SINGAPORE - Sixty-five years after he graduated with a medical degree, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was back at his alma mater to receive an honorary doctorate in law.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) on Tuesday (Nov 13) conferred the doctorate on Tun Dr Mahathir in recognition of his outstanding leadership of Malaysia as well as his enduring contributions to the longstanding bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia.
The ceremony was presided over by Singapore President Halimah Yacob, who is also NUS Chancellor.
In his citation of Dr Mahathir, Professor Chong Yap Seng, dean-designate of the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said: "Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister, and the world's most senior elected statesman, returned to helm his country's government earlier this year in a stunning demonstration of his abiding love for Malaysia, and his desire to enhance growth and prosperity for his countrymen. He is, in many eyes, a living example of bold leadership and steadfast resilience."
In a brief speech after receiving his doctorate from Madam Halimah, Dr Mahathir said: "I would like to say thank you very much for this singular honour of being conferred the honorary doctorate in law by the National University of Singapore. I will value this honorary doctorate for as long as I live."
He arrived on Monday on his first official visit to Singapore since emerging from a 15-year retirement to become PM again. The 93-year-old leader previously served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003. He retook office in May 2018 after leading the Pakatan Harapan coalition to victory in Malaysia's general election.
He had studied at the King Edward VII College of Medicine, which is now part of NUS, from 1947 to 1953.
The college was where he met his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, 92, who was given a distinguished alumni service award by NUS on Tuesday for her service in public health and for being an inspiring role model for women doctors in Malaysia.
To laughter from the 600-strong audience which included Dr Mahathir's Medicine Class of 1947, NUS president, Professor Tan Eng Chye, said in his speech: "It all began, classmates say, when Tun Dr Mahathir became a frequent visitor to Holne Chase, the hostel for female students where Tun Dr Siti was staying."
"Since then the couple have lived a lifetime of adventure that has included Tun Dr Mahathir's dramatic rise in politics to become the fourth prime minister of Malaysia in 1981, and an even more stunning comeback as Malaysia's seventh prime minister in 2018," he said.
Past recipients of the NUS honorary doctorate in law include Singapore's late founding PM Lee Kuan Yew and the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah.
Known for his blunt manner and barbed remarks during his first stint as premier, there were concerns that Dr Mahathir's return would test relations between close neighbours Singapore and Malaysia.
In particular, the first six months of the new administration have seen Malaysia revive the issue of the water supply agreement between the two countries and, albeit with Singapore's agreement, postpone the High Speed Rail project linking Kuala Lumpur and the city state.
Dr Mahathir swept aside these concerns on Tuesday.
"Singapore and Malaysia remain good neighbours," he told the crowd of NUS students, staff and alumni, diplomats and guests at the NUS Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.
"Yes we do have problems, there may be some competition between us, but by and large we have been able to resolve these problems in a very peaceful way. It is something that should be noted by a lot of countries."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.