PM Lee meets with Malaysian opposition leader

The Straits Times reported that PM Lee yesterday met with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng at the Istana for an official call. Mr Lim is also the Secretary-General of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a major component party of the Malaysian opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat, which is led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Mr Lim is the son of DAP veteran leader Lim Kit Siang. He has had an illustrious and colourful career as an opposition activist and politician. In October 1987, he was detained in ‘Operation Lalang’ under the Internal Security Act (ISA), and released after 18 months. He was arrested again by Malaysian police in 1994, following his criticism of the government’s handling of allegations of statutory rape of one of his constituents. He was convicted for causing ‘disaffection with the administration of justice in Malaysia’. After a series of appeals, Mr Lim was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. In May 2004, Mr Lim was elected as Secretary-General of DAP, and after the March 2008 elections in Malaysia where he won a landslide victory in his constituency, he became Penang’s Chief Minister, or Menteri Besar.

I’m glad to see that the Prime Minister is according the necessary respect — as he should — to the Malaysian opposition. While meetings with opposition leaders of other countries are not unusual for Singapore leaders, opposition leaders of close neighbours generally usually receive a less publicised welcome.

The publicity of this meeting could be a reflection of the political realities in Malaysia. One, the Singapore government realises that it needs to start building a relationship with the Malaysian opposition, as it may one day become the Government. Two, they are not so afraid of offending a much weakened Malaysian ruling party by meeting the latter’s political rivals.