Malaysia's former Prime Minister, Najib Razak deliver his presentation about 2018 Malaysia Budget at the Dewan Rakyat, Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur ( Aizuddin Saad/

Lesson from across the Straits, voters can only be pushed so far

As Malaysia progresses in forming its new government and the region has come to grips with the shock result, local commentators have opined that Barisan Nasional (spearheaded by UMNO) lost the election because its brand had become toxic. Its brand had become toxic because instead of taking steps to punish a flagrantly corrupt politician, his cronies chose to close ranks to protect Najib Razak.

As the electorate watched this arrogant and selfish display, they felt they had no choice but to vote for the opposition. There was no one left in BN that was not tainted by the corruption scandal.

Unfortunately, there will always be scandals and bad politicians. What makes the difference, however, is how fellow politicians and the government deal with these individuals that make the difference. UMNO’s failure to deal with this appropriately cost it dearly.

Why did they fail so spectacularly? Were they so out of touch with reality that they really thought they were untouchable? Has one party rule and decades in power reinforced a sense of entitlement – i.e. I am in power because I deserve to be no matter what I do. This sense of hubris is hard to fathom from a common man’s perspective but perhaps from an ivory tower, it is easy to become ingrained in your own hype.

As they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The Najib scandal was not created overnight. There was a whole series of enablers that allowed this to happen.

What happened in Malaysia has happened many times before in history and will happen again. To prevent it will take will and vigilance.

From a Singaporean perspective, experts have warned the People’s Action Party to heed this warning and not let their brand become toxic.

I am not suggesting that any Singaporean politician is in any way shape or form like Najib. There will not be the scandal of the century that will ignite the public. That said, it does need to be mindful on the needs of local Singaporeans. You can only push people so far.

At the same time, it would need to take steps to ensure that it is not seen as closing ranks to protect itself rather than the needs of the people. If an issue arises, it needs to deal with it – not close ranks and protect one of its own.

As Bob Dylan sings soulfully: “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose”