History is history, and the accounting of history between two figures from the collective history of Malaysia and Singapore is a matter of conjecture and winners.
“Winners” write history, you see.
While it may be argued that the proof is in the pudding, Singapore is a developed first world nation, while Malaysia is still struggling to break free of its third world shackles, may make the casual observer tend to believe that Singapore got it right, while Malaysia didn’t. By extension, Lee Kuan Yew got it right, and Tun Dr Mahathir, in control of Malaysia for several critical decades post-independence, got it wrong.
I’ve never bought that argument. Singapore has done well for itself is a result of factors completely independent from Malaysia’s performance in the last 50 years. The fact that Singapore and Malaysia have taken different trajectories in our path of development is not necessarily an indictment of the leadership or our socio-cultural values. Take a nation of hardly 5 million people, and another nation that is quickly approaching 30 million — the ideologies and approaches required to govern each would be, over the years, radically different.
I’m not apologizing for the rule of Tun Dr M, he got many things wrong, including the belief that a creation of a super-class of Malays will lead the rest of the race forward. But he also got many things right, including his handling of the 1997 financial crisis that could have shattered the nation. Remember how the world pilloried him then for radical moves such as pegging the ringgit and rejecting IMF assistance? Today, we have him to thank for; Malaysia could have very well disintegrated into a mess that we see Indonesia only just recovering from today.
Image by azim_ns via Flickr
But what we can do, in the debate between Tun Dr Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew, is to see what would have happened if Lee Kuan Yew was our PM. Take his policies, the policies he put into effect in Singapore and transplant them into Malaysia. What would we have then?
Malaysia would certainly be a very different place. Different good? Or different bad? It depends on your point of view. Let’s agree on one thing: Lee Kuan Yew was a racist malevolent dictator. That’s how he led his nation — by suppressing opposition to PAP, and dissent against the Government, by promoting the ethnic Chinese population, disguised in the spirit of “meritocracy“. Don’t take my word for it, see what a Singaporean
Malay Chinese has to say.
This is a big lie. A really blatant lie that is so obvious, but hardly anyone dares to talk about it. While Old Man pokes fun at Malaysia being a racist nation, because of its bumi policy, Singapore has its own racist policies favouring the Chinese over the other races. The racist policies include the racially divisive CDAC, Mendaki, Sinda funds, the SAP in schools, the race quota in HDB, just to name a few. Below are some articles about racism in Singapore, which I wrote earlier.
If Lee Kuan Yew had done that in Malaysia, at a time when the races really did stand on unequal footings, you would have a situation today where the majority Malays would own hardly a fraction of the country. If you take a country down that road, you know where it’ll eventually lead: see Indonesia in 1997.
It’s somewhat entertaining to see the two old adversaries cross swords again. Lee Kuan Yew accusing Malaysia (and Mahathir) of this and that, Tun Dr Mahathir responding with his brand of venom. It’s been a great duel, over the years. But it really is time for both to stand away from the spotlight. Malaysia, and even Singapore, are two very different places today. The dynamics of the society have also changed, with a quantum leap in our political enlightenment in recent years, fueled by technologies such as the Internet and a critical mass of education.
The true winner between them will be the one who first admits their nation is different from the one they ruled.