August 11, 2013
Lee Kuan Yew strikes again: Malaysia on the Defensive Mode
by Josh Hong (08-10-13) @ http://www.malaysiakini.com
It is interesting to note that Singapore continues to haunt Malaysia despite that the two countries have lived separately for nearly half a century.
In particular, every word uttered by Lee Kuan Yew, the so-called ‘founding father’, is taken as gospel truth by those who worship him – such as the Chinese Malaysians – and as nothing but another attempt to drive a wedge between the various communities in Malaysia by others who detest him.
This week, Lee has again ruffled the feathers of some across the causeway with his latest book One Man’s View of the World, in which he shares his long-held views that Malaysia would prepare to lose talent in order to maintain the dominance of one race, and that “race-based politics place the country at a disadvantage”.
No issue about that, since this is the man who has turned an entrepôt into an economic powerhouse in the region, playing a very important diplomatic role that far outweighs the size of the island state.
As Singaporeans are celebrating their 48th National Day on August 9, much has been made of the vastly different paths that the two countries have taken since their acrimonious divorce in 1965.
There is nonetheless no dispute that Malaysia pales into insignificance when compared to Singapore’s economic growths over the years. Malaysian leaders, be they Umno bigwigs or veterans like Mahathir Mohamad, may look askance at the lack of Malay representation in Singapore’s cabinet, there is no denial that the ‘Little Red Dot’ is among the safest countries in the world, with shootings, muggings and car-jackings almost unheard of.
And Lee cannot feel more vindicated now that the series of shooting incidents across Malaysia have shattered the Barisan Nasional government’s own illusion that rising crime rates were just a ‘perception’.
However, it is equally fanciful for Lee’s admirers in Malaysia to praise him to the skies while ignoring the fact that Singapore’s current status as a star pupil in the international arena has come at the expense of civil liberties and political freedom.
While western scholars – from Samuel P Huntington to David Madland – have held the view that a vibrant middle class invariably spurs democratic transformation, Singapore under the Lee family has defied the argument time and again. One only has to look at the high-handed manner in which the People’s Action Party’s responded to Malaysians who protested peacefully in the island state against electoral fraud back home.
Throughout his political career, one message of Lee’s is loud and clear: one thinking reed is dangerous enough for Singapore’s nation-building project, so he has never wavered at crushing it.
Lest we forget, for all their political differences and personal rivalries, Lee shares one thing in common with Mahathir: an unflinching belief that man must accept strong and even authoritarian governments in order to enjoy economic prosperity and societal peace.
It is all the more paradoxical to observe that among Lee’s cheerleaders are Malaysians who have been fighting relentlessly against closure of any vernacular schools, who would appear to be prepared for the death of mother-tongue education on the PAP’s terms.
Which raises the question as to whether Malaysians’ democratic pursuit is rooted firmly in the notion of individual liberties and the freedom to think and to choose, or contigent on economic benefits. In other words, would Pakatan Rakyat supporters surrender their demands for greater human rights, vernacular education and political diversity in return for economic achievements as enjoyed by Singaporeans?
But Lee did make a valid point when he expressed doubts on the resilience of Pakatan as a multiracial coalition. The failure to take over the federal administration is indeed a severe blow to the opposition pact, but it is the journey ahead that is fraught with pitfalls and challenges.
Hanging in the balance
One concern is whether PAS would reverse its progressive trends while the DAP would turn further inward by consolidating its own power in Penang, to the chagrin of its ruling partners. The future of PKR also hangs in the balance as the future of Anwar Ibrahim remains uncertain.
Simply put, it is how the three coalition partners navigate their ideological differences and rise above their respective communal mindsets so that they can continue to present themselves as a viable alternative that cuts across race, creed and religion that will determine the eventual success of multiculturalism, as opposed to the view that Malaysian politics will forever be characterised by race and religion as Lee sees it.
On this, I have only one piece of advice for the DAP: while it is fine and well to adopt economic policies that would bring about distributive justice, there is no need to constantly showcase Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore as a ‘success story’, unless the DAP leadership is convinced there is much that one can learn from the Lee dynasty on democracy and political freedom.
After all, didn’t the old man – whom the DAP very much looks up to – just say Pakatan was nothing but a bunch of ‘opportunists’?
JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.