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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
LEE KUAN YEW: A BRIEF LESSON FROM THE PAST
Tun Mahathir Mohammad and Tun Asmah during the "oath -taking "ceremony at Istana Negara , March 2009 (Star pix): Not interested in meeting with recent visitor Lee Kuan Yew in Malaysia.
Kuan Yew’s trip for the future Analysis By Joceline Tan
SOME billed the landmark visit of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew to Malaysia as “a trip down memory lane.” It has been anything but that.
For a start, the Minister Mentor of Singapore is not the sentimental sort and, second, this particular lane in history does not exactly hold pleasant memories for him.
This elder statesman probably left for home yesterday after his eight-day visit armed with insight and perspectives about this country and its politics that no other contemporary leader in Singapore has ever been privileged to.
He met an array of people from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Prime Minister to the royal figures and political leaders of several states as well as a string of politicians from both sides of the divide.
“It was really unprecedented. The people he met included the who’s who of Malaysian politics,” said one Pakatan Rakyat MP.
And it was all the more curious because it took place without the usual anti-Singapore voices filling the air or showy protests by Umno Youth.
VIPs cleared their diaries for his courtesy call and many bent over backwards to hear what he had to say and to tell him what he wanted to know.
The sole exception was perhaps Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who resisted being drawn into any political discussion so much so that some of the conversation had to actually meander down memory lane.
But Kuan Yew’s crosshairs were on the Pakatan states.
He is curious about the new players in these states. As most of those he met noted, Lee arrived very well-informed but he wanted to meet them to fine-tune what he already knew and make his assessment.
They had the sense that he wanted to get to know them for “future purposes” and several of them were invited for more discussion in Singapore.
One of them was Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat who was savvy enough about Malaysia-Singapore relations to not say yes; he told Lee it would be too tiring for him to make the trip. Yet, Nik Aziz had been to China four times, as Lee pointed out.
It seemed like the PAS side also tried some mind games on him. The translator who sat in at the Lee-Nik Aziz meeting had studied and worked in the United States for eight years – their way of telling Lee that well-educated Malays were now with them.
When he met Nik Aziz’s right hand man Datuk Husam Musa, the latter brought along his assistant, a PhD holder who had spent 13 years in Britain.
Singapore leaders have been observing Malaysia’s politics with some concern since the 2008 election and they are not taking the Pakatan claims about capturing Putrajaya lightly.
At his meeting with PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, Lee, who takes a keen interest in Malaysian and Indonesian affairs, was keen to know how foreign policy, especially that towards Singapore, would change if PAS took over.
“He wanted to see for himself, to hear from the horse’s mouth. He also understands that the head of any government in this country must be from a Malay-based party,” said one of those at the meeting.
The other point here of course is that he chose to meet only one of Pakatan’s contenders for the prime minister’s post.
Some said he gave Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim a miss because they have issues dating back to when Anwar was still the deputy prime minister.
But Lee understood the political sensitivities and knew where to draw the line on his trip.
His longest session was with the Penang leaders. The DAP and PAP go back a long way and the discussion probably had more common ground than elsewhere.
The Penang leaders found him sympathetic to their issues but they also thought he was way off on some of his assessments. They probably did not appreciate Lee’s scepticism that Pakatan could capture Putrajaya by the next elections.
When asked by the press to sum up the meeting with Lee, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said, among other things: “Lee Kuan Yew is a historical figure. For me and my colleagues, today is a historic occasion, meeting a piece of living history.”
Lee’s visit was to see and hear for himself the political changes that have taken place in Malaysia and getting acquainted with some of the new players.
He is not totally convinced that Pakatan has what it takes for a home run in the next elections; at the same time, he does not intend his country to be caught flat-footed.
Underlying all this is the niggling fear that his own citizens may take their politics ala Malaysia.
Many have wondered at Lee’s political longevity. Some of those he met last week had a glimpse of how he does it and, that is, to be a step ahead of others, even at age 85.
However, not everyone was pleased about the red carpet treatment.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, describing Lee as “The Little Emperor” was dripping sarcasm when he blogged about how “all those who met the great man from the little country were lectured on how Malaysia should be run.” (Extract from the Star, 16 June 2009).
Comment: Everybody in the right political mind must be speculating the common denominator that binds Lee Kuan Yew's republic and Lim Kit Siang's (read: Lee Guan Eng)island state of Pulau Pinang (Penang). After all DAP was originally PAP and came into existence in Malaysian Politics after Singapore was expelled from Malaysia.
It's rightly so when Tun Mahathir Mohammad showed little interest of Kuan Yew meandering his way for eight days in Malaysia. As one veteran UMNO politician chuckled, "Kuan Yew is sizing the Malaysian political tsunami of 2008."
For those who are interested in the past relationship of these two elderly statesmen, refer to the book entitled "The Paradox of Mahathirism.", published some time back in late 199o's.