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Fwd MGG: Mr Lee Kuan Yew Comes To Malaysia Like A Greek Bearing Gifts
By web aNtu

15/8/2000 11:10 pm Tue

[sangkancil] [MGG] Mr Lee Kuan Yew Comes To Malaysia Like A Greek Bearing Gifts

The Singapore senior minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, is in town, in part to put steel into the Prime Minister's backbone, and reflects the island republic's fright at the prospect of what one of its senior diplomats described to me years ago as "mullah rule". Mr Lee's views on Malaysia and the Malays, as he himself admits, is conditioned by Singapore's expulsion from the Malaysian federation in 1965. That dominates Singapore's views, and not helped by cut-and-dried impirical analyses which depend more on facts than the cultural imperatives that drives Malaysia, self-consciously ignoring the probability the opposition could attain power in Malaysia. It could not without a strong multiracial coalition. PAS and the DAP must be in the same coalition, but with their fundamental differences, the opposition within each inhibits it. The National Front ensured that, its equanimity shaken by the movesd to bridge that. So long as PAS remained in the political backwater, this could not come to pa#s. What changed this is the fallout from a man clinging to office for nearly two decades, with official policies meant to strengthen the siblings, children, cronies and courtiers of the administration. The spark to light that came with the arrest, murderous a#sault, botched conviction of the then deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim. PAS, with or without DAP, challenges the UMNO world view in the Malay cultural hinterland.

Malaysia has changed beyond recognition. So has the Malays. This message tricked to Singapore slowly, and until about three years, disbelieved. The young Malay professional of today, well educated and his own man, demands to be counted, fuelled the reformasi movement that burst on the Malaysian landscape in the aftermath of the Anwar affair. It shook the Prime Minister as it did Mr Lee, with their respective political parties in a dither. When a Malaysian retired diplomat told a retired Singapore diplomat three years about this and predicted difficulties for the Prime Minister in 1998, he was disbelieved. The man did not know what would bring this about, but the signs were already there. The Singapore world view, with Mr Lee as the architect, is formed with statistics, computers, the trappings of modernisation, but which eschewed cultural underpinnings except in pa#sing. This is why every prediction about the Prime Minister's longevity in office fails: the man knows the Malay mind only too well, especially their reluctance to confront (for that would be "derhaka" or treason) until their cultural worldview is impinged. A feudal leader (as the Prime Minister) may kill his feudal chiefs, but never ever humiliate them. He did with Dato' Seri Anwar, and fuelled the Malay opposition against him. There is no way out of this impa#se so long as he remains in office.

Singapore does not understand this. As it did not, when it attempted to support the embattled President Suharto before he resigned. There the worldview was that of a fading dynasty. As it misjudges the present. There must be a new president soon, by election or other means. President Abdurrahman Wahid plays a similar role to Lieut.-Gen. Rakshasamudra, whom President Sukarno appointed as his alter ego immediately after the 1965 Gestapu coup d'etat failed. Like Australia, Singapore does not understand the nuances of what drives Indonesian society. As it did not when it interfered in the Philippines in several high profile cases. His visit to prop up the Prime Minister and his administration therefore would be as effective as his other interventions in the region. The Prime Minister needs all the help he can get, but it has to be proferred to him in the cultural, not the economic or global, worldview. A whole generation of Malays -- the non-Malays would prefer to sit this out from the sidelines, as they always do -- are incensed at what happened. They do not go out into the streets, they keep their own counsel and move from outright support to neutrality and beyond. In other words, the Malay community is in revolt, though one would not see it reflected in the streets. But the prospect of that happening should not be ruled out. As someone said, when peaceful change is impossible, violent change becomes inevitable.

As its nearest neighbour, and linked by a three-quarter-mile causeway and a rarely-used toll-paying bridge, what happens in one rebounds in the other. The Chinese majority in Singapore and the Malay majority in Malaysia, with a significant minority of the other in each, dictates, even if unacknowleged, the course of bilateral ties. The two countries have taken different paths to nationhood, again because of their different experiences, but they have to live with the other. Singapore's future, it believes, is as compradore to the industrialised world, therefore opts for a multiracial community which rubs out, or attempts to, racial differences under a Confucian cloak. Malaysia, while preaching a multiracial society insists upon Malay hegemonic dominance as its raison d'etre. Because one saw the divide in economic, and the other in political, terms, bilateral frustrations took on a political tinge and compounded the current state of affairs, which while much better than it was, remains cool and formal. The PAP's links with the Democratic Action Party is now formally no more, building bridges instead with the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, in the National Front coalition. UMNO's views on Singapore is clouded by the views of the small Malay opposition, all that remains of the UMNO organisation in the republic.

So, Mr Lee in Malaysia, his first in a decade, is viewed in the Malay cultural heartland as of a Greek bearing gifts. He is here, in its view, to provide the multiracial, essentially Chinese, support to the Prime Minister's weakened Malay political backbone. The two men don't get along. How could they when they are birds of a feather? In the New Straits Times interview, he made it clear he works best with the finance minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin. Indeed, an earlier planned visit by Mr Lee was abruptly cancelled when the Prime Minister's private comment about Mr Lee, himself facing a local difficulty in Singapore, reached him. Still, Singapore foreign policy does not want PAS, not for what it is but for how Singapore perceives it. Mr Lee's offhanded comment about PAS's negative reaction to the New Straits Times woman photographer who took photos of the interview is typical. This demonisation of PAS works so long as PAS remains a regional party. It is not anymore. When anti-Mahathir and anti-UMNO Malays, denied of a place in the Keadilan party which fractures from within and without, move to PAS, the interests of Singapore and the Prime Minister merge. This visit had to be made, no matter what. But then Mr Lee always dances to the tune played by the Prime Minister. Culturally and politically. Indeed, the Prime Minister and his administration welcomes this visit more than Mr Lee and the Singapore government.

M.G.G. Pillai