No country for old men

Asia Sentinel

Lee Kuan Yew ventures into the Malaysian thicket, finds Mahathir hasn’t mellowed

Lee Kuan Yew, the 85-year-old patriarch and minister mentor of Singapore, might have thought he was taking a pleasant eight-day valedictory lap across several Malaysian states last week, but it has turned out to be anything but.


On Monday, Lee came under blistering attack by his old adversary, the 84-year-old former prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who referred to him acidly in his blog, Che Det, as “the great man from the little country” and later called him a “little emperor.” The full force of his comments on Lee can be found in his blog here.

It was Lee’s first visit to Malaysia in four years and his first outside of Kuala Lumpur since 1989, and any visit he makes is certain to kick off a round of invective from Mahathir and others. There has been no love lost between the two octogenarians, both of whom ruled their countries with an iron hand, Lee for 31 years, Mahathir for 22, and who have never passed up an opportunity to slag each other off. But the current round is surprising for its vitriol.

Not only did Mahathir release a blazing attack on Lee, but Mahathir’s former political secretary Matthias Chang, writing in a publication called Suara Keadilan, said even worse, saying that, “To many anti-colonial fighters of the third world, Lee Kuan Yew was contemptuously referred to as “ivory-skin Englishman” who “was and still is perceived as the lackey of the British power elites.”

The Federation of Malaya and Singapore split into two countries in 1965, and Malaysian has never failed to gleefully bring up the fact that Kuan Yew burst into tears at the dissolution.

Kuan Yew’s dream, Chang wrote, of “being the Overlord of Malaysia, comprising of Peninsula Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah was shattered and he has to be content with being a bully of a city state! Given such a traumatic experience, and possessing a vindictive disposition, it is a given that Lee Kuan Yew would harbor a secret agenda against Malaysia. And over the years, he has sowed and continues to sow discord among the races in Malaysia.”
Reading various reports of Kuan Yew’s visit, he doesn’t seem to have done any such thing, instead arguing for more stable relations between the two countries. “It makes no sense for bilateral ties to be sunny one day, stormy the next,” he was quoted as saying.

“I leave Kuala Lumpur with some optimism, guarded optimism, because we have to see the words translated into action,” he said as he was leaving for Ipoh. “I had to emphasize that it cannot be cooperation today, non-cooperation next year and then back again, backwards and forwards, because these are very big investments both in the Iskandar region and the third bridge to Desaru and the east coast, from Desaru up to Mersing, up to Kuantan and Pekan, massive projects requiring huge investments, the returns can only be calculated in decades, not in terms of years.”

Lee’s visit appears bound to stir up additional tensions between Mahathir and Najib Tun Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, who extended the invitation to Lee and who has publicly said he wants cooperation with the island republic, especially over the massive Iskandar development at the bottom of Johor state which was begun by former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, which is being built partly on Singapore money.

Mahathir was quoted last year as saying Singaporean investors could force Malays out of the project. “After the land is sold, the Malays will be driven to live at the edge of the forest and even in the forest itself,” he was quoted as saying last May. “In the end, the area in Iskandar Malaysia will be filled with Singaporeans and populated with only 15 percent Malays.”

“Kuan Yew also explained that the fear Singapore Chinese would control Iskandar whatever is not justified. Malays can also work there,” Mahathir wrote in his blog. “It is good to know that Malays can also work in their own country. I wonder as what? Maybe someone should make a study of the Malays of Singapore just to know what it is like to be a Malay minority in their own country.”

During Lee’s visit to Malaysia, Mahathir wrote, “he made it known to the Malaysian supplicants that Singapore regards the lands within 6000 miles radius of Singapore as its hinterland. This includes Beijing and Tokyo and of course Malaysia.

“Of course this self-deluding perception places Singapore at the centre of a vast region. It is therefore the latter day Middle Kingdom. The rest are peripheral and are there to serve the interest of this somewhat tiny Middle Kingdom.”

Badawi, Mahathir continued, “decided that since the people of Johor did not want to sell sand to Singapore, Malaysia would not build any bridge, straight or crooked, or negotiate and settle the other issues like the Central Provident Fund, the Railway land. Maybe the 5th Prime Minister thinks he is punishing Singapore. Actually he is giving Singapore what it wants including the 3 sen per 1000 gallons water until 2061. Think of how many grains of nasi lemak we can buy with 3 sen in 2061. Imagine what 1000 gallons will earn for Singapore at that time. Can’t think of a more astute PM for Malaysia.”

All of those who met Lee, Mahathir said, “were lectured on how Malaysia should be run. We should not have any more problems now. We have been told the direction to take. MCA must help UMNO to win because Singapore does not want an Islamic Party like PAS to win. We must ensure this. Sorry PAS. Working with the DAP, the offspring of PAP has not endeared you to Mr Lee.

I have a lot more to say about this little Emperor but I will reserve it for later,” he concluded, “but I will say it later.”


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