Lee Kuan Yew

Malaysia lashes out at Lee Kuan Yew remark

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am

Malaysian leaders have hit back at Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who last week said that Malaysia would be more successful if it treated ethnic Chinese and Indians as equal citizens.

Mr Lee also said Malaysia might 'even overtake Singapore' if minorities were accorded equal treatment - comments that targeted Kuala Lumpur's affirmative action policies for ethnic Malays.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told the official Bernama news agency yesterday: 'We are a complex society and have complex issues to tackle. We have done well in our own way.

'We are all right on our own and need not debate his comments on our policies.'

Other Malay leaders were less restrained, and slammed Mr Lee for interference and failure to understand their country's complex multi-ethnic society.

'We have vernacular television [programmes], and promote other cultures and religions,' said Muhammad Taib, a senior leader in Umno, the ruling Malay party.

'Singapore does not even allow Chinese vernacular education ... Malays in Singapore are neglected,' he said, referring to criticism that Malays, who make up 14 per cent of Singapore's 4.4 million population, are neglected by the Chinese-majority Singapore government.

Mr Lee, who in the 1960s was a fiery defender of equality and meritocracy when Singapore was part of Malaysia, also said if Malaysia overtook Singapore, the city-state might consider rejoining its neighbour.

Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965.

Mr Lee's remarks, made to American academics last week, were played down by the mainstream, government-controlled media, but Chinese vernacular newspapers and blogs gave them wide publicity.

All six Chinese newspapers, which have a combined circulation of more than 3 million, gave prominent coverage, with several running editorials urging Malaysians to give Mr Lee's remarks due consideration.

Mr Lee hit the nail on the head with his remarks, said a Nanyang Siang Pau editorial on Friday.

'Often his comments embarrass some leaders of the Malaysian government, but strike a chord among the people,' the daily said, urging the government to consider different viewpoints.