TL;DR – It’s not a zero-sum game.
Since Dr Mahathir became the Prime Minister of Malaysia for a second time, there seems to be some Singaporeans who are hoping for Dr Mahathir and his newly formed government to fail. These seem to be mostly people who are pro-establishment and range from people in the mainstream media, people who are seen as part of the PAP “internet brigade”, and even some former civil servants.
Former associate dean of the LKY School of Public Policy, Donald Low, analysed why that might be so and why that’s a wrong thing to do.
Why do some Singaporeans want Mahathir’s Malaysia to fail?
Mr Low pointed out two reasons.
Firstly, the most common reason is that Dr Mahathir wasn’t friendly to Singapore when he was last PM. And it looks like he might still be unfriendly to Singapore. He has already asked to review projects like the HSR from KL to Singapore. So, it seems that some Singaporeans want Dr Mahathir and his government to fail so that they are less able to hurt us.
Secondly, many pro-establishment people want to see the Mahathir government fail because they seem to be doing things that our establishment says cannot or should not be done. These include abolishing the GST, and reviewing (and possibly repealing) laws that can be considered repressive (e.g. the anti-fake news law that was recently passed, the Printing Presses Act, Sedition Act). And if the new Mahathir government succeeds, it would mean that the pro-establishment people in Singapore are likely wrong on a number of issues. So, Mr Low points out:
“To preserve the coherence and consistency of their (the pro-establishment people in Singapore) worldview, they are willing to put Singapore-Malaysia relations at risk.”
Why it’s wrong to wish that Malaysia will fail?
Mr Low rightly pointed out that it’s in our long term interest to have a stable and well-governed Malaysia. Furthermore, if BN had won, it would be most likely that BN would have to form a coalition government with PAS, which would have been a more mono-ethnic government. That would be worse for us. Mr Low explained:
“for many years, we were concerned about the changing demographics in Malaysia leading to ever more racially divisive politics and policies in the country, with spilllover effects to Singapore. This prospect, for now at least, has become less likely.”
The new PH government is multi-ethnic government with at least a post-racial rhetoric. That surely is a plus for Singapore.
And even if Mahathir was not friendly to Singapore before, it doesn’t mean that he will continue to be unfriendly now. Because in international relations, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Mr Low reminded us:
“Our permanent interest is (or should be) to maintain stable, mutually beneficial relations with our closest neighbour. This is far more likely if Malaysia under the new government, is stable and successful.”
Maintaining stable, and mutually beneficial relations will require that both sides remain circumspect and prudent in commenting about each other’s governments. We shouldn’t make comments (such as why we think Mahathir’s government will fail) that would antagonise Dr Mahathir. Because Dr Mahathir is nationalistic and has a country-above-all-else mindset, so if he’s provoked, then we would indeed be dealing with “the intransigent and prickly Mahathir that we fear “.
We should adopt a win-win mentality
Indeed, we shouldn’t think that in order for us to win, someone has to lose. That is an outdated world view. Instead, we should think about how we can expand the pie, and build win-win relationships with all those that we deal with. Of course, if there are countries who try to hurt our interest, then we should stand our ground and fight back resolutely. But, at least for now, the new Mahathir government doesn’t seem to be going out of its way to hurt us. So, on balance, we should really wish them well.