a community of singaporeans

The upset that stunned Singapore

Posted by theonlinecitizen on April 3, 2008

Dr Syed Alwi

What are we to make of the recent political upset in Malaysia? Is this political upheaval a signal that Malaysians have embraced a pluralist, multi-racial democracy? And perhaps more interestingly, can this tsunami be repeated in Singapore?

These are all valid and very interesting questions which we must ask ourselves. Yet questions like these – more than others – bother us the most because they force us to re-evaluate our own political consciousness.

Indeed – according to the late Tan Siew Sin, Singapore and Malaysia are Siamese twins. Intertwined and interdependent forever. A reflection of our own image. It never was and never will be a zero-sum game in this tale of two cities.

Lying at the heart of South East Asia and surrounded by the “green” Muslim nations of Indonesia and Malaysia, our “red-dot” Chinese-dominated Singapore cannot ignore the developments up North (and West). After all – the natural resources and consumer markets of both Indonesia and Malaysia are sought after by many in a complex geopolitical chess game.

Why did Malaysians vote against the BN in favour of a loose alliance between the Islamist PAS, the Chinese dominated DAP and Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-racial PKR? For that we must look at the recent past few years.

The Islamisation of Malaysia

Non-Muslim voters were upset at the NEP for sure – but they have always been upset at the NEP. The deeper issue has been the creeping Islamisation of the country. One religious incident after another – from the body-snatching cases like that of Moorthy – to the volatile issue of Muslim apostasy as in Lina Joy – ignited passions on both sides of the religious divide.

Clearly these incidents served to drive the Non-Muslim segment of Malaysian society over the edge and gave DAP the moral high ground. Not to mention that the BN was mired in all sorts of scandals.

But then PM Abdullah Badawi can hardly be blamed for this since he inherited most of these problems from the twenty-two years of the Mahathir administration. Badawi cannot reasonably be expected to solve all these issues in a matter of four years even though Mahathir may disagree.

On the other hand, the Malaysian Malay-Muslim community felt threatened by the rise of the liberal Muslim thinkers and believed that UMNO was no longer able to champion their dearly held Islamic and Malay agenda. To them, UMNO has been hijacked by the interests of the elite and politically connected Bumiputeras. These elites are popularly called the “UMNO-puteras”. The Malaysian Malays are still a conservative lot and they will not tolerate deviance from the Islamic and Malay agenda in any form. It was the Mahathir administration that nursed the creation of a Bumiputera elite. Feeling alienated, the ordinary Malays looked towards PAS who offered them an alternative path to realize their agendas.

Anwar – the Mother of all comebacks

Now comes the final trick. Enter Anwar Ibrahim who managed to pull off the mother-of-all-comebacks ! The charismatic Anwar was able to forge an alliance between the DAP and PAS. And that was the miracle that did the job. A miracle that no one could have foreseen. PAS and DAP together ? Impossible ! Mana boleh ? Are Non-Muslims to be treated as dhimmis in a PAS Islamic state ? DAP and PAS ? Oil and water ?

It is not easy for PAS to give up its much-touted aim to build an Islamic state in Malaysia. It is not easy for PAS to drop its support for the NEP. These are very dearly held beliefs among many Malays in Malaysia. Indeed several Malay NGO’s have already voiced their displeasure over this issue. Perhaps PAS has learned from its recent flop at the 2004 polls. Maybe. But more likely, it was the Anwar factor that helped the more liberal segments of PAS to push through these changes without which, no alliance with the DAP would be possible. Indeed at DAP rallies, PAS was encouraged and supported. PAS was the “panadol” to the UMNO “headache” !

Are these welcome developments for Singapore ? It all depends on Anwar. For how long can Anwar Ibrahim hold this alliance together ? At a fundamental level, the ideological differences between PAS and the DAP are just too great. Their aspirations and world-views are just too divergent. It only takes another religious incident such as Lina Joy or Moorthy to split this union asunder. PAS and the DAP must learn to work together in a power-sharing arrangement and this is by no means an easy task.

Anwar has a very difficult job ahead of him. If Anwar succeeds – he will go down in history as the man who united the Malays and the Chinese in Malaysia under the banner of a multi-party democracy. A giant and bold step. The stakes are very high indeed…with various implications throughout the ASEAN region.

Differences between Singapore and Malaysia

The situation in Singapore is very different from Malaysia. Muslims make up only 15% of Singapore’s population whereas in Malaysia, they make up about 60% of the population. There are no Islamic parties here in Singapore and no NEP nor Malay Special Rights (despite Article 152 of the Constitution).

The politics in Malaysia are inherently racial and necessarily so. Malaysia is a Muslim country and the Muslim community there is a formidable political force. The DAP in Malaysia must come to grips with this reality of an Islamic dominance. Instead of the Ketuanan Melayu of UMNO, the DAP must now face the Ketuanan Islam of PAS. The DAP cannot be seen to be prejudiced against Islam. Whether the DAP can deal with such demands – remains to be seen.

Likewise, PAS has to tone down its Islamic rhetoric. It cannot act to champion the Islamic cause at the expense of its Non-Muslim voters. Once again this calls for a great balancing act on Anwar’s part. Certainly not an easy task.

In Singapore, the politics is not racial nor religious but is dominated by economic issues instead. Income divide, GST hikes and the like. Singaporeans do not have to face racial and religious politics in their raw forms. Singapore is decidedly secular !

Indeed even if every single Singaporean Muslim voted for an Islamic opposition to the PAP – they still would not be able to garner enough votes to put their candidate in parliament ! Especially in view of the GRC system and the racial quotas of HDB estates.

The question remains however, as to whether Singaporeans can put up a similar tsunami against the PAP in the next or future elections. For that – I shall leave it to Singaporeans to decide. Singaporeans must live with whatever choice they make. One thing is for sure though – Singapore is not Malaysia.

TOC thanks Dr Alwi for contributing this article as a guest writer.



29 Responses to “The upset that stunned Singapore”

  1. Gary Teoh said

    The writer already said Singapore is not Malaysia, so what is the problem ? The happenings in Malaysia does not stun singapore at all.Singapore is meritocracy,here dont have NEP.No issue at all.

  2. Merger said

    Malaysia is taking MM Lee’s cue to try to embrace meritocracy so as to set the stage for the eventual merger of Singapore with Malaysia.

  3. I don’t think that’s very sound to think it that way.

    In every society as such, just the labels are different. The north is particular about racial and religion… in the south, race is replaced by Elitism and religion for islam can just be replaced by Money… Hahahaha…

    What is so different? A political tsunami is always a fed up society… What else?

    In Taiwan, when there were many rich people… so rich beyond Singaporeans’ imagination, they voted out KMT and MJT came. Then MJT kena-ed, and KMT returned.

    But there is one big difference…

    The opposition in Singapore is just bad taste… What they can do in 10years, they will at seemingly forever.

    Even MM himself is fed up with complacency… Dr Alwi sees Singapore and Malaysia with too much labels.

    Take away the labels… and you’d all see clearer. Hahahahahaha… Be it Malaysia or Singapore, we all need good leaders to improve our lives, to secure our interests and build a civilisation.

    Messed up the place, we always can expect something to happen. A country is always groups of various people with many interests… and belief. Mahathir simply went the extreme and fooled around with groups of pple.

    You can call that islamic imbalance, or bumiputra, or translate that simply as favoring some wicked cronies… or translate again into this:
    blessing the widening of rich poor gap… Which is no matter what or how you do, that’s the nature of it.

    We all know how those cronies ‘worked’ in Malaysia. Simply sum it as: Evil.

    So what Mahathir did is this: Promote evil, left evil unchecked. And he cooked a tsunami for Badawi in over 20 years…

    What’s so different if Singapore becomes complacent?

  4. […] […]

  5. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Dear Elfredinario,

    I personally think that our Opposition in Singapore lacks a unifying figure like Anwar Ibrahim. Low Thia Khiang is simply not up to the task – preferring instead to be safe in parliament. On the other hand the SDP is perceived to be somewhat radical – although I do admire Chee Soon Juan’s courage.

    Singapore is NOT Malaysia. Here we have the GRC system along with racial quotas in HDB estates. There cannot be a tsunami in Singapore – without electoral reforms first.

    And besides – Singaporeans prefer to migrate to the good life in America and Australia rather than to put up a political fight !

  6. Percevale said

    Guys- even if the opposition united. Even if a great leader led a democratic charge that brings a tide of change to government. We have one man, one force that will end change even before it began.

    LKY. “Any election of the opposition is a freak result and I’ll call the military in.”

    Quod Erat Demonstrandum

  7. Gary Teoh said

    only dictator will call the military in , that means pap dont want to lose power,freak result is the wishes of the ppl if there is any, so he is going against the rule of law.

  8. antz said

    Ya,i believe the political tsunami in M’sia will not happen for NOW,in S’pore.
    The democratic level here is low compared to it’s neighbouring countries.
    I do not see real ‘meritocracy’ in M’sia.Just the word of it makes the M’sian Malays feared.
    Though NEP or whatever rights is not effective,this has remain a ‘playing tool’ for UMNO to it’s survival to garner Malay votes.
    Indeed, Anwar Ibrahim will be a ‘hero’ as some M’sian claim to bridge a long polarised ethnic population.
    But,it’s a long road.

  9. Dear Dr Alwi,

    I agree with you, we don’t have an ‘Anwar’ yet. And I can assure you that that’s d only difference.

    But if this is any difference at all, then basically there is really nothing that different.

    The people always need good leaders. Before the leader shows up in the opposition, the incumbent will have all the time for itself to perform. Sadly, many embrace the power assuming invinsibiliy. No no no, it’s just that the time is yet come for the showdown. Hahahahaha…

    Before Anwar comes about, Mahathir could have done anything. He made the Monster in Anwar for UMNO, and he made Badawi paid for it. Anwar is a good guy as well. I ever openly admitted that it is god’s blessing that Malaysia has two marvelous leaders in Badawi and Anwar.

    It is my wish that eventually both can join force… a politically naive and too idealistic a wish, I know. But that’d be celebrated even by a Singaporean as myself. And politics can be anything…

    Badawi is a marvelous leader in such messed up politics left behind by Mahathir, obviously can be considered a good guy, hence. Now in his most dangerous moments, he still find support in Singaporeans as myself. I am not known to praise indiscriminately. That must show how much as well I expect of Premier Badawi. The sad thing is, Anwar is an admirable man as well, and a leader we like. I sincerely feel sad that both have to fight against the other… Sad.

    Sadder at the possibility that amidst the fight, Mr Mahathir could have found his way into power again.

    For Singapore’s case… GRC is nothing. GRC actually works both ways. Hahahahaha… GRC has its critical weak spot as well. And pls don’t expect me to explain how to ‘break’ through.

    Dr Chee and Anwar are both ‘radicals’. Fact is, Mr Anwar was himself a ‘street fighter’ if I not wrong. Hahahaha… The problem about Chee is, as I have being misunderstood on this many times, that Dr Chee do not move in the correct ways. Even if he disposed Mr Chiam off SDP, he’s… not correct in his moves. So him as a leader is direct disaster to his followers.

    I support the racial quota in HDB, since I am not in favor of further diversifying efforts of our fragile society in the fact of another religion and race… Elitism and the religion of Snobs, for instance. So…

    Actually, your fear of migration to lose power backing opposition is too paranoid. You see, when the Taiwanese wanna change gahmen, many of them flew back to do what? Over the years, the majority who could leave Singapore still holds on to their citizenship. And I am aware of overseas anti-gahmen elements quietly grouping themselves up.

    The oppositions… have a quality issue; a real quality issue. Assuming every of them is Slyvia Lim, and capable of leading squads against GRCs… What next? It’s still a 50/50 fight. It’s just a gamble. And even if WP unites every party n form the gahmen, can they govern like that?

    In Taiwan’s case, and Malaysia’s case as well, the opposition rises up not because people believe they will do better. They are just fed up. KMT->MJT->KMT again…

    If Badawi had been stupid to follow Mahathir’s methods, the people would have not given him any chance at all. Malaysians know Badawi is good. They want him to prove himself, they give him the chance. His personal score shakes little.

    In politics, anywhere, especially when the world has become a global village… as what I have blogged, and you are invited to leave your dignified mark there via comment, everyone is getting everyone’s business. Singapore is a cosmopolitan, if PAP can only fend, it cannot fend forever. When nobody trust PAP, when everything PAP says is taken to be wayang, when PAP is viewed as a snob… You think GRC will help? Hahahahahahaha…

    Malaysia and Singapore is the same, Alwi. In whatever name or whatever fashion issues are, it all boils down to the same thing.

    Voters… are only human. Starve them, they fight; fix them, they retailiate; caveat emptor, they mess up; give them one million, they want two millions…

    What is so different, Alwi?

    When opposition has its leader, nothing will be different. Low Thia Khiang actually is ok, all he ever needs is an ‘add-on’. When we talk about leaders… we talk about a whole package.

    MM is aware. You heard him. For Elfred, it’s just sit back, and enjoy the coming shows.

    Alwi, there is no excuse in the lack of quality. So we shall see how oppositions play their cards.

    One thing about political fight… It is not always just street fighting. Hahahaha… Maybe my latest article may interest you alittle.

    Rest well.

    I got a show to catch.

  10. Gerald said

    Dr Syed Alwi – Welcome to TOC! Thanks for pointing out how much PAS had to compromise to be part of a united alliance. I never really saw it that way. But I’m glad they did. I hope, though, that the the “Ketuanan Islam of PAS” never materialises. In a proper secular democracy, I don’t think there should be ketuanan race or any religion.

    Also, you said, “even if every single Singaporean Muslim voted for an Islamic opposition to the PAP – they still would not be able to garner enough votes to put their candidate in parliament”

    I disagree. Of course assuming all Malays vote for one candidate and all Chinese, Indians and other vote for the other one, the Malays will never be able to put their candidate in parliament. But the reality is not so cut and dry.

    I’d argue that Malays still have the power to swing votes. Take Aljunied in the GE2006 for example. I understand that the reason for the PAP’s win is that Malay voters (who make up more than 15% of the constituency) mostly voted for the PAP because WP was perceived to be too Chinese. If WP was able to win them over, who knows what the result would have been?

  11. Gerald said

    Sorry typo: In a proper secular democracy, I don’t think there should be ketuanan ANY race or religion.

  12. Dr Sad Are-we said

    Dr Syed Alwi is right.

    Singaporeans have been indoctrinated to attain a good life from very small through the education system and the TV. We have been taught meritocrazy. So everyone simply went crazy about merits – trying to gain as much merits as possible in the eyes of the “Almighty”. And once we have scored 3 A’s or 4 Aces, we think of nothing but “A” – i.e. America and Australia, a or even Austria and Argentina.

    Sometimes we may think of “S” which stands for $ but can also stands for stubborn, stupid and simple-mindedness, or even situational.

    I still remember during my NS days, when my CO was a very strict person, just like a dictatorial tyrant, all the officers and men under him behaved like very obedient mice. But when that CO was posted out, all of us were so relieved. All the stress, pent-up feelings and fear were suddenly gone. We celebrated the occasion with a big bang at the End-of-Year function. I see Singaporeans will one day have a chance to celebrate like this.

    Control is good but too much control is bad.
    Greed is good but too much greed is bad.
    Getting fat is good but getting too fat is bad.
    Spinning is good but spinning too much is bad.
    Power is good but too much power is bad!
    Stability is good but too much stability becomes COMPLACENT!


  13. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Dear Gerald,

    Though I agree with you regarding a secular democracy – BUT – Muslim Malaysia is NOT secular especially since Islam is its official religion and 60% of its populations are Muslims who mostly reject secularism !

  14. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Dear Gerald,

    Another point to add :

    I made the statement regarding the voting pattern of Muslims in Singapore simply to contrast with the situation in Malaysia. In Singapore – Islam is NOT a political force of any significance. However in Muslim Malaysia – Islam is THE dominant political force.

    Singaporean Muslims do not have much clout but in Malaysia – to get anywhere in politics means that one must deal with the Islamic factor. Its unavoidable.

    Most Singaporeans do not see Malaysia from this angle. And thats a big mistake. What works for Singapore may not be possible for Malaysia.

  15. AC said

    I think that there are many parallels in the Malaysian political equation to be drawn with Singapore.

    Before the election, both ruling parties dominated the parliament with a severely underrepresented opposition, and are able to change the constitution at will. The judicial, the legislative and the executive are all controlled by the ruling party, and their civil services are excessively partisan. The mass media are all controlled by the ruling party and the internet is the only medium left for the opposition to exploit.

    Despite the odds, the PKR PAS DAP coalition succeeded in the unthinkable and pulled an incredible upset against the BN juggernaut. The stunning part about the Malaysian political upheaval is the shaking apart of the myth that the opposition has no chance to win.

    To be fair, there were many specific circumstances present in Malaysia that contributed to the situation today – UMNO managed to score several own goals through their arrogance and mismanagement to contribute to the shocking score line.

    While the PAP have not made mistakes on the scale of UMNO, they still face daunting challenges ahead – rocketing cost of living coupled with a shrinking economic pie for the middle to lower income majority of Singaporeans; newer, younger generations of voters clamoring for a more open society – youngsters that lack the awe of our leaders that persist in more aged Singaporeans; the shrinking influence of traditional mass media in the face of the internet – especially when our mass media is widely perceived to be propaganda rags that lack objectivity where local politics are concerned.

    I do not think that with our current equation that the emergence of a single charismatic opposition figurehead will bring about political revolution in long stagnant Singaporean politics. A single person can be and will be brought down by hook and by crook once he or she represents sufficient threat as seen from the fate of Tang Liang Hong.

    I think that change will arrive eventually by the tides of time when older generations passed away completely with the remnants of the glorious age where the PAP rose from being underdogs to build with Singaporeans the glittering metropolis that we see today – before they lost sight of the people dwelling in the shadows of the shimmering sky scrappers; before they stopped being stewards and became rulers instead.

  16. Sentri said

    I don’t get the title though…are we “stunned”?

  17. patriot said

    Stunned Dr Syed Alwi but not others.

  18. antz said

    if u keep track of m’sian politics,reading from m’sia blogs and also news online indeed u’ll get stunned by the results.

  19. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Well folks – I was referring to the powers that be in Singapore. It is they who were stunned by the results. It is they who fear a contagion effect ! Besides they now have to re-evaluate their policies on Malaysia etc etc etc.

  20. JH said

    Penang and Selangor are two of the most developed states in Malaysia, especially the latter. The Malays of these two states are among the better educated in Malaysia. The middle class Malays vote for PKR, not PAS. PAS does not gain votes from middle class Malays, I quote: “The party enjoys strong support from northern rural and conservative area such as Kelantan and Terengganu.” (

    The main reason behind the swift of votes, has little to do with religion, the people are more concern with corruption, inflation and rising crimes.

    I urge you to conduct proper research before making misleading comments on Malaysia politics.

  21. antz said

    It’s hard to say if we are misleading or are we just following blindly to their online news.
    Even the M’sians not able to really get hold of their politics neither do we.
    It’s a game of win or lose in politics.
    It’s not a matter of survival but a matter of endurance.

  22. panter92 said

    Singaporeans must not be impulsive and vote the opposition into parliament.

    Our constitution, the Westminster style of governance does not really cater much to opposition voice in government affairs. The only thing they can do is raise issues in parliament and hope that the cabinet takes it into consideration.

    Imagine if the PAP were to lose their majority in parliament? What will happen then? Any policy which needs to be implemented with immediate effect will/might be blocked by the opposition.

    Do you think WP and SDA can unite? I sincerely doubt so. They have two entirely different ideologies. One is liberal democracy, the other social democracy. Don’t talk to me about SDP, that’s a gone case party. If it can even get an NCMP seat in parliament, I’ll be very much surprised.

  23. The middle class will have their say. And those who fail to listen to the middle class, will lose out.

  24. Dr Syed Alwi said

    Dear JH,

    The Malaysian Malays will NEVER support DAP. In the urban areas they support PKR – and thats ONLY because of Anwar. In the rural areas they support PAS – because of Islam. The other 50% still vote for UMNO ! You have yet to fathom the Malay-Muslim mind. It is very naive to think that the Malaysian Malays who are so conservative when it comes to Lina Joy etc etc – will suddenly forget about Islam when it comes to elections ! Already PAS has led a protest against the Dutch Government because of Geert Wilder’s “Fitna” movie which is insulting to Islam.

    I used to debate with many people at Malaysia-Today, Malaysiakini and back then – even on the old HarakahDaily Forum. By and large – the Malays are conservative Muslims and will NOT support the free-thinking DAP.

    Nevertheless you should NOT lose sight of the 50% of Malays who STILL support UMNO ! So you see – the Malays vote along ethnic and religious lines.

  25. antz said

    Agree with Dr syed Alwi,

    I too interact with the Malaysian Malays sometimes online in their blogs.
    Just by reading straits times and etc..,u’ll never get to understand the ‘real’ sentiment on the ground.

    Pls be informed that M’sian Malays are by large really differs from the S’pore Malays.

    Most of them believe their identity should not be lose by modernity.
    It’s the M’sian politics from the intital stage that keeps by racial/religious lines.

  26. patriot said

    As a being of Nature, I strongly believe one has to be fidel to his nature. One should not be altered, adulterated and usurped one natural character by time, modernization or any other reasons except when Nature ordains so. If supposing a black man bleached himself into an albino to fit into a white men society, he will not be able to give birth to white offspring. He is only making a fool of himself.

    Politics and religions are man created stuff and both are outside the Realm of Nature. It is sad to see man trying to be smarter than Nature. Keep your natural identity at any price otherwise the root will rot and extinction will follow. I am an atheist.


  27. Amused said

    “Imagine if the PAP were to lose their majority in parliament? What will happen then? Any policy which needs to be implemented with immediate effect will/might be blocked by the opposition.”

    Oh, you mean like the rise in GST, means testing, etc.?
    I don’t know if most of us would be unhappy if they got blocked.

  28. […] […]

  29. Croco

    blog topic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: