“Some deals” during Najib administration “suspect,” but more important for Malaysia and Singapore to “move beyond” water issue and HSR now: Anwar Ibrahim

President-elect of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People's Justice Party) Anwar Ibrahim has expressed his view that it is crucial for Malaysia and Singapore to "work together" on contentious issues such as the water agreement and the KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, in contrast to current Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's approach which is often interpreted as adversarial.

In an interview with Senior Fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) of Singapore, published yesterday (13 Sep), Anwar said that while "it is quite right" for Dr Mahathir to "raise those issues," it is important for both nations to "resolve and move beyond" the two issues.

He also highlighted that while Malaysia's relationship with Singapore appeared rosy during Najib's administration, particularly evident in the then-premier's working relationship with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, "it is not necessarily something positive," as he believes that "some deals are suspect".

Drawing from his anecdote with Singapore's then-Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, he said that Malaysia often takes into account cultural context in its dealings with other nations, particularly neighbouring nations such as Singapore.

However, while he did not necessarily suggest that Singapore should become less business-like, as he believes that "Singapore as a country is built on that ruggedness," he still hopes that the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore will "transcend strict dollars and cents".

"I mean, you work among neighbours, the relationship should transcend that a bit. But I don’t think that it is something substantial, too prohibitive in terms of forging that sort of relationship," he said.

Anwar added that Malaysia will be looking forward to having more exchanges with Singapore in multiple areas, including government, civil society, students, investment and trade, "notwithstanding some of the initial problems that we have".

"Everything should be done to cement this relationship. Both countries will need each other," he said.

Anwar also predicted an optimistic future in terms of bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore:

The initial visit by Prime Minister (Lee) Hsien Loong gave a signal that he wants to move on, to forge this sort of good relations with Malaysia. I can sense Malaysian leaders are encouraged to visit (Singapore), no inhibitions. Similarly, Singapore leaders are coming regularly, which I think is a good signal.

On Wednesday (12 Sep), Anwar has announced that he will be contesting in a by-election in the constituency of Port Dickson in a bid to re-enter the Malaysian Parliament.