The recent elections across the causeway has caused a great flurry of commentaries in our nation state. Netizens, political watchers and certain academics were quick to point out the similarities between Singapore and Malaysia and warning the PAP that the end was nigh for its political dominance.
Current Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad himself joined in the fray by remarking that “Singaporeans – like the Malaysians – must be tired of their government”. Others on the other hand were equally adamant that the former PM, Najib Razak’s corruption was what brought UMNO down and that this has no bearing on Singapore’s political landscape.
As is always the case in most situations, the truth is probably somewhere in between. While the straw that broke the camel’s back was indeed Najib’s flagrant and blatant corruption, the public was also ripe to react vehemently to the saga. It was the confluence of Najib’s corruption and the peoples’ anger that eventually brought UMNO down.
If the public hadn’t already been so dissatisfied with the status quo, there would not have been such a concerted effort by so many divergent groups of people to expose his misdeeds and bring him down in the first place. This is the part that Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping has failed to acknowledge while speaking at an OCBC forum: “Singapore Politics and Business in an Age of Disruption”.
Najib’s outrageous behaviour definitely contributed largely to his electoral defeat. However, it was widespread dissent amongst the populace that made the outage of his behaviour possible in the first place. Rising prices, a squeezed middle class, a lack of career opportunities and a decreasing standard of living all played a part and these are factors that should not be underplayed.
With shocking election results such as these, there is always a multitude of reasons. To conclude that it was solely due to the corruption of one man instead of the failure of an entire system that enabled this flagrant corruption to occur in the first place is myopic and simplistic.
Singapore too faces the problems of rising prices and an increasingly squeezed middle class. In a general atmosphere of dissatisfaction, any event can become the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is therefore important to always be mindful of what the ground sentiments are. Of course, I am not suggesting that there is the Najib type of corruption in Singapore but there will always be something that can be exploited to rile the public if the public are already angry. To ignore that possibility and to simply dismiss the election results in Malaysia as just down to Najib’s corruption would be a foolhardy act of hubris.
Singapore definitely has lessons to learn from this.