Kuala Lumpur—Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Tun Mahathir Mohamad is candid about his past failings as something that spurred him on to do better in life.
In a keynote address entitled ‘Malaysian Resurrection as Asian Tiger’, he talked openly about his youth.
“I was not the best student…I only got 3As for my MCE. In Singapore, some of my batch mates had up to 9A’s.
I was so scared when I heard about their achievements. Some of them heard about my scores and they told me to go pack your bags, this is no place for you.
I was however too embarrassed to go back and because I realized I was weak. I worked harder, I read my textbooks at least 10 times.”
Dr Mahathir said that as a student, he had only gotten average marks for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) examination, but he did not want to be considered a failure.
And so he worked harder than ever.
Dr Mahathir gave the keynote address in conjunction with the Asian Tiger Convention at Dewan Agong Tuanku Canselor, Universiti Teknologi Mara.
He emphasized which values are truly necessary for building individuals as well as the nation.
“The first life value is hard work. If you are smart, but you don’t read, you won’t succeed, but if you are not so smart, but you work hard to chase knowledge, InsyaAllah, you will. That is why if we want to be a successful nation, our people must have these two life values – hard work and good knowledge of our fields.
Expertise comes from hard work in chasing knowledge. That is all we ask from the young generation because we, the older generation, did not have that opportunity anymore. University students, especially student leaders, must nurture these values as it will bring success to our efforts to improve ourselves, our people and our country.”
The Prime Minister also cited the Japanese as a prime example of good values like hard work, the desire to acquire more knowledge, and keeping one’s promises.
“In those days, when a Japanese failed to fulfill a promise he would feel so ashamed that he would take his own life. We saw this happen to Japanese soldiers…they committed harakiri (suicide) when they lost the war.
Their sense of shame is very strong, the effect on their lives is that they will avoid the embarrassment of being a failure. That is why when the Westerners succeed in one area, they (the Japanese) will go into the same field and work to master the language, skills, and capabilities until they succeed in being better than the Westerners.
I believe Malays, in particular, can be successful like the Westerners but they have to hold on to good life values. We have to re-evaluate ourselves, our life values and our weaknesses … if we can accept our faults and improve ourselves, then we can succeed.”
He encouraged his countrymen to be unashamed to own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for what they do. He encouraged them also, conversely, to embrace shame and not act as though they had done nothing wrong when they do not live up to their word.
The third most important value is trustworthiness, according to the Malaysian Prime Minister. “In our country, there is a thinking that debt need not be repaid, when we have such an opinion, then we will have a lot of catastrophes … not just us but our race, our nation. When someone stingy doesn’t repay his debt, he can’t borrow from anywhere because he is the type who doesn’t repay his debt.
That’s why we must be trustworthy and repay whatever we owe, even if we borrow from banks we have to pay back. We hear stories of PTPTN borrowers who have money but do not want to repay their debt because they are not ashamed. If we know what shame is, we will work hard to pay back our debt before using the money for ourselves. This kind of people will not face any difficulties in life.
If someone has never settled his debt, is lazy to repay his debt, then he will fail. Even if you have knowledge and are hardworking, you will fail if you do not settle your debt. I believe that if we practice these three life values (hard work, knowledge, and trustworthiness) our race and nation will be successful and we will become a developed country.”
Dr Mahathir was accompanied by the following dignitaries at the event: his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, Minister of Youth and Sports Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Minister of Economic Affairs Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, Minister of Entrepreneur Development Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian and UiTM vice-chancellor Prof Dr Mohd Azraai Kassim.
At the convention, the Prime Minister also launched the Asian Tiger Initiative, whose goal is to provide “exposure and knowledge to empower the country’s values system supported by the Youth and Sports Ministry,” according to Bernama.
Furthermore, “The Asian Tiger Initiative is a national narrative re-affirmation to develop Malaysia by taking the spirit of Asian Tigers of East Asian countries which have earned global recognition as developed nations because of their rapid and vibrant economic growth.”
The venue of the convention is particularly significant since Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) is only opened to indigenous and Malay peoples in Malaysia. Many of the students of UiTM come from disadvantaged backgrounds and face many career and life obstacles.
The four internationally recognized Asian Tigers are Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong, whose economies grew very quickly and became industrialized between the 1960s and the 1990s. Malaysia had looked to become a rising tiger until the global financial crisis of 1997 and has yet to regain economic momentum since then, with the gap between the rich and the poor being one of its biggest problems.