Dr M pushes Johor Umno to revive crooked bridge

(The Malaysian Insider) – Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad met with Johor Umno over the weekend in an attempt to revive the idea of a crooked bridge to Singapore to replace the Causeway.

The Malaysian Insider understands that Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman was obliged to call the meeting with divisional leaders on Saturday where Dr Mahathir asked the party grassroots to pressure the federal government to pursue the project.

However, with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak having made clear that he is pursuing warmer relations with the island republic, he is unlikely to go ahead without Singapore’s mutual agreement.

“The response was very lukewarm,” a Johor Umno division leader told The Malaysian Insider.

Several state party leaders also gave the meeting a skip, including Johor Baru MP Datuk Seri Shahrir Abdul Samad and Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed.

Dr Mahathir’s “crooked bridge” project, that aims to tear down the Malaysian half of the Causeway and replace it with a curving bridge high enough for shipping traffic to pass under, was first mooted when he was prime minister in the 1990s but subsequently ditched by his successor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Dr Mahathir (picture), who still wields a huge influence on Umno despite stepping down in 2003, made his ire towards Abdullah very public and has continued to harangue Najib over the construction of the bridge.

But Najib, who is keen to repair bilateral ties with the island republic, has been reluctant to discuss the proposal which was received frostily by Singapore’s government when first mooted.

The prime minister has instead preferred to discuss other potential solutions such as a third bridge with Malaysia’s southern neighbour. He has also successfully resolved the long-standing issue of the Malayan Railway land in Singapore last year.

Although there is no sign that Dr Mahathir will succeed in getting Johor Umno to challenge Najib’s stand, it is clear that any referendum or agitation will be uncomfortable for the prime minister.

Najib has worked to forge a good working relationship with his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong after decades of mutual animosity between Dr Mahathir and Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

When contacted by The Malaysian Insider, Nur Jazlan confirmed that the meeting had taken place but he had missed it as he was still in Kuala Lumpur.

“But personally, I don’t really see how the crooked bridge is better,” he said.

The proposal to build a bridge to replace the 87-year-old Causeway was justified by Dr Mahathir to ease traffic congestion between Johor Baru and Singapore and facilitate the free flow of water in the Tebrau Straits in addition to allowing ships heading to East Asia to bypass Singapore.

But as of July last year, the Najib administration has no intentions of reviving the crooked bridge project proposed by Dr Mahathir to replace the Causeway, according to Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said the government will stick to the decision reached during Abdullah’s administration.

“The crooked bridge will not be built. There have been no talks to revive the project,” Nazri had told The Malaysian Insider.