Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Anwar gives assurance of strong S'pore ties

KUALA LUMPUR - Dismissing fears that Malaysia-Singapore ties might suffer in the event of a government change in Putrajaya, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says it is in Malaysia's interest to stay friendly with its closest neighbour.
"A lot of questions have been raised about PR's (Pakatan Rakyat's) stance," Datuk Seri Anwar said in an interview. "Our interest, and the interest of Malaysia, is to build trust and better economic, trade and cultural relations with Singapore."
Mr Anwar's PR is proving the biggest challenge yet to the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in upcoming polls, even as analysts say Prime Minister Najib Razak's BN continues to have the edge in what is likely be a closely fought contest. Opinion polls show Datuk Seri Najib himself continues to be widely popular.
Yesterday, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Ahmad Maslan said he was confident that BN would get a two-thirds majority.
Still, Mr Anwar, 65, predicted his coalition will win a comfortable mandate but declined to give a number.
It would need to win at least 112 seats in Malaysia's 222-seat Parliament to form a government. The PR now has 76 seats versus the BN's 136 seats. There are 10 independents.
Ties between both countries have warmed noticeably since former premier Abdullah Badawi took over from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2003.
Singapore is the biggest investor in the RM105 billion (S$42 billion) Iskandar development zone in southern Johor, designed as a lower-cost business base, bedroom community and playground to Singapore.
And last month, both governments said they would build a high-speed railtrain connecting Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in 90 minutes.
Asked about PR's position on Singapore's investments in the Iskandar project, Mr Anwar said the PR will honour all agreements except in cases of fraud. As for the high-speed rail, he said the PR would ensure competitive costs through open tenders.
The PR made huge gains in the 2008 general election when it deprived the BN of its two-thirds majority in Parliament and took control of five states.
This time, analysts say, the PR is likely to pick up several urban seats in Johor, Sabah and Sarawak, but could lose some in Kedah and Kelantan as some of its Malay support returns to the BN. Should the PR manage to seize power, Mr Anwar is a likely contender to be prime minister.
The PR has promised to dismantle long-time affirmative action policies and replace them with needs-based programmes. The BN has told Malay voters this will hurt them economically, and the message has been successful especially in rural areas.
But Mr Anwar said Malay support is not clear-cut. For instance, polls done by the independent Merdeka Centre have seen mixed responses.
While 73 per cent of Malays say they support Mr Najib, their support for the BN is markedly lower, at 60 per cent. He also noted that many still express concern over corruption and crime.
"There are a lot of questions there," he said, pointing out that Mr Badawi's approval rating was also high ahead of the 2008 polls.

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