On 18th August, Malaysian community organisation Engage organised a forum in Johor entitled ‘Can Singapore do a Malaysia?’ The forum centered around the historical shake-up in Malaysia’s recent 14th General Election which saw the 61-year ruling government ousted from office by the fresh new coalition of opposition parties called Pakatan Harapan. This peaceful change of government in Malaysia begs the question of whether or not Singapore, which is now ruled by the longest serving political party in the world, can pull off the same change.
The forum featured panelists who are both witnesses and actors to the history of both countries: YB Hassan Karim, MP of Pasir Gudang Johor, veteran activist and human rights lawyer; Hishamuddin Rais, veteran activist, film director and writer; Tan Wah Piow, lawyers and former Singapore student leader who was exiled in 1976; and Dr Thum Ping Tjin, historian and research fellow at Oxford University.
In one of Dr Thum's response during the Q&A session, he touched on the risk of a new government backsliding into the way things were before due to the fact that the people are not ready to maintain the change and in response, Hishamuddin Rais ominously though practically states that nothing can guarantee that the democratic space that Malaysia gained on 9th May will stay on forever.
He says that it is entirely dependent on the response of civil societies, NGOs and members of political parties and people in government – whether they really fully understand the gain of the democratic space and if they are ready to defend it.
Rais touched on the internal battles of self-interest that are now raging within the PKR party in Malaysia that could potentially impact not just PKR but the coalition and government as a whole. Drawing a comparison to the Philippines, Hishamuddin pointed out the backslide there with Duertete in power and potential for a similar failure happening in Malaysia is the democratic space is not protected.
On the subject of whether Singapore can pull off what Malaysia did, Rais says yes but it is imperative they Singaporeans learn from the experiences of other nations and work to protect the democratic gains once achieved. He calls for NGOs, civil societies, and political parties to work together and continue to work together or else. The clear battle of power waging within the Part Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) which happens to be the dominant party in PH is a worrying sign that crisis is just around the corner.
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