Singapore Summit

Singapore one of first countries I will visit as PM: Anwar

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his office yesterday.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his office yesterday.PHOTO: MCI

Singapore-Malaysia ties have been historically strong but need constant care, he says

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim said yesterday that Singapore will be one of the first countries he visits when he becomes prime minister, stressing that the two countries need to forge strong bonds.

The de facto leader of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition was asked to comment on bilateral relations between the neighbouring nations at a conference here.

"Singapore-Malaysia relations... Ada problem ke? (Is there a problem?)," he remarked, drawing laughter from hundreds of business and thought leaders at the Singapore Summit 2018.

Datuk Seri Anwar, who was released from prison in May after receiving a royal pardon, is set to succeed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in two years, as agreed by the PH leadership before May's general election.

Last week, Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat announced he would contest a by-election in Port Dickson, paving the way for him to return to Parliament. "If and when I assume the premiership, then I will make sure that one of the first countries I visit will be Singapore," he declared at the dialogue yesterday.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a photo on Facebook of his meeting with Mr Anwar yesterday. "Glad he is spending some time with our academic institutions, meeting Singaporeans, building bridges, and strengthening ties between our countries," said PM Lee. He also wished Mr Anwar well for the upcoming by-election.

LOOKING AHEAD

If and when I assume the premiership, then I will make sure that one of the first countries I visit will be Singapore.

DATUK SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM, after being asked to comment on bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore.

IN NO HURRY TO TAKE OVER

Am I in a hurry? No. Because I told PM Mahathir that I will focus on parliamentary reform.

MR ANWAR, on criticism that he is impatient to take over from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after announcing plans to contest a by-election in Port Dickson by the end of the year.

WIFE TO STEP DOWN

Our position is Azizah will step down as DPM; this will be announced right from the beginning when I assume office. For Nurul Izzah, let's see what her position is, I don't know. I don't want to speculate. But in terms of what's important now, Azizah will not serve in the Cabinet.

MR ANWAR, when asked whether his wife, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and his daughter Nurul Izzah, both of whom are MPs, will have Cabinet posts when he becomes PM.

IMPORTANCE OF HUMILITY

The only wisdom one can hope to acquire is humility. Humility is endless.

MR ANWAR, quoting from poet T.S. Eliot when conceding that Dr Mahathir's tenacity in campaigning was instrumental in Pakatan Harapan's May election victory.

In the four months since PH's historic win at the ballot box, Malaysia has deferred the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail project and raised the prickly issue of how much it charges to supply water to Singapore, indicating the price should be raised tenfold.

Mr Anwar noted yesterday that it was not sensible to create problems between the two countries.

He said that while Tun Dr Mahathir was firm on some of these contracts, "it was confined to that particular problem and we try to resolve it on a bilateral basis, proceed with negotiations..."

In his first public appearance in Singapore since his release from jail, the seasoned statesman played to the crowd with his trademark mix of fiery rhetoric, literary quotes and jokey asides. He even apologised for stumbling over some words in his speech, explaining: "In prison, I only spoke Malay."

He recalled that on one of his visits to Singapore - before he was sacked as deputy prime minister by Dr Mahathir in 1998 - he told Singapore's Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who was then prime minister, that Singaporean leaders were too serious.

"You know, Singapore and Singapore leaders are too serious and business-like. We (Malaysians) tend to, you know, cultural sikit (a little)... relax sikit, give and take sikit. Singapore - (it's) dollars and cents," he said.

A month later, he said Mr Goh invited him to a performance by renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

"He took my words seriously," Mr Anwar exclaimed as Mr Goh, who was in the audience, laughed.

Mr Anwar also stressed that relations between Singapore and Malaysia have been historically strong but need constant care.

He singled out, as an example, PM Lee's visit to Putrajaya soon after PH won the election. "It was very cordial and it was a very (good) gesture for the PM to be the first to come and visit. I think these signals are important because this goes beyond just diplomatic encounters or business deals."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 16, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore one of first countries I will visit as PM: Anwar '. Print Edition | Subscribe