Why Backing Away From Pedra Branca Challenge Might Be Mahathir’s Smartest Move Yet

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Challenge To Pedra Branca Ruling Was Brainchild Of Najib’s Government

Dr Mahathir Mohamad rode into victory 3 weeks ago on the promise of change.

And change he has delivered, in policies ranging from tax to transport.

This week, his government made its first foray into the tricky arena of geopolitics and foreign affairs.

Malaysia has always prided itself as being a strong, functional democracy.

This supported its stance on issues like Israel and the brewing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

Malaysia in the world

First, a quick history lesson on Malaysian foreign policy:

But years of corruption allegations and multinational investigations into the beleaguered 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund tarnished Malaysia’s reputation as a champion of democracy.

In its essence, we know that Malaysia – like many other post-colonial nations – lack the confidence to roll out full democratic systems.

So there have been numerous allegations of press muzzling and even political intimidation by the then-ruling Barisan Nasional.

And as we mentioned earlier, these aren’t exclusive to Malaysia or Muslim-majority nations at that.

Singapore has repeatedly faced similar calls to loosen controls on press freedom.

Correcting Malaysia’s course

By signalling that he would withdraw the challenge to the Pedra Branca judgment, Dr M basically said he was about to correct Malaysia’s foreign policy direction.

Arguably in his own view, Dr M believes that he is returning Malaysia on course – synonym for Dr M’s way, of course.

And in a funny way, he has a point.

Following the course of justice

Appeals in the judiciary system are not uncommon – nearly every defendant makes it a point to shed crocodile tears and plead for leniency, which both work to varying degrees.

But things are slightly different in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where the Pedra Branca was settled in 2008.

As the ICJ points out, parties are not allowed to appeal the judicial decision unless a new fact or figure has been revealed.

In Pedra Branca’s case, this fact had to do with the relinquishing of control over the island in the 1950s.

But with Dr M’s comments on Wednesday (30 May), it appears as if Malaysia will gracefully accept its loss in the judicial system.

In a world fraught with dictators overturning judicial decisions for their own benefit, Dr M might have made his best move yet, by appearing to choose global law over nationalism.

Dr Mahathir the rockstar

It’s hard to disagree that Dr Mahathir has become a political rockstar of sorts, nearly 30 years after he first took on Prime Ministership.

Today, the global media, too, seems not to question Dr Mahathir’s past decisions to jail political dissidents as well as journalists.

And in the days following Dr M’s victory, questions were raised on this side of the Causeway.

Among this was Singapore’s position as a favoured and friendly trading partner of Malaysia.

While Dr M’s decision back out of the High Speed Rail is a glaring failure in Prime Minister’s Lee Hsien Loong’s final years at the helm, Pedra Branca remaining firmly in Singapore’s hands is surely one of PM Lee’s crowning glories.

The Mahathir love train keeps rollin’, rollin’, rollin’  through – take your seat.

Featured image from Facebook and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Singapore).

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