While Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent visit to Singapore was well-received by many Singaporeans, some have questioned why the nonagenarian was not conferred with an honorary doctorate by the National University of Singapore (NUS) earlier.
With a political career spanning a hefty 70 years, 93-year-old Dr Mahathir previously served as the Prime Minister in Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. His 22-year-tenure as head of government made him the office’s longest-serving holder.
After a 15-year retirement, Dr Mahathir returned to politics this year, uniting the opposition and leading them to victory against his former party. The stunning electoral defeat marked Malaysia’s very first transition of power since the nation achieved independence, over six decades ago.
This past Monday, Dr Mahathir and his wife Dr Siti Hasmah arrived in Singapore for a 2-day official visit, at the invitation of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Besides meeting PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching, President Halimah Yaacob and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Dr Mahathir and his wife also had an orchid named after them.
One of the highlights of the official visit was NUS’ conferral of honorary doctorates to Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah. Dr Mahathir studied medicine at NUS in Singapore for about six years in his younger days. NUS is his wife’s alma mater, as well.
While many felt that the gesture was lovely, some have asked why NUS is only now giving Dr Mahathir this honour and why it did not confer the doctorate to him during his first premiership:
A local socio-political website further cites one netizen as saying, “This is definitely tokenism at its worst and to think Tun M retired from politics after so long then NUS decides to confer a piece of paper on Tun M only after this second time election into PM office.”
“Tun M is too polite to accept it for a man who was candid about him meeting with the almighty soon. Another paper or without, adds or subtract nothing to his pursue and name. I wish Tun M would ‘politely’ turn it down since it is truly an ‘after-thought’ of NUS. It’s honor served cold and moldy to Tun M.”
Another netizen apparently added, “Why confer a piece of paper (to Dr Mahathir) at this time and not before when Najib in power?”