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Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 28, 2008


A Freak Result

Not too long ago, in what might have been one of his less inspiring moments, Singapore’s elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew told the press that the military would have to intervene in the event of a “freak (election) result” – defined as a disagreeable outcome where the incumbent People’s Action Party loses power – to prevent a rapacious Opposition government from squandering the country’s vast monetary reserves.

It is quite likely that the phrase would have crossed Mr Lee’s mind, as well as many other Singaporean watchers, as they ponder the aftermath of Malaysia‘s 12th General Elections which were held on 8 March 2008. In a sweeping rebuke to the incumbents, Malaysian voters handed the ruling National Front (BN) coalition the worst electoral result in its history.

It was bad enough that the BN was denied a two-thirds supermajority (which would have allowed it to pass Constitutional amendments at will) for only the second time in the history of the country that it has dominated comfortably since independence. But the Opposition – made up of a loose coalition of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR) – also swept an unprecedented five states (three of which have ever only known BN rule), up from just one in the previous election in 2004. (The Opposition even made gains in Farquhar’s old stomping ground of Malacca, which had been a BN stronghold for some years.)

The results might have been far worse had BN not enjoyed the advantages of incumbency, such as gerrymandering, huge party funds (the coalition parties run several big businesses and newspapers) and the use of the state machinery at its disposal. It also probably employed the usual shenanigans like vote buying and vote rigging to a certain degree in some districts, though thankfully this appeared to have been much less prominent in this election compared with previous ones.

Nevertheless, these traditional advantages were not enough to prevent what one veteran Malaysian politician called a “political tsunami” brewed with a perfect storm of factors: dissatisfaction over the government’s performance was spread out over all ethnic groups, due to concerns over rising prices and the widening income gap as well as diminished support from ethnic minorities because their rights have not been protected; anti-incumbency sentiment due to anger that the government had failed to delivered on promises to clean up corruption and cronyism as well as the unaccountability of the dominant BN coalition; poor leadership evidenced in missteps by the government and party infighting that plagued BN right up to polling day; and finally an Opposition that seemed a rather viable alternative.

The Opposition, which was nearly wiped out in 2004, put on a sterner display of unity this time round despite the inherent differences between the Chinese-dominated DAP, the Islamic PAS and a ramshackle PKR. They largely avoided splitting the anti-incumbency vote by having only one Opposition candidate in most constituencies, moderated their individual platforms (PAS, for instance, avoided the issue of Islamic state which it had pushed for in 2004 and stuck closely to a secular line) and campaigned on a generally coherent platform that addressed concerns over the government’s performance and accountability.

The Opposition was also boosted by the presence of ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, whose energy and charisma contrasted with the lacklustre Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi who led the other side. Mr Ibrahim could claim some credit for helping to strategise and hold the tenuous Opposition alliance together, which might have helped to bolster the credibility of parties written off by the BN as being incapable of governing the country. Yet perhaps the strongest card that the Opposition had was simply that they were not the incumbents as voters abandoned the BN in droves.

A landscape permanently altered

The results have confounded the expectations of politicians, pundits and ordinary folk alike, who clearly did not anticipate an anti-government swing of this magnitude. Malaysia appeared dazed the morning after polling when Malaysians awoke to a new political reality. There was a multitude of reactions – some of the more liberal voters were jubilant that they had thrown off the yoke of authoritarianism and expected broad changes in the way the country will be governed; conservative quarters lamented that the loss of BN’s dominance could result in communal conflict and called ethnic Malays who voted for the Opposition “traitors” to their race.

Other exuberant watchers thought that the elections meant a rejection of Malaysia‘s model of communal politics, which had long discriminated in favour of the majority ethnic Malays. On the other hand, sceptics pointed out that BN retained significant power and that the Opposition alliance had fallen apart soon after the last time it had a good showing in the polls in 1999. They asserted that the result was a protest vote gone too far and that things would return to normalcy by the next elections.

But one major reason to believe that the result will not prove to be a “freak” one is that it signals the end of BN’s political hegemony. The post-election re-alignment of forces has changed the political landscape. The moribund Malay monarchy has taken advantage of fresh power struggles within UMNO and other parties to reassert itself in several states.

The neglected eastern Malaysian states, which now make up a sizeable portion of BN’s parliamentary representation, will certainly have more clout in the Federal government from now on. BN parties from the eastern states, which are none too wedded to their peninsular compatriots, could actually find the Opposition a more suitable partner in the long run. The Opposition’s larger presence in parliament as well as at the state level will make the government more accountable at all levels.

More importantly, the results have reaffirmed the perception of the sovereignty of the people, and that it is with the rakyat (people) that power ultimately lies. BN’s shattered hegemony will be difficult to re-establish as voters get used to the idea of genuine accountability in their government.

Hints have emerged of the future direction that Malaysia might take. While the idea of Malay supremacy and entitlement is likely to be still strongly entrenched at the moment, the fact that the Opposition has made such massive gains campaigning on a rejection of these concepts show that there is at least some measure of support within the Malay populace – something that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.

The emergence of a genuine alternative to the BN is now plausible, provided that the Opposition parties show that they can work well in the state governments that they have suddenly been saddled with. The differing platforms of DAP, PAS and PKR certainly makes them strange bedfellows – and a history of mutual suspicions and rivalry does not help – but the leadership of Mr Ibrahim (who is probably the Opposition’s only leader of national stature), plus the fact that the various parties need to work together to run the state governments effectively could force a gradual confluence in their respective platforms. Should this impromptu experimentation in cohabitation work better than the outgoing BN state governments, it could eventually lead to a two-coalition system at the national level.

The view from the other side of the Causeway

The drama unfolding in Malaysia will be watched closely by Mr Lee and other Singaporean leaders. It seems that an aggregation of relatively minor factors, rather than any major trigger, had been the tipping point in effecting the swing against the government.

There are signs that the same elements could be building in Singapore. For example, the Malaysian economy was doing well, but income equality had grown substantially over the years. Many voters rejected the carrot of government development projects that had been dangled before them, preferring to vote on themes such as accountability. Communal relations, while tense, remained stable, and if anything the election results (which have been accepted with much magnanimity by all ethnic groups) could discredit a favoured thesis of Singaporean leaders that an authoritarian government is needed to hold together a pluralistic society composed of diverse ethnic communities.

Like Singapore, Malaysia‘s post-colonial experiment with democracy began with vigour and saw much enthusiastic participation. But bloody communal clashes in Malaysia in 1969 changed all that as the BN achieved a stranglehold over the Federal government in seeking to restore order.

Other institutions – the state governments, the judiciary, the media as well as government-linked businesses – were gradually brought to heel as power was centralised in the BN, which unsurprisingly came to think that it was irreplaceable and adopted an ever more paternalistic tone of governance. Malaysians have rebuffed that hubris quite comprehensively. Singaporeans may well share the inclination to do the same.

Farquhar features every Friday on TOC.



40 Responses to “Farquhar”

  1. Dr Syed Alwi said

    I wonder what makes MM Lee think that the Opposition could squander Singapore’s reserves. Indeed I believe that an unchecked, non-transparent and an anti-democratic PAP AFTER MM Lee – is more likely to squander the reserves more than anybody else.

    Áfter all – who holds the key to the reserves ? The PAP or the Opposition ?

    What makes MM Lee so sure that his PAP will remain pure, efficient and honest – after his passing ?

    I have seen enough to know that no one can guarantee the future……Not even MM Lee !!

  2. Kaffein said

    Another good example is the not too recent Australian Elections. Australian economy is at the strongest in her 18 years with the Aussie dollar all time high.

    Skilled migrants are flocking into the country, and the policies in place by the Howard government aren’t really that bad.

    Two keys that observers have attributed towards his downfall:
    1. Work Choices agreement
    2. Overstaying as PM (should have given to Costello).

    This is another example where people want change. And they can see the cracks and gaps happening within the party and the new policies.

    The key phrase in the voters’ minds is:
    “I’ve had enough. I want to see CHANGE.”

  3. Gary Teoh said

    I thought EP is the custodian of our reserves, he holds another key to the reserves.We don’t know whether pap is corrupted because CPIB is under the charge of PM department.If oppositions are corrupted, they will be exposed but not the other way

  4. Yi-Long said

    Gary, our President no longer holds the key to our reserves.

  5. elfredinario said

    Should I write something on this? Hehehehehe…

    It’s a pretty interesting topic of the day.

  6. SS Lee said

    We need more opposition in parliament if the citizenry matters. The problem is the citizenry has become totally complacent and outsourced their thinking to the PAP and they know it. This can be very dangerous as even the incumbent EP has not raised any pertinent questions about anything (correct me if I am wrong). We need to have enough opposition to check and balance and stop the continued changes of the consititution and hopefully restore some proper rights for the citizen.
    Somtimes not taking risks is a risk itself – like I always say. So wake up Singapore!

  7. antz said

    Just want to share,
    I read with interest bout the appointment of Trengganu M’sia chief minister in M’sia blog.
    The King remain on his ground not wanting to give in to PM is because of a suspected ‘wang ehsan’.
    Trengganu is blessed with oil and gas yet it is the second purest state after sabah.
    I read somebody( from BN ruling party) misuse the funds (wang ehsan) to lavishly built luxurious condominiums etc which is unecessary and does not directly benefit the ppl but caters to expatriates.
    So,this is one of the reason why the King was very adamant in his decision.I read on Mahathir wants a thorough investigation to be done cos BN in fact have lost face.

    So back to S’pore,it seems what happened to them is that power has come to their head.

    I wonder what will happen to us with no natural resources if……..?? ( i guess u guys shld noe what i mean?

  8. Gary Teoh said

    our president should follow steps taken by malaysia’s sultan, if he thinks something is not right then quickly right the wrong,

  9. antz said

    You still remember what happened to the late President Ong Teng Cheong when he request with the list of reserves or something….(I can’t really remember)

    What happen after that?

  10. Haha said

    That’s why all the generals get posted to GLCs or stat boards upon retirement. One way to keep them kwai-kwai so they won’t rock the boat.

    Kaffein, think Howard got the boot also becoz he was oo supportive of Bush’s illegal war in Iraq when most Australians wanted their troops pulled back. Or may they just got tired of seeing his furrowed brow on TV everyday.

  11. Mun Kit said

    I recall the constitution was changed, so that the job scope of the EP doesn’t need to oversee the reserves anymore. Something that if PAP could not have done, if they had less than 2/3(?) seats in the govt.

  12. Mun Kit,

    Are you referring to the Constitutional Amendment that allows the transfer of a particular type of reserves (not sure which one, or is it from the year on year fund) from the government to the GLCs?

  13. Jackson said

    What a joke said by our founding statesman LKY!

    Firstly, he criticised the Opposition for not being First-world enough to challenge the so-called First-world government.

    Secondly, he mentioned that the PAP is a clean government, free of corruption when in fact GIC and Temasek Holdings are his as well, utilising funds in huge amounts not publicly explained

    Now, he says the Opposition may squander country’s reserves in the event of a political change in Singapore.

    LKY gives me the impression he’s a dictator. Yes I can agree with many that Singapore would not be what it is today if not for his great effort back in the olden days. But as the saying goes, everyone has an expiry date, so does LKY. He has wasted a chance to retire in honor, leaving behind a chance to retire in shame.

  14. patriot said

    There are so much wishes (or rather wishful thinkings) here in the Net that Singaporeans will follow(copy) the Malaysian Electorates who denied their Barisan National Party the 2/3 Majority in their latest National Election.

    It is unlikely that the discussions here in TOC will reach much of the local population which we somehow agree, are either apathetic or fear politics. Lee Kuan Yew forewarned the people that the Army will be deployed if a ‘freak’, meaning if the Oppositions become a majority in the Parliament, would have put much more fear into the already ‘scared’ citizens.

    However, personally, me thinks that if the Army will indeed ‘be used’, it would be the end of Singapore. There shall be family members ‘forced, to deal with their parents, siblings, relatives and friends, especially if National Servicemen are deployed. Singapore is such a tiny country and most families have got members serving National Service as it compulsory. I do hope that no leader will be that muddle headed to activate the Army because of Election Result. That is equivalent to National Suicide. Unless the Current Leadership is made up of tyrants and terrorists and the Armed Forces Commanders are nuts, otherwise they should not ‘deal with arms’ on their own people.

    If People Action Party looses its’ majority in the next election, it should examine itself and try to regain the position in other coming elections.

    In any case, the Threat by Lee Kuan Yew that the Army will be deployed in a freak election result is unwarranted, uncalled for, unreasonable and stupid. If he does not love his citizens, there is no need for him to use the Army to deal with them. WHY DOES HE WANTS TO BE HATED IN HIS TWILIGHT DAYS? Does he really mean it? I do not think so, but take he has used the Threat to cower the electorates.


  15. Alan Wong said

    So should PAP lose any of the general elections to the opposition, what LKY is saying that Singapore Gahmen would act like just like those military Gahmen in Pakistan, Myammar, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, etc.

    It’s a real shame if the words really came out of his mouth.

  16. Hipo Hunter said

    He thinks that the PAP, after losing a GE would be able to
    make use of the SAF, like what has happened in Thailand to
    seize power back unconstitutionally? May be he would rise up
    from his grave and lead a ghost army, who knows? In the City
    of Possibilities, anything can happen, right?

    But would the soldiers, who are NS men, who are sons and brothers
    of the people who raised the Opposition to become the Govt, fight
    for the selfish interest of the PAP and go against the Singapore
    Constitution which they pledge every year during Armed Forces Day?

    I won’t. That is for sure. In fact, I would willingly help the
    New Govt to round up those remnants of resistants who might be
    plotting a coup against a constitutionally elected govt. That is
    what the SAF has been sworn to do, isn’t it?

    A power-crazy man seems always want to have the cake and eat it
    all the time. To me, that is also a form of corruption, i.e.
    greed for power is corruption of the mind also. It is worse
    than greed for money.

  17. Dingo said

    “LKY gives me the impression he’s a dic…tator”

  18. antz said

    After 22 years of power,Mahathir now got to defend his 22 yr ruling in M’sia.I read his statement published in the sun (m’sia papers) questioning abdullah rule especially the recent crisis of the appointment of trengganu chief minister.Never had happen before he state that a King intervene in the policy of choosing a state chief minister.
    In fact,do remember it’s mahathir who curb the powers of all the 9 kings.But now it seems,the trengganu sultan who now happen to be the M’sia king have officially had his choice of chief minister.what an irony!

    From the statement i read bout deploying military soldiers in case a freak result turns out during a GE tells me that LKY does not believe any opposition can rule as ‘effective’ as his PAP.
    He is trying to say that just look at M’sia…what happen to them?
    Power has come to their head till they have forgotten bout their citizens…and so on.
    In fact in my opining the BN(now the ruling party) ask for it themselves (the disastrous results).

    One of the indirect factor is actually of putting or blurting out unecessary/sensitive remarks that cause certain parties angrily making rebuttal especially in their M’sian blogs.
    Some even fanning it with allegations and this brought unimaginable hatred towards the BN.
    BN as i have noticed is actually in a state of denial (even till now) not wanting to hear the real truth the cries made of the silent majority (this is the voters that i guess vote for the oposition)

    So will the chaotic scene happen in S’pore?

  19. The minute any losing leader tries to use the Army against a lawfully and legally elected new government, it’s a big mistake.

    That is not only illegal, but sufficient cause for charges of trying to topple a democratic state.

  20. Adrian said

    If that ever happens to Singapore, it will be our downfall cause we will not no different from other 3rd world countries in Asia.

  21. Singaporean said

    Why call it “Freak Result” if it is the will of the people. Why must the RESULTS be always loaded in favour of PAP where the system is already currently loaded in their favour.

    PAP must have faith in Singaporeans in deciding where their interest lie and choose accordingly. Orelse, why must Singaporeans have faith in them.

    PAP already has a large political base built through many
    years of its hard work since independence, surely this itself is sufficient enough to moderate whatever ill effects which may come from the opposition.

    Surely their political base will not shift to the opposition out of a sudden unless for a very good reason.

  22. Alex Ong (eX.A.K.R.) said

    If Lee Kuan Yew is really considering using the military in the event that the opposition wins a large portion of the Singapore government or is taking over, then I can only say one thing:

    I sense an ugly cvil war coming.

  23. pJ said

    ((((Gary Teoh Says:
    March 28, 2008 at 3:47 pm
    our president should follow steps taken by malaysia’s sultan, if he thinks something is not right then quickly right the wrong)))))

    Dont make my toes laugh. Why would he want to “quickly right the wrong”? You are expecting too much of our honorable President.

    The president’s post is largely ceremonial. Although the post was created with the lofty intention of protecting our reserves from being squandered by some distant future “rogue” governments, what we have seen so far have not convinced us that the president is going to be able to discharge that duty effectively. We must remember that once upon a time, we had a president who wanted to know how much reserves he was supposed to be protecting, only to be sharply told off that he cant get the answer in his lifetime (Interpretation: Shuddup. Dont be kaypoh)

    At his age, our present president is drawing a salary that I’m sure is way beyond his wildest dreams. His tasks now include cutting ribbons, photo opportunities during festive holidays, being patron of charitable organisations, and occasionally being called upon to make arduous trips to faraway lands to shake hands with other prime ministers and kings and to make speeches written by his coterie of scholarly assistants, presumably so that our local media can at measured intervals highlight his endeavours in the front pages to create the impression that our president is the international mover and shaker who is bringing vast benefits to the population here.

    The truth of the matter is that, he is just another digit in the whole system, playing a role according to a very well written script. The kind of money that he is making now (and the same for the ministers) is simply too good for anyone to want to try to shake a system that is benefitting them. A former president tried to “do his job” but found himself falling out of favour with the hidden puppet-master(s). This former president was then not making million$$$.

  24. elfredinario said

    Hmmm… who are you people commenting? Foreigners? Just curious.

  25. PAPer said

    The BN electoral disaster will never occur here because

    1) there is no credible opposition that is worth the salt, so to speak. All you have are troublemakers, e.g Dr Chee (bye, bye, you civil disobedience) and JBJ(forming his Retirement Party, I think).

    2)none of the opposition party has the same access to the government institutions and money available.

    3) someone is still alive and kicking and even if he is dead, promise to jump out of his grave if something happen. (isn’t it reassuring that hundry ghost will protect you).

    So, agree with Patriot. All bunch of wishful thinkers.

  26. noone said

    If oppo wins don’t worry capable people like GN and RH will be in power!!!

  27. Alan Wong said

    If there is a means to put a stop to the arrogance of LKY & PAP leaders, I will not hesitate to give my vote to the opposition.

  28. antz said

    I read in the star online (the M’sian papers) asking and doubting ability of S’poreans to vote for opposition..

    One of the statements it stated is Low thia kiang is no Anwar Ibrahim…this really caught my eye.
    Frankly,there’ll be no s’pore Anwar Ibrahim for a few generations to come as what i see it.

    S’pore political system greatly differs from M’sia where democracy level in M’sia is higher.

    In the first place,we are an unwanted island.Sometimes,to be frank i see that we sometimes failed to see where we stand.
    Our survival here is due to mainly views of pragmatism from the firt generation of S’pore leaders.We are no US or Britain,we are an island.
    So i do not see changes in the political scene in years to come and for me that’s the reality for now.

  29. disgruntled said

    LKY has to be dreaming if he thinks a conscript army will step in to support an unpopular government. What can the generals offer the troops ? Early ROD (ORD for you younger folks) ? But once you ROD the men, where are their troops going to come from.

    The SAF isn’t loyal to one man it is loyal to Singapore.

  30. No Big Deal. said

    The Singapore system is so good that even if we put a dumb person
    as the PM the orchestra will still play a nice song.

    Thanks to LKY and the PAP.

    So, we do not really need a Anwar or a Mahathir.

    All we need is a Dumb Person.

    Any takers?

  31. noone said

    Support gopalan nair!

  32. historical legacy said

    LKY used to says good things about democracy when he was in the opposition battling British colonialism.

    After getting into power he’s become increasingly intolerant of the marketplace of ideas, of rakyat and merdeka. I think he knows that history is against him. The trend of world history is towards greater participation in the decision making process, not silly things like: “we don’t believe in running the country by referendum,” as if letting “the people” decide explicitly on one small teeny winny issue is so very horrible. As if world civilization itself will topple if your normal ordinary Singaporean gets to decide on one small issue.

    In effect, LKY is fighting against the cumulative effect of the French revolution, the American revolution, the Russian revolution, the Iranian revolution. He’s fighting against every runaway slave, every anti-colonial war of independence, and every peasant rebellion.

    I think that’s why recently he went to visit Suharto and said things like: oh it’s okay that he was only “slightly” corrupt and squirreled away a few billions of the country’s money: after all he brought progress to Indonesia.

    I think in his heart of hearts, LKY knows Singaporeans will repudiate him when he dies and that history is against him, that’s why he visited Suharto. How sad that we have leaders like him. How sad that he repudiated his own more democractic self.

  33. Dingo said

    What if the army that is going to be called in is actually the private Gurkha battalion?

  34. CR said


    If it is called in in support of an action that contradicts the constitution, then they will be dealt as criminals.

    How can one allow such blatant illegal action by foreign forces on national soil?

    Anyway, the Gurkhas are not dumb to participate in a coup and they have too much soldiering heritage to throw it all away.

  35. Amilcar said

    Not too long ago, in what might have been one of his less inspiring moments, Singapore’s elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew told the press that the military would have to intervene in the event of a “freak (election) result” –

    can I get a source to this quote? thank you!

  36. IMF 2006 said

    Source – Straits Times 16 Sep 2006, during the IMF Meeting.

    Words were spoken three days before the Thai military coup toppled Thaksin’s govt on 19 Sep 2006.

    Check it out at the National Library.

  37. IMF 2006 said

    16 Sep also happens to be his birthday.

  38. IMF 2006 said

    Also go and read this:

    “Lee Kuan Yew warns of Army Intervention”

  39. Well,

    Look what happened to the architects of the Thai coup?

    It doesn’t take much to realise that even a coup launched in the guise of securing democracy has a lot of credibility.

    However, one might want to take a Hobbesian view and argue that power is the sole arbiter of liberty and is the only means necessary to secure freedom of a state and national independance.

    Will a coup against an illegal government that seeks to subvert the Constitution pass the test of an internal “Just War” cause?

    That’s what the Thai plotters might have perceived to be so. However, they failed to take into consideration the relative high amount of coups launched in their own political history that whatever marginal gain they might have had in the political sphere is whittled away by the population and immediate stakeholders’ distrust and refusal to countenance such an act.

    Ultimately, the costs were too high.

  40. Happy said

    If I were the General ordered by the PAP leaders to stage the coup, there are two possible scenarios I could adopt:

    1. If the coup failed, I could blame it on the PAP leaders and volunteer as Prosecution’s key witness in the subsequent trials of PAP vs Singapore People in court.

    2. If I succeeded in staging the coup, I could detain all PAP leaders under the ISA. I become the PM and form the govt to rule the country myself.

    Win-win situation! Hahahaha ……

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