Friday, June 19, 2009

Somebody had better listened...


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Today Online

In what some see as a renewed show of royal power in the game of Malaysian politics, the Sultan of Johor has rejected the proposal for a third bridge with Singapore.

Sultan Iskandar Ismail did not give a reason for doing so, but observers thought it could be because the royal family had not been consulted on the proposal, which was first mooted by Prime Minister Najib Razak on his visit to Singapore last month.

The Sultan’s impromptu decree was delivered by Tunku Mahkota Tunku Ibrahim Ismail at the state legislative assembly opening yesterday.

“I was told by the Sultan that he does not agree with the proposal to build a third bridge,” he said.

To political scientist Alan Chong, there appears to be “some kind of tension being played out between Mr Najib’s government and the Johor royal family”.

“I would suspect there is internal politicking here and the bridge is used as a pawn,” said the assistant professor with the National University of Singapore. “It is also possible this is a case of the Sultan being unhappy about an economic project being built in his state, but conceived at a federal level. One cannot be too sure what is the primary issue here.”

The proposed bridge, which Mr Najib has argued would bring development to the eastern side of Johor up to Desaru and Mersing, has already been drawing flak from some Umno leaders who were concerned Malaysia would have to lift the ban on the sale of sand to Singapore before the bridge could be built.

This was after Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said it would not make sense for Singapore to agree on a third bridge if Johor does not lift the ban, which has been in place since 1997.

The Sultan’s remarks are not the first time he had caught people offguard with comments that impinged on bilateral relations with Singapore. Last year, also at the launch of the state assembly, the Sultan had vowed to reclaim what the Malaysians call Pulau Batu Puteh - Pedra Branca - to Singapore.

Responding to the Sultan’s stand yesterday, Mr Najib reiterated that the government had not decided whether to go ahead with the bridge, and that an in-depth feasibility study must be done first to determine if it would benefit both countries.

There was still a lot of time to discuss the matter with the Sultan and the Johor government to find the best solution, should the project go ahead, he added according to Bernama news agency.

None of the analysts TODAY spoke to thought the matter was a major setback for Mr Najib.

Mr Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said: “He was probably expecting a reaction from the ruler of Johor, and a rejection may not be to his surprise given the precedence that we have seen in Johor and the capacity of the Sultan to be independent minded.

“I think we should see this in the context of the dynamics of policy-making in Malaysia ... You have the federal government making decisions but (it) also has to consider other factors, at the state level especially. In this case, the state of Johor sometimes can have as much input as the federal government in matters concerning relations with Singapore. “

How Mr Najib will resolve the issue will be watched with interest. “I don’t he is going to be uptight about it, he has a long-term perspective when it comes to building relations with Singapore,” said Mr Yang Razali. - - AGENCIES, WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ZUL OTHMAN

One day, a couple of years back, all the Johor Wakil Rakyat (Parliamentarians and State Assemblypersons) were invited to the Johor palace for an audience with the Johor Sultan. They all lined up and one-by-one had to sembah and kiss the Sultan’s hand (the normal protocol when one is having an audience with a Ruler).

Syed Hamid Albar, who was then the Minister of Home Affairs, was of course also in the group since he was one of the Johor Wakil Rakyat. But when it came to Syed Hamid’s turn to sembah the Sultan and kiss his hand, Tuanku pulled back his hand and placed it behind his back.

Syed Hamid was quite taken aback and did not know how to respond. The Sultan then told Syed Hamid to remove his songkok, which he did. The Sultan then quipped that there is a lot of sand in Syed Hamid’s songkok, after which Tuanku turned his back on Syed Hamid.

Now, to those not familiar with the issue, they would either not have noticed this, or, if they did, would probably have found this incident most puzzling. But it is not really that puzzling. The Sultan was sending Syed Hamid a message that he is aware that Syed Hamid’s family is involved in selling sand to Singapore and that the sale of sand to Singapore is attached to the bridge deal.

This means Singapore gets the sand it needs to do their land reclamation and they would in turn agree to the building of the new bridge to Singapore. And the reclaimed land, which will be done on the Malaysian side of Singapore, will not only substantially increase the land area of Singapore, it will also reduce the sea area and push back the common boundary closer to Malaysia. This means part of Malaysia’s sea zone (or whatever you call it) will now become Singapore territory.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was bitterly opposed to this. And this, plus a host of other reasons, was why he wanted to bring Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi down. But at the top of Mahathir’s list of pet hates was the selling of sand to Singapore and linking the sale of land to the approval Singapore would give to the building of the bridge. In other words: no sand, no bridge.

Mahathir viewed this as Singapore putting a gun to Malaysia’s head. And worse than that was the fact that Malaysia kowtowed to Singapore and agreed that we would sell Singapore the sand it wants in exchange for their approval to the building of the bridge. That was why Mahathir told Singapore to go to hell. If they did not agree to the bridge within their territory then Malaysia would build the bridge within our territory and link it to Singapore’s half of the Causeway.

This was how the half-bridge or Crooked Bridge idea came about. It had to be crooked because a half-bridge, if built straight, would be too short. Malaysia wanted the bridge high enough so that coastal ships could pass below it and this would mean the bridge would be too steep if it was short. The only way the gradient could be made gradual would be if the bridge is lengthened and this can only be done if the bridge meanders rather than be built straight.

Thus the Crooked Bridge idea came about to give it more length and therefore it could be built high without the gradient being too steep.

It may sound like a crazy plan but that would have been the only way Malaysia could have built the bridge without having to sell sand to Singapore in exchange for Singapore’s blessing or approval. Build half a bridge, on Malaysia’s side only, and forget about building it on Singapore’s side as well. Then link that bridge to the Causeway. But the bridge would have to be long to be able to be high and the only way it can be long would be not to build it straight but to build it crooked.

Then, when Abdullah took over as Prime Minister, he cancelled the Crooked Bridge and Mahathir went on the warpath. He went on the warpath not so much because the Crooked Bridge was cancelled but more because it was cancelled to make Singapore happy. This was the height of no-no as far as Mahathir was concerned.

Well, Abdullah is no longer Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is now Najib Tun Razak. But Najib is doing exactly what Abdullah did. He is pandering to the wishes of Singapore. And that makes Najib no different from Abdullah.

Last week, when the ‘third bridge’ was announced, Mahathir hinted his disapproval by commenting that if Malaysia sells sand to Singapore then certainly that Island State would agree to anything. That was already the first signal of Mahathir’s displeasure.

Now, the Johor Sultan says he is not agreeable to this third bridge and Najib quickly clarified that it is merely a proposal and that nothing has been confirmed yet. It appears like the Sultan is not happy and therefore Najib may have to rethink the plan. Actually it is not the Sultan who is not happy. It is Mahathir who is not happy. The Sultan is just giving Najib a fallback plan. If Najib announces that the third bridge is to be aborted after all, then everyone would say that Mahathir pressured him into cancelling it. Now they can cancel it and say that they did so because of the Sultan and not because of Mahathir. It is a face-saving exit plan for Najib.

But the damage has been done. Mahathir now sees that Najib is no different from Abdullah. In fact, many had warned Mahathir that if he ousts Abdullah and Najib takes over there is no guarantee he can control Najib. He thought he could control Abdullah but this was proven wrong. Najib may prove equally beyond control just like Abdullah was.

Someone went to meet Rosmah Mansor, the so-called ‘First Lady’, to tell her that Mahathir is not happy. She responded by saying that they owe Mahathir nothing. Najib made it as Prime Minister on his own accord, she replied, not through Mahathir’s help. She also whacked Mahathir for appointing Abdullah as Prime Minister instead of Najib who should have been Prime Minister back in 1 November 2003. Najib was ‘robbed’ of six years. He should have been Prime Minister six years earlier instead of wasting his time as Deputy Prime Minister.

This is Rosmah’s way of telling Mahathir to go to hell.

Rosmah knows that Mahathir is out to get her. Najib can remain the Prime Minister but Rosmah can’t remain the First Lady. Najib has to choose between being Prime Minister or stay married to Rosmah. Rosmah responded by saying that there is no way Najib can divorce her without splitting half of everything he owns with her.

Yes, Rosmah is out to get Mahathir before he gets her. Who is going to kill whom first? At this point of time I would not dare say. If it were anyone else I would put my money on Mahathir. But if it involves Rosmah then I would not be too hasty as to give Mahathir a clear win.

Mahathir may have finally met his match. He defeated so many people in the past starting from Tunku Abdul Rahman right up to Anwar Ibrahim. But this time he may yet hit the dust. And the one who will be trampling him in the dust would probably be that woman who goes by the name of Rosmah Mansor.

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