S'pore & M'sia will always have problems as neighbours, says Mahathir's close aide Kadir Jasin

He also hoped to see both countries be "a little bit more gentlemanly" in their relationship.

Kayla Wong | April 26, 2019, 02:58 AM

Because they are neighbours, Singapore and Malaysia will always have problems with each other.

This observation was shared on Wednesday, April 24 by Kadir Jasin, one of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's closest aides,

Neighbours will always have problems?

Kadir, who currently oversees the media affairs of Malaysia's Prime Minister's Office, was speaking at the question-and-answer session after his talk at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

He was responding to a question posed by an audience member regarding Mahathir's seemingly antagonistic stance towards Singapore after coming to power as prime minister for the second time.

About 100 people were in attendance, including government officials, academics, members of the public, as well as the media.

Kadir gave the same answer that he said he wrote about before in his column when he used to be the chief editor of the New Straits Times.

He said that unless Singapore somehow uproots and shifts its entire foundation over to somewhere else, there will always be problems between Singapore and Malaysia.

He also said to the laughter of the audience that Singapore and Iceland do not have any bilateral problems between them as they are geographically far apart.

Can Malaysia & Singapore be a bit more gentlemanly?

Kadir then gave a personal anecdote.

He said that while his neighbours' dogs often make loud noises when the morning call to prayer plays, the pet birds he keeps also rain droppings on his neighbour's clothes drying on the clothesline.

Despite such problems, both him and his neighbour do not kick up a fuss, because they understand that these problems are inevitable as they live so close to each other.

Kadir then urged both Singapore and Malaysia to continue building friendlier ties with each other.

"Can Malaysia and Singapore be a little bit more gentlemanly in our relationship?" he said. "Be a little bit more open, less gung-ho, less territorial, less nationalistic."

Just "politics", nothing more, nothing less

Earlier, he said that remarks about Singapore are just part of "politics":

"Perhaps this is the unnecessary, unwanted, uninstructed reaction to change of government in Kuala Lumpur, to take it at a very broad, simplistic manner.

The government at the highest manner, Mahathir, recognises... he is a very shrewd economic administrator. He knows. He could be making noise about airspace, he could be making noise about the coastal waters, he could be making noise about cheap Malaysian waters, cheap raw water to Singapore, but that's politics.

Malaysia is a very vibrant political environment.

If you don't talk, people think you're dead already, or you're not interested. So Malaysian politicians have to talk every day.

The posturing against Singapore is as old as history probably."

But he assured the audience that he would not be here to give a talk in Singapore should he fall into the "trap" of such political rhetoric, which is something he is not worried about.

Kadir also raised the example of the successful conclusion of certain bilateral disputes such as the resumption of flights by Malaysian budget carrier Firefly to Singapore's Seletar Airport.

Singapore will always have to rely on external entities for water?

As for the water price dispute between both countries, Kadir said unless Singapore has a "magic wand that says water, water, drop all over Singapore", Singapore will always need to rely on foreign countries for water.

But while its water problem would not be that bad to the extent that it has to search as far as northern Malaysia or Thailand for water, Kadir said perhaps Singapore manages water better than Malaysia does.

Residents in the Klang Valley, which is located in Kuala Lumpur, are currently going through a temporary four-day water disruption due to some improvement works on a water supply system, according to The Star.

But Kadir said he had no such problems when he took his morning shower at the hotel.

He said Singapore's water flow is "fantastic", and that the water flow was so strong it can even bathe a "buffalo", inviting laughter from around the room.

"I think it's dangerous for Singapore and Malaysia to look at its relationship based on written words," he concluded. "I think it's better for us to look at what's going to happen in the future."

Kadir also highlighted in his talk, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government's achievements and shortcomings so far in the 11 months since its shock victory on May 9, 2018.

Here are some of the points he made.

Free press and democracy in Malaysia has improved

Kadir said despite criticisms from businessmen and analysts that the PH government is not delivering on its promises, they achieved something many thought was "impossible" before.

And that is the improvement in Malaysia's democracy, rule of law, and transparency.

The PH coalition has shown others that it is possible for democracy to win, he said.

Kadir raised the example of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak being free to campaign around the country, despite him currently undergoing a corruption trial.

Najib has recently re-branded himself under a new tagline -- "Malu apa bossku", which means "What's there to be ashamed of, my boss?"

His efforts to portray himself as a man of the people have been rather effective thus far.

The slogan has gained traction on social media, and helped him win support among certain segments of the Malay community.

In addition, Kadir said it is unfair for people to judge the PH for failing to push through reforms so far, since it has only been 11 months since they came into power.

And that is not sufficient to undo the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government's work and "branding" all over the country, considering how it had 60 years to govern the country previously, he said.

Why PH failed to push through reforms

Kadir said repeal of certain laws, such as the Sedition Act, could be sped up should there be more PH representatives in the Dewan Negara (upper house of the Malaysian Parliament).

At the moment, he said the Dewan Negara is controlled by nominees of the BN, which is part of the reason why the PH failed to push through its reforms fast enough.

Kadir then said this is why the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (PPBM), which is his and Mahathir's party, has been accepting former ministers from BN to join their party.

By doing so, the PH could increase its voice in the Dewan Negara and allow for legislation to pass smoothly.

He also said while the PH was campaigning for the election, they had not expected to win.

But for the sake of appearances, they had to show that they were confident and say that they would win, Kadir said.

And there was a "general disinterest to sit down and think about what to do if they ever won the election".

This is also why they have failed to deliver on their campaign promises fast enough.

Lack of experience in governance

Another reason Kadir gave was that the majority of people who made up the PH coalition used to be in the opposition, except a few who had experience in governance, such as Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who was the former Chief Minister of Penang.

And they do not know how to work with the civil servants, Kadir said.

He said candidly to the amusement of the audience that what they used to do was simply "wake up in the morning, have some tea, run to the government, then go back home to sleep".

Coupled with their past bad experience with civil servants, these politicians have difficulty trusting them, which prompted the leaders of the PH to put their foot down and say there must be "no government within the government" and that they must work together.

Even so, the problem still exists today, said Kadir.

PH manifesto written without expecting to win

Previously, Mahathir had admitted that the PH government had made "all kinds of promises" without expecting to win the election.

Kadir provided a bit more context on the matter, saying the coalition had tasked "young and educated" members with PhDs to write the PH manifesto.

That was why their manifesto turned out to be a PhD dissertation in the end, he joked.

Mahathir an "adaptive" man

Nevertheless, Kadir praised Mahathir for his ability to adapt well to situational changes.

For instance, Mahathir accepted the two-term limit imposed on prime ministers, despite wanting to remain as prime minister forever if he could, Kadir said.

He did, however, say that prime minister-designate Anwar Ibrahim is next in line after Mahathir steps down.

Touching on Mahathir's past as a student in Singapore, when he first left a rural environment in Kedah and then felt like an "alien" in Singapore among the Chinese and other races, Kadir said many of Mahathir's thoughts on various issues were "crystallised" while he was there.

This is why Singapore is "responsible" for what is happening in Malaysia now, Kadir told the audience jokingly.

Hope for a "glowing" brand for PH in the future

As for the PH coalition's branding that he would like to see in the future, Kadir said he would like a "glowing" one, which is for the PH to be "sustainable" in the long run, and for the coalition to be accepted by all races.

He acknowledged that the PH government is facing challenges in getting the rural Malays' support, saying that at the moment, most of them have chosen to support BN.

And this is something he does not quite comprehend, as he does not understand why people still believe that UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) could protect Malays and Islam despite Najib's corruption scandal.

Nevertheless, he highlighted the PH government's continued subsidies to the rural poor, which takes up 40 percent of Malaysia's population, despite the subsidies being a legacy of the previous BN administration.

Top image of (left to right) Dr Francis Hutchinson, Datuk Kadir Jasin, and Mr Choi Shing Kwok via ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute's Facebook page