The warming up after the thaw
Singapore's relationship with Malaysia was mended and set in order during the premiership of Badawi. After several decades of Mahathirism, when relationship between the two states went on a roller coastal ride, of extreme highs and lows, but mostly lows, it took Badawi several years to thaw the thick ice built by his predecessor. The last few days we have played host to Najib in a much friendlier atmosphere with great promises of more cooperation and cosying up to each other in economic and international affairs. Badawi took a brave stand to dismantle the crooked bridge that was more a hindrance than an improvement in facilitating communication of goods and people through the causeway. If it was allowed to replace the causeway, it would become a major obstacle course for the people trying to cross the Straits of Johore. It is near impossible to think of walking across as conveniently as what they are doing now. Najib has more or less driven the last nail to this bizarre concept of a crooked bridge. The possibility of a widen causeway, the most logical and economical option, is now on the table. But a bridge still must be built and Najib offers a more logical and sensible proposal, a new bridge to the east of the causeway to facilitate and promote economic development and growth to a neglected region. The south eastern corner of Johore offers huge potential for development and tourism. Both the widening of the causeway, a new bridge in the east, are practical proposals that will surely be met with equal enthusiasm from the Singapore side. Throughout Najib's visit, the undertone of the message coming through is one of a very careful and pragmatic man wanting better cooperation and relations that will benefit the people of both countries. Najib is looking into a new future, taking off from a stronger foundation laid by Badawi instead of going back in time to a creaking structure of Mahathir. From the reactions of the Singapore side, my assessment is that Najib will be a welcomed PM to build better ties, and his proposals will be taken up seriously. He is the best bet to continue the work of Badawi and for the two countries to mend ties and move forward together. The question is whether the Mahathirism that is still alive in many of his cabinet members and in Johore will allow Najib to open up a new era of cooperation and mutual prosperity between the two countries. Have the bad blood been cleansed? If not, Najib would need a major blood transfusion exercise to clear his administration before he can move forward with his new vision and style of govt. The future of better ties is much more brighter. The thaw is now warming up. This is a great moment to seize for both Hsien Loong and Najib to quickly move forward and dismiss the past to history.