Prime Minister Badawi's Progressive Blend of Islam and a High-Growth Economy

At home and abroad, Malaysian leader places emphasis on development of

human capital

Feb 27, 2008, 00:00 ET from BN2008

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Feb. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- On Wednesday, Malaysian
 Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi takes his re-election campaign to the
 conservative Muslim heartland in the north of the country, an area that has
 benefitted from the government's high-growth and pro-investment economic
     Mr. Badawi will be calling for enhanced efforts to foster Malaysia's
 uniquely successful blend of progressive and modern Islam together with
 economic and social development, the results of which today saw economic
 growth figures for the fourth quarter produce a 7.3 percent jump in gross
 domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of 2007, the highest growth
 quarter since he won his first election in 2004. For all of 2007, growth in
 Malaysia was 6.3 percent, against 5.9 percent growth in 2006.
     Speaking whilst on the campaign trail in the state of Kedah, located in
 the northwestern part of the Malaysian peninsula, the prime minister spoke
 of the critical importance of "developing human capital" through investment
 in education and vocational skills programmes and special incentives for
 companies that bring job-creating investment to the region and the nation.
     The most high-profile initiatives he has introduced in recent years are
 a series of Special Economic Zones, known in Malaysia as "development
 corridors," that have already begun to produce billions of dollars of new
 capital flows from international investors in Asia, the Middle East and the
 United States.
     Among these is the Iskandar Development Region in the South of
 Malaysia, adjacent to Singapore and covering nearly 2,200 square
 kilometers, which has already attracted high-profile investments such as a
 US$1.2bn project from a consortium of sovereign wealth funds and others in
 Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Dubai, and new investments from General Electric of
 the United States. The Iskandar project has already raised US$10bn over the
 past year, about ten percent of total aims. Other zones include one in the
 Eastern states and involve 112bn Malaysian ringgit (US$35bn) over the next
 12 years in sectors as varied as tourism, oil and gas, petrochemicals and
     The Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER), which is expected to
 boost economic growth and income levels in Perlis, Kedah, Penang and
 Northern Perak and to transform the region into a major logistics,
 food-processing and tourism powerhouse by 2025, with the creation of over 1
 million new jobs and a subsequent projected increase in the region's GDP
 from 52.7bn ringgits (US$16.5bn) in 2005 to 214bn ringgits (US$66.9bn) by
     "Through the growth and expansion of the NCER we plan to improve
 education, reduce unemployment, eradicate the already low poverty levels
 completely and give people the tools with which they can lead prosperous,
 fulfilled lives," said Mr. Badawi.
     This approach is very much in keeping with Prime Minister Badawi's
 belief in Islam Hadhari, a set of principles aimed at underscoring the
 notion that economic and social progress, modernisation, and education are
 compatible with the teachings of the Koran. The development corridor
 strategy is thus consistent with his broader strategy of ensuring
 development and economic progress go hand in hand with Islam.
     "But we don't just want to keep the benefits to ourselves," the prime
 minister noted, adding that "if we can help our fellow Muslim nations, and
 learn from them in turn, then we can all profit from this shared success."
     The idea of developing human capital has been at the heart of
 Malaysia's chairmanship in recent years of the Organisation for the Islamic
 Conference (OIC), and Mr. Badawi has devoted considerable time and energy
 to his ambitious plans to encourage the Muslim world to unite to help
 tackle the root causes of poverty and even social unrest and extremism by
 putting an economic face on the OIC. His creation of the World Islamic
 Economic Forum has helped to highlight the need to foster programmes to
 combat poverty, illiteracy and unemployment.
     The Muslim world with its population of 1.2 billion people has a
 disproportionately high level of poverty when compared to other societies.
 Of the 57 countries that make up the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
 (OIC), some 31 are classified as among the world's least developed.
 Together they account for some 20 percent of the world's population but
 only five percent of global GDP.
     As Prime Minister has said, "Alienation and disenchantment must be
 addressed by removing its causes not just addressing its effects. We have
 to tackle the economic roots of poverty, ignorance and unemployment because
 these are the real threats to Muslim societies around the world. It is
 urgent and vital that the prosperous and moderate nations of the Muslim
 world unite to provide self-help solutions to tackle the economic causes of
     At home in Malaysia, Mr. Badawi's progressive Islamic agenda has
 already produced strong economic success. His campaign pledge of "security,
 peace and prosperity" means that in order to provide these opportunities it
 is essential to maintain a stable and growing economy at home. That is why
 among Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's highest priorities -- as set out in
 the Barisan Nasional manifesto on Monday -- is making sure Malaysia remains
 a high-growth economy that is competitive enough to make it attractive to
 international investors and to continue fostering Malaysia's role as one of
 the most stable and successful economies in the ten-nation ASEAN block of