Dr Mahathir calling LKY ‘kiasu’

From ‘Ex-Malaysian PM Mahathir calls Lee Kuan Yew kiasu over tough stance on negotiations’, 4 April 2015, ST

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad says the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was “kiasu” and wouldn’t budge on negotiations. This was because Mr Lee’s relationship with Malaysia was “coloured with bitterness” over Singapore’s expulsion from the federation in 1965, Dr Mahathir said.

“We had 20 problems to resolve and I spent 22 years (as prime minister) trying to resolve them, but I could resolve none. He will not give even an inch; kiasu, you know,” Dr Mahathir, who served as Malaysia’s Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, reportedly said to students at a dialogue in Cyberjaya on Saturday.

Asked why Malaysia was not as well-developed as Singapore, of which Mr Lee served as the founding prime minister, Dr Mahathir replied that the smaller country had fewer problems to deal with.

With friends like these…

Even in death, there’s no love lost between these two. Dr M expressed sadness at his political sparring partner’s demise, though he admitted that he was ‘no close friend’ of the late leader. Often used in a derogatory manner, ‘kiasu’ has defined the Singaporean psyche, and I don’t blame Mahathir for not being familiar with the local nuances associated with the term, hence his misuse of it. In this case, he probably means ‘stubborn’ rather than ‘kiasu’. After all, one man’s resolve and tenacity is another man’s ‘kiasuism’, just like how some observers may refer to Dr M’s comment as ‘candid’, others will think his jibe, at 89 years of age, as a sign of cranky senility.

Dr M then went on to lament that LKY ‘had it easy’ considering Singapore’s compact size, with the smug assurance of a man dancing on the grave of his arch-nemesis. Being tiny, we didn’t need to build as many roads as Malaysia has, and he once remarked that even though we’re rich enough to afford Ferraris, Singaporean drivers would fall into the sea before shifting to fourth gear. He also accused LKY of trying to usurp Malaysian power, when he was a mere ‘mayor’ of Singapore, a ‘big frog in a small pond‘. Now that the frog is gone, another is croaking to fill the silence, the last of the South East Asian ‘old guards’.

LKY wasn’t one to back down from a fight, of course. He once branded Dr M a Malay ‘ultra’, and  according to his blog, Dr M took ‘decades’ to ‘live down’ the ‘extremist’ label. In an interview with the New York Times LKY expressed regret about being ‘turfed out’ of Malaysia, and that if the PAP weren’t kicked out Malaysia would have been less racially ‘polarised’, suggesting that Singaporean Malays were better educated, that even though some still wear headscarves, they were at least ‘modern looking’. LKY also hinted at Malaysia’s growing orthodox ‘Middle Eastern’ influence, that they used to ‘serve liquor and drink with you’, but now toast with syrups. It was one knockout punch after another, a case of one proclaiming ‘my country is better than your country’, and neither would give up the fight.

The crossing of swords would, however, be interspersed with snuggly moments like Mahathir’s heartfelt compliment of LKY’s ‘able stewardship’ after his windfall victory at the 1988 elections. LKY responded by saying that Dr M’s ‘felicitations’ brought him great pleasure and encouragement. It was a vintage love-hate relationship, though Dr M would stress in his condolence message that there was ‘no enmity’ at all.

As hard as both men would admit it, they found their match in each other, not despite, but because of their differences. Dr M may even miss the old ‘little Chinese emperor‘, like Lex Luthor clamouring for Superman. No one else in any position of power I could think of would address LKY as just ‘Kuan Yew’. To many that would be plain rudeness, especially now that he’s gone, but I see it as more a term of endearment and reluctant mutual respect, like how one reminisces about a rocky relationship with an ex-wife after an ugly divorce.

Dr M, I believe LKY is waiting for you on the other side, chessboard ready to play, and a couple of syrups to welcome you back into the game.

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4 Responses

  1. The 2 contemporaries cannot even on the same playing arena. They’re worlds apart – as leaders, as visionaries, as global diplomats.

    Put Dr M at the helming of that ‘sinking’ resources-less ship LKY was left with, and steered so ably – nevermind Malaysia.
    See if Dr M could have navigated island SG anywhere even close to that legacy LKY created, in 50 yrs.

    Delude yourself not, dear embittered sour-grapish Dr M.

    Save your low pot-shots and barbs for Najib for “embarassing” Msia globally with corruption scandals. Or save your energy to keep those bomohs, magic carpets and coconuts trotted out on global TV, in check. It’s good for your country’s credibility rating.

  2. Who has build a better nation? We will see, the funeral will tell it all.

  3. […] Anyhow Hantam: Why is Oxley Road Stil Closed at Night? – Everything Also Complain: Dr Mahathir calling LKY ‘kiasu’ – Catherine Lim: To All Who Have Responded to My Piece on Mr Lee Kuan Yew – Top of the […]

  4. Mahathir has just admitted in his blog that the UMNO ultras were the ones who instigated the racial riots in Singapore.

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