Singapore, Malaysia: Mahathir Mohamad versus Lee Kuan Yew

Through his blog, former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad responded to the comments of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew about the race relations and ‘racist politics’ in Malaysia.

Below is an excerpt of The New York Times interview with Lee Kuan Yew

I regret having been turfed out of Malaysia. I think if the Tunku had kept us together, what we did in Singapore, had Malaysia accepted a multiracial base for their society, much of what we’ve achieved in Singapore would be achieved in Malaysia. But not as much because it’s a much broader base. We would have improved inter-racial relations and an improved holistic situation. Now we have a very polarized Malaysia, Malays, Chinese and Indians in separate schools, living separate lives and not really getting on with one another. You read them. That’s bad for us as close neighbours.

Singapore was part of the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but separated from it two years later.

Below is Mahathir’s blog reply:

Racism in Malaysia is clearly the result of Singapore's membership of the country for just three years.

Singapore's population is made up of 75 per cent Chinese and they own 95 per cent of the economy. It is therefore not a truly multi-racial country but a Chinese country with minority racial groups who are additionally much poorer

In Singapore dissent is not allowed, People who contest against the PAP (author’s note: ruling political party) would be hauled up in court for libel and if they win elections would not be allowed to take their places in Parliament.

…the party has always been led and dominated by ethnic Chinese and have won elections principally because of Chinese votes. The others are not even icing on the cake.

Konpunboyong left this comment in Mahathir’s blog

Both you and Mr. Lee Kuan Yew are nearly 70 years my senior. I do not know nor do I care what was happening in the past between Malaysia and Singapore. What I do know and care is that to-day in Malaysia we have first class citizens and second class citizens whereas in Singapore all citizens are of the same class.

Dr. Boo Cheng Hau from Malaysia clarifies the real cause of disunity among Malaysians.

In reality, it is the discriminative education policy towards various schools and the creation Malay-only schools and higher education centers that causes disunity.

Lee can rule the island state of Singapore with his own prejudice but not a much diverse and bigger country like Malaysia. His vision has made Singapore an advanced nation but might have not worked for other countries

Where Bears Roam Free from Singapore criticizes Lee

Whenever the Old Man speaks, it is about the Old Times. Yes, it is about the sixties and the seventies, although we are now in the 21st Century.

He speaks about the race issues we had in Malaysia. He speaks about the race issues we would have if we didn't do this or that. In fact, he speaks about….. nothing else! Ever since he stepped into politics in the 1950s, Old Man's favourite topic, heck let me restate that, Old Man's ONLY topic is all about race, race, race.

I will never understand why Old Man keeps living in the past. Haven't we left Malaysia about more than 40 years ago? Why is the Old Man carrying the baggage of the past? Isn't he weighing Singapore down?

Sayang Bangsa proposes a standard to judge which leader is correct

So how then shall we assess who is right? I look at who is able to manage better, who has better attributes to ensure less corruption and abuse of power and who is able to anticipate problems and taking steps pre-emptively to resolve the problems. On all these accounts, I consider Lee and Singapore performing and doing much better.

Singapore may be smaller, but the problems they faced were definitely more complex, urgent and protracted. If Malaysian politicians were to manage Singapore from day one, I think Singapore would be a city slum today.

Mahathir and Lee are both known for being authoritative when they were still in power. The two leaders are also old rivals who have been criticizing the leadership of each other from time to time.


  • Sue

    This Mahatir is non stop compaining, his life is full of racism. I am really shame of him. That is why many Chinese Malaysian rather live in overseas than coming back home.

    • zeb

      if u think Malaysia Mahatir is Racism,u have not done ur homework,it is SINGAPURA who is full of Racist led leader.the old man bear a grudge with us when they were out of the federation,Mahatir rule era,an era we will never hope to see again,why,This is the person who unite all the races under one roof,every one have an equal share of the pie,Shame on you,trying to discredit one of ASIA GREATEST LEADER.

      • blind

        Don’t be blind. Go check the percentage of Indians in Singapore and count the number of Indian ministers in Singapore’s cabinet. It is amazing that a minority race in Singapore can be so overwhelming represented. This speaks volume.

        Can you say the same for Malaysia? Maybe, because Mahathir is half-Indian anyway, but he speaks as if he is a bumi. He knows he has created the current problems in Malaysia but not willing to admit it. So, he goes blaming everyone, including his successors.

        • felice lim

          I would not think you are blind as you are a doctor who can look after your self. But may be you are acting blind lah !! We have
          no problem in voting a non-chinese MP if he /she proves to be
          able and fair . Just look at Singapore idols!! ALL chinese love our
          Tauffik so much, even the aunties like myself!! My children spent all
          their pocket money just to vote him in, DR. M what does this tell
          you?? Lately, we have seen many Malays from Malaysia working in
          singapore, if singapore is a racial country, Why do they come ??Do you know they commute daily to Johore even on late shift jobs. ??
          Some even come from KL or Malacca, and they rent a place in JB;
          i feel very sad for them, do you, as their X-PM?? Your very own
          Bumi have to work here?? Try visit Cold storage and Fast food
          joints to see for yourself?? Do our young singaporeans have to
          do that ?? NO< NO< NO!! They have many good programes to choose as we have so much foreign investment until tak-boleh tahan and, our younger generation is doing better and better. PLEASE DON"T PLAY THE BLAME GAMES!! ONLY CHILDREN PLAY
          SUCH SILLY GAMES!!
          " REALITIES SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS" is my parting shot !!

  • tl

    The common interests of a society are best served by the pursuit of individual interests on a level playing field (which must be open and transparent) under the framework of the rule of law (which must be efficient and non-corrupt) with a certain degree of social responsibility and social justice.

    I cannot say the above belief is always true, but unless and until someone can convince me otherwise, I find it very difficult not to adhere to my belief.

    Malaysia is a country with a lot of potential. But unfortunately, we do not have policies that ensure we’ve a competitive level playing field that will allow all Malaysians to compete and excel on a level playing field. This is hindering Malaysia and Malaysians from scaling new heights in all areas (Science, Technology, Economic developments, etc.)

    We’re not just competing among ourselves (Malays, Chinese, Indians, etc.) in Malaysia, we must see the global picture, we’re competing globally against all the best from all countries (US, Germany, Japan, etc.) around the world.Unless we’ve a competitive level playing field in Malaysia, otherwise we’ll never catch up with the advanced countries (like US, Germany, Japan, etc.), let alone to compete with these advanced countries.
    It is time for Malaysia to realize, if we care about Malaysia, if we aspire to be the best, Malaysia must change and implement policies that ensure we’ve a competitive level playing field that will allow all Malaysians to compete and excel on a level playing field in all areas of endeavors.

    Malaysia is a country with a lot of potential.With competitive level playing field, with good and clean government, there’s no doubt we can make Malaysia the best in the world with all the different races living and progressing in harmony.

  • zhuzidi

    The Chinese were impoverished newcomers to Singapore comparatively later than other peoples. You cannot fault a people for being climbing the social ladders and becoming wealthy/successful/recognized. It is your own fault if you do not keep pace with the competition.

  • rhoads

    The bigots, selected Chinese Malaysians can leave overseas and spread like cancer who cares..??!!
    They could only afford doing that by raping the Malaysians, Singaporeans and Indonesians out of their good will, resources, content lifestyle and ignorance.

    They have no idea how their parents benefited from this, worse still the younger generations are completely ignorant, they believe that their “success” is solely due to their hard work.
    What would your hard work have done for those that did not leave mainland, back in a trench hole in guang zhaou??

    Tun Dr. Mahathir was man enough to put them in their place, and draw flak for the betterment of the nation. Do we really expect a chauvinist to give something back to the country, that is why they “Asians” are hated for killing lifestyles in Australia, NZ and the states, because of their “what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine” attitude. Today, with weak leadership all these hyenas have come out, when TDM and LKY was in charge we couldn’t even hear a whimper.

    At least we have an opposition in Malaysia and voices of the youth being heard, be it wrong or right. It is absurd to think that LKY could even come close to making Malaysia what it is if he was in charge. The lion “city” has been used as satellite for the yanks for eons as the gate keeper of south east Asia. There is nothing to be proud about running a goddamn hub. With the resources, political climate, the paramount diversity and the size of the nation, Malaysia is a different animal all together.

    Speak to the regular man on the streets in Singapore and he will tell you of how racist Singapore and its policies are. Of course please don’t speak to the Chinese, (the more cultured ones will beg to differ). It’s like speaking to the average Malays on bumiputera policies, so really who is a racist? Aren’t we all? You seem to be holier than thou??!!

    At least discrimination in Malaysia is upfront and not a stab in the back, my family has always told me this, in Singapore there is only 2 ways of how to make it. Its either you be brilliant by a mile among your peers or marry a Chinese. This is the same concept in Malaysia (as in relation to the malays) BUT in Malaysia the Chinese are allowed to be kingmakers, hence it was a win- win situation, now they have really shown their true colours.

    A swallow doesn’t make a summer, so examples of non Chinese Singaporeans who have “made it” cant hold water. I’ll then list hundreds of thousands of non bumiputeras in Malaysia that have. Racism starts at home FULLSTOP.Thank you.

    • blind

      What is your solution? Move the Chinese back to China. Move the blacks out of America and Europe back to Africa? Move the Arabs back to Arabia? Move the Malays out of Malaysia and I am not sure to where? Move the Europeans out of Australia ….

      Your statements show total ignorance that countries now belong to more than one race. It is about how to have people see beyond the skin to work and live together in harmony. I believe everyone should be encouraged to live up to their greatest potential instead of being stifled. Malaysia should start seeing its minority races as a huge resource for the benefit of Malaysia.

      • melayu

        malays belong to the nusantara(indonesia+malaysia+singapura+filipina)
        thank you

        • Vincent

          melayu, if you want to say Malays belonged to nusantara, then I can also say America belonged to Red Indian. If USA is now still ruled by Red Indian, I don’t think she can become the superpower of the world today. What I am trying to tell you is if a country wants to move forward, she has to absorb all the talent people without looking at their races, religions and others. Look at what Singapore had achieved so far. Just look at the SGD. SGD is now 2.5 times bigger than MYR. NUS is ranked as the best university in Asia. Where is UM? Singapore public transport system is one of the best public transport system in the world. What is the ranking of KL public transport system?

    • lol wth where do you even get your info from;
      “my family has always told me this, in Singapore there is only 2 ways of how to make it. Its either you be brilliant by a mile among your peers or marry a Chinese.”

      no, to make it, you just work hard. have you been living under a rock? it’s a society based on merit, instead of race.

  • It is really interesting to read this post about the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia and think of the relationship between Taiwan and China.

  • Bigotry-is-bad

    I think Malaysia is a country that is hypocritical yet have a ruling hand in brainwashing the people. I come from the ‘other’ side of Malaysia, Sarawak.
    When i moved to Selangor for work purposes, i was shocked to see such segregation between races. I come from a land where majority of people don’t care what race you are, or at least, they aren’t as blatant as West Malaysia is.
    However, sadly, Sarawak is slowly turning into the ugly racial issues that West Malaysia is facing.
    I think the idea of even saying that Chinese would be the ruling party of Malaysia if PAP was still in Malaysia is in itself is as racial as the context of it being said.
    Ironically, with or without Singapore’s ruling government, Chinese are already ruling whatever business there is in a sense. In fact, Chinese and Indians have been the ‘bread winner’ for Malaysia for years now. The elitist Malays take the cash and spend it where as their poorer people are left in the cold and are brainwash to believe that the chinese/satan/britney spears is the cause of their poverty when in reality,the government is to blam. This is what Mahathir has built. A racially charged country. I hate the fact that a lot of Malaysians can’t see this. We easily give him the let go because of his ‘accomplishments’ but the truth of the matter is, he was also the one that destroyed whatever success we had.

    You know, i also think Chinese leaving the country is wrong too, stay and fight. You think the rest of us here like this bullshit? you leave, then you’re no different from a coward. why let this bastards win?

    I say let’s get a leader who will lead us to victory. Anwar had it right however the power and grasp of the government propaganda has even turn some of his supporters against him.

    Prove that people in Malaysia are stupid.

    It sucks that i am one of you people yet culture differences in West/East Malaysia is astoundingly different.

    Most of the west malaysians don’t even know where the hell sarawak is but an ang moh who was born somewhere else can tell me what sarawak is and where it is.

    But i blame the current leaders in whole of Malaysia for that.

    Please someone in Malaysia, understand lah! don’t be bodoh okay.

  • […] prime minister and current Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was interviewed by The New York Times last month, nobody expected anything controversial—or that he would upset neighbor […]

  • JM

    I am an ex-Malaysian. Currently holding a Singapore citizenship. I left Malaysia 3 years ago, sold my home and everything I had in Malaysia and came to live in Singapore. At first I was skeptical if I made the right decision, but soon I was really convinced that I made the right decision.

    I moved to Singapore because I did not want my son to be exposed to racial issues from a tender age. It all starts from schools. There is always a quota that the Malays must fill regardless of their credentials. In Singapore everything is about merit. That is why this country produces the best people. Every Singaporean regardless of the race is taught to be proud of his country. There is such thing as racial harmony day in this country where school students are taught from a young age about other races, their culture, belief and how to be tolerant in a multi-racial society. The Singaporean government takes the time to understand grass root problems and address those issues which Malaysia is constantly failing to do. The inflation rate in Malaysia is extremely high. There is no control on prices on consumer products. There is poor enforcement of laws in Malaysia due to the high corruption rate. Mahathir likes to make comments like this to divert the attention of the public on these less imporant issues.

    By making these very unproductive silly comments, what has been achieved. Are Malaysian enjoying any benefit? Please clean your backyard (Malaysia), Tun before you can start poking your nose into the business of other countries. I feel ashamed telling people that I am a Malaysian. I served the Malaysian government just before leaving to Singapore. Although I was as qualified and contributed better than my colleagues, my fellow colleagues who are Malays (non-performing individuals) always got promoted and were better recognised. I can vouch my last dollar that will never happen in Singapore. There are high ranking Malays and Indians in the Singapore government agencies. Whereas, in Malaysia the number of senior ranking official does not tally with the Chinese or Indian population. I can easily state that there is only a handful. Singapore government have started the fair employment movement encouraging all employees to treat their empoyees fairly. They encourage merit based promotions -( which has not even been raised in Malaysia. Other the NGOs from time to time keep shouting out for the benefit of the people.

    Mahathir was the culprit who divided the harmonious country and gave the poor Malays fall hope and made them materialistic people. You, Tun, have divided Malaysian into thinking they are Chinese, Malay and Indians rather than calling themselves “Malaysian”. Now, subsequent PMs have to repair the damages you have done. So to please SHUT your old gap for the good of the nation! BTW I think you can never bring the three races together like how LKY did. To destroy is easy but to unite is always a difficult task. If you want to see Malaysia, watch the parliamentary sessions. It’s like a circus. The MPs just exhibit sheer ignorance and very mediocre reasoning power. It is disgust me to thisnk that future Malaysia will be in the hands of these foolish people. There are some goods ones but these people are just out numbered by idiots.

    Why does Mahathr have to talk about LKY and his influence on the opposition. Maybe due to old age Mahathir forgot what he did. Mahathir sacked Anwar. He did not like Musa Hitam, did the same. Tun Salleh Abbas, another victim of his corrupted powers. Weel, Mahathis is a good example of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”

    As a final piece of advice, a third class PM (Mahathir) should not compare himself with a first class PM (LKY). LKY is a true father of Singapore. His love for the nation can be seen and felt in this country in the way he has administered this country!

    • malaysian

      and you are singaporean now.just dont bother about malaysia?

    • Vin

      Well said about “Mahathir was the culprit who divided the harmonious country and gave the poor Malays [false] hope and made them materialistic people.”

    • Beng Chiat Seah

      just to share a quote by TDM,

      “The Malays will no longer hold dominance in the government that they were so willing to share with others,” Dr M said in the column, expressing sadness that the Malay voter base was split into three factions, resulting in the bumiputeras having to beg for support from the Chinese and Indians who enjoy equal, but lesser rights.

      the willingness to share, he made as if its their rights,
      n wtf is equal but lesser rights?
      is he the character from ‘animal farm’?

  • Let me clarify, he is not half indian or keralite to be exact, he is 1/4- quarter indian- his roots from Kerala, where his grandfather ( Iskandar kutty) came from Kerala- married a pure malay lady, then his father “Mohamed ” was born, his father married a pure malay lady…and MAHATHIR was born….his mother tongue is malay, brought up in a malay environment, how can you just blatantly call him indian, when he was not brought up in an indian influence.He is malay, a true nationalists who cared for his country, why bother what mixture he has……many here come from mixed background, Badawi, Anwar Ibrahim and soo on.

  • ck

    There is a saying that history repeats…so whatever the old man is saying about race might stand true in the future…

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