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2. RAJA PETRA KAMARUDIN, MALAYSIA
Though more robust than that of Singapore, Malaysia's media is nonetheless tame. All significant media outlets are sympathetic to the government, there is little investigative journalism and discussion of many issues is discouraged. The newspapers focus endlessly on crime and lifestyle issues, and Malaysians tend to buy them for their job ads and to find out what's showing at the cinema. Increasingly, the serious reporting and commentary is done by bloggers, of which Raj Petra Kamarudin's www.malaysia-today.net is the best.
Petra, a nephew of a former king of Malaysia, founded Malaysia-today in 2004 and works on it full time. The site now gets an astonishing 1.8 million hits on an average day, making it much more popular than any Malaysian newspaper. Malaysia-today plays an enormously important role in its attempts to keep the government accountable. It reports on ministers' many business interests, nepotism and just about anything else that the government would prefer to keep quiet. Petra uses the site to denounce money politics, corruption and Malaysia's endless fascination with race and race-based politics. A popular, ongoing series is the Khairy Chronicles, which provides an account of the doings of the prime minister's young, unelected, but highly influential son-in-law.
Many reports have been made against Petra to the police, agents from Malaysia's Special Branch have questioned him on several occasions and his computers have been seized. Recently, he reported how the government intended to use a nominee company to borrow $50 billion, in order to avoid recording the loan as government borrowing. He has also reported on a particularly grisly murder that appeared to implicate senior government figures.
7. MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, MALAYSIA
Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's prime minister from 1981 to 2003, was perhaps Asia's most misunderstood leader. Mahathir had plenty of critics, but the country's impressive development under his stewardship is undeniable. Also undeniable is his popularity among Malaysia's minority ethnic groups, particularly the Chinese, who comprise about 30% of the population. Mahathir managed to persuade different ethnic groups to think of themselves as Malaysians, despite economic and education policies that favoured the majority Malay population at the expense of the commercially successful Chinese minority.
These policies helped to break the nexus between great wealth and (Chinese) ethnicity, thus making the Chinese less of a target politically in the event of unrest. Mahathir also kept a lid on Islamic fundamentalism, showing not just Malaysia but much of the Islamic world that economic progress and Islam can go hand in hand. Under Mahathir, the media and the judiciary lacked independence, but Malaysians enjoy far more political freedoms than the citizens of neighbouring Singapore.
Mahathir resigned as prime minister while still popular and at a time of his choosing. In retirement, he has emerged as a loud critic of the new administration, bringing to Malaysia a level of public debate that few would have thought possible. His regular interventions on policy issues have almost given Malaysia the strong opposition voice that it has not previously had.
He has attacked the government for not doing enough to tackle the widespread corruption, and has criticised the concessions given to foreign firms that invest in an economic zone in southern Malaysia. Even out of office, Mahathir continues to modernise his country.
10. SYED MOKHTAR AL-BUKHARY, MALAYSIA
Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary has built himself up from almost nothing to be one of Malaysia's richest men. He has developed port facilities and an airport in southern Malaysia, as well as amassing interests in property, hotels, power stations, rubber plantations, banking, retailing and construction. His companies are run by professional managers throughout, rather than family members.
He dislikes publicity and is remarkable by Malaysian corporate standards in not using his shareholders' money to buy a corporate jet, a helicopter or a fleet of Mercedes-Benz. He has no interest in personal aggrandisement. Instead, his great passion is his charitable foundation, the Al-Bukhary Foundation, into which he has poured millions to build mosques, schools and hospitals. The foundation has also built, stocked and runs the Islamic Art Museum in Kuala Lumpur, a world-class institution that puts Malaysia's National Museum to shame. A modern Muslim, he does not believe that women should cover their heads or faces and feels that Islam should return to what it was once known for: commerce and the arts.
In late 2006, his MMC Corporation, together with a local partner, won an extraordinary $30 billion infrastructure deal in Saudi Arabia to develop a new industrial and commercial city. It's a huge undertaking for any company, let alone a Malaysian one, and it represents how Al-Bukhary likes to do business. He is a strong promoter of Muslim cross-border investment and trading ties, in the same way that other commercial ethnic groups trade across borders.
Al-Bukhary is a breath of fresh air for corporate Malaysia and an inspiration to Muslims everywhere.
17. ZETI AKHTAR AZIZ, MALAYSIA
The assertive and competent Zeti Akhtar Aziz was appointed governor of Malaysia's central bank in 2000. Her appointment demonstrated to the world that being a Muslim woman in an Islamic country was not incompatible with either holding a position of real power or with south-east Asian traditions. She had held previous positions with the bank, including deputy governor, chief economist and head of the economics department.
Zeti was instrumental in advising the government to unpeg the Malaysian ringgit from the US dollar, as she had been in advising the government about implementing the peg in the first place. Many might have disagreed with the government's decision to peg the ringgit in 1998 during Asia's economic crisis, but few could argue with the competency with which it was carried out - Malaysia's central bank is one of Asia's most technically able and least corrupt.
Zeti has been prominent in the development of Islamic finance in Malaysia and internationally, such that the country is emerging as an important centre for Islamic finance, both in its practice and in developing the regulatory framework to support it. She studied economics at the University of Malaya, obtained her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, and is published in the areas of monetary and financial economics, capital flows and macroeconomic management.
Wonder why one of the Young Global Leaders 2006 (Business Category) did not make it into the list? Or even his FIL? ;-)