgy Schwaertz, is a Jewish-American of Hungarian descent He is known worldwide as a wizard in foreign currency trading where he built his empire and made billions of dollars. He’s part-owner of China’s Hainan Airlines which flies the round trip Budapest to Hainan non-stop route.
Aside from financial holdings in Hainan Air, the 88-year-old Soros has investments in a thousand other global companies. The list is too long to be included in the space of this column. Soros, with a net worth of $8 billion, has investments ranging from banks, financing firms, real estate, food and beverage, etc.
I met Mahathir in Kuala Lumpur and Soros in Budapest in the course of my diplomatic stint. Both men possess magnetic personalities.
There are two sides to George Soros the man. He is seen by many as a selfless philanthropist but by some as a dangerous liberal and a demagogue. From 1979 to 2011, Soros donated an estimated $11 billion to foundations, universities, including a whole wing annex to the University of Budapest.
But fund transfers to poor countries undergoing political strife and armed conflicts have raised questions on Soros’ true intent. Is the infusion of funds into these countries in conflict intended to get a foot in the door for his foreign companies? But why not? That’s business acumen to get your return on investment when there is blood on the streets.
Where does George Soros live? When you are fabulously rich you live everywhere. Soros is known to have residences in the US, Switzerland, Paris, London, other parts of Europe, the Caribbean and South America. Why not if you can afford it and fly to these places in your own private jet plane?
Mahathir had a close relationship with former President Fidel V. Ramos. The Malaysian-made car Proton was introduced in the country, assembled and sold here. But unfortunately competition was too much from Japanese and Korean vehicles.
More importantly, will the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF be fast-tracked if Mahathir is the honest broker? This is not to rule out the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Philippine claim to Sabah.