Factors Affecting Malaysia-Singapore Relations during the Mahathir Era


The relationship between Malaysia and Singapore tends to fluctuate from time to time. At times the relation is very good but at other times it seems to be rather fragile. Some terms that have often been used to characterise the relationship are ‘Siamese twins’, ‘sibling rivalry’ and ‘family quarrel’, implying a complex love-hate relationship that grows out of shared common history and cultural background, coloured by political differences, economic competition and interdependency.This paper analyses some of the underlying factors that influenced Malaysia-Singapore relations during the period of Mahathir Mohamad’s rule as the Prime Minister of Malaysia (1981-2003). This study suggests that the bilateral tensions between Malaysia and Singapore were affected, to a large extent, by three factors, which are the burden of historical baggage from their acrimonious parting in 1965 after unification for just two years; the differences in their perceptions and approaches in handling bilateral relations; and the differences in the political cultures and leadership styles of their prime ministers, and for the purposes of the present study those of Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew. In our view, understanding the underlying factors behind the state of bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore during Mahathir’s era is a very important key in seeing how the seemingly deadlock in many bilateral issues can be conclusively resolved. It is hoped that analysing these factors will pave the way toward improving bilateral relations between these countries.

Author Information
Rusdi Omar, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Malaysia
Kamarul Zaman Yusoff, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Malaysia
Che Mohd Aziz Yaacob, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Malaysia

Paper Information
Conference: ACAS2015
Stream: South-East Asian Studies (including Thailand

This paper is part of the ACAS2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon