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Malaysia boleh! Can Singapore boleh too?

Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 13, 2008

By guest writer “Labour Front”

This recent week saw a phenomenal demonstration of the Malaysian political system’s claim that it is a true democracy.

One of the fundamental characteristics of a democracy is that it allows political change. What happened this week is actually not totally new to Malaysia. In 1969 the country saw similar outcomes at the elections.

Over the decades we have seen whole Malaysian states, not mere seats alone, changing hands between political parties. An election ago, Malaysia saw the ruling PM gaining one of the strongest mandates seen thus far at the ballot box, and at the subsequent election, the one just past, we can see how his fortunes have changed.

At the next Malaysian election, the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) may very well repeat their past two-thirds majority, if they can prove to the electorate their worthiness to rule. All these trends and possibilities point to an obvious answer of “boleh” (“can”) to the question of whether change is possible in the Malaysian political system.

Unfortunately it is unclear or even “tak boleh” (“cannot”) in the Singapore context. Why?

Malaysia vs Singapore

Firstly, political parties need to be able to organise themselves easily without fear or obstruction. In Malaysia we have seen former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim forming a party and building it up slowly over the last decade. The Malaysian political system has allowed Anwar to do this even though he is the biggest political enemy of the ruling coalition. Despite coming under heavy fire from the ruling coalition, PAS too has never been obstructed to the extent of hindering their ability to organise themselves.

Secondly, politicians themselves need to be able to participate in politics without fear or obstruction. In this aspect too the Malaysian political system has shown its maturity. Two Hindraf leaders who are in detention under the Internal Security Act were allowed to participate in the elections and are even able to win seats. Such a scenario would be unimaginable in Singapore.

Thirdly, the ability of citizens to register to run for elections either as independents or collectively as a party is not hindered by exorbitant election fees. Neither are Malaysian electoral boundaries drawn into groups like group representation constituencies (GRCs). Candidates who would otherwise not be able to win a seat on their own may, under this system, be able to ride on the popularity of their fellow team mates. This pooling results in reduced risks for the team that has more politically-experienced candidates and increased risks for a “greenhorn” team.

Fifthly, during the campaigning period in Malaysia, the key time period within which voters decide on who to vote for, you do not see campaigns being limited by onerous regulations and laws. Rallies are held all across the country with no restrictions to crowd size and place. Disruptions to the public peace do occur sometimes but the Malaysian police are more than able to manage it.

Lastly, the flow of information in Malaysia remains far less controlled than in Singapore. There are alternative and independent presses such as Harakah which may be small in size but able to establish a readership.

Political maturation and economic development

Given such an environment, it is no surprise that the electorate has been able to achieve a remarkable success in transforming its political landscape at the ballot box. After the results, one also does not see the Malaysian PM making threats or actually rolling out tanks to have the army seize control. This success definitely puts Malaysia five decades ahead of Singapore in political development—we were only able to last achieve something like this in 1959. We remain somewhat in the ranks of Myanmar if we are to rank all the ASEAN countries according to political development.

Cynics may claim that political maturation of this kind will affect economic growth and development. This may be true in cases where the opposition is bent on opposing the ruling party for opposition’s sake, regardless of whether the latter’s policies are sound.

Looking at Singapore’s opposition, though, it is clear that the majority of the opposition have their feet firmly fixed on the ground—they not only point out the problems and propose solutions, but also acknowledge the merits of implemented policies. Seeing this, then, it is clear that political development in Singapore is unlikely to harm economic growth and development.

On the contrary, holding back positive political development (i.e. development of a credible opposition as a watchdog) can possibly hurt economic sustainability. We need only look to Indonesia to see this.

For instance, though Indonesia has had political change since the fall of Suharto, economic growth and development has been volatile. This is because while on the surface the Indonesian political system has developed from one political stage during Suharto’s time (dictatorship) to a better one (democracy) currently, nothing has changed in reality. The current government is still faced with allegations of corruption and other scandals.

Indonesia has failed to move on to the next political stage—having alternative parties in Parliament to check the ruling government— which can remedy the current woes. Should that happen, Indonesia can enjoy economic growth and development.

Political development is also needed to ensure social harmony, enable environmental protection and uphold labour standards. Malaysia’s success at the polls is only the initial stage in a process that is yet to unfold.

In the coming future, the opposition presence in Parliament may prove to be a success—the ruling BN pulls up its socks, resolves the grievances of the electorate and wins back the support of the people again at the next election, and the opposition keeps their election promises and deliver enough to remain in power.

On the flip side, the new government, both BN and opposition, fails to achieve sufficient results for the electorate. Should this happen, the wider political ground gained in the recent election will be for naught. However, I am confident Malaysia will succeed, simply because Malaysia boleh.

Can Singapore boleh?



21 Responses to “Malaysia boleh! Can Singapore boleh too?”

  1. thomas said

    Your interpretation of Indonesian politics is false. Indonesia has a vibrant multi party democracy. In fact the Economist rated Indonesia as the most democratic country in South East Asia. The President and Vice-President of Indonesia are from 2 different parties, PD and Golkar. In fact the People’s Representative Council of Indonesia (Indonesia’s Parliament) has 17 different parties with no one party having majority rule.

    Some say that a lack of consensus among the parties prevents effective tackling of corruption. The root cause of corruption is not the lack of alternative opposition otherwise India or Italy or the USA would be corrupt free. In fact corruption can be caused by a multitude of factors including cultural.

    But an effective start to end corruption begins with a strong judiciary and adherence to rule of law more so than “having alternative parties in Parliament”. Another point is that an effective alternative opposition does not result in economic development and growth. Otherwise India would be outperforming China economically not vice versa. A credible opposition though in the Singapore parliamentary system is needed to prevent the executive from abusing its dominant position.

  2. Hopless Feeling said

    The political future of Singapore is not dependent upon the
    dominant ruling party nor the weak opposition parties.

    The political future of Singapore is dependent upon the Kia-Si
    and Kia-Su citizens of Singapore. Some of whom rub shoulders
    and carry balls; some of whom just couldn’t careless; some of
    whom simply fall for the goodies and candies; some of whom
    simply have no brains to think for themselves; some of whom
    have resigned to the assumption that the opposition is not able
    to govern while the ruling party is the only one that deserves
    to govern; some of whom are simply losers in every sense of the
    word; some of whom simply have no balls at all; some of whom

    So, can we see any light at the end of the tunnel?

  3. noone said

    IE you want a SG dominated by religious fanatics like PAS and swinging siders like Anwar.

  4. Dr Syed Alwi said

    I do not believe in a one-party system because power corrupts and such a system is open to abuse. I believe that in an open, globalised, high-technology economy and society like ours – only a multi-party system can deliver.

    Economic development is only one aspect of politics. Not everyone feels that the economy should take priority. Human rights, ethical ideals etc are also valid political issues. In any case – Singapore’s economy is not so rosy anymore anyways ! Besides – how do you accomodate a diversity of interest groups within a one-party system ?

    I have no doubts whatsoever that Singapore’s future lies in a multi-party system. Singapore is NOT China nor Myanmar nor even Malaysia. We have to find our own destiny and that – people – lies in democracy………

  5. Dead poet said

    Singapore would not be a single party state if the single seat rule had remained. For all the self glorification of the ruling party it is a stark reality and every single citizen knows that the GRC system is but another effective tool to retain power. It is one the challenge the great mentor minister would not answer and yet no one dares to put to him.

    We hear about BN ministers losing their seats. Just think how many Ministers would have lost their seats in Singapore, including the PM, should it be a single seat issue. With 33.3% of the votes the opposition has only two seats. Is this not a joke. People know this and have lost all respect, especially for Ministers who cannot get elected but enter through the back door.
    Samy Velu might have lost but he has gained my respect by refusing to enter through the back door through Senatorship, he is a man of honour even in defeat. For that he has gained my respect for respecting the people’s judgement. Yet we have Ministers who have entered politics without such moral authority and yet declare themselves to be god’s gift to the population and pay themselfs obscene amount of salary. This is the sad state of Singapore. As the years go by I see a man who fought for the nation now trying desparately to keep his progeny and cronies in power. He gain honour while living but will be deemed a tyrant in death. why? Because no one dares say anything against him when he is alive, not if you want to save your underwear. As a citizen I feel sick. I am not an exemplary person having committed a lots of sins but at least I can die peacefully for I have not cheated who have trusted me. he who sows will reap and his generation after him will be cursed. God Bless

  6. Dead poet said

    Dr Syed post promted me to write this,
    who have a brilliant population to win awards all over the world.Our citizens are constantly winning world awards. Yet the government thinks we are dumb and that only they know how to select the best. Yes, they slec the best, the best who put their monetary gains in front of duty to the nation. I fthey think they can earn more in the private sector than do not join politics. Politics is a honourable profession , in Singapore we have made it a whore. The beat money secures the best whore

  7. noone said

    As I said it depends what the alternative is. Religious parties? Leaders only trying to sway and not act?

    Remember what Plato and Aristotle said about Democracies.

  8. Singaporeans can if the opposition candidates are credible. But it seems they go for one election and switch party or resign on conflict of opinions after that.

    If they can be united under good leadership, they should be able to form the next coalition government.

  9. Dr Syed Alwi said

    The alternative to the PAP is the SDP and WP and other Opposition parties. Singapore does NOT have religious parties ! Are you trying to do some kind of silly fear-mongering ? Show me one religious party in Singapore ? None !

    Muslims make up only 15% of the population. Even if every single Muslim voted for an Islamic party – they simply cannot garner enough votes to put that party into Parliament.

    Stop talking nonsense about religious parties in Singapore.

    The only credible and hardworking Opposition is the SDP along with the WP. They are the realistic alternatives to the PAP. Should they unite – the PAP will be in serious trouble. Remember – without all sorts of political gimmicks – there would be plenty more Opposition MP’s in our Parliament. The PAP speaks of meritocracy – but with all the election gimmicks that they have – the PAP itself does NOT practice meritocracy ! Dead Poet is right about how some of our Ministers are able to be where they are because of the backdoor route to Parliament. Had it been a fair one-on-one fight – many PAP personalities would become like Samy Vellu.

  10. […] Elections – The Online Citizen: Malaysia boleh! Can Singapore boleh too? – Journals of a Philosophic Inquisitor: What’s in a Vote? – The Void Deck: The Malaysian […]

  11. patriot said

    Let us allow the one who tied the knots to untie them(jie lin hai si si lin ren), there are too many complex knots made by the Leadership for the past four decades.

    Other than Chia Thye Poh and a handful of other Activists, almost all others including many rebels and opponents such as David Marshall bought into the Indoctrination that there exist a demi-god capable of providing peace and prosperity. They are so right! The LEADERS get the PROSPERITY and we the People got PEACE. Not too bad if we do not have to struggle too much to SURVIVE, but oh my! look at the frail old folks struggling everywhere!

    Now, even in such a situation, Singaporeans will still be tak boleh(unable) buak apa apa(do anything), unless one can do a Mas Selamt Magic.
    The System is implemented to shackle and tie if not imprison any dissidents and dissenting views. The people are shower constantly for brainwashings with subtle threats such as our womenfolks have to work as foreign maids, our economy will tumble and what not.

    Imagine before an election and the incumbent has taken some one third of the Country due to walkovers and another many GRC Wards which the Incumbent has much advantage. Btw, do Singaporeans have the cohesiveness? I think not and would like to suggest a test anyone can do; talk to your friends and families about politics, how many agree with You will be the answer for the political cohesiveness of Singaporean voters. And the different races, religions and educational backgrounds/ professions have not been factor in yet.

    Singaporeans boleh jaga diri(can care for oneself), angkat bodeh(adulate) dan cakap besar(talk big) such as ‘we will not leave anyone behind’ and other such rhetorics, but hardly delivered.
    Does this mean everything is hopeless? Not quite, we are about to be jolted by the reality that ‘WE CANNOT DEPEND ON OUR POLITICAL LEADERS FOR OUR SURVIVAL AND WELLBEINGS’

  12. Gary Teoh said

    Let us do a samy velu to get rid of those people who are glued to the parliament chairs for too long

  13. Seeking Salvation said

    When u have a government who thinks they know the best, unwilling to accept suggestions, imposing rules and laws they think is best for others, being complacent and cocky enough (like letting Mas Selamat run off), making people’s like difficult (like raising GST), running a bias lopside one track favouring themselves elections rules and bankrupting the opposition, going in hibernation and keeping their mouth shut whenever there is a crisis, where every government dept is like a mini Lky Empire.

    It will lead to the demise of the country just like the Egyptian empire.

    Remember absolute power corrupts.

  14. antz said

    frankly, I am more prone in reading M’sia blogs than our S’pore blogs. What happened in the M’sia GE is quite shocking though.

    I tuned in to TV3 on that day, for the results and one state after another were lost. Scenes of the respective ministers of the lost states were faces of grim and some were tears of defeat.

    Indeed, I was informed by a M’sian blogger, that blogs greatly helped M’sian during the vote.

    M’sia now i can see is changing rapidly especially in politics. The young wants a change. BN is beginning to look shaky as it’s not appealing and to them it’s a party of the past where racial policies were implemented. Now,I can see that there is a finding of a common national identity among all M’sians.

    In s’pore to have a change maybe yes posibble but not so soon. Take note M’sia is a large country with 13 states whereas S’pore is an Island state. Politics here greatly differs where the ruling party take careful steps to make sure care for every s’ loopholes and hongbao when GE is coming.

    Unless if happen one day we have a kinda credible opposition figure similar to Datuk Anwar Ibrahim. I admired him of being single-handedly bring all opposition together and make BN down to it’s knees with the loss of the 5 states.

    Mistake BN make is calling for an early GE with Anwar roaming from states to states making influential speeches.

    so for now i would say M’sa BOLEH but S’pore for now TAK BOLEH

  15. Singapore sure boleh if we want to and dare to accept and try reform. If the Malaysians can do it, can’t we do a better job at it?

  16. Gary Teoh said

    Singaporeans dont be swayed by the 1 0r 2 hundred so call hong bao given by the pap. Tell Lee off in the face, we dont want your hong bao,want to bribe us only 1 or 2 hundred, no way man.Unless pap listen to the people,or accept people’s suggestion, if not the tsunami happened in 308 across the causeway can not be ruled out happening in singapore.

  17. antz said

    Malay dilemma,
    How to may i ask when they strip JB Jeyeratnam till bankrupt?
    and Dr Chee Soon Juan…and well i do not know who will follow suit…??
    It all depends with the system.
    Here, they practise a system of shuting one’s mouth.
    So how to boleh?

  18. Dead Poet said

    As much as we are talking about Singapore boleh, the mechanisms to ensure only MIW boleh and the rest tak boleh is being formulated. As much as we are inspired by the Malaysian election , a detailed study would have been initiated to ensure such things do not happen in Singapore. There will be control on all forms of media, rallies and even pre-requisite for candidates. We might see bigger GRC carefully crafted out of the electorate based on the pass results to ensure victory. Perhaps the one man one vote system will go. If the MIW lose despite all these measures, there is always military intervention as the old man said. Moral of the story is the the MIW will never allow power to be taken away from them and will do anything, I repeat anything to stay in power. There is too many skeletons in the cupboard.

  19. sophie said

    interesting times ahead in malaysia.

  20. rakanian said

    Thx Sophie, I came across this, it should clear the cob webs further. Wishing all Malaysians the best of luck for the future.

  21. Dead Poet,

    What you have just described, is the biggest weakness that they have right now.

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