A Singapore government-sponsored forum organised by state media Straits Times launched a barrage of attacks against Malaysia’s newly-elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, claiming that the new Malaysia government achieved nothing but uncertainty after 100 days in government.
Termed as “experts”, there were four panelists at the forum, with two being state media Straits Times writers, one government scholar and one employee from local state-owned bank OCBC.
Government academic Joseph Liow from local university NTU labelled Mahathir as a troublemaker who is out to cause problems for Singapore:
“The first 100 days have set the stage perhaps for even more uncertainty, in terms of what buttons the Mahathir-led government is going to press in its bilateral relationship with Singapore. Singapore’s Government already had its concerns given the less than pleasant experiences with Dr Mahathir during his previous stint as prime minister from 1981 to 2003. It’s understandable that there’s some measure of concern, which is not helped by the way Dr Mahathir conducted relations with Singapore. For instance, his public comments in recent months on cancelling or deferring the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, without officially informing Singapore, were not the best way to conduct diplomacy. Dr Mahathir raising the issue of the Water Agreements, one of his major bones of contention in his earlier stint as prime minister, could also be a negotiating tactic. We should not discount the fact that Mahathir has always liked to poke Singapore.”
Agreeing with the government academic is economist Selena Ling from state-owned bank OCBC:
“A lot of the ministers have memories of how the last Mahathir regime panned out for Singapore. This could shape how they view the Pakatan Harapan government, which could make future relations challenging.”
When questioned by a member of the public whether the Singapore ruling party PAP government would collapse in a similar fashion like Malaysia’s former regime, the four government panelists said they do not believe so because the Opposition is too weak and that there is no anti-Lee Hsien Loong sentiments gaining traction:
No disrespect to the opposition politicians in Singapore, but they’re not Mahathir Mohamad. When Tun Mahathir entered the opposition in Malaysia, it was a huge milestone. No previous prime minister had ever joined the opposition, and he was not just any PM but the longest-serving PM… What happened in Malaysia was a major rejection of Najib (Razak) and what he had done or not done to the country and its economy, first and foremost.Until you have a similar setting in Singapore, the context is fundamentally different.”
However, unbeknown to the government, anti-Lee Hsien Loong resentment has been brewing as the Singapore public reject cronyism and his poor form of governance that resulted in hefty tax increases and increased poverty. Most Singaporeans have expressed unhappiness at the current regulations of the CPF retirement funds, and their discomfort of Lee Hsien Loong having free access to the CPF funds and national reserves.