MP SPEAKS I refer to the lengthy 3,000-word opinion piece by Singapore’s ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan entitled “Malaysia is undergoing a systemic change that has profound consequences for Singapore” dated October 6, 2015 published in The Singapore Straits Times.
Bilahari wrote in his analytical piece, referring to the overwhelming anti-establishment sentiment of the Chinese community and the turnout at the recent Bersih4 rally, that:
“It is my impression that many young Malaysian Chinese have forgotten the lessons of May 13, 1969. They naively believe that the system built around the principle of Malay dominance can be changed. That may be why they abandoned MCA for the DAP. They are delusional. Malay dominance will be defended by any means.”
In fact, he even warned that the likely outcome of the above will be “even less space for non-Muslims”.
The top Singapore diplomat could not have gotten it more wrong.
Firstly, Bilahari needs to distinguish the principle of Malay “dominance” which is significantly different from Malay “supremacy” contested by most opposition voices. No one denies that Malays will dominate the sphere of politics and economy in Malaysia.
They will generally dominate purely because they comprise of the majority in the country.
Bersih not about race
Perhaps Bilahari can understand the distinction better in the context of Singapore, where the Chinese indisputably dominates the political, economic and social space. However, that does not translate into a Chinese-supremacist city state.
And perhaps Bilahari has overlooked that fact that even the DAP, whose leaders are undeniably comprised of a Chinese majority, fully support Anwar Ibrahim as the prime minister candidate for Malaysia. As far as we can tell, Anwar is and has always been a Malay and a Muslim.
Secondly and more crucially, Bilahari failed to recognise that the anti-establishment sentiment and the recent Bersih4 rally isn’t at all about race. No one went to the mega-rally holding placards or shouting slogans making racial demands. Those who attended the rally certainly did not see themselves present to represent their ethnic roots.
They took part in the rally because they aspire for a better country defined not by race or religion, but by the principles of justice, good governance and democratic ideals. They were angry, frustrated and galvanised to act in the light of the tens of billions of ringgit embezzled and misappropriated by 1MDB, as well as the obscene RM2.6 billion donation deposited into the prime minister’s personal bank account.
Instead of seeing the uproar against 1MDB as a courageous fight against corruption, Bilahari chose to frame the 1MDB scandal as a political fight by juxtaposing Najib Razak and (former PM) Dr Mahathir Mohamed. He argued that:
“[t]he 1MDB scandal is less about corruption than about a struggle for power within Umno. Dr Mahathir seems to have expected to exercise remote control even though he was no longer prime minister. Among his grievances with his successors were their warming of ties with Singapore, Najib's decision to settle the railway land issue, cooperation on Iskandar Malaysia (IM) and the refusal of both Abdullah Badawi and Najib to proceed with his pet white elephant: the "crooked bridge". Dr Mahathir wants to replace Najib with someone more pliable.
“Najib understands that Malaysia and Singapore need each other. So far and unusually we have not figured very much in the controversies.”
Whither S’pore’s moral compass?
It is clear from the above, Bilahari wanted to persuade Singaporeans that despite the disgraceful multi-billion ringgit corruption scandal Najib is entangled with and his less than legitimate election to office with funds sourced from dubious unknown sources, it is better the devil you can cut deals with.
While Singaporeans “have no choice but to work with whatever system or leader emerges in Malaysia”, he emphasised that “some systems will be easier to work with than others”.
Clearly as the ambassador-at-large, Bilahari’s views demonstrate how Singapore as a country, despite its enormous wealth and developed nation status, completely lacks a moral compass. It is less important for him to support “what is right and just”, as opposed to “what is in it for me” in Singapore’s relations with its neighbours, regardless of how evil or corrupt a regime is.
The former permanent secretary for foreign affairs further poured scorn on the attempts to defeat Umno-led BN by mocking Pakatan Harapan as “a coalition of the DAP, PKR and a minor breakaway faction from PAS, is a forlorn hope (pun intended)”.
Conversely, I’m proud to be a Malaysian to see hundreds of thousands of Malaysians march the streets of Kuala Lumpur to demand free and fair elections, integrity and accountability from the ruling government against all odds. This is because these allegedly “delusional” young Malaysians actually have hearts and souls. This is where hope is effervescent.
On the other hand, Bilahari’s unapologetically selfish and arrogant views only cement the perception of Singapore as the contemptible Shylock of Southeast Asia. He concluded his thesis with a subtle warning that “[t]his is not the most salubrious of neighbourhoods”. I had to look up the meaning of the world “salubrious” in the dictionary. It means “healthy, wholesome or pleasant”.
Bilahari is ironically spot on. It certainly doesn’t make a “salubrious” neighbourhood with a neighbour who unabashedly locks all his own doors and windows when he sees the resident next door robbed blind in broad daylight.
TONY PUA is DAP national publicity secretary and Petaling Jaya Utara MP.