Photo of Lee Hsien Loong and Mahathir from Facebook

In the interview with Financial Times, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir said that Singaporeans, like Malaysians, are “tired of single-party rule”. The new Malaysia openly expressed his disapproval with the Singapore ruling party PAP government saying that Singaporeans are also looking forward to a change like Malaysia’s:

“I think the people of Singapore, like the people in Malaysia, must be tired of having the same government, the same party since independence.”

Since voted in power three weeks ago (May 9), Malaysia PM has given Singapore dictator Lee Hsien Loong several diplomatic slaps in the face. The seasoned nemesis of Lee Kuan Yew first gave the smaller Lee only 30 minutes after the Singapore PM prepared over 8 hours in travel including arranging a contingent of Singapore motorcade. A week after, Mahathir announced that the pet project of Lee Hsien Loong, the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR), would be cancelled.

The clever politician even used the country’s debt to his advantage, as justification for the cancellation of the HSR project. Prior to making formal contact, Mahathir even openly stated the amount of compensation, at around US$125 million, and declared that he would be seeking Singapore’s understanding to negotiate the amount. Lee Hsien Loong is now in a compromised position as making Malaysia pay the full amount of compensation would result in a public backlash. Mahathir has also deliberately left out mentioning the construction of another cross-border deal: the Rapid Transit System (RTS) between Johor Bahru and Singapore.

Regardless how Lee Hsien Loong respond to the HSR, Malaysia is in a win-win situation. If Lee Hsien Loong forced Malaysia to pay US$125 million in full, RTS would definitely be cancelled and it would be bad blood between the two provoked by Lee Hsien Loong. If Lee Hsien Loong give concessions, RTS would also be cancelled with a reduced compensation rate.

If this is a game of chess, Mahathir basically checkmated Lee Hsien Loong.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is clearly at a loss of what to do, with no response to Mahathir’s comments on the HSR after a week. Clearly, Lee Hsien Loong has again proven himself to be a very poor diplomat and unable to manoeuvre his way out of a difficult situation.

Fortunately for Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong is stepping down. However, Mahathir’s attitude towards Singapore is unlikely to change if another PAP leader is chosen. Singapore has to present itself that it’s elections have still remnants of a democracy that is still capable of overthrowing a dictatorship like Lee Hsien Loong’s.

Malaysia’s Mahathir has made it very clear since he took office, that the future would not be kleptocratic like as in the past. No single person would have control over the state funds, police, civil service, judiciary and even the President like Najib and Lee Hsien Loong possessed. With a clear vision, it is only natural that Mahathir make things difficult for Lee Hsien Loong until the Singapore dictatorship sank.

Alex Tan
STR Editor