KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 — A near half century has passed, but Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew still strongly believes that Malaysians would be enjoying his city-state’s brand of nationalism and multi-racialism today, if both nations had not been split in 1965.
In an interview with the New York Times, the 86-year-old Minister Mentor reflectively expressed that the first regret he had of his colourful career was having been “turfed out” of Malaysia.
The published interview did not feature his remarks on Malaysia. They were contained in a transcript of the interview published on the official website of Singapore’s prime minister’s office.
In his conversation with the New York Times, Lee claimed that if Malaysia’s founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman had decided to keep both nations together 45 years ago, much of what Singapore had achieved today in terms of equality among the races would be likewise be achieved in Malaysia.
“I think if the Tunku had kept us together, what we did in Singapore, had Malaysia accepted a multiracial base for their society, much of what we’ve achieved in Singapore would be achieved in Malaysia,” he said, according to the transcript of the interview, conducted on September 1.
Lee, Singapore’s longest serving prime minister, claimed that if Singapore had not seceded from Malaysia, the country would have improved inter-racial relations and an improved holistic situation today.
“Now we have a very polarised Malaysia — Malays, Chinese and Indians in separate schools, living separate lives and not really getting on with one another. You read them. That’s bad for us as close neighbours,” he said.
He pressed on with his belief that all ethnic communities should free themselves from the shackles of racial segregation in order to promote fairness and equality among the races.
This, he said, was his one greatest satisfaction in helming Singapore.
“We made quite sure whatever your race, language or religion, you are an equal citizen and we’ll drum that into the people and I think our Chinese understand and today we have an integrated society.
“We will not as a majority squeeze the minority because once we’re by ourselves, the Chinese become the majority,” he said.
Lee took a dig at the Malaysian scenario, pointing out that the Singaporean Malays were English-educated and were no longer like the Malaysian Malays.
“You can see there are some still wearing headscarves but (are) very modern looking,” he said.
Lee noted that using racial politics was the “easy way”, claiming that if he had used this method in Singapore to gain the majority vote, its society would eventually be destroyed.
“Because if you play it that way, if you have dissension, if you chose the easy way to Muslim votes and switch to racial politics, this society is finished.
“The easiest way to get majority vote is — vote for me, we’re Chinese, they’re Indians, they’re Malays.
“Our society will be ripped apart. If you do not have a cohesive society, you cannot make progress,” he said.
He explained that while he was satisfied with race relations in Singapore, it still remained his regret that this could not have been done on a larger scale together with Malaysia.
As such, Lee expressed fear that the next generation of Singaporeans would take his achievements for granted and allow them to eventually phase out.
“The regret is there’s such a narrow base to build this enormous edifice so I’ve got to tell the next generation, please do not take for granted what’s been built.
“If you forget that this is a small island which we are built upon, and reach a 100-storey high tower block and may go up to 150 (storeys) if you are wise.
“But if you believe that it’s permanent, it will come tumbling down and you will never get a second chance,” he predicted.
Lee also cautioned the youth of today that racial harmony was not something that could be placed on “auto-pilot”, reminding them that the social network connecting the different racial communities was a fragile web that could easily be destroyed.
“I believe they (the youth) have come to believe that this (racial harmony) is a natural state of affairs, and they can take liberties with it. I know this is never so.
“We (Singapore government) have crafted a set of very intricate rules — no housing blocks shall have more than a percentage of so many Chinese, Indians, Malays. All are thoroughly mixed.
“Your neighbours are Indians, Malays, you go to the same shopping malls, the same schools, same playing fields, you go up and down the same lifts — we cannot allow segregation,” he said.
Lee, known to be a strong-willed and strict leader during his tenure, insisted that such rules could not afford to be loosened as it could easily become issues if they were challenged.
“We’ve got here, we’ve become cohesive, keep it that way. We’ve not used Chinese as a majority language because it will split the population.
“If you want to keep your Malay, or your Chinese, or your Tamil, Urdu or whatever, do that as a second language, not equal to your first language. It is up to you, how high a standard you want to achieve,” he said.
Lee acknowledged that he had been a tough leader in his time but insisted that the job had to be done for the greater good of the nation.
“Malaysia took the different line; Malaysians saw it as a Malay country, all others are lodgers, ‘orang tumpangan’, and they the Bumiputeras, sons of the soil, run the show.
“So the Sultans, the Chief Justice and judges, generals, police commissioner, the whole hierarchy is Malay,” he said.
Lee added that in Malaysia, since the Malay language was used as the teaching medium in schools, the Chinese and Indians had to find their own independent schools to teach their respective languages.
This, he claimed, did not help them find jobs.
“It’s a most unhappy situation,” he said.