The fanfare accorded to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in his nostalgic journey to Malaysia was nothing short of the etiquette normally accorded to royalty and head of state or government, except in MM Lee's case there was no inspection of ceremonial guards. Whether it went to his head with an intoxicating effect is intriguing but the quizzical description by an adversarial Dr Mahathir Mohamad of a visit of "a little emperor of the little middle kingdom" is certainly not lost on the public.
The exceptional receptions MM Lee received must have intoxicated him to the extent that he could have believed himself to be some kind of messiah delivering his gospels to his believers. In such circumstances he could have been so msemerised by his own irresistable charms that he could be forgiven if he could not see the taboo or sensitive area to be avoided. And so, whether absent-mindedly or otherwise, he pursued relentlessly ad nauseam the sentitive question of the supply of sand to Singapore as a quid pro quo for Singapore's participation in the building of a third bridge to East Johor. MM Lee is an extremely experienced politician and he could not have been so abstruse as not to understand that the question of sand supply is considered as a sovereignty matter by the Malaysians and is taboo. The corollary is that now you have the UMNO Youth chief and a whole host of indignant UMNO leaders up in arms against the supply of sand to Singapore.
MM Lee's Malaysian visit has received not inconsiderable favourable press publicity both in Malaysia and in Singapore. What should have been a feather in his cap has now been marred by his avoidable indiscretion in making irrational utterances. In his hubristic way, MM Lee may think this is a matter he can take in his stride. But it could not have escaped his intelligence to know that this is going to have a serious implication for his son PM Lee Hsien Loong in his relationship with his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Razak. They have established an excellent relationship during PM Najib Razak's recent introductory visit to Singapore and now this faux pas by an ebullient MM Lee is going to put them in a dilemma. Especially for PM Najib Razak. How is he going to smoothen the wrath of his indignant UMNO leaders and followers?
There is a appropriate Chinese saying: Deficient in success but excess in failure.