PM Najib Razak: I do not expect elections to change the nature of relations between our two countries as well.
PM Lee Hsien Loong: Because you have confidence in the result.
(Both PM Lee and PM Najib laugh)
This took place during a joint press conference by both prime ministers at the Istana on 16 January 2018 for the 8th Singapore-Malaysia leaders’ retreat.
Four months later, Najib got toppled and in hindsight, we can say that those words that he and PM Lee uttered seemed so shallow and even stupid.
You see, this is what happens when leaders take the electorate for granted. They treat it as buying durians – pau chiak!
Incidentally, the two of them had many durian feasts together, and a portrait was even unveiled of them in suits and matching red tie enjoying the fruit with the fetid smell.
Whenever they could, they would also catch up for breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner. In short, they shared a bromance that was as buddy-buddy as that among leaders of any two countries.
While they were both gleefully scratching each other’s back, the thought never crossed their mind that the 93-year-old Dr Mahathir Mohamad could achieve a stunning victory in the polls and unseat Najib Razak and his government.
Mind you, at the height of the Lee Hsien Loong-Najib Razak bromance, global leaders were avoiding Najib with a ten-foot pole.
The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The New York Times, CNBC, MSNBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Al-Jazeera and even Indonesian Tempo all mocked Najib as the crook behind the IMDB scandal.
It was reported that it was by design and not by accident that President Joko Widodo of Indonesia had chosen not to share intelligence with Malaysian police about the confiscation of Jho Low’s mega yacht The Equanimity.
During the Mahathir era, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei made many official and non-official visits. But during the Najib era, especially since the implosion of the IMDB scandal, the Sultan only visited Malaysia when absolutely necessary.
But Najib could always count on PM Lee for support and company. There is a saying: Show me who your friends are and I’ll tell you what you are.
But what an amazing turnaround!
First, we have two buddy-buddy leaders getting ahead of themselves, prematurely celebrating a Najib Razak victory at the pools.
Then, they got caught with their pants down and the bromance had to be terminated.
Now, with the comeback of Dr Mahathir, poor PM Lee is left without a bro (don’t forget, his real bro is in self-exile).
And now Dr Mahathir is to be avoided with a ten-foot pole.
Can you conjure up a script with a better twist and turn than this?