Malaysia GE13: Singapore features in Johor campaigning

In Malaysia's frenetic election season, even the most experienced campaigners have Singapore on their minds.

Whether it is former premier Mahathir Mohamad or a first-time candidate, there seems to be temptation to aim the occasional slingshot at the Republic.

Such attacks are not new. But this year, as the opposition Pakatan Rakyat seeks to make inroads into the Barisan Nasional (BN) bastion of Johor, next door to Singapore, they have been flintier.

"Both sides of the political spectrum are using this tactic to garner votes," Mr K. Kesavapany, former Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia, told The Straits Times. "After the rough and tumble of the elections, things will become normal and we will do business with the government of the day."

On Tuesday, Tun Mahathir revisited the issue of Singapore's two years in Malaysia in an opinion piece in the New Straits Times.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP), he said, was like the PAP in the 1964 election with its "Malaysian Malaysia" slogan.

In his view, that pits Chinese against Malays and threatens longstanding Sino-Malay cooperation, or kongsi.

"Singapore and its chauvinistic meritocrats had to leave Malaysia," he wrote.

"But a Trojan horse was left behind in the form of a political party named DAP."

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang is standing against outgoing Menteri Besar Abdul Ghani Othman in Gelang Patah, just across from the Second Link.

Dr Mahathir said that a win for Mr Lim would signal a victory for the approach to politics that the DAP espoused, as found in a "nearby country".

There have been other jibes.

Speaking at Southern University College, which was set up by the Chinese community, on Monday night, Prime Minister Najib Razak made reference to how outside of China and Hong Kong, Malaysia is the "most liberal and accommodating" towards Chinese education.

He added: "Not far across from Johor, across the Causeway, you won't find any Chinese schools there."

Opposition politicians also have targeted Singapore.

Last week, Mr Andy Chen, DAP candidate for the Stulang state seat in Johor Baru, resurrected the issue of a 2008 International Court of Justice ruling that awarded the island of Pedra Branca to Singapore and two outcrops, Middle Rocks, to Malaysia.

"Why did we lose it? If we are the government, we will ensure this is resolved," he said.

"The BN government does not care, (it) just gave it to Singapore. Who betrayed Malaysia?"

Mr Chen and others have also raised the issue of the swop of former Malayan Railway land in Singapore, and the sale of water from Johor to Singapore.

An issue of Harakah, the party organ of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), last month cited the Pedra Branca ruling as a "failed promise" of the government.

The newspaper also took aim at Iskandar Malaysia for "eating into" Malay reserve land and resulting in a situation where Singaporeans bought property and Singapore businesses set up shop here to ride on cheaper labour costs.

At the same time, leaflets attacking DAP for being a proxy of PAP have emerged in neighbourhoods in southern Johor.

The leaflets, which do not indicate a printer or publisher, claim the opposition would bring 87 PAP MPs from Singapore into Malaysia if it wins.

To be sure, not all mentions of Singapore are critical.

Utusan Malaysia columnist Azmi Hassan, in an April 25 article urging voters to exercise care, noted that Malays in Singapore knew how to vote tactically and had gained from actively supporting the PAP in the last two elections.

And Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told a recent gathering how Johor's development in recent years was so robust that investors from Singapore and the Middle East now want to invest in the state.

"People from Singapore are envious of the developments taking place in Johor," he told hundreds of Chinese educators.

"Why would you want to change things?" he asked, in a dig at the opposition's "Change" slogan.

zakirh@sph.com.sg