PETALING JAYA: They were not close, but Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is still deeply affected by Lee Kuan Yew’s death on Monday morning.
In an article posted on his blog, chedet.cc on Friday, The former prime minister said that Lee’s demise marked the end of an era for those who fought for – and understood the value of – independence.
“No matter how friendly or unfriendly we are, the passing away of a man you know well saddens you.
“Asean lost a strong leadership after (Indonesia’s) President Suharto and Lee Kuan Yew,” he said.
Dr Mahathir also shared some of his experiences with the former Singaporean prime minister, including crossing swords with Lee in Parliament back in 1964.
“We crossed swords many times during debates. But there was no enmity, only differences of opinion – which was good for the new-born nation,” he said.
He also spoke of the time when Lee included him among the ultra Malays responsible for racial riots in Singapore.
“Actually, I never went to Singapore to stir up trouble. Somebody else whom I will not name did,” said Dr Mahathir.
When Dr Mahathir became the Prime Minister in 1981, he paid a courtesy call on Lee, who immediately agreed to a proposal that the Malaysia and Singapore times were advanced by half an hour.
“I explained that it would be easier adjusting our time when travelling as we would fall within the time zones fixed for the whole world at one-hour intervals,”
However, Dr Mahathir added, “I am afraid on most other issues we could not agree,”
He also shared an incident when he had a heart attack in 1989 and required open-heart surgery.
He said Lee took the trouble to arrange for a top heart surgeon, a Singaporean living in Australia, to do the operation.
“He cared enough to call my wife (Tun Dr Siti Hasmah), asking her to delay the operationâ€¦ But by then, I had already been given medication and was asleep prior to the operation the next day.
“My wife thanked him but apologised. She promised to ring him up after the operation. She did the next evening,” said Dr Mahathir.