‘Unstable’ Malaysian govt using Singapore as ‘bogeyman’, says ex-diplomat

Former Singapore diplomat Bilahari Kausikan. (YouTube screengrab)

KUALA LUMPUR: A former Singapore diplomat says the island republic is being “used as a bogeyman” due to the political uncertainty in Malaysia following the May 9 polls.

Bilahari Kausikan, who was once ambassador-at-large and permanent secretary of Singapore’s foreign ministry, said in a Facebook post that it was “not an accident that so many bilateral issues” had resurfaced after the change of government in Malaysia.

“The new governing coalition is intrinsically unstable and held together by a 93-year-old man. Political uncertainty in Malaysia inevitably leads to Singapore being used as a bogeyman to hold things together.

“So wish the good doctor good health and long life: it may well be worse without him,” he said.

Kausikan, who has been described in Singapore as the “undiplomatic diplomat”, mentioned problems over issues such as water, a bridge, airspace and maritime border intrusions.

He was referring to the revival of an old dispute over the price of water sold to Singapore. Mahathir had said the water prices should be raised by at least 10 times but Singapore said both nations should stick to the 1962 Water Agreement. Both, however, have agreed to discuss the matter.

In October, Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian revived the possibility of building the crooked bridge to replace the Causeway, first mooted by Mahathir in 2000. However, Singapore is not agreeable to it.

Two days ago, Malaysia expressed concern that the new Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Singapore’s Seletar Airport was encroaching into Pasir Gudang airspace. The transport ministers of both nations have been in contact over the matter.

Yesterday, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan spoke to his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah and urged Putrajaya to “cease intrusions” by some Malaysian vessels into Singapore waters.

Balakrishnan raised the issue of Malaysia’s recent “purported extension” of the Johor Bahru port limits, which he said encroached into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas.

Mustafa Izzuddin, a research fellow at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, was quoted by Today Online as agreeing with Kausikan.

He said the latest disputes indicated that bilateral relations under the new Mahathir government would not be as smooth sailing as they were under the Najib Razak administration.

“Diplomatic turbulence is anticipated… It also signifies that Singapore will be made even more of a convenient bogeyman should there be rising domestic unrest within Malaysia,” he was quoted as saying.

The report also quoted political scientist Bilveer Singh from the National University of Singapore as saying that Singapore had always been the “punching bag” for Malaysian leaders when they faced domestic pressure and that it was no different this time.