Friday, 18 May 2018

New Wine in Old Wineskins

How do I feel about the results of Malaysia's GE2018?

As a Singaporean, their politics is their business.

But of course being close neighbours, their politics inevitably will affect SG.

Najib has been good for SG and if that were the sole criteria, we would be quite happy for Najib to stay on.

But there are other considerations. A Malaysia that is not properous is also not good for SG. "Prosper thy neighbour" is a better approach.

The rumours about Najib were just getting too loud and too regular to be dismissed or ignored.

And it was clear that Najib was not good for his country. Even if he were good for SG.

So personally, I am glad to see him go.

If he had managed to hang on one more term, well, the consolation is that SG will at least benefit from it.


BUT... the alternative was... Dr M.

Really, was that really the two choices Malaysians had?

Kleptocracy or Megalomania?

Dr M or Mad Hatter, had his issues with Singapore.

It went all the way back to the 1997/8 Asian Financial Crisis as this blogpost suggests:
The then-prime minister was in a quandary. He had sacked his deputy, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and to make matters worse, the country was experiencing a financial crisis unlike any other before.

Currency speculators had devalued the Malaysian ringgit to a fraction of its previous value. Attempts by BNM to prop up the ringgit's value had been expensive and ultimately futile. Malaysia was virtually bankrupt.

There was no more money left due to Mahathir and Anwar's mismanagement of the economy during the 1990s. 
With metaphorical hat in hand, Dr Mahathir made a visit to Singapore to meet with PM Goh Chok Tong...
Report from HK media.
PM Goh responded positively. Singapore was willing to lend Malaysia the five billion but with "conditions". It remains unclear exactly what these conditions were as only Dr Mahathir and PM Goh were privy to the details. 
Dr Mahathir in any event decided that these conditions were unacceptable and returned to Malaysia empty-handed...
It is like this. Singapore did not ask us to go borrow money from them. When you go and ask someone to loan you money, you are going based on a weak position and can expect conditions.

It is up to you to fulfill these conditions or not. No one is forcing you.
It is not a big heart that Tun M went to borrow money from Singapore but sheer desperation.
Over time, Malaysia's financial situation stabilised. Malaysia's relationship with Singapore, however, had irretrievably broken down. The good doctor's ego had been severely bruised by his having to "beg" and his humiliation in Singapore...

The hidden message was made very clear when Dr Mahathir proclaimed “there's more than one way to skin a cat”...

When plans for the demolition of the Causeway were revealed and the images of the new crooked bridge were made public, the penny dropped.
The above is a plausible explanation for why Mad Hatter feels aggrieved by Singapore and why he bears such hostility to SG.

But it is only a theory.

Only the Mad Hatter knows why he is mad (as in angry).

Whatever the genesis of his grudge, the evidence of his hostility and ill will is clear, from the negotiation for a renewed water treaty, the Points of Agreement on the KTM land, and many other niggling little details and interactions.

We don't dwell on them, because we have more important things to do. Money to make. Business to run. Deals to close. With people who want to close them in good faith.

Anyway, this is not a rant on Mad Hatter.

Perhaps he has changed. Perhaps he has mellowed in his old age. Maybe since his "rival" (as he sees it), LKY is dead, he feels he has nothing to prove at least to Singapore. Maybe he has had an epiphany. Or an enema.

Again, we shall let him prove himself. There is no need to pre-judge him. We can be suspicious. Or at least I am allowing myself to be suspicious because I don't trust him. Which means I will see everything he does with a jaundiced eye.

He recently took on the Education Ministry portfolio for himself. My suspicion is that he wants to ensure his place in the history books. Literally! [Note: He subsequently reversed his decision and adhered to a pledge in the PH's manifesto that the PM should not hold a second ministry, especially that of Finance Minister to avoid conflict of interest.]

Well, no one has ever accused him of being subtle. Or he is about as subtle as Donald Trump.


His story has been tragic and he is the poster boy/man for being the victim of political oppression and harassment, if nothing else.

I believe he offers a better chance for Malaysia. I believe he is a man of conviction. I believe he has shown reasonableness, intelligence, and rationality.

And his biggest advantage over Dr M? His lack of demonstrated megalomania.

Will he lead Malaysia to greater glory and progress?

That remains to be seen.

As I wrote previously, Dr M has one job - to warm the seat of Anwar. But he would have his own agenda. Even if he does not intend to lead a NEW UMNO and Barisan Nasional, he would have some personal scores to settle:
Of course. Dr M would have bargained - "I will warm the seat for Anwar, but I want to have time to start building my crooked bridge and restore Proton as my legacy, the National car. I want to be PM for at least 2 years to do all these. Then I will hand over to Anwar."

And Anwar is thinking, "Good. You try to fix everything first. Fix Najib and earn his allies' enmity. Cancel development plans with China, and earn China's bad will. Screw up relations with Singapore and make yourself look like a vengeful old fool. I'll give you two years. Then I will come to power and make everything alright with Malaysians, with China, and with Singapore."
That may be the larger plan. Let Dr M, who is expendable, clean house. He can do the dirty deeds and take the take the blame and the heat and the hate for it. And then he can go. The old goat becomes the scapegoat.

Then Anwar starts over with a clean slate and a new system.

So I hope the story will end with Dr M handing over the country to Anwar to lead MY to a better life, and so a story of betrayal (by the mentor), persecution and oppression, struggle, triumph, will end with vindication.

Alternatively, it could be a tragedy: betrayal, persecution, struggle, alliance, triumph, and defeat snatched from the jaws of victory with a last minute betrayal.

On FB: 
"I hope you prevail.

BUT... don't count your chickens before they hatch. Especially when there is an old weasel in the henhouse."
That said, whether Anwar will make a good PM is not in evidence. But we believe and we hope that he would be reasonably better than Dr M (not a megalomaniac), and Najib (not a kleptomaniac/ corrupt).

It is sort of sad that the best thing we can hope for is not megalomania and not corrupt.

What about competency? I think Anwar has it. But that remains to be seen.


From FB:
Singapore will deal with Malaysia in good faith and in all sincerity, and say what we mean, and mean what we say. We will keep our word and expect Malaysia to keep theirs.

Mahathir's history with SG does not fill one with confidence that he would treat in good faith, but like investments, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

Maybe without LKY to compare to and compete with, Dr M would be less insecure. Perhaps with age, his priorities have changed. Perhaps he has mellowed in his old age. Perhaps he finally realise that the BN way, the racial politics, and the zero sum mentality of the past are handicaps. Perhaps he has had an epiphany.

Or not.

Whatever the case, whatever his frame of mind, whether he has changed or not, whether he is good or not to Singapore, we will treat him as the PM of Malaysia. Work with him if we can. Or not. We separated from Malaysia over 50 years ago because we could not. We do not need to replay separation. We are 50+ years ahead of that.
Which is not to say that we should start off n a suspicious frame of mind. We will work with the PM of Malaysia (WHOEVER he is), in good faith, and in all sincerity. If this is reciprocated, good. That is how international relations work.

If not, we assume that there is some miscommunication, and try again. If that still doesn't work we try again. And if we still don't succeed, we proceed to make NEWater.
In other words, we proceed as normal. We deal with Malaysia as we deal with any country - fairly, respectfully, and legally. There is no "kawan-kawan", there is no "abang-adik", there are no deals under the table. 

Everything above board, written down, documented, signed, and we will keep our word, and we will hold them to theirs. That has been our way, and that will always be our way.

If the HSR is scrapped, great. we get to develop the Jurong Lake District without any need to consider the HSR.

We are not trying to sabotage Malaysia. A viable, stable, prosperous Malaysia is good for the region, is good for security, is good for ASEAN, is good for Singapore.

Similarly we will not allow Malaysia to sabotage SG. If they try or rather if Dr M gets up to his shenanigans, we will thwart him.

In any case, SG is 50 years ahead of race politics, with coalitions and compromises and incompetence and corruption. It doesn't mean that we are invulnerable. But it does mean that we have a good system in place, and it is robust enough to meet most challenges.


Malaysia has a lot of potential. It has a lot of resources. It has had it easy. And easy makes it soft.

The new govt needs to understand that advantages are to be levered to make the country strong, not weak.

It needs to discard old and inefficient ways.

It needs to move away from race-based politics.

This election was in a sense a rejection of corruption. Some would like to see that it is also a rejection of race-based politics.

But I suspect that it is not. Race has been subsumed because corruption is more pressing. But the usual way of looking at Race relations have been entrenched in 60 years of "Nation building". I expect that it will rise again. More so with a Malay Ultra like Dr M at the helm.

As such I do not really see this as a turning point. Or rather, this election is a refutation of Najib and kleptocracy. But not a rejection of Ketuanan Melayu, not an active choice for meritocratic values. The Alliance was to bring down Najib using democracy, not to advance democracy in Malaysia to a higher level.

There are no higher principles.

Not with Dr M at the helm.

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