Daily Archives: 2015-10-12

Fire in Tanjong Kling injures seven with one fatality

A fire broke out this morning at 21 Tanjong Kling Road, which houses the welding, gas and safety company, Leeden National Oxygen.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was activated at 9.30am.

This video shows SCDF rushing to the scene with an explosion happening soon after:

According to the SCDF, there was a fire and a few explosions were heard in the premises. The in-house Company Emergency Response Team (CERT) immediately located the fire, conducted evacuation and began firefighting operations prior to the SCDF’s arrival.

By the time the SCDF arrived, the fire had engulfed a laboratory measuring about 7m by 5m, in close proximity to a production and storage area.

The SCDF immediately deployed four water jets to contain the fire within the laboratory and prevented it from spreading to the nearby flammable cylinders in the storage area. Concurrently, the SCDF personnel equipped with breathing apparatus conducted search operations within the premises.

Seven casualties were conveyed by the SCDF ambulances to hospitals. There was one fatality from the accident, a new mother who had recently received Singapore citizenship.

SCDF is investigating the cause of fire.

Below are photos of the laboratory within the premises in the aftermath of the fire.




Parents perplexed by school’s position on air purifier

MOE closed all schools on 25 Sept

MOE closed all schools on 25 Sept

“The Ministry of Education (MOE) and schools have in place a school continuity plan to ensure the well-being of our students and staff during a haze situation,” the ministry’s website says. “Schools are ready to respond and take appropriate haze management measures based on a set of guidelines corresponding to the health advisory.”

Despite the ministry’s assurance, however, some parents want more to be done to protect their children from the haze, which has affected Singapore the past few months.

A group of 20 parents of students from one primary school approached the principal recently to explore further measures which could be introduced to protect the children from exposure to the haze.

While the meeting ended with some headway being made with regards to addressing the parents’ concerns, the latter were left wondering if more could still be done.

One of the suggestions which they presented to the school was for air purifiers to be provided to all classrooms.

The parents themselves were prepared to donate or lend these purifiers to the school for all classes.

However, according to the parents, the principal said that he could not consider the option.

“Despite our repeated queries, the principal did not provide any explanation as to the reasons for declining our offer,” the parents said in an email to Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, Christopher de Souza, last week.

The parents were seeking the MP’s help to urge the relevant authorities and the MOE to provide clearer guidelines on further measures in protecting students from the annual haze.

The Online Citizen (TOC) has seen a copy of the email, and we understand that Mr de Souza has not responded to it.

The email said one parent had told the principal that her child had recently been discharged from a five-day stay in the hospital, “where he had been warded for lung infection from the haze.”

“Naturally, this was very sobering information, as it surely is not – and rightly should not be – MOE’s or any of the relevant parties’ position that children would need to actually fall sick for adequate measures to be in place for their protection,” the email added.

By the end of the meeting with the principal, the parents were told that the school was prepared to provide air purifiers in the classes – but only for primary 1 and 2 classes.

This perplexed the parents who, while glad that the school was willing to implement other further measures, were nonplussed about why air purifiers were not going to be made available to all classes.

“With all due respect to the relevant decision-makers, how was it justifiable that one group of children deserved protection, but not those who were only marginally older?” the parents’ email to Mr de Souza asked.

“As our children spend at least 6 to 7 hours a day in school, we are concerned about the extent of exposure they have to harmful particles in the haze, especially when they are studying in classrooms with open windows and doors.”

“We understand that equipping every classroom with air purifier will have financial considerations,” the email said. “However, not taking the necessary pre-emptive measures now will in all likelihood lead to even higher medical bills that will be faced by the population in the future. Accordingly, we urge MOE and/or MOH and/or other relevant agencies to review their current guidelines and measures for the schools.”

The parents reiterated that they were willing to contribute the air purifiers to the school and asked the MOE to “provide clearer directives as to whether parents are allowed to contribute air purifiers to the schools via fund raising or by way of loan from willing parents.”

“Please help us to understand MOE’s rationale if such measures are not accepted,” the group said to Mr de Souza.

Meanwhile, on the MOE website, the ministry says “[the] well-being of all students remains a key priority.”

“Teachers will be on the lookout for students who are unwell and ensure that these students receive medical attention promptly. For students who have pre-existing heart or lung conditions, schools have a list of these students’ names and will also be monitoring their well-being.”

It also says that “[all] primary and secondary schools have in place a set of haze management plans and are ready to implement the appropriate haze management measures as required.” (See here.)

The ministry is also ready to close all schools if the situation warranted it, as it did on 25 September when the haze was expected to worsen that day.

The Online Citizen has written to Mr de Souza and the school for comments on the matter.

2016 – the death knell of the famous Sungei Rd Thieves Market


Since July 2011, the famous Sungei Road Thieves Market, or Flea Market as it is sometimes known, has been reduced from its original size to facilitate the construction of the upcoming Jalan Besar MRT train station.

The station is expected to be completed by 2017.

But the flea market, which has been around since the 1930s, will cease to operate a year earlier, in 2016.

That was the deadline given by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to the vendors, or hawkers, there, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s. However, the exact date of the last day of the market is still up in the air.

The hawkers’ predicament has left them in the lurch, with an uncertain future, and for the past three years they have been trying to seek clarity from the authorities, to no avail.

So far, the association have written to the Prime Minister, the URA, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, the NEA, the Singapore Land Authority, and even the Member of Parliament for the area, Denise Phua.

All the various agencies and government departments they have approached have declined to meet with their representatives from the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods.


The association’s signboard in its small cubicle office

The association has also written to the Prime Minister of Singapore in 2012, requesting for an alternative location for the hawkers to continue their trade.

“As the construction of the MRT is expected to be completed in a few years’ time, we are uncertain of the future, in particular, the operation of the society,” the association’s letter said.

Urging the Prime Minister to preserve the market as part of Singapore’s heritage, the association added, “We understand the development and progress of the nation cannot be compromised but to have [the market] continue its operation would preserve its heritage as uniquely Singapore.”

The letter, signed off by the association’s president, Koh Ah Koon, was copied to the Ministry of National Development, the National Environment Agency (NEA), and MP, Denise Phua.

About one and half month later, the NEA responded to the letter.

“As you are aware, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) developments plans for Sungei Road are expected to be initiated after the completion of the Jalan Besar MRT station in 2016,” the Director of Environmental Health Department of the NEA said.

The agency added that it “will work with the URA to give the vendors advance notice to cease their operations on the site once the detailed implementation timeline is confirmed.”

The NEA said vendors “who wish to seek alternative avenues to continue their business may bid for the Piece and Sundry stalls in hawker centres during the monthly tender exercises.”

For those who do not wish to continue their trade, the NEA said the Work Development Authority (WDA) and the Community Development Councils (CDCs) “will assist them individually to explore job opportunities and even render financial assistance where necessary.”

Despite the offers of assistance from the government agencies, no clarity as to the future of the market itself was forthcoming, with the NEA saying that plans for the area are yet to be finalised, and thus it could not provide any answers to the vendors’ questions.

Nonetheless, the next two years, the association continued to try and engage the authorities on the issue.

In 2015, a volunteer who stepped forward to assist the association, Mr Larry Lee, sought a face-to-face meeting with the NEA.

In his email to the NEA in August this year, Mr Lee explained that the Sungei Road market has the potential to become a tourist attraction such as Portobello in the United Kingdom and the Paddington Flea Market in Australia.

Mr Lee asked for a meeting with officers from the National Heritage Board, the URA and the Singapore Tourism Board, along with those from the NEA, to “share our ideas on how to make the Sungei Road Flea Market an attraction to local and foreigners to visits.”

The NEA responded, reiterating that development plans for the area will only be known after the completion of the Jalan Besar station, and that it will arrange for a meeting with the association together with the URA.

However, no such meetings have taken place till date.

In the meantime, there is growing anxiety among the hawkers as the date of the cessation of operations nears.

Mr Koh sungei road

Mr Koh Ah Koon, president for the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods

“The vendors here are quite disappointed that the government has not clarified whether they will be given another location to ply their trade,” Mr Koh told The Online Citizen (TOC).

He reiterated that the hawkers are not asking for or demanding that they be allowed to remain in Sungei Road, but that they be allowed an alternative location for their business.

“If the government needs the place for redevelopment, we are willing to move to another location,” Mr Koh said. “We have to… and even after we moved to a new location, it will also be temporary, we won’t expect to remain there permanently.”

The association had suggested four potential alternative sites, all of which are around the Sungei Road area – Rochor River, at Kampong Bugis along Kallang River, behind Sim Lim Tower and a roadside near Jalan Kubor Malay cemetery.

The NEA, however, said that it would “not be possible to accede to your request to relocate” the market.

Mr Koh explained that the hawkers do not want to depend on handouts from the government, and prefer to remain self-reliant and independent.

“Shutting down the market will mean taking away a source of income for many elderly folk here,” Mr Koh told the media last year. “Most of us have little education or are illiterate.”

When TOC asked some of the hawkers what they would do if the market was closed down, some said they may have to resort to illegal hawking to make ends meet.

They also felt that the NEA’s suggestion for them to take up hawker stalls was not practical.

“If we had money to rent and set up such stalls, would we be doing this here?” one hawker asked.

As for the suggestion that the hawkers could go for retraining to acquire new skills to do alternative work, some of the hawkers balked at the notion.

“Look at some of them, they can’t even walk properly and you are asking them to go for retraining?” Mr Koh said. He also dismissed the suggestion for the vendors to become food hawkers in a hawker centre.

“We’re not selling food, so a hawker stall space makes little sense.”

When TOC visited the market last Monday to speak to the hawkers, the skies were covered by the haze. Yet, the hawkers were still out there. In fact, that day was a busy one for them, which was rather unusual for the first day of the work week.

Among those out there on Monday was 81-year old Mr Pang, who lives in a rental flat nearby with his two children, one of whom has a medical condition. This meant that the other sibling had to be home to look after him.

mr pang sungei road

81-year old Mr Pang at his stall

Mr Pang has been selling his knick knacks at the market for 50 years to raise his sons.

“If the government gives us an alternative location to continue our business, that would be best,” he told TOC in a mixture of Chinese and Hokkien. “That’s what we hope for. Otherwise, how do old folks like us make a living?”

When asked if what he earns everyday is enough to pay for his and his sons’ living expenses, Mr Pang said, “It is not always that we manage to sell anything. Some days, we don’t sell anything at all.”

In the meantime, all eyes are on the new year which will signal the death knell of one of Singapore’s most famous historical site – if the authorities insist on ceasing the market’s operations permanently.

*In our subsequent reports, we will feature the hawkers who ply their trade at the Sungei Road market.

Are you suffering from hormonal imbalance?

Depressed woman

By Christine B.

Aging is inevitable for everyone. No matter how young and vigorous a person may be today, time can eventually erode that characteristic vitality that youth imbues the body. Older individuals may begin to notice that their mind and body are not functioning the way they used to. They may experience hot flashes, unexplained weight gain, mood swings, low sexual desire, depression, sleeplessness, poor memory, and a general decrease in their energy levels. Such symptoms can have a significant effect on a person’s quality of life. Those affected might not only feel unhealthy, they could also lose much of their joie de vivre­.

Many people believe that these symptoms are just normal and that one should just let nature take its course. In short, one can’t really do anything about it. However, there is a great chance that these symptoms are actually being brought about by hormonal imbalances — conditions that can be managed with the right medicines and smart lifestyle choices.


What are hormones and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy?

Hormones are several types of molecules that are naturally produced by the glands of the human body, performing regulatory functions that affect a person’s behavior and physiology. You can think of them as signaling particles that help organs and tissues communicate and perform their duties. The bodily activities that hormones regulate or affect include mood, sensory perception, sleep, stress, movement, metabolism, digestion, respiration, reproduction, sexual desire, appetite, growth, repair, and waste excretion.

Many people, especially older individuals, experience imbalances in the levels of hormones in their body. Thankfully, disturbances caused by these hormonal imbalances can be effectively managed with the help of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy or BHRT, a specialized field of modern medicine that involves the use of bioidentical hormones that reverse the symptoms. Conventional hormone replacement therapy typically involves the use of artificial hormones that are synthesized in the lab. By contrast, BHRT uses hormones that are naturally derived.


What sort of hormonal imbalances can be addressed by BHRT?

The kind of therapy that will be provided to a patient will depend on the kind of hormonal imbalances that they are experiencing. Before the healthcare provider proceeds with the treatment, patients are required to first undergo laboratory tests to determine their condition.

A patient may be evaluated to determine the levels of the following hormones in their body:

Testosterone – Testosterone is an androgen sex hormone that is produced in the testes of males and in the ovaries of females. It is widely known for serving an important role in the growth and maturation of reproductive tissues in males and for being essential to the development of distinctly male characteristics in men, including heavier muscle and bone mass, deep voice, as well as more body and facial hair.

Imbalance in testosterone levels can result in decreased sex drive or libido, lower levels of strength and endurance, lack of energy, sleepiness, and loss of muscle definition in men and women. Men can also experience erectile dysfunction as a result of this condition.

Estrogen – Estrogen is to females as testosterone is to males. It is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and of secondary sex characteristics like the growth of the mammary glands. Like testosterone, estrogen is naturally found in the bodies of both females and males. In men, it is important in the regulation of reproductive functions, including the maturation of sperm cells.

Good estrogen balance is essential for keeping the body healthy. It plays an important role in maintaining bone density, thus preventing the development of osteoporosis in people.

Estrogen deficiency and elevated levels of estrogen can have a significant impact on an individual’s wellbeing and quality of life. In women, it can cause hot flashes, irregular periods, poor libido, and incontinence. Elevated estrogen levels, on the other hand, is associated with breast and uterine cancer, autoimmune diseases, and hypothyroidism in women. In men, abnormally high estrogen levels are associated with prostate enlargement, heart problems, carotid artery disease, low libido, and difficulty in losing weight.

Progesterone – Aside from estrogen, progesterone is another primary hormone in women. Produced in the ovaries, the adrenal glands, and in the placenta (among pregnant women), this hormone plays important functions like regulating the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. It also plays a role in maintaining libido.

Progesterone deficiency in women can result in menstrual irregularities, infertility, mood swings, depression, foggy thinking, fatigue, and low libido. Even younger woman many need progesterone supplementation if they are experiencing estrogen-dominant symptoms or if they are failing to ovulate.

Among men, progesterone is also important precisely because it counteracts estrogen and because it is a precursor to testosterone. Low progesterone levels in men can result in the enlargement and inflammation of the prostate, decrease in the size of the urethra, diminished libido, depression, decrease in bone and muscle mass, weight gain, hair loss, and fatigue. It is also associated with heart conditions and to cellular changes that may lead to cancer.

Because progesterone is a building block of other steroid hormones like cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen, progesterone deficiency can also affect overall hormonal balance.

Cortisol – Often called the “stress hormone,” cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress and when the body is experiencing low blood glucose levels.

Under normal conditions, cortisol is needed by the body for the regulation of cardiovascular functions, blood pressure, and the use of glucose, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. However, high cortisol levels can result in problems like high blood pressure and may interfere with metabolism, mental function, cell regeneration, and endocrine function.

DHEA – Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an endogenous steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. Low levels of DHEA is associated with decreased libido, joint pain, memory loss, lower metabolism, decreased muscle and bone mass, chronic fatigue, and even cancer.

Thyroid Hormones – The thyroid hormones are produced in the thyroid gland. One of the biggest endocrine glands in the body, the thyroid gland is an important regulator of energy use and protein synthesis. It is also essential for maintaining the body’s sensitivity to other types of hormones.

Thyroid imbalance can occur in two different ways, namely hyperthyroidism (elevated levels of thyroid hormones) and hypothyroidism (deficiency in thyroid hormones). Hyperthyroidism can cause the development of goiter (enlarged thyroid gland), and can lead to symptoms like fatigue, bowel movement disruption, heat intolerance (the sensation of feeling hot all the time), nervousness, fatigue, weight loss, and irregular menstrual cycles in women. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, can cause symptoms like hair loss, swelling in the face, weight gain, weak nails, fatigue, cold intolerance (constantly feeling cold), and depression.

Human Growth Hormone – Produced by the somatotropic cells in the anterior pituitary gland, human growth hormone (HGH) is essential in the regulation of cell growth, reproduction, and regeneration. Low levels of HGH can result in fatigue, decreased energy levels, diminished muscle and bone mass, increased fat and bad cholesterol levels, and baldness in men.

Pregnenolone – An endogenous steroid hormone, pregnenolone plays an important role as precursor of many hormones like testosterone, DHEA, estrogen, and cortisol. Because of the pregnenolone’s huge role in hormone synthesis, low levels of it can have a direct effect on general hormonal imbalance.

Pregnenolone is abundant in the brain. Deficiency in this hormone has been associated with memory and cognitive problems, troubled mood, decreased libido, fatigue, and symptoms of testosterone and estrogen deficiency.

Vitamin D – Vitamin D is not strictly considered a vitamin because it serves functions that are similar to those of hormones. It allows the body to absorb elements like calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and phosphate, and it also plays a vital role in metabolism.

Vitamin D can be synthesized by the body through direct exposure to the sun. But with more and more people avoiding sun exposure to minimize the risk of skin cancer, vitamin D deficiency in many people poses another serious public health risk. Low levels of vitamin D has been linked to higher risk for heart attack, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, depression, and muscle and bone pain.

Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean you have to settle for a lower quality of life. When it comes to hormonal imbalance, there are modern solutions that can bring back the vitality and balance that your body used to enjoy. See your specialist today to learn more about your options.

S’pore diplomat read M’sian ground wrong, says LSE professor

Bilahari (left); Pua (right)

Bilahari (left); Pua (right)

Professor Danny Quah of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, London School of Economics (LSE), has weighed in on the tit-for-tat spat between a Singapore diplomat and a Malaysian opposition lawmaker on the debate of idealism versus realism.

The Singapore ambassador-at-large, Bilahari Kausikan, had written an article for the Straits Times on 6 October in which he said, in relation to recent happenings in Malaysia, including the Bersih movement, that “young Malaysian Chinese” were “delusional” in believing that the alleged Malaysian “principle of Malay dominance can be changed.”

“It is my impression that many young Malaysian Chinese have forgotten the lessons of May 13, 1969. They naively believe that the system built around the principle of Malay dominance can be changed,” Mr Bilahari wrote. “That may be why they abandoned MCA for the DAP. They are delusional. Malay dominance will be defended by any means.”

But professor Quah questioned the underlying assumption or basis of Mr Bilahari’s claims.

“To me this Singapore Straits Times article is not striking for its raw, naked realism,” the professor wrote on his blog. “What is notable about it is how a seasoned, wise, and supremely talented political observer such as its author fails to acknowledge the universal aspirations of Malaysia’s citizens, but instead sees only the obvious surface tensions in that country. In the relentless rush of Realist discourse, he ends up articulating a narrative no deeper than what power elites have, for decades now, wanted ordinary people to believe.”

Mr Bilahari’s article had earlier drawn a sharp response from Malaysian opposition lawmaker, Tony Pua, from the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

“He did Singapore no favour by cementing the perception of his country as the mercenary prick of Southeast Asia,” Mr Pua said of the Singapore ambassador. “And they wonder why they have no friends.”

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Pua added, “I don’t care much if this was the view of some academic or armchair critic. But as the Ambassador-at-large, Mr Bilahari is a spokesman for Singapore.”

Mr Pua’s posting in turn prompted a response from Mr Bilahari, who complained about Mr Pua’s “rude comments” about him and Singapore.

“[I] thought that Mr Pua’s crudity speaks for itself more tellingly than anything I could have written,” Mr Bilahari said, explaining why he had not responded to Mr Pua’s remarks earlier.

Mr Pua rebutted the complaint, “I don’t know about you, but I thought the ‘mercenary prick of Southeast Asia’ was a very ‘coherent’ description of Mr Bilahari’s articulation of Singapore’s interest. It might be ‘crude’, sure, but some will actually say that I’m just too polite.”

As the childish spat, as some online observers described it, continues, Professor Quah questions if Mr Bilahari had in fact got his fundamental basis wrong.

“More critical, it seems to me, is not the problem of idealism vs realism,” Professor Quah said. “It’s whether the writer has accurately read that in Malaysia, as he says bluntly, ‘the pressure point is religion’. This line jars.”

Professor Quah says that “the situation in Malaysia is one where people deal, every day, with bread and butter issues like escalating corruption, criminal malfeasance, rising extreme poverty, widening income disparities, and a failure in national governance.”

“In the midst of this wide array of social problems, the writer points to… religion. Such a diversionary tactic, long practised by power elites everywhere, puts blame elsewhere than where the problem genuinely rests.”

Professor Quah is a Professor of Economics and International Development at the London School of Economics, and Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre at LSE. He had previously served on Malaysia’s National Economic Advisory Council, 2009-2011.

Here is Professor Quah’s blog post in full – “A realistically dangerous Southeast Asian neighbourhood”:

quahThe Realist position in the Straits Times article “Singapore is not an Island” (Bilahari Kaushikan, 06 Oct 2015) might grate for many readers. The article talks about young Malaysian Chinese being delusional for believing the Malaysian political discourse will actually change. It warns ominously how a likely outcome might be “even less space for non-Muslims”. It argues how Singaporeans should wish “the worst does not occur […] but to prepare ourselves as if it might”, and how Singaporeans “have no choice but to work with whatever system or leader emerges in Malaysia”, even as “some systems will be easier to work with than others”.

Such statements sit uneasily with some readers [Ong, Pua].

But the article’s underlying Realist argument (“It’s not a state’s job to look out for the well-being of people elsewhere or the position of another state. No hard feelings, that’s just the system.”) is not atypical in international discourse. And Realism is fashionable these days, and a consistent worldview besides, and therefore easy to defend.

More critical, it seems to me, is not the problem of idealism vs realism. It’s whether the writer has accurately read that in Malaysia, as he says bluntly, “the pressure point is religion”. This line jars. The situation in Malaysia is one where people deal, every day, with bread and butter issues like escalating corruption, criminal malfeasance, rising extreme poverty, widening income disparities, and a failure in national governance. In the midst of this wide array of social problems, the writer points to… religion. Such a diversionary tactic, long practised by power elites everywhere, puts blame elsewhere than where the problem genuinely rests.

By contrast, leading narratives on Bersih4 or 1MDB make no mention of race or religion. For background, I like NYT 20 Aug 2015 and The Diplomat 05 Aug 2015 (obviously), among others. More recently, those reporting on the mysterious circumstances surrounding 1MDB or raising questions on alleged money transfers surrounding the Prime Minister’s accounts have been removed from office, replaced, transferred, suspended, or either threatened with or actually arrested for undermining democracy.  Malaysia’s formidable central bank sought criminal proceedings against 1MDB for violating regulations on overseas cash movement, only to have the Attorney-General refuse to take action (WSJ 09 Oct 2015).  In September the FBI began to investigate allegations of money laundering against 1MDB; the US Justice Department opened an inquiry into US properties purchased through alleged corruption surrounding the Prime Minister and his close associates.  By late 2015 Singaporean and Swiss banks had frozen financial accounts they determined were connected to the 1MDB investigation.  Malaysia’s own royalty, broke with tradition, to announce a “crisis of confidence” from the government’s failure to deal convincingly with questions surrounding 1MDB.  Transparency International’s statements on Malaysia consistently refer to strong, independent investigative authorities, press freedoms, and action on cross-border corruption.

Sure, race and religion have factored critically in Malaysia’s history. But all these recent developments cut across religious and ethnic categories. They concern, instead, clean transparent governance and zero tolerance of corruption: Singapore has long advanced these same principles. Malaysians, young and old, are excited and energised by their possibility. Concerned law-makers, conscientious observers, critical law-makers have all worked hard to stem the serious breakdown in transparency, confidence, legitimacy, and legality in Malaysia.

None of these, according to the Singapore Straits Times article, matters.  That essay ignores all the positive change happening, and constructs a narrative built on how it is, instead, religion and by implication race driving the Malaysian political landscape.

Singapore’s political and economic success has been constructed on the ruthless extermination of corruption; well-functioning public services; and a clean, transparent government with “consent of the governed” – in other words, a success leveraged on the efficient provision of public goods. Such principles are admired and sought worldwide. Ordinary people everywhere want these for their own. Legitimacy of the state might be only aspirational in so many parts of the world, but it is that noble vision that drives a people’s relations with their state – this holds across the entire geopolitical span, from the US through China. That ordinary Malaysians want these too is to be celebrated, not dismissed.

No one is under any illusion that overcoming Malaysia’s steep challenges and embedded history will be easy. But battling such odds is exactly what another Southeast Asian country did successfully, in that often-repeated tale of starting out with nothing but tropical swamp and rainforest, a divided and uneducated population, zero natural wealth, surrounded by hostility, indeed life and death struggles against political intrigue and machination – both within and without – and then, mere decades later, achieving first-world economy status, becoming the world’s most transparent and competitive market, having the world’s least corrupt government, and enjoying the world’s most efficient public services. If its people too had succumbed to the idea that their hopes were mere delusion, modern Singapore might not today exist.

(Both critics and supporters of its success like to point to how Singapore could achieve certain objectives only because it is small. First, I don’t think anyone in 1960s Singapore was going around trumpeting how that state was bound for success because it was so small. Instead, its diminutive size was a source of fear and foreboding. Second, simply as a matter of mathematical and economic logic, anything a small state can do, a big state can as well, simply by chopping up itself. By contrast big economies might enjoy increasing returns to scale; small ones definitely don’t. That big states don’t spontaneously divide into small ones happens for all kinds of interesting reasons, but the logical option is always open to them to go small. That Singapore or Hong Kong or Papua New Guinea might enjoy special advantage that makes them more successful because they are small is, in my view, a complete non-explanation.)

To me this Singapore Straits Times article is not striking for its raw, naked Realism. What is notable about it is how a seasoned, wise, and supremely talented political observer such as its author fails to acknowledge the universal aspirations of Malaysia’s citizens, but instead sees only the obvious surface tensions in that country. In the relentless rush of Realist discourse, he ends up articulating a narrative no deeper than what power elites have, for decades now, wanted ordinary people to believe.