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Opinion
William Pesek

1990s Come Back to Haunt Malaysia

Averting the last crisis caused the current one.
A crisis deferred.

A crisis deferred.

Photographer: GOH SENG CHONG/Bloomberg

Malaysia's ongoing currency crash has many causes: a worsening global outlook, plunging commodity prices and, of course, the political scandal enveloping Prime Minister Najib Razak. But the real culprit is the year 1997.

The conventional wisdom is that Malaysia's then-leader Mahathir Mohamad saved the country from the worst ravages of the Asian financial crisis when he imposed capital controls, pegged the ringgit and waged verbal war against speculators. It's true that Malaysia avoided much of the chaos that toppled economies in Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand. But events today show why, 18 years later, Malaysia may wind up the biggest loser in the region.