Thursday, 18 June 2009

Why Mahathir Hates Lee Kuan Yew?

I have read for many years about Tun Dr. Mahathir’s deep resentment and suspicion against Singapore. From his writings in The Early Years to his occasional jibes against the 'little red dot' after stepping down as Malaysia's prime minister in 2003, Dr. Mahathir's feelings towards Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew are clear and obvious. His recent blog post The Modern Middle Kingdom, is the latest evidence to this. Many may wonder from where did all these negative feelings and emotions come from? Allow me to offer some answers.

Dr. Mahathir obtained his medical degree in Singapore (the University of Malaya was then located there), and it was during his studies there he met his wife Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah. For most people, your alma mater and the place where you first met your wife would always have a special place in your heart. You would have fond memories of the place and would always want to visit it whenever you can. Well, Dr. Mahathir is not like most people. He is different!

When Dr. Mahathir was a university student in Singapore, he regularly contributed articles to the Straits Times. Writing under his famous pen-name C.H.E. Det, he once wrote:

"Early in the modern history of Malaya, it was discovered that the Chinese were the most suitable people for the opening up of undeveloped areas, and it became the policy of the government, then centred in Singapore, to encourage Chinese immigration. Neither the government nor the increasing number of Chinese British subjects saw any reason to enforce severe restrictions on the quota. Thus, numerical superiority coupled with their native diligence and business drive born out of the hard life in China, proved beyond the capacity of the easy going Malays to compete. With the passing years they sank lower and lower until they now form the lowest stratum of Singapore’s society. And so in the island today the Malays, once the owners and rulers are to be found only in the poorer quarters living in dilapidated attap and plank huts, sometimes only a stone’s throw from the palatial residences of Chinese millionaires. The few Malays in the city live in the servants' quarters of Chinese and European houses."

(Excerpt from Dr. Mahathir’s article published on 9 April 1950. The full article plus others can be found in the book The Early Years.)

Dr. Mahathir obviously found it very annoying that the majority of Malays in Singapore were poor and uneducated, fit only to become common labourers and trishaw-pullers. It annoyed him further to see the Chinese as masters and the Malays their servants when historically the Malays are the natives of Singapore while the Chinese came to the island only because of the British.

Not surprisingly, when Lee Kuan Yew was at the height of his campaign for a 'Malaysian Malaysia', hence seen to question the provision on special Malay rights in the Federal Constitution during Singapore’s brief stint in Malaysia (from 16 September 1963 to 9 August 1965), speaking as a true Malay nationalist, Dr. Mahathir (then Member of Parliament of Kota Star) made the following stinging remark towards Lee in parliament:

"They (Singaporean Chinese) have never known Malay rule and cannot bear the idea that the people they have so long kept under their heels should now be in a position to rule them."

And Lee Kuan Yew responded with the following:

"Of course there are Chinese millionaires in big cars and big houses. Is it the answer to make a few Malay millionaires with big cars and big houses? ... If we delude people into believing that they are poor because there are no Malay rights or because opposition members oppose Malay rights, where are we going to end up? You let people in the villages believe that they are poor because we don't speak Malay, because the government does not write in Malay, so he expects a miracle to take place in 1967 (when Malay becomes the sole national language). The moment we all start speaking Malay, he is going to have an uplift in the standard of living, and if doesn't happen, what happens then? ... Meanwhile, whenever there is a failure of economic, social and educational policies, you come back and say, oh, these wicked Chinese, Indian and others opposing Malay rights. They don't oppose Malay rights. They, the Malay, have the right as Malaysian citizens to go up to the level of training and education that the more competitive societies, the non-Malay society, has produced. That is what must be done, isn't it? Not to feed them with this obscurantist doctrine that all they have got to do is to get Malay rights for the few special Malays and their problem has been resolved..."

(Excerpts from Dr. Mahathir's and Mr. Lee's speeches at the Malaysian Parliament on 25 May 1965, quoted in The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew)

In a speech he gave five days later in Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew made further reference to Dr. Mahathir's remarks:

"You know what they said in Parliament, Dr. Mahathir from Kota Star? -- "We in Singapore are not accustomed to Malay rule. We are not like people in Kelantan and Terengganu." Well, let me tell him this: when we joined Malaysia, we never agreed to Malay rule; we agreed to Malaysian rule; never Malay rule. This is all bunkum. Somebody has made a grave error of judgment if they believe that we agreed to Malay rule. (We) never agreed to it."

(Excerpt from Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s speech on 30th May 1965. Click here to access the full text)

For Dr. Mahathir then, Lee Kuan Yew was nothing more than a Chinese snob who dared to question the fundamental belief that Malaysia is the motherland of only the Malays. The Malays therefore are the only rightful leaders of this country while others may acquire limited supporting roles. Indeed Dr. Mahathir once said in reference to Lee Kuan Yew's foray into Malaysian federal politics in 1965, as "the mad ambition of one man to see himself as the first Chinese Prime Minister of Malaysia." And, he described Lee’s political strategy as to "assume a brave front and dare everyone in the hope that it will overawe what it presumes to be the less clever and more timid groups into refusing to rise to the challenge." (quoted in Paradoxes of Mahathirism)

Needless to say, Dr. Mahathir was not one to be easily overawed and intimidated. And during his 22 years as Prime Minister of Malaysia, he was determined not to act in any way that may be perceived as if Malaysia was intimidated by its southern neighbour. He would condemn anyone from his administration whom in his opinion had done so, which explains why he was so livid with Abdullah Badawi for cancelling the 'crooked bridge' project because that to him was a clear indication that Malaysia was submitting meekly to Singapore's wishes. And I'm sure it must have angered Dr. Mahathir too to see the current Malay UMNO leaders acting like (as described by a colleague) a group of nervous students having a meeting with their school headmaster, when they met with Lee Kuan Yew during the latter's recent visit to Malaysia.

Having presented some of these political-historical background of Dr. Mahathir's resentment against Lee Kuan Yew, I do however believe at the core of all this, the uneasy relationship between these two iconic figures in history is due to their similar personalities. Both are strong leaders with almost absolute convictions on their own abilities and strengths. Both share the same leadership motive patterns of having high need for power and low need for affiliation. They care more about doing things they believe to be right; and have very little concern about whether they are popular and conventional.

Both however are genuinely sincere leaders. Their love and dedication for their respective countries can never be questioned.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the Chinese in Malaysia were so excited about LKY's visit.Extensive news coverage about his movements here and running lot of article praising him profusely on how extraordinary he is.If they like him so much,they should go and live in Singgapore.
Dear LKY,let me tell you about the Chinese here.I have been living in Malaysia for more than 10 years.I am an avid pople's observer.Malaysian Chinese are naturally heartless people.They are naturally insensitive type of people.
If you try to catch a taxi here in KL and you are one of those people who line up in a long line trying to catch a taxi,you would find one or two Chinese wrestle his way through the line bypassing you straight to the taxi's door.How rude thay are.
Oh, haven't you heard recent news on Malaysian Chinese tortured their maids.We had had a few before and now it happpend again.Shovelling boiled water over that poor block's body is ruthless act.No sane people would do that.Where is the love?You would never found or heard the Malays do that to their maids or the Indians.What they did actually was merciless.Now the Indonesians are angry with Malaysia.It is not Malaysians fault.It was the Malaysian Chinese .
My own embarassing experience at Skynet outlet a couple of month ago reinforce my believe towards them.There was Malaysian Chinese couple who had just finished filling up a form to send their stuff via express courier.Shortly before paying, they changed their mind and decided not to proceed with it thus cancel it.The shop owner said "well fine then,you just need to pay RM 2 for the form you had used".Well,guest what? they refused to pay.After some heated exchange of words,they left immediately without paying.Bear in mind that it just 2 ringgit.It won't cost that much if you pay.They clearly have the means.If not,they won't come there in the first place.
This oafish behaviour is prevalent among them.They are naturally insensitive.I’ve known/seen/met thousands of ethnics in plenty of places. It is (almost) exclusively the Chinese who act like this.
I don't understand with this “saving money is the only pleasure in life” attitudes.The Chinese should leave this habit if they want to make friends.
Buckle up and get a life

Zaki Samsudin said...

Dear Anon 9:22,

Thanks for dropping by. I believe we should avoid generalising all Malaysian Chinese as heartless and materialistic. Maybe some are like that but not all.

Similarly, while there are indeed some dishonest and lazy Malays, doesn't mean all Malays are like that.

Wong LF said...

Nice historical analysis. But let's leave history behind and look to the future. Malays like Mahathir should just accept the Chinese are here to stay. Singapore will always be in the hands of the Chinese. Malaysia and Singapore are now our motherlands.

Anonymous said...

While people here are still unable to come to terms with emotional and political baggage from yrs ago, 1.2 billion hearless and materialistic people (by yr definitions)are barely 2 hrs fight away. Please do not harp on all those rubbish from yr political leaders (playing politics, screwing the electorate). I do not understand the Msians suspicion of S'poreans. Yr leaders are those who always backtrack on any negotiations. Why don't M'sian question yr own leaders first? All those money spent on projects, where did all that money end up with? Get real and start asking relevant questions. I always think Msians and S'poreans have some kind of common destiny, just need to work on working together.

Zaki Samsudin said...

Dear Anon 11:17,

Thank you for your comments. Allow me to make some clarifications.

Firstly, I did not define Chinese as "heartless and materialistic". These were descriptions used by Anon 9:22 (first comment to this post). I have rebutted that comment. If indeed I believe that all Chinese are heartless and materialistic, I must be in great trouble because I am married to one :)

Secondly, suspicions between neighbouring countries is something normal in international politics. As much as Malaysia are suspicious with what Singapore is doing, Singapore would be suspicious too with what is going on in Malaysia. I share the view of many political analysts that one of the main objectives of LKY's recent visit was to observe the political situation in Malaysia particularly the growing support towards the opposition parties. Should the opposition coalition (Pakatan Rakyat) take over the government after the next general election (to be held by 2013), Singapore would not want to be in a position where it is not familiar with the new players in the Malaysian government.

Politics in Malaysia has changed a lot in the past few years. Malaysians are indeed aggressively questioning their leaders, which includes Dr. Mahathir. If you visit his blog particularly to that post 'The Modern Middle Kingdom', and scroll down to the comments section, you will find a lot of strong words against Mahathir and the government. The media is more free now and political leaders from both sides no longer have it easy. The way I see it, things can only get better here.

Lastly, I share your view that our two countries share a common destiny. I believe at some point in the distant future, the two countries would merge again. It may not happen during our lifetime but it will eventually.


Anonymous said...

just to respond to that idea of common destiny... i dont think it's possible, ever!! too much trouble will happen. for a start, who will be PM? Malay or Chinese?

shamster said...

I totally disagree to label chinese as "naturally heartless people". (and Yes, I'm aware that this is not from the blog post :))

I grew up in a chinese neighbourhood, had many-many chinese friends, be it at my house and school, or even a random shop owned by chinese. Knowing them that close sets me to believe, that they are "heartless", is utterly wrong. I'd say you forgot to credit the chinese on their good deeds as well (many contributions made to Malaysia generally).

I also do believe that Malaysia and Singapore will come to be one, and let us not pray that bad things will happen, Ameen. I personally do not think ethnic is not the only issue on electing the PM, there are other more important ones that need to be considered: religion, vision, charisma etc.

Anonymous said...

The populations in Malaysia and Singapore come from a common stock of people - coming from China, India and the surrounding regions - near and far.
In Dr Mahathir's controversial book - "The Malay Dilema" - he had said that the origin of the Malays was from Yunnan Province in China.
Are there any marked differences between the 'Malays' from Yunnan Provice and the 'Chinese' from the coastal provinces of China ?
During the period when Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah (then known as British North Borneo) was merged - much of the politics had concentrated in West Malaysia.
The battle lines were drawn when a group of supposedly 'Malay nationalists' had stirred up the "politics of ethnicity" - also known today as 'racial politics'.
This was at a time when an angry Indonesian President Sukarno was intent on crushing Malaysia.
One of the radical political agitator was Syed Jaafar Albar - an economic migrant from Indonesia during the 1950s. He was an activist in UMNO and was tasked to set up the UMNO Singapore Branch. This action from UMNO broke the agreement between Tunku and Lee that the political parties from each territory will not set up any branch in the other.
Syed Jaafar Albar's style of racial politics earned him the moniker of being an "ULTRA" from Lee, who also labelled several similar UMNO politicians that use the racial card to climb up UMNO's heirachy.
With UMNO setting up a branch to involve itself in Singapore politics, Lee set up DAP with Devan Nair taking the lead role as he was born in Malacca.
The origin of Syed Jaafar Albar was little known, and some had seen him as an Indonesian sleeper agent, who was activated to sow the early seeds of racial politics to destroy Malaysia from internal fragmentation.
The recently "retired" Malaysian Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar bears the same characteristic as his father.
At the end of it all, is there any marked difference between the people of Malaysia and Singapore ?
Many have family ties on both sides of the border, and spread across the different states in East and West Malaysia, and ties continue to be built with cross border marriages.
We share common cultural and social values and practices, near similar economic ambitions, and very close culinary and dietary habits, common language and dialects - with common spoken words and linguistic styles easily assimilated into our daily lives.

Zaki Samsudin said...


Brother Shams,

I would never deny the contributions of the Chinese communitiy in Malaysia. Despite the increasing number of Chinese migrating to foreign countries, very few in fact gave away their Malaysian citizenships. I've met a few of them in my travels and all of them have the desire to return one day and contribute to their motherland, Malaysia.

On the characteristics of a PM, that deserves an entire discussion on its own (in the future inshaAllah).


Dear Anon 9:32,

Thank you for dropping by, and greatly appreciate your comments.

There is ample evidence from studies in anthropology that suggest the Malays and Chinese come from the same stock. And as you rightly pointed out, even until today between the people in Singapore and Malaysia, there are so many things we have in common, too many in fact that for us to continue to have such animosity against each other is just plainly ridiculous. Having said that, we have to concede that the prejudice that exist between us is something real and worrying. For that to stop, both our political leaders need to stop playing the game of politics of fear to harness the feelings of patriotism amongst our people. Surely, patriotism can be built on the grounds of other sentiments other than the illusion of a neigbouring country as a common threat and enemy.

It's interesting that you've mentioned the name Syed Jaafar Albar. If I'm not mistaken, LKY wrote almost a whole chapter about him in his memoir.

My late grandfather, who was an UMNO-government state exco member in Johore in the 1960's, was a great supporter of Syed Jaafar. Not surprisingly because they belonged to the same group of Malay nationalists ('ultras' if I may) who, if they had it their way, would want LKY and all PPP leaders at the time to be detained under ISA. But then, with all due respect to my late grandfather (a man whom I had nothing but admiration as far his character and principles are concern), the path and fight they chose were not wise. That the Chinese were the majority and held political power in Singapore even at that time was a reality that they should have accepted, and dealt with in a more constructive manner. On whether Syed Jaafar was a Sukarno agent, I seriously doubt that. But like many of these Arab-Malay communities in Johore, they have very strong blood ties with their like in Indonesia. Possibly, he was influenced by how the Arab-Malays there dealt with their Chinese minorities - forced assimilation and economic oppression. Even until today, I believe in some parts of Sumatra, through the enforcement of local laws, the Chinese are not allowed to own lands.

There is much to be talked about the Malaysia-Singapore history, and the prospect for the future. Hopefully we can continue to discuss this openly, wisely and with maturity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Zak,

The problems between Malaysia and Singapore are largely centered around politics.

If we look at the positive side of the people-to-people contacts, there seem to be endless goodwill at the grass-root levels.

The ordinary folks cross the border in a constant daily flow of two way traffic that brings prosperity to both sides of the border.

Malaysians coming from farther inland will reside in Johor and many work in Singapore, or remain in Johor to enjoy the prosperity that the Malaysians bring from their monthly wages earned in Singapore - as well as the avid shoppers from Singapore visiting the new malls that grow around JB.

In turn, Singapore benefit from the large pool of quality labor that make Singapore the second largest oil rig builder in the World, and the electronic industry able to hold its own against the competition from China, Taiwan and Korea.

Singapore has taken advantage of the exchange rates to subcontract most of her work to Malaysia, and one sees the daily flow of trucks that bring the finished industrial products to be fitted into the larger works-in-progress in the Singapore manufacturing facilities or job-sites.

Singapore's economic progress has produced positive fall-out to the various manufacturing industries in Peninsular Malaysia.

Despite the poor relationship amongst the political leadership in both countries, Singapore remains the top investor in Malaysia from 2003 to 2007 - (see reference below).

The politicians on both sides should learn the simple, honest and transparent approach that the ordinary folks on both side deal with each other so successfully.

The ordinary folks on both sides should speak out more openly against the politicians that speak rashly and attempt to play the wild card of race and religion to score political points that only benefit their political fortunes.

If the politicians still carry the heavy political baggage of history and do not make any attempts to learn from it, the ordinary folks should be more vocal and stamp out such wild rhetoric from further weakening the political ties.

Such politicians that depend on stirring the rabid instinct of hatred, jealousy, and insecurity can only cause destruction and retrogression, and cannot be depended to build positive development to both countries.

These politicians are of the type known as "no action, talk only" - NATO characters.

The oridnary folks on boths sides of the border do not need such personalities to lead us.

So far, the ordinary folks have scored better at grass root diplomacy than the politicians.

Like the orchid that is common to both countries, it will need love and careful nurturing to allow the bloom to last longer, and produce better and stronger seedlings.

(Table 3 - Foreign Direct Investment in Malaysia :

shamster said...

Slm w.b.t.

Well said about how the folks of both sides work diplomatically well with each other.

Zaki Samsudin said...

My dear friend (anon 11:30),

Thanks again for the wonderful comments. I can't agree more with you. Both our countries need each other. There's no point then to maintain the hostility that has existed for decades between us.

I sincerely believe we'll see better relations between the two countries once the younger generation of leaders (those born after 1965) assume leadership of both countries.


Anonymous said...

Dear Zak

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

My apologies for the reference site that did not work as the words did not wrap to the next line and was truncated.

The reference site was taken from the Statistic Department survey of Foreign Direct Investment in Malaysia.

Please refer to Table 3 on Page 6 for a list of foreign investors in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

Malaya was an old word used to name Malaysia as a nation. The aborigines of Malaya were Orang Asli and Orang Asli had a historical link with the indigenous
peoples in Burma, Thailand and Indo-China. Perhaps, we might include people of Java as well.
Malaysia doesn't fully belong to the race of Malay only but let me put it clear to everyone that Malaysia is fully belonged to God
Who wants to put whoever He wishes.
Check it out in the Qur'anic Chapter 30 Verse 22 concerning His reasons to replace many old races of mankind with many new races of mankind and the need to live and work in harmony with one another regardless of race, language and religion to build a democratic society is equally important to everyone. If one is wrong, it is our duty to guide him. Why must we join him in his childish behaviour and behave like one? If we should criticise another person of a different race who does not believe in God, we should look at ourselves in the mirror first and ask that person inside the mirror this question: Did you shut your mouth talking rubbish about something against God's Wishes today which can throw you into Hell?

Zaki Samsudin said...

Dear Anon 3:28,

Thank you for dropping by. Appreciate your views, none of which I disagree with. I'm not sure whether it was me you implied is "talking rubbish". If indeed that's true, I'm sorry that you feel that way. I'll try to do better in the future.


Anonymous said...

Dear All,

I am a Singaporean Chinese and must tell the world that some of my best friends and memories are from Malays.

When I lost my way while driving to take the oat to the diving resort in Redang, I stopped my car and asked a Malay gentleman for directions. Instead of simply pointing the way, he told me in Englsh (as he knew my command of Malay is rudimenatary) to follow his car. We drove for about 30 minutes and he brought me and family safely tothe pier. What a gentleman his is - I tried to pay for his petrol bill but he politely declined and wished us a pleasant stay in Malaysia.

People, whether Chinese, Malay or oher races are all brothers. I love everyone as my own race.

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

the situation was same around the world, there are no hundred percent harmony and peaceful living condition as you deserve for it. We all are different background, due to our own region,languages and thinking way. One person cannot ask everyone to accept everthing he likes, but he can ready to learn to accept other people's acts however he don'like. Everyone try to live together, but they also have their limit. When you meet someone you think he cannot agree to your behavior,then are you think he is biased? It's true but he has his right to think on this way, it is just a normal acts, he only think different with you. Sometime you also have different opinion with others too. Some people need to involve himself more with different group of people. That person only like the frog under the tempurung if he only due to what people say. If he live with them for long time and be friend with them, his mind would be more open.

Daniel Chew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Until now, LKY has pass away, matathir himself still doesn't dare to come out from his shoes or even dare to say a single word about LKY. People like him that wants 60-40, I would say go to hell with it.

Anonymous said...

The period 1965 to 1972 was the time when Singapore was naked ,defenceless and vulnerable to an invasion by Malaysia or Indonesia.Fortunately our leaders saw the need to build up the defence .
Another factor was that Rahman was the PM. He was a moderate and could control the extremists in his Umno .He must have known an invasion would have been costly for both Singapore and Malaysia.
FF 2015.
Our ff maybe gone but kudos to him for building up Singapore's defence without which we wont be having our high std of living.

Anonymous said...

Every creation served its own purpose!
The Chinese were good in doing business while the Bumiputras excel in agriculture! That is the facts right from the beginning of the era, do you still wish to dispute the facts???