Web Energized Reform Movement Frustrates Malaysian Government

The pro-Anwar Ibrahim reform movement has complicated Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s vision of developing Malaysia into an open market Internet and communications hub.

Since 1997, Mahathir’s regime has been vigorously promoting the openness of its Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a national test bed for developing multimedia and information technology.

Ironically, after Anwar, the former deputy premier, was arrested in September, the Web itself became a major catalyst for the Reformasi movement with its abundant and popular unofficial sites.

“The Internet has opened up Malaysian political discussion in a way not previously possible, creating an arena for discourse somewhere between public and private” said a political scientist.

Anwar’s arrest and trial have created so much Web activity that many of the fledgling Reformasi Web sites crashed under the weight of the traffic.

An industry analyst said that there was a recent surge in new applications for dial up accounts throughout the country pushing the user total well over 600,000 but no representative from the government run ISP system was available for comment.

Two of the international advisers to the MSC, Alvin Toffler and Kenichi Ohmae, allegedly resigned last week in response to the Government’s detention of Anwar.

The Malaysian Government responded to the increase in Reformasi Web sites by posting anti-Anwar sites and declaring that the Internet would continue to be an open media in Malaysia.

“The Malaysian Government has no intention to control Internet development,” said an overseas Malaysian trade representative.

“Politics will not be brought into the development of the MSC,” said a spokesperson from the Multimedia Development Council (MDC), the organization that manages the development of the MSC. “The government has given its utmost promise that the MSC is prioritized over other concerns.”

Some observers conclude that Mahathir will try to avoid actions that might damage the prospect of more foreign investment in the MSC.

The MSC is backed by a panel of international advisers that include Bill Gates of Microsoft, James Barksdale of Netscape Communications Corp, Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp. and Scott McNeally of Sun Microsystems Corp.

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