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

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