Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad met up with former Singaporean political dissident Tan Wah Piow and several other Singaporeans last Thursday (Aug 30) in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting ended off with an invitation for Dr Mahathir to give a keynote address at a conference next year – which he agreed to, subject to his schedule. This conference is organised by Mr Tan’s non-profit organisation (Forces for Renewal of South East Asia), and will cover democracy in Southeast Asia. Other Singaporeans present at the meeting were activists Jolovan Wham and Kirsten Han, and historian Thum Ping Tjin (remember his exchanges with Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam early this year?).
What’s the big deal?
This discourse on opening up democratic space is all the more pertinent in the wake of Dr Mahathir’s victory at this year’s elections in Malaysia, which brings about “positiveness and aspiration for a freer society”. Mr Tan also mentioned that the Singapore government “will be very concerned […] (because) the prime minister is prepared to share his views about democracy and to enhance the development of democracy in the region”, something that Singapore is not doing with its “dominant party controls”.
More importantly, the activists’ decision to attend the meeting has drawn criticism from the government, with MP Seah Kian Peng stating that he is “amazed” that Dr Thum “should proclaim that Singapore is part of Malaysia (or Malaya)”, and Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam describing their actions as “a little sad” and “a bit regretful”, commenting that one “should never go out and invite a foreign politician to intervene in our domestic politics”.
(In case you had no idea, Mr Tan Wah Piow was an involved student activist who fled Singapore for London in 1976, claiming that the Singapore government had a plan to have him enlist for NS, with malicious intentions. In 1987, he had his Singapore citizenship revoked, and was accused of being the mastermind behind the alleged Marxist Conspiracy* in 1987.)
* Read up on Operation Spectrum if you are interested.