New Malaysia’ makes Singapore look outdated

Over two months after Mahathir Mohamad’s election in Malaysia, the political reverberations for Singapore show no signs of fading.

The new Malaysian prime minister’s reviews of the key water-supply deal with Singapore and of the planned costly high-speed rail link from Kuala Lumpur to the city-state are only visible signs of a different — and more charged — Singapore-Malaysia relationship.

The key problem for Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party (PAP) is that developments north of the Johor-Singapore Causeway have exposed vulnerabilities at home. The PAP has become the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia, and it no longer has undemocratic immediate neighbors. Mahathir’s Pakatan victory mirrors the PAP’s worst fear: its own possible defeat.
Worse yet, some of the factors that contributed to the loss of Barisan Nasional (National Front) are also present in Singapore. The first is the challenge of leadership renewal. Over the past three years, the PAP has been locked in a battle over who should succeed Lee, 66, as prime minister, with the fourth generation (4G) leaders on display.

Among the leading contenders are Chan Chun Sing, the minister for trade and industry and former army chief, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, former managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Ong Ye Kung, the minister of education and second defense minister.

The problem is that these leaders are 4G without the connectivity. They are in a highly elitist party, largely unable to relate to ordinary Singaporeans. 4G leaders also suffer from the same issue that haunted the National Front, namely they are embedded in the system. Emerging from within the party and government, particularly the military, they are from the system and are seen to be for the system. The intertwining of the PAP and the bureaucratic state has created singular agendas and resulted in a distancing from the electorate and its needs.

For the first two decades of Singapore’s existence after independence in 1959, PAP secured all the seats in the legislative assembly. Since 1984, opposition politicians have won seats despite what the government’s critics describe as the sustained political harassment of opponents and the repression of public protests, combined with the alleged manipulation of electoral boundaries.

In the last election in 2015, PAP secured 83 out of 89 seats with 70% of the vote. Since that resounding victory, more conservative forces within the party have gained ground. Despite their popularity, reform-minded leaders such as Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Tan Chuan-Jin have been pushed aside in favor of conservative alternatives. At the same time, Singapore’s system has moved in a more authoritarian direction, with curbs on social media and attacks on civil society activists.

Prime Minister Lee, the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, is making the same mistake Najib did after the 2013 polls. He is depriving the system of a necessary valve for dissent, and moving the country away from needed reforms. He has failed to recognize that greater openness and policy reforms were integral parts of the PAP’s 2015 victory. The dominant mode has been to attack the Worker’s Party, its leaders and other opposition figures. These moves do not show confidence in a more open and mature political system — or even in the PAP itself.

At the same time, rather than being an asset to his party, Lee is becoming more of a liability. This is the same trajectory that occurred for Najib. Questions have been raised about Lee’s leadership from the very public “Oxleygate” row with his siblings over their father’s home to the managing of Temasek, the republic’s sovereign wealth fund, by his wife Ho Ching.
Singapore’s handling of scandal over 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the Malaysian state-run investment fund which saw millions of dollars siphoned out on Najib’s watch, will be in the more immediate bilateral spotlight; assessments will be made as to whether Singapore responded effectively to the alleged malfeasance and whether in fact Singapore’s purchase of 1MDB bonds strengthened the fund.

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, Mahathir’s readiness to deal with 1MDB signals a willingness not only to clean up the system but to begin much-needed economic reform. Singaporeans will see obvious parallels with their own country’s economic policies.

Singapore’s gross domestic product growth is expected to reach 3% this year, which is a significant drop from a decade ago. Importantly, much of this growth is being driven by public spending (as occurred in Malaysia under Najib), notably on infrastructure. New jobs are not being created in Singapore at the same high rate as in the past.

Even more constraining, PAP continues to rely on immigration as a driver of growth, failing to move on from using a combination of low-cost labor and imported foreign talent to expand the economy. Population pressures remain real for ordinary Singaporeans, who continue to feel displaced. They are disappointed with the PAP’s tenacious grasp on old and unpopular models for growth.

The pendulum of discontent has swung against the PAP. The government opted to increase water prices by 30% in 2017, and this year indicated it will raise the goods and services tax (GST) from 7% to 9%. The electricity tariff has risen by 16.8% to date this year alone. The cost of living remains high; Singapore has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list of most expensive cities to live in for five years running.

High costs are compounded by persistent inequalities that are increasingly entrenched. The Gini coefficient is at 0.46, but income gaps are deeply felt. Many locals feel they are being impoverished on account of foreigners. The social reform measures introduced for the “pioneer generation” (people born before 1950), and increased handouts before the 2015 polls, are being seen as inadequate to address the current social needs of disadvantaged communities.

By comparison, Malaysia has removed the unpopular GST, and reform pressures for addressing contracting social mobility and inequality are substantial. Malaysia is now seen as a potential role model in areas of governance. For example, greater transparency and attention to inclusivity are evident in the multi-ethnicity of new government appointees.

Singapore’s 2017 Malay-only presidency contest in contrast sent a signal of exclusion and an embrace of race-based politics. This is being compounded by the fact that Malaysia is being seen as bucking regional authoritarian trends, promising substantive political reforms and the removal of many of the draconian laws that Singapore has on its books.

Changes in Malaysia have reduced Singapore’s regional comparative advantage. It is not just about greater democracy and changes in governance next door but also the attention “New Malaysia” draws to how Singapore has remained locked in the past, moving away from embracing an alternative future.

 

Brigitte Welsh

Source: NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW

 

 

 

 

 

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13 Responses to “New Malaysia’ makes Singapore look outdated”

  • Don't be arrogant:

    Red dot is in the crossroad with the much needed change and renewal of leadership and governance to meet the challenges of the uncertain future and global upheavals.

    It is becoming like a dinosaur when the impending ice age crushed it to extinction.

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  • Bapak:

    Sinkland is a playground for the rich and for FTs to milk the system as much as possible before they leave. In reality, Sinkland is a 4th World Country just next to North Korea.

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  • Jman:

    This is not true.

    Msians are doing this hardly for ideological reasons. They voted the other way after years of pain and theft. It is that simple. Anyone is better than the bunch of thieves and liars BN had become.

    And they are starting off in 2018 after having been stagnant for so long.

    A portrayal that they are so high minded and advanced is way off the mark, and so misleading it isn’t worth discussing.

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  • Why suffered in silence:

    You sum up the followingire situations we are in.As the Chinese proverb
    Isays”In the rise and fall of country,even the ordinary citizens have the responsibility and play a part”.But strangely this does not apply to uniquely Singapore.Here we are so meek and fearful to speak up and things go wrong.We are burdened by Water,electricity price increase,impending GST increase,parking,conservancy charges ,high cost of living,mandatory Careshit insurance,CPF issues,ERP,Erected Indian Malay preshitdent,HDB 99 year lease,stamp duty increase,etc,etc.Yet most sinkies choose to bochap, for bopian and resign to fate.I chance upon a taxi driver complaining about high cost of t living,Temustsick and money woes but he exclaimed bopian,wait for death.How sad that we have such resigned to fate mentality.Really we can’t do much? Some GIC board guy just said that our gahmen do not have corruption like our neighbour and it is not lack of democracy,human rights but rampant corruption brought an the gahmen.What about legalised corruption,cronyism ,nepotism,totally no transparency and accountability?Does it mean that we should tolerate? Wise guy trying to pull wool over our eyes as if we are so gullible.

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  • What ?:

    Excuse me , bumi 1st policy still in place.

    New malaysia ?
    Perhaps with it 1T debt .
    Or it suspend ECRL breaking pro china fans hearts or them very tu lan. Obviously not so into one die one belt.

    http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/cccc-begins-local-layoffs-after-ecrl-suspension-order

    CCCC begins local lay-offs after ECRL suspension order

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  • BillyMa:

    At this point, the next 5-10 years down the road that PAP is taking the country is not good.
    However, compare to what had happened & is going to happen in Malaysia under Mad & arrogant Mahathir will not be any better than they’re now.
    So there’s no need to be envied or anything to copy.

    Mahathir is simply living his last final drop of self-glory. Just let him be. How long can a 92 lasts.

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  • oute:

    Who says that these three are the potential PM..
    Quote:
    Among the leading contenders are Chan Chun Sing, the minister for trade and industry and former army chief, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, former managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Ong Ye Kung, the minister of education and second defense ministe
    Unquote:

    We have Dr Vivian, Mr Seah Kian Peng., Mr Ng Chee Meng etc they are also potential MPs unless they are not related to them..

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  • old man:

    Of course I am looking for a change in Singapore too without doubts. Just hope it happens in the coming GE soon. Heard mobilization is taking shape and thats signals a GE soon.

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  • Hey stupid!:

    What ?:
    Excuse me , bumi 1st policy still in place.

    New malaysia ?
    Perhaps with it 1T debt .
    Or it suspend ECRL breaking pro china fans hearts or them very tu lan. Obviously not so into one die one belt.

    http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/cccc-begins-local-layoffs-after-ecrl-suspension-order

    CCCC begins local lay-offs after ECRL suspension order

    Has the absence of a Bumi policy in Singapore really helped Singaporeans?

    At least their government puts their people first unlike PAP who seem to favour foreigners over true blue NS serving locals.Do you see elderly cardboard collectors when you visit Malaysia?

    Next time use your fuc+ing brains before making a comment.

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  • clown S$m Ljs and S$m Cbs gang:

    Hey stupid!: Has the absence of a Bumi policy in Singapore really helped Singaporeans?

    At least their government puts their people first unlike PAP who seem to favour foreigners over true blue NS serving locals.Do you see elderly cardboard collectors when you visit Malaysia?

    Next time use your fuc+ing brains before making a comment.

    well said, bro. agree.

    in time past, before INTERNET, 70% sheep can be forgiven for such fake news. but in 2018 INTERNET age, the only ones posting such fake news are all paid by S$billion PA the political channel of clown pap.

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  • What ?:

    Has the presence of a bumi policy in next door really helped them ?

    Dont waste time. Life is short. Juz migrate. Juz do it.

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  • Equality Was Stealthily Remove:

    old man:
    July 13, 2018 at 3:37 pm (Quote)
    Of course I am looking for a change in Singapore too without doubts. Just hope it happens in the coming GE soon. Heard mobilization is taking shape and thats signals a GE soon.

    Yes, read in some Shit Times volunteers called for election watch
    training. All civil servants.

    So likely, end of 2019 or start of 2020. It wont be 2022, for sure.

    Vote or change, people. At least vote for your hard earned CPF monies
    and for your NS son and your children’s future jobs.

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  • Bad Boy:

    https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysian-police-raid-drug-sex-parties-in-kl-68-arrested-10513912

    Malaysian police raid drug, sex parties in KL; 68 arrested….

    MALAYsure Boleh.

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