Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak declined to meet the press twice today amid a brewing political storm raised by a WikiLeaks’ expose. Malaysia’s improved ties with Singapore could be in jeopardy after the republic’s senior government officials reportedly said “Malaysia’s decline” is fuelled by incompetent politicians.
These officials were also less than complimentary about Malaysia’s prime ministers, past and present, with one of them calling Najib “an opportunist”.
The comments made in November 2008 when Najib was deputy prime minister is said to be contained in leaked US State Department cables and are likely to put pressure on the rollercoaster relations which both countries have had over decades.
They also noted that the sodomy charges facing Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim — Najib’s political rival — were a “set-up job” but the opposition leader had walked right into it.
The PM (picture) had two public functions today but failed to use the opportunities to immediately take control of the issues.
He was scheduled to speak at a news conference earlier this morning after closing the Ikatan Hati Warga Felda Carnival — next to the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya — but called it off at the last minute.
“Sorry, no pc,” his press secretary told waiting reporters.
No explanation was given.
A request from reporters at the sidelines at his second public appearance in the Mines International Exhibition and Convention Centre (MIECC) to launch a biography on recently retired MIC chief Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu was similarly rejected.
“No press conference today,” said another of Najib’s press secretaries on duty.
The aide who did not want to be named said the PM had already spoken at the Felda event and added he does not usually speak to reporters after the first event.
The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and published in The Sunday Age, disclose discussions between senior US officials and their Singapore counterparts Peter Ho, Bilahari Kausikan and Tommy Koh.
All three Singaporeans gave damning assessments of Malaysia. The discussions between the Singaporean and US officials took place in 2008 and 2009 when Najib was the deputy prime minister.
In September 2008, Kausikan, a senior foreign affairs official, told the US Deputy Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Sedney that the “situation in neighbouring Malaysia is confused and dangerous”, fuelled by “a distinct possibility of racial conflict” that could see ethnic Chinese “flee” Malaysia and “overwhelm” Singapore.
“A lack of competent leadership is a real problem for Malaysia,” said Kausikan, citing the need for Najib to prevail politically in order to avoid prosecution in connection with the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.
“Najib has his neck on the line in connection with a high-profile murder case,” noted Kausikan.
A few months earlier, Peter Ho told another US official: “The political knives will be out for Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi’s) son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, whom nobody likes because he got where he is through family ties...”
Khairy is now the Umno Youth chief but has not been given an administrative post in Najib’s government despite being seen as one of the shrewder politicians in the country.
“As for Najib Razak, he is an opportunist. Although he has not been critical of Singapore, he will not hesitate to go in that direction if it is expedient for him to do so. Najib’s political fortunes continue to be haunted by the murder scandal,” Ho had reportedly said.
Ho, 56, was head of Singapore’s civil service, until he retired on August 31 this year. He is now a senior advisor to the Centre for Strategic Futures that he had help set up to strengthen its public sector.
Kausikan was recently promoted one step to permanent secretary in the foreign affairs ministry on September 1.
Koh, 73, is special advisor to the Institute of Policy Studies. A law professor at the National University of Singapore, he is also the island republic’s ambassador-at-large and was part of the legal team representing Singapore in the Pedra Branca dispute case with Malaysia.
The leaked cables will give ammunition to hawks in the Malaysian government and Umno who believe that it is unproductive to have good relations with Singapore, whom they describe as calculative and condescending.
The Najib Administration has attempted to keep the relationship on an even keel and even untangled a long-standing dispute over Malaysian-owned railway land in the republic.
This breakthrough was made despite opposition by some quarters in the ruling party.
Both governments have agreed to set up a joint-venture company by December 31 to develop land parcels swapped for the prized railway land that cuts through the island sta PM mum on WikiLeaks’ expose