SINGAPORE (May 18): Just one day after a historic Malaysian election which saw the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition topple the ruling Barisan Nasional, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post that the outcome “represents a major change in Malaysian politics”.

Under Najib Razak, Malaysia and Singapore had enjoyed a “golden age” in relations over the last decade.

But the return of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with whom Singapore’s relations had been fractious the first time around, raises questions on how bilateral relations will play out this time.

Already, Mahathir has ordered a review of all foreign projects and contracts, including those for the planned Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR).

Will relations be derailed?

“It takes two to tango,” says Mahendhiran Nair, professor of econometrics and business statistics at Monash University Malaysia. “It really depends on how Singapore responds to 1MDB [1Malaysia Development Bhd].”

This time, the spectre of an epic corruption scandal hangs overhead: Part of the US$681 million ($913.7 million) that Najib has been accused of stealing was funnelled through a clutch of private banks in Singapore.

The 1MDB saga will conclude eventually. Ties between Malaysia and Singapore, however, must endure. And the leaders of both sides could have more in common than before.

Why do some observers say the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore could strengthen in the next year or two?

Find out in our cover story, “Reset of relations?”, on The Edge Singapore (week of May 21), now available at newsstands.

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