Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Malaysia's Mahathir says he is sad even though he is not a close friend of Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said he is sad over the passing of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, although he was not a close friend of the late leader.

"No matter how friendly or unfriendly we are, the passing away of a man you know well saddens you. I cannot say I was a close friend of Kuan Yew. But still I feel sad at his demise,'' Dr Mahathir wrote on his personal blog, in a posting entitled "Kuan Yew and I".

The former Malaysian leader said he "crossed swords" many times with Mr Lee after Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963, but "there was no enmity".

"I first met Kuan Yew when I was a member of Parliament in 1964 after Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963. We crossed swords many time during the debates. But there was no enmity, only differences in our views of what was good for the newborn nation,'' Dr Mahathir said.

"He included me among the ultra Malays who were responsible for the racial riots in Singapore. Actually I never went to Singapore to stir up trouble. Somebody else whom I would not name did."

Dr Mahathir paid a courtesy call on Mr Lee when he became prime minister in 1981 and they agreed that both countries should advance their timezone by half an hour. He said this was one of the very few rare occasions that the two leaders agreed on a matter: “I am afraid on most other issues we could not agree,” he wrote.

Despite the disagreements between the two towering statesman, Dr Mahathir revealed how both leaders cared for each other.

“When I had a heart attack in 1989 and required open heart surgery, he cared enough to ring up my wife to ask her to delay the operation as he had arranged for the best heart surgeon, a Singaporean living in Australia, to do the operation," he wrote. "But by then, I had been given pre-med and was asleep prior to the operation the next day.”

"My wife thanked him but apologised. She promised to ring him up after the operation. She did the next evening," he added.

When Mr Lee was very ill, Dr Mahathir said he requested to meet him.

“He agreed but the night before the visit, the Singapore High Commissioner received a message that he was very sick and could not see me," he wrote.

But they still managed to catch up at the Nihon Keizai Shimbun annual conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo.

"I went up to him at dinner to ask how he was. We sat down together to chat and the Japanese photographers took our pictures promising not to put it in the press. I wouldn’t mind even if they did. But I suppose people will make all kinds of stories about it.”

Dr Mahathir said Mr Lee's passing "marks the end of the period when those who fought for independence lead their countries and knew the value of independence".

"Asean lost a strong leadership after President Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew,'' he added.

asruls@sph.com.sg 

Mahathir27