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Singapore, Malaysia: Mahathir Mohamad versus Lee Kuan Yew

Categories: East Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, Governance, History, International Relations, Politics

Through his blog, former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad responded to the comments [1] 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 [2] 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 [3]:

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 [4] 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 [5] 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 [6] 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 [7] 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.