Despite differences between Malaysia and Singapore in the 1980s Singapore and Malaysia did not go to war, declared Malaysia’s former Premier and erstwhile strongman, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Indeed what the skillful management of bilateral relations morphed into was a collegial spirit of camaraderie between both the seminal leaders, according to a report carried by Singapore’sStraits Times news daily.
“There were differences between Malaysia and Singapore during my time but we did not go to war. We were trying to find ways of solving those things in a peaceful manner”, the former Prime Minister exclaimed.
Relations between both nations were glaringly testy during the 1980s. On Singapore’s National Day celebrations in 1985, Kuala Lumpur launched Operation Pukul Habis (loosely translated to mean, to finish off). The frosty relations was such that they again began careening off when Israel’s former president Chaim Herzog visited the Republic 1986. That visit triggered widespread condemnation in Malaysia with some quarters even calling for the severing of water supplies to the Republic.
Relations did not fare any better in the 1990s following the ascension of Goh Chok Tong in Singapore with both sides constantly trading barbs over the moving of the Customs and Immigration Quarantine (CIQ) and other bilateral issues. In 1998, the former Malaysian premier lambasted Singapore’s Business Times when it commented on the leadership issues seizing Malaysia at that time.
Yet, despite the ‘bumpy’ rides of the 1980s, both Lee Kuan Yew and Tun Dr Mahathir managed bilateral relations for the mutual benefit of both nations, with the former premier even citing the aligning of time zones in East Malaysia as an example.
The sprightly former Malaysian leader who wields considerable influence in his country is known for his trademark and acerbic brand of sarcasm, once even calling his successor Tun Dato’ Sri Haji Abdullah Ahmad Badawi a ‘saint’, in an oblique barb to the inability of Malaysians’ to reprove of his weak leadership style and apparent attempts to mend fences with neighbours.
The former premier’s interview with the Straits Times was to assuage the concerns of Singaporeans over fears of the any possible disruption of the much anticipated inauguration of the High Speed Rail negotiated with considerable fanfare last year between Singapore premier, Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart, Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak.
The sitting Prime Minister has been politically weakened over the last few years, after allegations surfaced of impropriety over his handling of the 1MDB – an investment vehicle designed to chart and spearhead investments in his country.