Malaysia's polls will not affect S'pore ties, joint projects: Najib

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, along with other Singapore leaders, meeting his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak and other Malaysian leaders during the retreat yesterday.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, along with other Singapore leaders, meeting his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak and other Malaysian leaders during the retreat yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Singapore has every intention of implementing what both nations have committed to, says PM Lee

Malaysia's upcoming general election will not have an impact on relations with Singapore, as well as the projects that both sides are working on together, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

At yesterday's joint press conference by both countries' leaders after the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat, Datuk Seri Najib and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong were asked about the outlook on ties in the coming year, in view of domestic developments.

Mr Najib replied: "I don't expect elections to change the nature of relations between our two countries."

To this, Mr Lee responded with a laugh: "Because you have confidence in the results."

The exchange comes as Malaysia is gripped by election fever. While the polls have to be called by August, observers expect them to held in the coming months.

Earlier, in fielding a question on whether projects such as the newly inked Rapid Transit System (RTS) pact could be affected by the election, Mr Najib, who heads the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, suggested that things could turn out differently if someone else is in charge.

Malaysia, said Mr Najib, does "not want to return to the era of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric between our two countries". "It was an era that we want to forget," he added.

His remarks appeared to be an allusion to his closest rival, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The 92-year-old has just been named by Malaysia's opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan as its candidate to become the next prime minister. The move comes amid a sliding vote share for BN over the last two elections.

During Tun Dr Mahathir's 22 years as prime minister - from 1981 to 2003, Malaysia and Singapore disagreed publicly over a number of issues, including whether to revise the price at which Malaysia sells water to Singapore.

Yesterday, Mr Najib said his team "cannot determine what the electorate will decide, but we can offer our agenda for the people to decide".

This includes "good relations with Singapore - and we have proven that we can bring tangible benefits to the people if we work closely together".

"So that is the position of our government. The other side may have other ideas," added Mr Najib.

Responding to the same question, Mr Lee said the joint projects require long-term commitment that is formalised in the RTS agreement signed. "It is a binding agreement and whoever is the government on either side, well, this is an agreement which they inherit and which they are party to," he said.

"If a subsequent government has other ideas, that will have to be dealt with and the agreement will deal with these contingencies."

On Singapore's part, Mr Lee added: "I have no doubt on Singapore's side we have every intention of implementing what we signed and committed to today."

Singapore itself is due for some changes, with a major Cabinet reshuffle expected this year as part of leadership renewal.

Mr Lee said: "I don't think the Cabinet reshuffle in Singapore will affect our bilateral relations with Malaysia, and I look forward to our relations being stable and the Malaysian side taking a similar approach."

Both men, incidentally, ended their prepared remarks with references to the Malaysia elections.

Mr Lee said he looked forward to visiting Malaysia for the next leaders' retreat later this year, "after, probably, their general election".

Ending his speech, Mr Najib said that he looked forward to receiving Mr Lee at the end of this year, "provided we get the right result".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia's polls will not affect S'pore ties, joint projects: Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe