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Wong Choon Mei
A proposed visit by Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is being trumpeted by Malaysian premier Najib Razak as a ringing endorsement for his newly-installed administration, but has raised cynicism amongst veteran analysts who questioned the motives of both leaders.
“Firstly, it is great to see Kuan Yew in Malaysia after so long. But secondly, after having said that, he really must remember to keep his mouth shut,” said Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.
“Thirdly, he should also take this trip as an opportunity to meet old friends and to regale them with old stories. Fourthly, he should stay far away from trying to interfere with the domestic political scene.”
Concerns are high that the 85-year old Singapore leader might use his observations here not just to boost Najib’s prestige, but also to score points back home in his city state.
Like Malaysia’s own ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Kuan Yew ruled with a fist of iron and dislikes dissent.
Although his son and Singapore premier Lee Hsien Loong runs one of the world’s cleanest and most efficient governments, the PAP party founded by Kuan Yew not only dominates but goes all out to crush the opposition in the tiny island republic of some four million people.
“Obviously, this is a ‘scratch my back and I will yours back’ visit,” said an economist at a large local bank, who asked not to be named.
“But Malaysia has gone far ahead of Singapore in the democracy curve. There is now the prospect of the Pakatan Rakyat coming to power and installing a new regime less mired by the decades-old problems of corruption and racism.
“If this happens, it can bring about a new investment climate that can pose a real challenge to Singapore, which has less resources than Malaysia in every way. So it would be in the interest of the PAP to badmouth the recent electoral developments in Malaysia and push the case back home that a healthy opposition destabilises.”
Given the situation in Perak, is it fair to see Zambry?
Kuan Yew starts an eight-day visit from Monday till June 15. He begins with a meeting with Najib and other Umno-BN bigwigs. The 85-year old will then travel down to Perak, Penang, Kelantan and Pahang.
In Penang, he is due to meet Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and other state officials. He will then travel to Kelantan to meet PAS spiritual adviser and chief minister Nik Aziz Nik Mat and the Kelantan Regent. In Pahang, he will call on Mentri Besar Adnan Yaakob and have an audience with Sultan Ahmad Shah.
But it is his stop in crisis-struck Perak to see Sultan Azlan and Umno chief minister Zambry Kadir that has fuelled the most outcry.
Pundits reason that if visiting Perak was a must-do for Kuan Yew, then protocol may dictate that he visits the Sultan. But why should he see Zambry?
A huge question-mark still hangs over the Umno leader’s legitimacy as the rightful MB of the northwestern state. Without acknowledging PAS leader Nizar Jamaluddin, who was ousted by an unpopular power grab hatched by Najib, it may be unfair for Kuan Yew to meet Zambry.
“Obviously, there is some uneasiness. Is the Minister Mentor being used to endorse Prime Minister Najib Razak’s coup d’etat in the state? Should he as an eminent statesman take sides or send such signals,” said Lee Boon Chye, PKR member of Parliament for Gopeng.
“These are the implications that the MM should be aware of. Mind you, Pakatan welcomes healthy ties between Malaysia and Singapore, but we hope the policy of non-interference in domestic matters will continue.
“Of course, it would be best if he did not see either Zambry nor Nizar until the court case regarding who is the lawful chief minister is resolved. Otherwise, like it or not, the meeting is bound to send a message. I am sure a politician of Mr Lee’s stature and experience knows that.”