On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Uncalled-for remark from a neighbour

While we are busy attempting to set trivial world
records, they are busy making a name in scientific discoveries.

Talk to the heartland Singaporeans who live in HDB flats in Toa Payoh and they
will tell you that they will vote PAP in the elections.

Dissident writers like James Gomez, who wrote Self-Censorship: Singapore's
Shame, don't represent the Hokkien-speaking heartlanders, as the grassroots in
Singapore are called.

The Western media can criticise the PAP for being dictatorial and omnipresent
but most Singaporeans believe the PAP has done a decent job in

The problem, however, is that Singapore has grown a little insensitive over the

All that success has gone to its head and it becomes cocky occasionally; and
when it does, it needs a little knock on the head.

Every time Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew decides to lecture the world, many
people in the region get offended.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong seems to be the latest. His comment at a seminar
that the Malays in Singapore have done better than their brethren in Malaysia
was unnecessary.

He invited trouble. The Bahasa Malaysia media, ever ready to fly the
nationalist flag, hit back, saying that Malay Singaporeans were a marginalised

Berita Harian went a step further, insisting that Goh should apologise.

The newspaper also wanted guarantees from Singapore against bringing up such
issues again.

Not everything has gone well in the island. In November, the Association of
Muslim Professionals proposed a system of “collective leadership'' comprising
“independent, non-political'' Malay leaders who would balance and complement
Malay MPs.

The association was rebuked by Goh, who said no matter how it was packaged it
was “clearly a political challenge to the Malay MPs.''

Berating the association for straying into the political arena, he noted that
it had begun to “show an ambition beyond what the government supported it to

During the seminar, a report card on the state of the Malay-Muslim community
since 1990 revealed that more Malays earned more but were lagging behind
Chinese and Indian Singaporeans.

Malays made up half of the people receiving financial assistance to pay for
their utilities and rents in 1996 and 1997.

According to statistics, one out of four Muslim marriages ended in divorce and
many Malay-Muslim women drug addicts had at least two children.

Rightly or wrongly, the impression given is that the PAP wants to prove a point
– that the government has done much for the Malay community.

But Goh's statement comes at a time when the Malays in Malaysia are searching
for answers to their unity.

Umno politicians want PAS and Parti Keadilan Nasional to sit down to talk about
Malay unity while the two opposition parties are saying only Umno is disunited
and not the Malays.

If PAP has to worry about a general election, Umno politicians have to contend
with their party division elections starting next month.

Goh's statement may have been a godsend for some Malaysian politicians who need
to lift their standing among the community.

Goh has become a bogeyman for Malaysian politicians who want to emphasise the
point that they can best serve the interests of the community.

The underlying message is that the Malays here should be thankful that Umno
exists as the present policies, including the affirmative action plans, have
served them well.

Goh can continue to claim that his government has helped the Malays but he must
admit that the political elite is still mostly Chinese.

The spat with Singapore isn't going to be the last unless Singapore accepts the
fact that it does not live in isolation.

No one can stop Singapore from having a siege mentality, what with the usual
threat of cutting water supply, but it can learn to be good neighbour.

The present leaders of Singapore, in their 40s, have little interaction with
their Malay counterparts in Malaysia.

Except for the occasional round of golf and the yearly durian party in Johor,
the PAP leaders have never made any serious effort to understand Malay hearts
and minds.

More importantly, domestic politics should not be allowed to get in the way of
bilateral relations.