Dr M: Kuan Yew just a ‘mayor’

Shannon Teoh
The Malaysia Insider

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad dismissed in a recent book Lee Kuan Yew’s achievements as the founding father of Singapore, and accused the island republic’s minister mentor of once wanting to be prime minister of Malaysia.

“The fact remains that he is the mayor of Singapore,” the former Malaysian prime minister was quoted as saying in “Doctor M: Operation Malaysia — Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad”, written by US journalist Tom Plate based on interviews with Dr Mahathir over the last two years.

“This is something he doesn’t like. He wants to be big, you see and he feels that we took away his opportunity to lead a real country.”

Dr Mahathir also described Lee as “a big frog in a small pond” whose ambitions of being prime minister of Malaysia resulted in Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first prime minister, “realising he had to move Kuan Yew out.”

Singapore had joined Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 when Tunku was still prime minister.

Parliament voted to expel Singapore in 1965 following conflict over pro-Bumiputera policies favoured by Umno but rejected by Lee’s People’s Action Party (PAP).

Although their terms as prime minister only overlapped for nine years, Dr Mahathir and Lee have been at loggerheads for as long as Malaysia and Singapore have existed.

The two statesmen have clashed ever since both were in the Malaysian Parliament in the 1960s and the feud has continued up to now, with two books published recently that contain attacks on each other’s legacies.

“People look at him as an intellectual, as something more than just an ordinary politician, so he is always invited to give his views on things, and to that extent he is something bigger than Singapore,” Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, added in the latest book.

In the book, he also recounted an event that sealed poor relations between the two, stating that he was annoyed that he “was not treated as the leader of a country” when he visited Singapore as prime minister.

“Normally when somebody, a prime minister, visits another prime minister, you go down and receive him… they sent me a protocol officer, and then I was put in a room, a holding room waiting for the big man,” he said.

Dr Mahathir then did the same to Lee, who stepped down as PM in 1990, and other Singaporean leaders when they visited Malaysia.

“I call this the Singapore protocol,” he said.

In the book, Dr Mahathir said Lee was “not democratic at all” as opposition MPs in Singapore were “incapacitated, either by suing them… or the opposition will come in and be very quiet.”

He contrasted this to Malaysia where the opposition is “very vocal” and had at one time ruled five of the 13 states.

Lee, in a recent biography called “Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going”, had said that after resigning as prime minister, his intention was to make sure the new PM succeeded, comparing himself favourably to Dr Mahathir.

“If the new PM fails, I have failed. Mahathir never thought that way. He undermined his successors,” he said, referring to the pressure applied by Dr Mahathir on Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who eventually stepped down in 2009, and attempts to influence the current administration of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Dr Mahathir also claimed that when Lee was a Malaysian MP, he tended “to lecture people. The people in Parliament dislike that. So, I made it uncomfortable for him, so he didn’t like me.”

However, Lee also stated his own version of events in “Hard Truths” where he said Dr Mahathir “knew he couldn’t put me down because we had clashed before in the Malaysian Parliament where I was not intimidated.”