A war of words has erupted between Singapore and Malaysia’s former leaders.
Ex-Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday that racism in Malaysia is a result of Singapore’s two-year membership there, and not because the island was “turfed out” as suggested by the Republic’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew recently.
Rebutting recent comments made by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Tun Dr Mahathir wrote on his blog, “With the background of Singapore’s activities in Malaysia in the short three (sic) years of its membership, can we really believe that if it had not been ‘turfed out’, race relations would be better in Malaysia?”
“While Kwan Yew (sic) talks about his belief that all ethnic communities should free themselves from the shackles of racial segregation in order to promote fairness and equality among races, he also said that ‘once we are by ourselves (out of Malaysia) the ‘Chinese become the majority’.”
His remarks were in response to comments Mr Lee made in an interview with The New York Times in which he compared how Singapore and Malaysia handle race relations.
Mr Lee had expressed that Malaysia would have achieved much of what Singapore had accomplished if it had accepted a multi-racial base, and described Malaysia as being in a “most unhappy situation”.
“I think if the Tunku had kept us together, what we did in Singapore — had Malaysia accepted a multi-racial base for their society– much of what we’ve achieved in Singapore would have been 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,” Mr Lee said in the NYT interview, referring to Tunku Abdul Rahman.
The 85-year-old Dr Mahathir rejected the view, claiming it was “not supported by facts of history”.
“Before Singapore joined the Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia, there was less racial politics in the Federation of Malaysia,” he wrote.
Dr Mahathir claimed that after Singapore became a part of Malaysia in 1963, Mr Lee reneged on a promise that the People’s Action Party (PAP) would not participate in Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak politics and attempted to displace the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) in the Alliance by appealing to Chinese sentiments in the Peninsular.
“Of course the slogan was ‘Malaysian Malaysia’, which implied that the Chinese were not having equal rights with Malays. If this appeal to Chinese sentiments against the Malays was not racial, I do not know what is racial,” Dr Mahathir said.
Instead, he took aim at Singapore politics, claiming “whether the PAP admits it or not, the party has always been led and dominated by ethnic Chinese and has won elections principally because of Chinese votes. The others are not even icing on the cake,” he said.
“Amnesia is permissible, but trying to claim it is because Singapore had been ‘turfed out’ for the present racial politics in Malaysia is simply not supported by facts of history,” he added.
In Malaysia, opinions were mixed in response to both leaders’ remarks.
The Straits Times reported that Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said on Monday that Mr Lee’s comments were “ill-informed and coloured with historical bias.”
On the other hand, Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim felt that Mr Lee’s comments were a “historical statement”. Selangor executive councillor and opposition politician Teresa Kok agreed, saying Singapore is ahead of Malaysia because it placed merit above race considerations.
MCA president Chua Soi Lek admitted that race relations are not as good as they should be. But he told Bernama it would be unfair “to say that Malay leaders always harp on Malay superiority”.
Tan Sri Khalid said both Dr Mahathir and Mr Lee had the right to express their opinions on the issue.
“You can’t say Singapore has progressed while Malaysia has not. Malaysia’s progress is subject to several constraints, and so is Singapore’s,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
“The future is not about that, it’s about how we can work together,” he adds.