editorial—November 25, 1998

The Adolescent Nation
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
GThe first thing you notice when you fly into this Southeast Asian boomtown is the Petronas Tower complex, home to the world's tallest skyscrapers. But far more impressive than the towers' record height is the contrast created by the surrounding areas of low-rise buildings. While this record stature gives Malaysians pride, the land use policy that led to the development is nothing other than adolescent.

This is a fitting word to describe much of Malaysian development, as well as the insecure rantings of its authoritarian prime minister, Mahatir Mohammed. The government-dominated press is still obsessed by statements made here last week by U.S. Vice President Al Gore during the APEC meeting. These statements, made in support of the budding Reformasi opposition movement, could only be described as gentle criticism anywhere other than in this paranoid country.

After Singapore, Malaysia has the most advanced infrastructure and modern economy of Southeast Asia. Its roads, airports and business centers shimmer with the sparkle that comes from new development. But like an adolescent, its body is reaching maturity while its mindset lags far behind. Before Malaysia can join the ranks of developed countries, it must abandon its silly obsession with proving its maturity. This means scaling back the massive development projects that have brought its economy to its knees.

Likewise, it must find a way to brush aside its obsolete prime minister in favor of more mature leadership. This makes the Reformasi movement Malaysia's best hope for joining the modern world sometime in the near future.