SINGAPORE: While some tension has been revived between Singapore and Malaysia with the return of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the Malaysian Prime Minister, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president-elect Anwar Ibrahim has said he believes that the relationship between the two countries will improve.
Since Dr Mahathir became prime minister in May, he has raised a thorny bilateral issue - the water accord between Singapore and Malaysia and proposed that the previously agreed-upon KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail be scrapped.
Singapore and Malaysia later agreed to delay the railway project for two years.
In an interview published on Thursday (Sep 13), Mr Anwar, 71, said it was "quite right" for Dr Mahathir to raise the issues, but the two countries will have to move beyond them.
"I think if you see the relationship under (former prime minister Najib Razak) at that time as good, it's not necessarily something positive, because some deals are suspect, dubious.
"Some of the positions taken by Singapore, the political views, are considered by many particularly those in the opposition (then) to be excessive," Mr Anwar said in the interview on Aug 31 with S Rajaratnam School of International Studies senior fellow Yang Razali Kassim.
"But I think what is important is to continue to engage to try to resolve and move beyond these two issues. (The) bottom line is we have to work together."
He also said that Malaysia stresses "the cultural angle" and is not as businesslike as Singapore. The two nations' relationship should transcend "strict dollars and cents, rule and order", which Singapore tends to emphasise, he added.
"BOTH COUNTRIES NEED EACH OTHER"
The veteran politician, however, clarified that he was not saying that it would be better if Singapore became less businesslike: "Singapore as a country is built on that ruggedness. I am not questioning that. But I think realities are realities."
He also said that he did not think that the difference in approach was "too prohibitive" in terms of forging a relationship, pointing out that Malaysian and Singaporean leaders have been making regular visits to each others' countries.
In the interview, Mr Anwar said that Malaysia would like to see more exchanges with Singapore in areas like government, civil society, students, investment and trade, "notwithstanding some of the initial problems that we have".
"Everything should be done to cement this relationship. Both countries will need each other," he said.
Anwar announced on Wednesday that he will be contesting in a by-election in Port Dickson, paving his return to the Malaysian parliament.
However, he has also said he will not hold any government posts if he wins the seat and will focus on parliamentary reform.
Asked when he will step up as the country's eighth prime minister during the interview, Mr Anwar refused to give a timeline.
"Some people give different interpretations – six months, one year, one and half years, two years or more. I don’t think that’s an issue. What is important is my understanding with him (Dr Mahathir)," he said.
When asked if this would result in a lack of clarity, he said: "The only clarity about that is that he becomes a lame-duck prime minister. I don’t want that. I want him to be an effective prime minister."