"[I]f Indonesia is a true friend of Malaysia and Anwar, Singapore should be the best friend of Malaysia and Anwar", Anthony Loke, Malaysian transport minister, said in response to a question on how Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim viewed the Malaysia-Singapore bilateral relations.
Loke, the Secretary General of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), was invited by thinktank ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute to speak at its annual regional outlook forum on Tuesday (Jan. 10).
Loke spoke about the prospects for Malaysia in 2023, especially after the seminal and dramatic events of Malaysia's 15th General Election and the formation of Anwar Ibrahim's national unity government.
Loke is the most prominent member of the new Malaysian government to visit Singapore since GE15 was decided.
Loke: Quick turnover in PMs a sign of political instability in Malaysia
Loke shared the stage with Khairy Jamaluddin, former health minister, as well as unsuccessful candidate for the Malaysian parliament.
While Khairy gave a rundown of the challenges facing the once dominant UMNO party, Loke opened by emphasizing the need for political stability in Malaysia.
Loke pointed out that Malaysia has four prime ministers in five years, more than Singapore has had in 50 years, something that he was not proud of.
Saying that it was now his job to make sure Anwar would serve the whole five year term, because the previous quick turnover in PMs was a sign of political instability.
Loke was previously Transport Minister from 2018 to 2020 during the Pakatan Harapan coalition's first government. The DAP is founding member of the PH coalition.
Connectivity and stability in Malaysia
Loke's main speech revolved around the complications of assembling the new government.
With PH and long-time rivals Barisan Nasional joining forces, they achieved the minimum viable seat number of 112.
But with the additional parties, the current Malaysian government was the strongest since 2008.
During the question and answer session, Loke was asked about what his main priorities were, and what he had learnt from his first term as minister and what experience he brought to the role now.
Loke said that his immediate priority was making Kuala Lumpur's MRT services more stable.
He met present and former Singaporean transport ministers, S Iswaran and Khaw Boon Wan, while he was in Singapore, noting that he hoped to learn from Khaw on how he had fixed Singapore's MRT system.
In relation to Singapore, Loke said that as transport minister, he knew there would be many bilateral issues that Singapore and Malaysia had to work out together.
In his Facebook post, Singapore Transport Minister Iswaran said that both parties took the opportunity to discuss various transport-related issues.
These were mainly connectivity and transportation projects, the most important of which was the Johor Bahru - Singapore Rapid Transit System, linking JB to Woodlands.
This would be the key issue for the next three to four years.
But Loke also said that he knew that the one thing the Singaporean government wanted was stability and "knowing in advance what is to be expected".
He even said that he had spoke to Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan over the phone after being reappointed, saying that "there would be no surprises from me".
As long as both sides ensured they could work together, Loke felt all issues could be resolved.
Loke was also asked about what a questioner termed as Malaysian politicians' tendency to use foreign policy issues, such as Pedra Branca, to score domestic political points.
The question referred to a recent statement by Anwar that he had instructed Malaysia's Attorney General to clarify the government's position on Pedra Branca.
Loke referred to the island both by Pedra Branca, and its Malaysian name "Pulau Batu Puteh".
Loke demurred by saying that he was the transport minister, not the foreign minister; but he also disagreed that foreign policy was used to shore up domestic support.
Loke said the focus was on showing that the government could address domestic issues well.
For his part, he was spending his time performing spot checks on the Kuala Lumpur LRT and MRT, not talking about Pedra Branca.
Pedra Branca was not only brought up as a national issue, but also as an issue of race and history, as shown in a recent example involving former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The final question Loke fielded was about Anwar's first international trip, which was to Indonesia.
During the visit he said as saying that Indonesia was Malaysia's "true friend", especially at a time when he was "cast out and sidelined", as reported by The Sun.
The questioner asked how Anwar viewed the Malaysian Singaporean relationship.
He also said he may have been "sensitive" as a Singaporean, but wondered what a Singaporean might glean from Anwar's choice of words and first official visit.
Loke said that it was tradition for Malaysian prime ministers to make their first official visit to be to Indonesia, and that Anwar was simply maintaining tradition.
Then with a smile he added that Singapore would of course be the second trip.
"... if Indonesia is a true friend of Malaysia and Anwar, Singapore should be the best friend of Malaysia and Anwar. (laughters and applause from the crowd)"
Top image by Keyla Supharta