Despite the resources at its disposal, it would appear that the Singapore government can be a little bit obtuse and unsophisticated. Sure, I can understand why the government would feel miffed at a meeting between second time Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir and Singaporeans who will not be securing themselves an invite to the Istana any time soon (to put it mildly).
The electoral upset that unseated the mighty UMNO earlier this year has no doubt caused waves in South East Asia and it is no surprise that the government of Singapore would watch these events keenly. Malaysia is, after all, Singapore’s closest neighbour. Further, it is no secret that Dr. Mahathir is no fan of the Lee family and that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) had an excellent relationship with now disgraced Najib who was not exactly best friends with Dr. Mahathir.
Given the extraordinary events that have occurred in Malaysia, it is anyone’s guess what Dr. Mahathir’s true intentions with the “new” Malaysia really lies. That said, the steps he has taken thus far have been largely positive. He has sought to appoint more non-Malay citizens to positions of influence and power. He has shown commitment to democracy and civil rights. He has also sought to balance the books in Malaysia by re-looking contracts that may not benefit Malaysia. This has affected Singapore and caused consternation among the ruling elite in Singapore. Now Dr. Mahathir has invited non-establishment Singaporeans to meet him. To the power brokers in Singapore, that is like waving a red flag to a bull and they are throwing their toys out of the pram.
Several People’s Action Party politicians have spoken up against this “offending” meeting between Dr. Mahathir, Kirsten Han, PJ Thum and Tan Wah Piow. Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng led the charge by insinuating that Thum was a traitor to Singapore. While this has displayed great misunderstanding on his part in relation to his understanding of history, it has also demonstrated the great insecurity that the Singapore government feels.
Mr K Shanmugam has now joined the fray, seemingly deliberately misunderstanding the difference between Singapore and South East Asia. Thum had called Dr. Mahathir to”take leadership in Southeast Asia for the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of information”. Shanmugam has chosen to take this to mean that Thum was inviting Dr. M to take democracy to Singapore! In interpreting Thum’s statement in this manner, Shanmugam is surely stretching the truth. South East Asia has many strongman politicians who do not exactly play by the rules of democracy. In asking Dr. M to take the lead, Thum could have meant any one of these authoritarian figures or all of them. Why did Shanmugam immediately jump to such a defensive conclusion? Guilty conscience perhaps?
To me, this highlights how vulnerable the PAP feels. They are genuinely concerned that events in Malaysia would spill over into Singapore and cause the PAP to lose seats come the next election. Be that as it may, they have played their cards all wrong. In behaving in such a childish manner, they have allowed Dr. Mahathir to not only come across as the inspirational leader, but also displayed their own lack of sophistication. If Dr. Mahathir did intend to stir shit, he sure succeeded in:
- displaying his commitment to democracy and civil rights to the world;
- showing up Singaporean politicians as petty and childish;
- making our leaders look like they have no understanding or knowledge of history or the English language for that matter.