Singapore – The singing of praises of a Malaysian leader by a Singapore fire-brand politician is rare. But, Anwar Ibrahim got deserved pats-on-the-back from K. Shanmugam when he was in town as a conference guest speaker.
Anwar Ibrahim always commands attention with his oratory skills and among the audience members who were spell-bound by his speech at the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) conference held here was Singapore’s Home Affairs & Law Minister Shanmugam who closely followed the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president’s narratives.
Considering fragile bilateral relations, Anwar emphasised that Singapore and Malaysia are “great neighbours”, adding that contentious issues must be “handled with care”.
The IPBA plenary session and dialogue held at the Raffles City Convention Centre saw Anwar emphasising how both countries have matured differently since they achieved independence.
Observing the rhetorics was Shanmugam, who was seated in the front-row in the audience. During his opening address for the session earlier, he had praised Anwar’s oratory skills.
“Datuk Seri (Anwar Ibrahim) has been known for something like 40-50 years now as one of the most charismatic politicians on either side of the Causeway. If you listen to his rally speeches, they are something else,” said Shanmugam, in a Channel News Asia report on the conference.
The article also reveals that Shanmugam watches Anwar’s political rally speeches from his office and uses excerpts of these speeches when presenting during closed-door sessions.
The Singaporean minister added: “But, at the same time it has been a roller coaster ride in politics (for Anwar). He has reached the heights and also there have been some very difficult moments of extreme turbulence. We wish you and Malaysia the very best as we look to the future.”
Both political kingpins on either side of the Causeway clearly admire each other and in praiseworthy lyrics, their personal responses reflect the close kinships that exist in the cross-country relationship.
Oratory-wise, the Raffles Institution-educated Singapore minister is akin to Anwar: Shanmugam is a class-act speaker, from university debates to court-room rhetorics and later at political rallies. His speeches got off the ground at the National University of Singapore where he graduated at the top of his class in 1984.
SHANMUGAM: LEGAL EAGLE
Armed with a knack for calling a spade a spade, Shanmugam was admitted to the Singapore Bar as an advocate and solicitor in 1985, and went into private practice. He then became a senior partner and head of litigation, and dispute resolution at the Singapore law firm Allen & Gledhill.
Raised on the ethics of hard work and seldom one to blow his own trumpet, Shanmugam steadily built a successful private practice and became consistently recognised in various international publications as one of the top litigation, arbitration and insolvency counsels in Asia.
Family friends say that, while in private practice, 60-year-old Shanmugam regularly handled trial work in major corporate, commercial and insolvency disputes for private- and public-listed companies, including both local and international financial institutions and multi-national corporations as well as professional practices.
A legal eagle in court-room speeches and judiciary debates, he became one of the youngest lawyers to be appointed a senior counsel of the Supreme Court of Singapore at the age of 38.
Like Shanmugam, Anwar — who is 11 years senior in age — ranks as a prolific crowd-puller. From 1968 to 1971, he showed his fire-brand speaking skills as president of the National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students. Around the same time, he was also president of University of Malaya Malay Language Society.
ANWAR: HOTTEST POLITICAL FIGURE
As one of the hottest political figures in Malaysia, Anwar is founding president of PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat, or the People’s Justice Party) that is a major component party of the governing Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, of which he is leader and in which he works with PH chairman, and Malaysia’s prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad.
Anwar led the Opposition between 2008 and 2015, and is widely-tipped to take over as prime minister from Mahathir very soon.
Political observers, including Shanmugam, closely analysed Anwar’s matter-of-fact response at the dialogue session where he clearly offered Singapore the proverbial olive branch, adding that “all neighbours will have contentious issues … but the overriding interests are important here. Singapore and Malaysia have so much in common”.
Shanmugam’s praises of Malaysia’s future prime minister reflect the positive patching up of neighbourly relationships which were earlier enhanced during the 9th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat in Kuala Lumpur last month.
Significantly, the prime ministers of both countries reaffirmed their commitment to a “cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship”. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also emphasised that as close neighbours, Singapore and Malaysia must expect issues to arise from time to time.
Lee said: “But, provided we address them in a constructive spirit, we can manage the problems and work towards win-win outcomes. We have common history, we are mutually dependent. It would benefit us, Malaysia and Singapore, immensely — economically, socially, culturally, security — if we work together more effectively, based on trust, of course.”
NEW AVENUES TO RELATIONSHIP
Using his powerful vocals at the dialogue session, Anwar also emphasised that both countries should explore new ways to enhance their relationship, particularly during this period of transition in his country.
His comments came on the back of various recent bilateral issues, including those regarding maritime boundaries and airspace.
Regionally, he reiterated that it was important for Malaysia to be on good terms with neighbouring countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and “more so” with Singapore.
He added: “No countries now in Asean, has that sort of relationship — a common history and even family bonds — like Malaysia and Singapore.”
Indeed, as much as local media covered the Anwar-Shanmugam signals of mutual respect as a side story, both leaders deserve prominent pats-on-the-back for their praiseworthy salutes which will significantly add soothing spices to a closer bonding between the long-time neighbours.
In my opinion and experience in reading between the lines, Singapore and Malaysia — two “abang adek” (sibling) neighbours that are sovereign and independent — should show the rest of the world how to live together in harmony.
The Anwar-Shanmugam mutual-respect speeches clearly show that the time is more ripe than ever to think and act together for the common good. After all, it was the world’s oldest premier, 92-year-old Mahathir, who once said: “Malaysia and Singapore are like twins”.