Mahathir and his flip-flops

By June 25, 2018Current

TL;DR – High Speed Rail – Cancelled or postponed?

Dr Mahathir won a lot of hearts after a photo of him and his $4 Bata sandals went viral.

Dr Mahathir’s sandals, slippers, flipflops or whatchamacallit (via Facebook)

But those aren’t the only flip-flops that Dr Mahathir has. Recently, Dr Mahathir has been flip-flopping on a number of important issues. Here are three of them:

1. Review agreements with China or respect them?

One of Dr Mahathir’s campaign pledges was that he will, as Prime Minister of Malaysia, review all the mega-projects that China has invested in Malaysia. He also pledged that Malaysia will stop borrowing from China.

In an interview in April 2018 before the momentous General Election that brought him back into power, Dr Mahathir said:

“We feel that we will stop borrowing. We will try to renegotiate the terms of the borrowing. In the case of projects, we may have to study whether we would continue or we would slow down or we would renegotiate the terms.”

After he got elected, Dr Mahathir still said that Malaysia will look at the deals with China again.

But he’s now softened his tone and added that Malaysia “will respect all agreements”. So what does that actually mean? Will Malaysia respect the agreements and keep to their terms? Or will Malaysia not respect the agreements and change the terms of those agreements or even cancel those agreements completely?

2. High Speed Rail – Cancelled or postponed?

Not long after being sworn in as Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir announced that plans to build the KL-Singapore High Speed Railway (HSR) will be scrapped. The interesting thing is that Dr Mahathir made that announcement even before he formed his Cabinet.

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But recently, Dr Mahathir seemed to have made an U-turn. During his trip to Japan, Dr Mahathir said that the HSR is postponed, not scrapped. He said:

“In a way, it’s postponed. At this moment, we need to re-study and, if we are short of funds, we can delay the implementation of the project or reduce the scope of project”

Does that sound like the HSR is cancelled? Definitely not.

The 350km rail deal between Singapore and Malaysia was inked in 2016 under Malaysia’s previous prime minister Najib Razak (via)

But Dr Mahathir is actually very smart to make that about turn. Under the agreement that Malaysia signed with Singapore, Malaysia will have to compensate Singapore if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain.

And Singapore will likely ask for compensation. After all, Singapore has already incurred expenses for the project. So the compensation will just be to cover those expenses. But if Malaysia postpones rather than cancels the project, then Malaysia can make a case to postpone the payment of the compensation. So maybe that’s why Dr Mahathir flip-flopped on this.

Interestingly, Bilahari Kausikan, our Ambassador-at-Large and Policy Advisor at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has this theory that Dr Mahathir has recently been raising the same old, same old about Singapore-Malaysia water agreements “only as a diversionary tactic in preparation to to ask for a waiver or reduction of the compensation due to us if he formally cancels the high-speed rail project.”

3. PM for one, two or more years?

When Pakatan Harapan got elected, Dr Mahathir initially said that he will be Prime Minister for one or two years. After that, Anwar Ibrahim would replace him.

But… yeah… you get the idea. He flip-flopped. He said that he is prepared to be PM for more than two years if that is what the people wanted. He said:

“I will continue to serve the people for two years or more, if the people want me, I will accede to their wishes… It will be a record if I reach 95 and still be prime minister”

Sure. Dr Mahathir made it sound so nice – “accede to their wishes”. But some people (yes, myself included) think that Dr Mahathir wants to stay on as PM, no matter what the public wants.

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Dr Mahathir – the wily, cunning politician

All these flip-flopping reminds us that Dr Mahathir is ever the wily, cunning politician. Anyone negotiating with him will do well to remember that.


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Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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