Singapore, Malaysia must maintain good ties despite contentious issues: Anwar

Veteran Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim speaking at the Inter-Pacific Bar Association Meeting and Conference on April 26, 2019. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Veteran Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim said it is important for his country and Singapore to be "on the best of terms" despite their contentious issues and work towards resolving them amicably.

"Singapore is considered to be a great neighbour, a great friend, but you have evolved differently," Datuk Seri Anwar said at the Inter-Pacific Bar Association Meeting and Conference on Friday (April 26).

"Singapore started as a very rugged society, but it has become a bit tough on (its) negotiations," he added, without going into specifics.

But given that the two neighbours share a common history and family bonds and are mutually dependent, they will benefit immensely from working together and more effectively based on trust, he said in a plenary session of the conference held at Raffles City Convention Centre.

"This is the sentiment of the leadership. It is too important, even for us, to be on the best of terms with our neighbours in Asean, but more so with Singapore."

The 71-year-old was responding to a question on Singapore-Malaysia relations posed by moderator Francis Xavier, regional head of Disputes Practices at law firm Rajah & Tann Asia, as part of his discussion on the present and future challenges facing Malaysia and the region.

Mr Anwar is the president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), now a party of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition led by his former nemesis and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad following a victory in last May's elections.

Then serving a five-year jail sentence for sodomy, he was given a royal pardon and released days later.

Mr Anwar is expected to succeed Tun Dr Mahathir in two years, as agreed by the coalition leadership.

On Friday, he stressed that it was important for Singapore and Malaysia to explore new avenues to further enhance their relationship as Malaysia undergoes "a period of transition and economic problems due to the mismanagement" in the past.

"It is an imperative, notwithstanding some contentious issues which must be handled with care and must be resolved amicably," he said.

Singapore and Malaysia have had disputes over airspace and port limits in recent months, but earlier this month, leaders from both countries agreed to discuss maritime boundaries, among other issues.

During the candid 1½-hour-long session, Mr Anwar spoke on a wide range of topics, from his time in prison to criticisms over the slow pace of reforms by the new government and the use of race and religion cards for political purposes.

Mr Anwar said his passion for justice and freedom has only grown stronger after prison, but he has forgiven those who had done him wrong. "I want to move on, I don't want to dwell on the past. The interest of the nation must supersede my personal predicament and difficulties."

He acknowledged that the Pakatan Harapan government was "not able to deliver all" of its promises as it did not anticipate the economic problems would be "so bad".

"Right now there is growing apprehension or frustration... Whether they're (supporters) going to shift the level of support, we don't know. But we still have time. We have four years, four years is reasonable time if we remain consistent in our policies, rid the country of corruption and racism and propel the economy," he said.

Asked how he was preparing to take over as prime minister, Mr Anwar said he was in "no hurry", and will provide the support, space and and latitude to Dr Mahathir to carry out his duties.

"Patience, my friend, patience," he said, drawing laughter in the audience. "Why worry? They say Anwar is going to be the next prime minister. I've been waiting for 20 years, what is another six months to one year?"

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