On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Taking a cautious peek in the mirror

Lee had invited six young newspaper editors, all in their
late 30s or early 40s, to exchange views on developments in Malaysia  and Singapore.

It was past lunch time but the discussion, 
supposed to be over tea, was now running 
behind schedule as last-minute appointments were squeezed in.

Lee, with a reputation for being intimidating and intellectually arrogant,
however  turned out to be pleasantly

All the journalists were meeting him for 
the first time and that they had heard 
enough stories of him expecting the media  to know their background details well.

Taking bites at the sweet duku langsat on 
the table, he was courteous, attentive and  even apologetic at times during the off-the
record talk where both sides challenged the 
views of each other.

It was clear that Kuala Lumpur's changing 
skyline, well-connected highways and even  the thorny bilateral issues, weren't the
only  things on the elder stateman's

Issues dividing Malaysia and Singapore 
include Malaysia's supply of water to Singapore, relocation of customs
and immigration  facilities for Malaysian
rail passengers in  Singapore and the
withdrawal of Malaysian  funds from the
island republic's pension  scheme.

Making his first visit to Malaysia after 10 
years, this writer could not help concluding,  rightly or wrongly, that Lee wanted to
listen  to the views of young Malaysians
on his  neighbour's political

He is, after all, clear on how his peers felt 
in building Malaysia. He has personally 
known all the Malaysian prime ministers, including Datuk Seri Dr
Mahathir Mohamad.

Lee acknowledged that during the 1970s, 
when he knew Dr Mahathir was going to be 
prime minister, he invited him to Singapore  on several occasions and the two
established  a personal relationship.

He said there was an emotional binding 
because Dr Mahathir studied in Singapore 
and regularly returned for university reunions.

In the case of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad 
Badawi, he is certainly no stranger to Lee  after having served in the Cabinet for
so  many years including as Foreign

But Lee's concern appears to be the political sentiments of young Malaysians,
particularly the Malays, who have been drawn to 
the religious struggles of PAS.

The Islamist party has become a serious 
player in the political landscape with only  moderate Muslims and non-Muslims keeping them
from becoming more influential.

The predominantly Chinese population of 
Singapore, as is its brethren in Malaysia, is  understandably alarmed over the growing  influence of PAS and its controversial

“But I would sleep more comfortable with 
Umno in power as it is a party I have known  since the 1940s,'' he told a press
conference  later.

If that is not disturbing enough, Singapore 
has to live dangerously with the political,  economical, religious and ethnic troubles
in  Indonesia as well.

The jail sentence of Datuk Seri Anwar 
Ibrahim and whether he still has a future political role must have also
been in Lee's  thoughts.

Lee said he felt sorry for Dr Mahathir for 
paying a “very heavy price'' in the sacking  of Anwar and the subsequent events.

His private appointments did not just include the newspaper editors but also
members of think-tanks. These meetings would 
have allowed Lee to have a better understanding of events from a
Singaporean perspective.

The aspirations of the younger set, from 
the various influential sectors, are necessary because they will help
shape the destiny of the country in the coming years.

Like Singapore, the days of providing jobs, 
houses and basic amenities by the government are no longer something
which the citizens are expected to be grateful for. It is the  job of the government, nothing more.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong has the 
task of providing a higher standard of living  for Singaporeans.

The next prime minister, as in both countries, would have to deal with a
different  group of demanding citizens
with little sense  of their country's
traumatic history. It  would probably
matter little to them.

They would expect their leaders to allow 
them greater democratic space, be more accountable and, at the same
time, maintain a  decent economic growth

In the case of Malaysia, where the issues 
are more complex, material development 
alone may not be enough.

Malaysia and Singapore may be different 
entities but we are mirror images of each  other, as Lee would probably say.

His visit will help him prepare the next 
prime minister to handle the Malaysian government. That appears to be
the crux of the  whole trip.