Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) became an easy target for our national and Pakatan Rakyat leaders when he recently commented on how Malaysia was suffering from the effects of its race-based politics.
Their response was typical of Malaysian politicians from both sides of the divide: they hurled personal insults at the ageing Singaporean leader that offered little insight into the real issues.
The Opposition’s Karpal Singh and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim put it as A) mind your own business and B) your ideas are no longer useful.
As for the Barisan Nasional, they pointed out that Singapore is also racially biased and therefore unqualified to speak on the subject.
UMNO leaders then loudly proclaimed that the “Malays first” policy is here to stay and that the Malays are not ready for any change. End of story.
I am reluctant to defend LKY as I think he was heartless when he was in power and he punished his opponents too harshly for my liking.
However, I do admire his pragmatic approach to public policies. His strength of conviction and willingness to be unpopular is well known, and it was firmly rooted in his belief that his policies were good for the people.
Like China’s Deng Xiaoping, he favoured policies that were practical and useful to the general public.
Deng’s famous saying, “It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice” cleverly encapsulated this practicality.
He understood that a market economy was crucial for his country’s survival and competitiveness and gradually guided China away from the ideals of Mao Tse Tung.
LKY took a similarly pragmatic approach when he said that Mandarin and local dialects had to take a back seat as mastering English had to be a top priority for Singapore.
I am not an ideologue myself because ideology seldom solves anything; in fact, I think it brings misery to its believers.
I am inclined to support anything that works and leads to a tangible improvement in people’s lives.
Policies that work have measurable results and are mindful of the resources that are needed (policies that use enormous resources and achieve few results are simply no good).
It’s obvious to me that we need to give up the present culture of race-based policies, not because LKY said so, but because they simply don’t work.
We need to stop doing a disservice to those who are excluded as well as to the Malays who are supposedly the beneficiaries of these policies.
Surely 40 years is enough time for us to see that, collectively, these policies are the mother of all that ails the country.
The simple fact is that Singapore is a first world country today and we are third, in whichever way we define it.
In 1965 Singapore was a small island state that drew its revenue from small ships anchoring at its ports and from several thousand British Navy personnel in Woodlands spending their money there.
There didn’t seem to be much for the island to build on but LKY did it. The world has recognised his contribution to transforming this third world island into a first world metropolis. Only Malaysian leaders do not. I call it envy.
On the other hand, Malaya and later Malaysia started on much happier ground: endowed with among the richest natural resources in Asia, it had public institutions that were respected by many outside the country.
We were the success story of the Commonwealth. Today we are a lot less successful, whichever way we look at it. Some say we are sliding down a slope and picking up speed.
I am not endorsing everything that LKY and other leaders in Singapore have done, and neither am I ignoring the differences—cultural and otherwise—between our two countries.
There are huge differences of course, but we need to admit that in the last 50 years we have done something wrong and they have done something right.
There is no need to suffer from some complex about Singapore and always belittle the old man and other leaders for that matter when they say something about us that is less than flattering.
Shouldn’t we learn from how LKY curbed corruption and how he transformed the communist-infested Singaporean universities into what many consider to be among the world’s best institutions of higher learning?
If we are honest then we cannot possibly deny LKY’s many achievements, and we should be humble enough to listen to him.
I believe our Prime Minister is also a pragmatic leader and so I hope he will not be discouraged from meeting his Singaporean counterpart and LKY to exchange views.
If our PM depends too much on Utusan Malaysia
and the old guards, then our prospects will remain dim for the next 50 years.
Then who will we blame for our failures? The Chinese I guess, if they are still around. – August 14, 2013.
Source: The Malaysian Insider