The two-part documentary relates the tumultuous political career of Dr Mahathir who lost his parliamentary seat in the 1969 election and was sacked from his party UMNO before making a stunning comeback as Education Minister in 1974.
Dr Mahathir was to become Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister in 1981. He is credited with modernizing Malaysia which was largely an agricultural country back then.
The elder statesman was no fan of Lee and had several heated arguments with him in the Dewan Rakyat when Singapore was part of Malaysia in the period 1963 – 65.
In the documentary, Dr Mahathir criticized Lee for his propensity to give long speeches. He claimed that Lee became flustered after he interjected his speech repeatedly with sharp questions which he could not answer.
Both parties almost come to blows with each other in a heated exchange on 25 September 1964 when Dr Mahathir (then MP for Alor Star) made the following stinging remark towards Lee in the Dewan Rakyat:
“They (Singaporean Chinese) have never known Malay rule and cannot bear the idea that the people they have so long kept under their heels should now be in a position to rule them.”
Lee Kuan Yew shot back:
“Of course there are Chinese millionaires in big cars and big houses. Is it the answer to make a few Malay millionaires with big cars and big houses? … If we delude people into believing that they are poor because there are no Malay rights or because opposition members oppose Malay rights, where are we going to end up?”
Relationships between Singapore and Malaysia were prickly during Mahathir’s reign as Prime Minister and were frequently strained over unresolved bilateral issues like the sale of water to Singapore from the southern state of Johor.
Lee did not visit Dr Mahathir during his recent visit to Malaysia in June which drew a sarcastic remark from the latter than he was not a important figure.
True to his combative nature, Dr Mahathir wrote an acerbic article on his blog chedet lampooning Lee as a “little emperor”:
“During Lee Kuan Yew’s triumphant visit to Malaysia he made it known to the Malaysian supplicants that Singapore regards the lands within 6000 miles radius of Singapore as its hinterland. This includes Beijing and Tokyo and of course Malaysia……..All those who met the great man from the little country were lectured on how Malaysia should be run. We should not have anymore problems now. We have been told the direction to take……I have a lot more to say about this little Emperor but I will reserve it for later.”
Surprisingly, the litigious Lee has never sued Dr Mahathir for defamation in court despite the latter’s obvious contempt for him.
In fact, Lee was forced to issue a rather humiliating public apology to the Malaysian government led by Dr Mahathir in 1997 when he made disparaging remarks about Johor being an unsafe place “notorious for shootings, robberies and car-jacking” in an affidavit filed against WP candidate Tang Liang Hong for defamation.The second part of the documentary will be shown this Sunday at 8pm on History Channel (Starhub Channel 9)