S’pore wants more win-win cooperation with Malaysia
SINGAPORE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says he wants to see more win-win cooperation with Malaysia with him and his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak enjoying a “very good relationship”.
Lee said he and Najib had been focused on bilateral ties and the leaders and people of both countries need to understand each other better through more intimate interaction at all levels in order to appreciate each others’ perspectives and views, coming as they do from two “very different countries”.
“The more we see one another, the more we work together on winwin cooperation, I think the better the prospects for friendship and for harmonious relations,” he said of the state of ties now between the two countries, which Najib had recently described as “never been better in our countries’ histories”.
He also spoke at length about the time-honoured Singapore recipe that has enabled the island state to always maintain its position as one of the world’s least corrupt countries.
Following are some salient points from the interview:
Q: Prime Minister, there is something special about Singapore and Malaysia, which perhaps does not happen anywhere else in the world. Both you and Prime Minister (Datuk Seri) Najib Abdul Razak are sons of contemporary prime ministers of both our countries at one time, in the past. What does this unique backdrop mean to you? PM: It is a point in common that we share and sometimes we swap notes of what it was like to be the children of former prime ministers. It is a positive factor because it means that both of us have had environments where we have been focused on this bilateral relationship of Singapore and Malaysia for a very large part of our lives. We know how important it is and we would like to make it better, which I think we are not doing badly.
Q: Both you and PM Najib have taken our bilateral relations to higher notches. Moving forward, on another front, what do you think can be done by leaders and administrators to help break down the walls of mistrust, if they do exist? PM: Our two countries have a very close relationship and yet, we are very different. Our societies are different – values, cultures and the way we look at the world. It is not a criticism on either side but it is the way things are. So while we have to work closely together, we must realise that we are not the same as each other. That is why we became two countries.
To improve the relationship, we have to understand each other better, have more intimate interactions to appreciate each other’s perspectives on our relationship as well as on the world. We also have to respect and be able to cooperate despite the contrast. This is very important at the leaders’ level, at ministers’ and officials’ level, and also at the peoples’ level. The more we see one another and the more we work together on win-win cooperation, the better prospects for friendship and for harmonious relations.
Q: How does Singapore manage to keep itself to always be one of the least corrupt countries in the world? PM: We try very hard. It is not easy, but it is necessary to continue making the effort. It helps that we started on the right footing. Right from the beginning when the PAP took over in 1959, this was a prime consideration. We wanted to run a clean system, a clean civil service and a clean political leadership. We have been quite unsparing in enforcing that. Whoever transgresses, whether it is senior or not, whether it is a civil servant or a minister, we have to investigate and consequences have to follow. That is a very important part of it.
Another very important part of it is the attitudes of the public who have grown to expect this of the government. When something goes wrong and somebody did something not quite right, we will often receive a report, maybe anonymously. We will investigate it. If there is something there, then we will pursue it. The public attitude is very important. Because without that; if the public accepts that it is a normal way to do business; that if you are in power then these are perks of the office, that will be a very different situation even if we have the laws.
Thirdly, we have tried our best to make our pay fair and realistic for civil servants as well as for the ministers, so that we minimise the temptation for somebody to say that “I cannot live on my salary, I have got to look after my family”. In Singapore, there is no reason to say that. You come in, you cannot expect to get rich in the government, but you should not become poor because you
had to do public service.
Q: You recently announced in Parliament that the next presidential election in Singapore, due next year, will be reserved for candidates from the Malay community. Could you shed some light, especially for us in Malaysia, on the election process, like the selection and criteria of candidates, and how many candidates are being shortlisted? PM: We have a system where our president is elected by a national vote. In your case, the Yang diPertuan Agong is elected amongst the nine rulers. In our case it is a national vote. In a national vote in a multiracial society, it is harder for a minority candidate to win than for a Chinese candidate to win. We have had one minority president, he served two terms, Mr S R Nathan, since we introduced the scheme of the elected president. But we worry over the long-term that without a system to ensure that a minority becomes the president from time to time, it is going to be difficult and we will have long periods where we do not have a minority as a president. So we decided that we will make such a system, put it into the Constitution, that if after five terms we do not have a president from a particular minority community – that means either no Malay president or no Indian or other minority president – then in the next term, the election will be reserved for candidates from that community. In our case, we have had five terms without a Malay elected president. In fact, if you look at the presidents before that, before the present system, it is 45 years since Yusof Ishak. Therefore, the next election will be reserved for a Malay candidate. I do not know how many will come. There is no shortlist because it depends on who offers themselves.
Q: What will be the criteria like? PM: The criteria are the same whether it is a reserved election or not. You must have that experience, either in the public sector or private sector. At least three years’ experience in the private sector as a CEO of a company with at least 500 million shareholders equity. In the public sector, you have to be either a minister or a chief justice, or the speaker of Parliament, or have served in a list of appointments, which qualify you. Then depending on who comes, there will be an election.
Q: Some eight years ago, you said that Singapore may have a non-Chinese prime minister one day but it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. To quote you then, “race is still a factor that determines voters’ preferences in Singapore although attitudes have shifted”. By the same token as opening the office of the president to be assumed by the minority community, my question is, is Singapore anywhere near than before to having its first non-Chinese prime minister? And could it happen in our lifetime? PM: It could happen in our lifetime. If you look at America, Barack Obama became president. In their case, it took 200-something years, or 100-something years if you count from the time of the Civil War. It is a long process but it is possible and I hope one day it will happen.
The racial patterns of voting is something very deeply ingrained. It is so in Malaysia; it is so in Singapore, perhaps less so in Singapore but it exists. If you look at America, even in this election, it was quite clear that the different ethnic groups had very different voting patterns. So that is a reality of human nature, which we have to accept.
Q: So the succession question, in Singapore ... how do you see the succession ...? PM: I have a team of younger ministers. I brought some of them in in 2011, some more last year in 2015. They are all working hard, doing well. I hope that soon after the next election, amongst them they will have decided, settled and the leader will be ready to take over from me. – Bernama