After the now infamous meeting between second time Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir (Dr. M) and a quartet of Singaporeans, historian Thum Ping Tjin, freelance writer Kirsten Han, graphic novelist Sonny Liew and activist Jolovan Wham, the effects are still being felt. The Singaporeans have each had to endure an onslaught of internet slamming while two members of the PAP government in the form of Marine Parade MP Seah Seah Kian Peng and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam have publicly chastised the quartet.
Have the 4 Singaporeans become the pawns in a proxy war between the two countries?
Ever since Dr. M took power the second time round, Singapore has been on high alert. It is after all no secret that Dr. M's Malaysia (the first time round) and the establishment in Singapore did not always see eye to eye. That said, is it a little bit of an exaggeration for everyone to think that Dr. M is out to get Singapore and that everything he does is in someway to undermine Singapore? Somehow I doubt it. Much has been made about Dr. M cancelling the High Speed Rail project and wanting to renegotiate the water rates with Singapore.
But let's put things in perspective, Singapore is not the only country that is affected by this project audit undertaken by the new Malaysian government. Does Dr. M also have an axe to grind with China? He cancelled at least 3 projects there.
Maybe the issue is less about Malaysia's alleged agenda against Singapore and more about wanting to priortise the interests of Malaysia.
To a certain extent, making the Singapore government uncomfortable and forcing their hand on ongoing projects might be a strategy that an old hand at politics like Dr. M is trying to play. It may well be that the four Singaporeans are but collateral in the wider game plan. That said, I highly disagree with the notion proffered by some that Dr M. is hell bent on causing upset in Singapore. To be honest, he has better things to do. In the last few months, he has transformed pretty much the workings of the entire government.
Perhaps the Singapore government should spend less time focusing on the icing on the cake that is the 4 Singaporeans and spend more time on substantive issues – like how to work effectively with Malaysia without coming across like novices.
Even if Dr M's plan was indeed to show Singapore up by meeting the 4 Singaporeans, the PAP government definitely played into his hands by reacting the way they did. They demonstrated their fear and vulnerability which in any high stakes negotiation is a no - no. Sadly, they gave Dr. M the upper hand. That's not down to the four Singaporeans. That's down to the PAP government. Instead of tackling Dr. M, they decided to turn on their own citizens and invite other Singaporeans to turn on them too. How nonconstructive and counterproductive.
"First, don’t take your fight to other countries or to people outside Singapore. The public, with a government ever ready to beat the drum, just won’t accept it. That is the reality in a country where many have a stake in supporting the government. People here remain fearful of what will happen to them if they side with politicians that the government detests.
Remember what happened to opposition politician Chee Soon Juan when he went to Washington to raise questions at a presentation by then PM Goh Chok Tong at the Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington in 2004? He was roundly criticised for his confrontation-style politics and has paid a heavy price at the ballot box."
It is important to remember that the four who met Dr. M are not politicians. Dr. Chee is therefore not the right comparison to make. They are not running for office and were purely there in their personal capacities. They are in fact voters themselves! They are not fighting for political gains. They are simply there because they want to be part of what is essentially a momentous event in Malaysia. It really has no bearing on the PAP government until the PAP government chose to make it so. In my opinion, it isn't the 4 individuals that played into Dr M's hands (assuming that this was his game plan), it was the Singapore government. In so doing, they have succeeded only in causing disunity in Singapore. Dr M remains sanguine as ever.