Ho Kwan Ping warns people not to draw wrong lessons from events across the Causeway

Executive Chairman and co-founder of Banyan Tree Limited Holdings, Mr Ho Kwon Ping warned that it would be a “foolish mistake” for Singaporeans to heed Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s suggestion that Singaporeans “must be tired of their government”.  

Speaking at the OCBC Global Treasury Economic and Business Forum on “Singapore Politics and Business in an Age of Disruption” on 12 July, Mr Ho said that the parallels that can be drawn between both nations cannot be used as a basis to justify Dr Mahathir’s prediction.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad prophesised a ripple effect across the Causeway, merely weeks after Pakatan Harapan (PH, or The Alliance of Hope)’s monumental victory in Malaysia’s General Election last 9 May, according to the Financial Times.

“I think the people of Singapore, like the people in Malaysia, must be tired of having the same government, the same party since independence,” he said in the interview on 29 May. 

Ho pointed out that the key factor that led to the downfall of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) rule of almost sixty-one years in Malaysia was the “unbridled, egregiously blatant, and massively enormous corruption of the Najib (Malaysia’s former Prime Minister) government”, which has not occurred under the governance of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore.

Mr Ho noted that the similarities between both nations, including the fact that Singapore’s PAP and Malaysia’s BN are founding parties in their countries, will not necessarily mean that the former would suffer the same fate.

“It is not the absence of full democratic institutions, it is not the absence of full human rights, or the putting down of dissent, nor the presence of paternalistic governance which brings down a government, or has brought down the Malaysian government,” said Mr Ho during the OCBC forum, which was held at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia.

Thus, Singapore and its people, he argued, would be “drawing the wrong lessons” should they conclude “that the fall of the PAP is imminent for whatever reasons that are happening across the Causeway.”

PAP must be wary of the threat of “cronyism”, “nepotism” in its governance

However, Mr Ho did not rule out the possibility that the PAP government might be ousted out of power in the future.

He had also predicted, however, that the end of PAP’s rule might only take place within the next two or three decades.

Currently, Singapore is still being primarily led by its second generation of leaders, said Mr Ho.

As a result, the legacy of its founding fathers, particularly the first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, is still “clearly remembered and largely perpetuated” by current leaders, said Mr Ho.

He noted that historically, the spirit of post-independence founding parties persist for about three generations before it begins to show signs of decline.

Consequently, these parties would be in a rocky situation, as “hubris sets in and the rot begins”, said Mr Ho.

He also drew comparisons between “Western” political philosophy, which predominantly revolves around the need to establish functional democracies, and “Asian” political philosophy, which prioritises “good governance”, said Mr Ho, who was formerly a journalist before venturing into the hospitality industry, according to TODAY Online.

It is assumed that “good governance”, as suggested by Mr Ho, refers to one that rests itself upon high integrity and morality.

“There’s a high degree of tolerance within Asian countries for even incompetence. But there is very little intolerance for totally selfish regimes which only perpetuate their own well-being.”

Singapore appears to be well-known in the eyes of the world for its orderliness.

One way in which this orderliness is manifested is in its stringent enforcement of laws against corruption.

However, Mr Ho warned that such orderliness could be disrupted if the PAP allows nepotism and cronyism to seep into any possible cracks in its governance.

The PAP has to take measures against creating “quasi cronyism amongst cliques of elites” as it allegedly draws people from immediate circles of friends into the high ranks of civil service, he said.

One of the measures that can be taken, according to Mr Ho, is the pumping of “totally fresh new blood into the political system”.

New approaches to future problems, some “internal competition” needed within party to stay relevant

Additionally, applying formulaic approaches which might be archaic or outdated to future problems, as well as the lack of internal competition within the party, could also be detrimental to the PAP’s longevity as a ruling party, said Mr Ho.

While he acknowledged that having factions within the party “is not necessarily bad” as it induces some competition, it should not reach a point where there is a huge split within the party as that could spell disaster – a predicament suffered in BN’s top shelf leadership that resulted in its downfall.