Thursday, 3 February 2011

I never undermined my successor: MM Lee

By Faris – January 27th, 2011

MM Lee said his role was to advise the country’s next generation of leaders. (Photo: Agence France-Presse).

In his latest book, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said he never undermined his successor unlike Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

Lee went on to say that his only role was to advise the next generation of leaders in the Republic.

“That was my intention. If the new PM fails, I have failed,” Singapore’s founding father said in his recently launched 458-page book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going”.

“Mahathir never thought that way. He undermined his successors,” Lee said, comparing the approach he used with his successor Goh Chok Tong and that of Malaysia’s fourth prime minister.

His comments, which were picked up by influential Malaysian online news portal The Malaysian Insider, could further strain relations between the two countries, following MM Lee’s most recent remarks on how Muslims in the country should integrate more with the rest of society.

Since leaving office in 2003, Dr Mahathir has consistently remained in the political spotlight. He became a vocal critic of his hand-picked successor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and constantly attacked the country’s fifth prime minister, alleging that the latter’s administration was corrupt.

Dr Mahathir even took the drastic step of quitting the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and his opposition to Abdullah contributed significantly to Barisan Nasional (BN), the country’s ruling party to lose its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority in the 2008 elections.

Since taking over as prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has had to be careful not to offend Dr Mahathir who has responded by toning down his criticisms of any government policies.

In contrast, Mr Lee, who was Singapore Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990, kept out of the way of his successors Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong. But he remained in Singapore’s Cabinet first as Senior Minister and presently holds the position of Minister Mentor.

How MM Lee’s shadow still looms large over Singapore as he remains a key figure and, according to his critics, is still feared in the island republic.

Speaking about his attitude towards his successors in his latest book, Lee quoted former British PM John Major.

“A Western correspondent put it to former British PM John Major — Margaret Thatcher on the sidelines made life difficult for you so you can say that you did not succeed because of her. But look at Lee Kuan Yew. He’s in the new government and the new PM is succeeding.

“You should see his (Major’s) answer. ‘He is making sure the new PM succeeds’,” he said.

In his interviews for the book, Lee spoke at length about Malaysia and had also commented about Najib and bilateral ties with Malaysia.

He had described Najib 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.

The 87-year-old Lee also questioned if PM Najib will be able to organise a countrywide change when faced with such a challenge.

According to Lee, Singapore has been able to move forward ahead of its peers in the region despite being a tiny nation because it focused on building interracial and inter-religious harmony early on, which he noted is crucial to create internal stability to attract investors.

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