In eulogising Lee Kuan Yew recently, a few writers took the opportunity to demonise Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in making comparison between the two leaders.
While such comparisons cannot be avoided, given the fact that they were of the same age group and long-serving leaders who were decisive to the point of being authoritative, they should have stopped there.
But these writers went on and on, to the point they ended up being Lee’s apologists, and writing not so much to discuss Lee’s legacy but rather to deride Dr Mahathir’s.
Those who were not “fans” of Lee’s style had chosen to restrict their criticisms of Lee’s legacy, largely reflecting one of the many pleasant Asian values that one should not speak evil of the dead.
Of course such moratorium does not last forever and Shakespeare’s “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” applies.
And the attempt to diminish Dr Mahathir in the comparisons with Lee only serves to expedite the end of the moratorium.
While this article itself may be accused of being written by a Dr Mahathir apologist, the crux of the matter is that in making the comparison, some of the contentions are wrong and utter misrepresentations.
If these misrepresentations are done out of ignorance, they need to be corrected but if they were intentional, then the agenda is obviously divisive and aimed at further pitting the races.
One of the most damning comparisons that need to be addressed is that “Lee promoted meritocracy while Dr Mahathir promoted racial supremacy”.
Lee’s and Singapore’s meritocracy in a clear cut Chinese majority nation is definitely not a comparison to Malaysia’s New Economic Policy (NEP) and neither is it correct that the latter is tied up to promoting racial supremacy.
Furthermore, it has been repeatedly pointed out that in “meritocratic” Singapore, the minority Malays are not allowed to even fly fighter jets and when one was finally allowed to, it was a major announcement, underscoring the systemic and systematic discrimination that had been quietly carried out.
More insights could be obtained from Singapore-born academic Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s “The Singapore Dilemma: The Political and Educational Marginality of the Malay Community”, which put up an extensive study on the continued socio-economic marginality of the Singapore Malay community.
In the case of Malaysia’s NEP, it is not a dark, hidden agenda aimed at suppressing any race.
It is a public policy aimed at a fairer distribution of economic wealth and opportunities.
If the execution of the policy had gone awry, surely it did not deserve to be accused of promoting racial supremacy.
In fact, the NEP is at worst about Malay/Bumiputra primacy.
It cannot be about supremacy when the Malay leadership is seeking an understanding from its non-Malay partners a 30% share of the economic cake and privileges in education.
It is truly an admittance that the race is lagging behind the other minority races. How can such admittance be construed as promoting racial supremacy and sometimes equated to South African apartheid or even Nazi Germany?
It had been argued, if South Africa’s apartheid were the comparison, then Malaysia would be one if the minority have the political and economic control.
Another notion is that Singapore under Lee is so successful despite not having any natural resources while Malaysia languishes and is in danger of becoming a failed state.
This is again a misrepresentation.
Singapore had always been a colonial trading outpost and continued to be developed by the British during its days as a Straits Settlement.
It is no different than what Penang is; a highly developed state despite lacking in natural resources or rather neither depended on such resources to develop.
Of course Lee made the best out of it and turned it into a world class financial hub and entrepot.
But Malaysia, despite its uneven level between the different states, during Dr Mahathir’s tenure was declared as one of the Asian tigers until the currency crisis
Malaysians by and large enjoyed the status and economic wellbeing that came along and even when the crisis hit the nation, rallied around Dr Mahathir and continued to
do so when he came up with the unconventional measures to overcome the crisis.
Truth be told, many Malaysians who were taken up by negative foreign reports flaying Dr Mahathir for his financial remedy, shared the pride when the measures he adopted proved their efficacy.
And the fact that the World Bank and renowned economists later vindicated Dr Mahathir for his measures underscored his leadership qualities, though his detractors
are questioning them today.
However, if anyone chooses to go through the pile of news report during the crisis, the criticisms against Dr Mahathir and Malaysia then were enough to convince even his most die-hard fan that the nation was doomed.
He persevered, did it his way and proved all of them wrong.
And that, sums up Dr Mahathir’s legacy