Najib a rational leader, says Lee Kuan Yew

By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew has described Datuk Seri Najib Razak as a rational leader who understands that Malaysia benefits from co-operating with its southern neighbour but is hampered by sentiments from the Malay grassroots.

“Prime Minister Najib Razak is a rational leader. He wants to co-operate with us because he sees the benefits for Malaysia. But he has to deal with the emotions of his domestic ground, just like politicians everywhere,” the island republic’s elder statesman said in his latest book, “Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going”.

The 458-page tome was published by Straits Times Press earlier this year and features a series of interviews with Singapore’s minister mentor between December 2008 and October 2009.

Lee appeared to suggest that Malaysia’s politics, which places the Malay race above others, will continue to remain a stumbling block in warm bilateral relations with Singapore.

He stressed that Singapore, unlike Malaysia, is a multiracial meritocracy and has found a balance between the races and between its social and economic classes.

“All my relatives in Kuala Lumpur have migrated to Australia; they have given up. But we are here in Singapore and we intend to be permanently here,” Lee said.

In recent years, race and religious tensions in multiracial Malaysia have grown more heated, which has affected the country’s relations with Singapore, a former state in the federation until it was expelled in 1963.

In Malaysia, certain Malay groups have come out strongly against the ethnic Chinese in the belief the latter group controls the largest slice of the economic pie.

Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia has been accused of stoking racial tensions through news reports and opinion pieces warning national leaders of the country becoming “another Singapore”, where the Chinese-dominated nation is seen to marginalise the minority Malays.

The 87-year-old Lee, who was Singapore prime minister from June 5, 1959 to November 28, 1990, questioned if Najib will be able to organise a country-wide change when faced with such a challenge.

“So will the Malay ground allow co-operation with Singapore? To what extent will they support projects which while they benefit Malaysia, will also help Singapore to prosper?

“Every Malaysian leader must remember these questions. We should not forget this,” the influential Singaporean statesman said.