Don’t expect what just happened in Malaysia to be repeated in Singapore

The PAP Government has always taught Singaporeans to look down on Malaysia and compare it unfavourably with our own state of economic development. Never mind the fact that Singapore was 100% urbanised at independence whereas for Malaysia the comparable figure was 27% in 1960 and 75% in 2015. Our nominal GDP per capita is more than five times that of Malaysia and our total GDP is just above or below Malaysia’s, depending on whether you use the World Bank, IMF or UN figures.

When Singapore’s GDP supposedly surpassed Malaysia’s a few years ago, there was a lot of bragging about the fact in our state media. The PAP conveniently glossed over the fact that our GDP is artificially inflated in the same way as Ireland’s, by the tax avoidance strategies of multinationals (which may no longer be worthwhile after the recent US tax reform). They also fail to mention that Singapore’s GDP per capita is artificially inflated by long hours and the fact that 40% of the workforce is made up of foreign workers (who either do not have families or are unable or cannot afford to bring them with them).  In addition output in Malaysia’s rural economy is probably significantly undercounted because it is not bought or sold on a market.

After a UBS survey in 2011 embarrassed the PAP by showing that Singaporean workers’ purchasing power was on a par with their counterparts in KL, the Government obviously quietly put pressure on UBS to drop Singapore from the survey because it disappeared from the next survey of global cities’ living standards.

In our school curriculum and state media our dynastic rulers always make unfavourable comparisons between our supposedly squeaky clean corruption free environment and the open venality on display in Malaysia, a result of giving one race special rights that under the Constitution cannot be challenged. Certainly as the Wall Street Journal unearthed more and more prurient details about the alleged corruption of the Malaysian PM, Najib and the high-spending habits of his wife, Rosmah, Singaporeans’ smugness and feelings of superiority seemed to be increasingly vindicated.

However all that has changed with the surprise result of the Malaysian GE on May 9th, as much a “freak” result. It is often said that a country can only be called a democracy when there has been a transfer of power as a result of an election. This test Malaysia has now passed and at the same time stemmed to some extent what pundits were calling a global slide towards authoritarianism and away from democracy.

Cynics are already citing the fact that Mahathir will be the interim PM by agreement among the coalition, at least until Anwar Ibrahim is released and elected to Parliament to say that there will be little change. It is true that Mahathir was no democrat during his time in office and tried to destroy Anwar Ibrahim by jailing him for the same offence as However the cynics ignore the basic fact that Mahathir has only 12 MPs from his party compared to the 91 from PKR and DAP. Even if he wanted to, he cannot simply tear up the agreement and rule like a dictator.  The presence among the Opposition coalition of veteran human rights campaigners like Maria Chin Abdullah and Tian Chua means that it is unlikely that the new Government will slide back into authoritarianism.

The threat is more likely to come from UMNO and its deep roots in the civil service and other state institutions. In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan Opposition victories often only lasted one term before the former ruling party was able to recapture the Government at the next election. However once people’s mindsets had been broken and it had been shown that Governments of many decades standing could be changed without the sky falling in, it would be impossible for the ancien regime to return.

Others have said that this shock landslide will lead to rapid change in Singapore and even an Opposition victory at the next election.  I consider this unlikely. An article by Thomas Pepinsky in The Interpreter, published by the Australian Lowy institute (founded by the family who owned Westfield, owners of Europe’s biggest malls) says that, while there were special factors ( Mahathir coming out of retirement at 92 to lead the Opposition, the defection of PAS which removed a party that was unattractive to non-Muslims from the coalition, and of course the role of the WSJ in exposing Najib’s and his associates like Jha Low’s open theft of taxpayers’ money) the most important factor was the simple fact that there was an election which allowed the possibility of a change of government.

However it does not follow from this that the same thing can happen in Singapore. The PAP’s and the Familee’s totalitarian grip pervades every institution in Singapore, from the civil service to the People’s Association, under the PMO, and most private businesses as well. In Malaysia there was already a well established Opposition that had more than a third of the seats in Parliament and had gained a majority of the popular vote at the last election. Malaysia’s federal system already meant that there was far more democratisation at all levels than in Singapore where instead of introducing local democracy the PAP have used Town Councils as yet another barrier to electing Opposition. The Malaysian Opposition had already several decades of successfully running state assemblies including the wealthiest in Penang and Selangor. While the Malaysian Government had moved to tighten its control over the media and introduced new laws as well as made use of old ones to try to clamp down on dissent, it was much less successful than Singapore’s in scaring its citizens away from criticising the Government. There is an election commission as opposed to one that is merely a department within the PM’s office. A much smaller percentage of its citizens live in public housing where the state is your landlord and you can be threatened with loss of amenities if you vote for the Opposition. Protests are banned in Singapore whereas there have been huge demonstrations in Malaysia that the previous Government tolerated reluctantly. The Malaysian judiciary is noticeable more independent than Singapore’s, even acquitting Anwar initially until Najib’s Government appealed and got the result they wanted. However in contrast to Singapore no adverse consequences were suffered by the judge who acquitted Anwar in the first instance.

Najib was unable to stop the leak of hugely damaging information about the diversion of money flows from 1MDB allegedly into the pockets of himself, his relatives and his associates. In Singapore the flow of information is much more tightly controlled. Singaporeans are still content to have no idea even as to how much Ho Ching earns (which must be in the tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars) let alone the real extent of the Familee’s wealth and their access to inside information through their control of Temasek and GIC. We can be fairly confident that LHL and his wife are substantially richer than Najib. However having tightly clamped down on freedom of information our royal couple go around dressing like a couple of old folks you would see in an HDB food court and hypocritically showing off $10 handbags (as opposed to the Birkin and Chanel bags favoured by Rosmah).

Above all Malaysians have proved themselves ready to go to jail to defend democracy and their rights to freedom of expression. This is something Singaporeans have refused to do time and again. It sickens me to think of the number of people who wrote after my dad’s death that they wanted to help him but were too scared and that they regret crossing the road so as to avoid meeting him. Again and again activists in Singapore have made the mistake of attempting to stay non-political in the hope that this will stop the PAP from persecuting them. It did not work for the alleged Marxist conspirators who refused to join WP when my dad was leader. It will not work for the civil society activists like Jolovan Wham either, however brave he is in displaying a willingness to get arrested and suffer imprisonment.

BN and Najib must be as surprised as anybody. If they had anticipated this upset they would have taken steps to prevent it, even to the extent of possibly suspending elections and declaring a state of emergency. The PAP and Lee Hsien Loong must be equally surprised. But forewarned is forearmed. Expect the PAP to take further steps before the next election to ensure that the possibility of a “freak” result, statistically insignificant already, is reduced closer to zero. It will be up to Singaporeans to stop them.


Kenneth Jeyaretnam

* The author blogs at



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23 Responses to “Don’t expect what just happened in Malaysia to be repeated in Singapore”

  • Bapak:

    Singapore was 100% urbanised at independence whereas for Malaysia the comparable figure was 27% in 1960 and 75% in 2015.

    Not important. It is the rakyat who makes the country great, not its infrastructure. Sinkland has 70% idiotic educated fools. An educated uneducated population in a developed economy is unbelievably stupidity at its highest level.

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  • Singapore tsunami:

    Expect the PAP to take further steps before the next election to ensure that the possibility of a “freak” result, statistically insignificant already, is reduced closer to zero. It will be up to Singaporeans to stop them.

    clown pap can do all it wants to tweak GE2019.

    to kick out clown pap from the scene GE2019 is very easy.

    provided from OPPOSITION comes forth that one Singaporean, man or woman, who does the hard work of getting that coalition agreement done. if the coalition agreement is in place GE2019, pap goes for sure, and all the pap Ljs and pap Cbs shall be investigated for abuse of power for S$m. we believe Ms Sylvia Lim or Mr Lim Tean fits the bill nicely.


    if all OPPOSITION wants to do is to enter parleement to be just a member of parleement and not to rename parleement back to parliament, we tell them please stop. it is an action that has almost zero chance for success. over and over again such small thinking has shown it is a futile piece of action, a waste of everyone’s time.


    if OPPOSITION sticks together, united as ONE under JA = Justice Alliance or CPA = Catch Pap Alliance or any such, the chance for success is almost 100%.

    of course.

    as is seen GE after GE, all the OPPOSITION parties big or small all don’t stick together or unite together. worse, they look at each other as nuisance as enemies when that big white ffffing elephant in front of them called clown pap is happily instigating OPPOSITION folks to go at each other’s throats. GE2019 lets do differently. lets focus on the big white ffffing elephant in from of us instead of at each other, zeroing all our united effort at the clown pap Ljs and clown pap Cbs.

    so let us start with the end in mind.

    imagine the joy of replacing CJ and AG and Chief of police and Chief of military and Chief of civil service immediately the GE2019 results are known.

    imagine the joy of rewriting the Constitution to say anyone Singaporean shall have the chance to be President instead of the mickey mouse malay criterion when in fact an INDIAN is selected.

    imagine the joy of rule based investigation of clown pap folks doing away with the current rotten one pap law two pap interpretations system.

    imagine the joy of reviving old cases such as within 200m is not inside 200m and such to punish every pap Lj or pap Cb who has a hand in the abuse.

    it can be done.

    May Ms Sylvia Lim or Mr Lim Tean please kickstart the process now, today.

    let us be careful.

    a rotten apple ruins the whole barrel. kick out immediately that member who starts by saying, it is futile it cannot be done. a little yeast leavens the whole dough. such yeast must not be allowed to even surface.

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  • Askmeleh:

    It is so obvious the ST, under ‘someone’ instruction, is trying its best to drive a few wedges into the 4-party coalition of PH.
    First, CNA and ST keeps reminding their readers about Mahathir’s spat with Anwar, keeps saying Mahathir jailed Anwar, keeps saying Mahathir charged Anwar for sodomy.
    Then, reported fake news that Dr. Wan Azizah is against Mahathir for putting a Chinese as Finance Minister, and that PKR is very unhappy with Mahathir.
    All these were rubbished by upon Anwar’s release saying that he is not rushing to be the PM and that he supported Mahathir and had already buried their difference.
    This is some very dangerous act that cannot be publish with some authority permission. I am very sure Mahathir and Dr. Azizah with ask the pinky to issue an apology publicly for allowing ST to publish such fake news and I am very sure Mahathir will be very very careful dealing with the pinky.
    Let’s wait and see!

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  • Unity Is Strength:

    “Again and again activists in Singapore have made the mistake of attempting to stay non-political in the hope that this will stop the PAP from persecuting them. It did not work for the alleged Marxist conspirators who refused to join WP when my dad was leader. It will not work for the civil society activists like Jolovan Wham either, however brave he is in displaying a willingness to get arrested and suffer imprisonment.”

    The above is a very interesting point. It shows how dissenters view one another as tainted and thus unwilling to associate with one another. The divide & conquer strategy worked again.

    Again it shows how the “official view” is accepted even by opposition parties, Govt critics, activists and people in the same boat.

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  • Silent WP:

    All these years, WP refrained from asking tough questions and if they did there was no follow up.

    Thank goodness the conservative Low stepped down. Hope Singh is more dynamic and a real fighter.

    If he’s like Low, WP will fade away and lose more support.

    You may disagree.

    KJ is a heavyweight while Low is a lightweight.

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  • Silent WP:

    Well said KJ.

    Pointed, robust and interesting piece as usual.

    Keep it up. Keep hammering them.

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  • Bystander:

    Mr Jeyaretnam, what about your own brother Phillip?
    Can we say he also betray your papa?

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  • You Can Set Yourselves Free:

    The result in Malaysia is not a freak result. Many Malaysians are fairly confident of regime change provided there is no cheating by Najib during the election. Dr M already said that to international media during the campaign.
    Only those confined in Singapore may not be aware of the events in Malaysia other than Malaysians themselves.

    It is true that PAP government has control over many aspects of life in Singapore beyond any country imaginable, other than those last few dictatorships in this world.
    However, the one man one vote system is still in Singapore. This has not yet changed. Perhaps it might when situation becomes desperate enough. We had already seen an Indian can be changed to a Malay.
    So a regime change in this country is still possible, provided the citizens mustered enough courage, to cast aside any doubts, to set things right for this country.
    We owe it to the future generations of this country.

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  • Boh Kia See:

    In my view, the peaceful transfer of power in Malaysia was due to the institution of the Sultans and the King. They are the ones that hold the democratic system in balance and in check.

    When Singapore was part of Malaysia, the now deceased old trait*r PM started his own campaign to chip away that particular institution. He had identified it as an impediment to his probable capture of power then. It was because he can’t wait to remove that institution that the Tunku removed Singapore from the rest of Malaysia.

    Najib was over confident being detached with the rest of the population. Hence he did not put in place schemes to disrupt or cheat.

    The PAP is in a different class. When it comes to their own survival they demonstrate far sighted planning skill. It would not surprise me that they would have a plan in place already, to remain in power well after the next election date.

    With a compliant Parliament and every institution under their control, they can easily change the Constitution again, and maintain their rule indefinitely .

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  • black swan events:

    //Don’t expect what just happened in Malaysia to be repeated in Singapore//

    why not ? black swan events come in the most unexpected manner. you just need the next most seemingly insignificant grain of sand to shift in the most critical moment for the whole cliff to collapse. the question is not whether it will happen but when it will happen.

    did we expect bro-n-sis tag team to wrestle against their own elder bro (backed up by his own white idiotic secret committi) on the opposite side of the ring ?

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  • Concerned Singaporean:


    You are very intelligent and your article is very good, well research, well written. The same goes to your speech. But, in election pitch, you need to make things simple and break the problems of Singapore down to simple matters for common majority Singaporean who can understand. Look at Tun Mahathir did in the election who broke 1MDB scandal down to simple messages so to win over the majority. LTK and TCB can do that. Make your pitch as common people as possible like Mahathir, LTK, TCB can do.

    I say this so you can win next election to use your intelligence to debate with those party against people in parliament to fight for Singaporean rights. We are hurt by their ruling, failed policies, lousy implementation and bullying.

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  • Bloody sin:

    Singaporeans may wish to vote for change. But how to win when Singaporeans are minority now. The new estates are flooded by Indians, Pinoys and PRCs. They are challenging amongst themselves to enlarge their own bleed circle. Look at the grassroots which have many unfamiliar faces. The kindergartens have mixed amount of foreign kids from China, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and The Philippines. Same as in the supermarkets, MRT and shopping malls. We could hardly hear the familiar local accents now.

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  • KJ throwing in the towel?:

    KJ concede defeat by the whites ?

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  • I dreamt a nightmare..:

    First they forced on us an unelected PRESIDENT.
    Akan datang we are gonna be presented with the unelected PM..
    Lastly n to close chapter, they’ll force unto us a unelected gahment! No more GEs perhaps…or a GE with a pre chosen gahment.
    Nothing is etched in stone anymore in this country..if they can turn an indian into a malay , what else they wont dare do?

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  • Uncle Lim:

    KJ analysis is spot on.

    Msians may be brave but Msians turned SG citizens are cowards. Most are in the civil service and simply give PAP a blank cheque.

    They are so cowardly that they avoid discussing politics or criticizing PAP.

    Unless the opposition parties unite and form our own PAKATAN party, the outlook for change is pretty dismal.

    We have many well educated and talented people but barring a few most are cowardly.
    Perhaps with their wealth they think they can always migrate.

    But they forget that it’s nothing like your own home country instead of squatting in another place.

    Yes, it’s up to Sporeans to resist PAP dictatorship.

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  • Dont trust PAP:

    Remember the reserved EP election.
    PAP basically paved the way for Indian-Malay Halimah to be PE – what a shame.
    First, made her a House Speaker
    Then changed the law to have a reserved EP election
    Allowed House Speaker to stand for EP election
    Made counting of EP terms that is short of rigging
    LHL misled Parliament and people that AG advised the counting when later it was learned that the counting is at the discretion of the Parliament
    What else PAP will not do when 70% sheep allow such blatant scheme.

    GD Star Rating

    A large portion of 1MDB money sitting in Singapore banks.
    Workers from major banks like DBS, UOB, etc report of bags of money brought into the money vaults of these banks in the middle of the night.
    Mahathir will demand from LHL to return the money.

    GD Star Rating
  • LIONS:

    Malaysia’s DrM n his likely successor,Anwar,both older than oppo leader,LTK.
    Yet,LTK is *retiring* at 62?

    Same lee ah long was to draw salary as *mentor*?
    After farking up,ah long pushes away responsibilty n says it is up to 4G PAP n oppo to bring SG forward?
    WTF! NOW oppo is also responsible for all the shits done by him n his doggie$?

    Btw,we do need a DR M or Anwar,else,its GE 2020 will just be another wayang.

    GD Star Rating
  • LIONS:

    As an off-side.
    If DrM n Anwar help make MALAYSIA more welcoming to SGS and if SULTAN OF JOHORE ensure SECURITY for sgs who want to RETIRE IN JB OR BECOMING PRs/hononary citizens,sgs can contribute to malaysia’s ECONONIC development in many ways.
    Sgs can bring their retirement funds over to JB n would not pose a threat to natives as we are not competing for jobs etc but help in creating much needed demand n even small businesses if the number of retirees/new settlers are huge enough.
    Sg would be left with FTs n PAP DOGGIE$ to fight among themselves!

    JB could become much more prosperous.

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  • patriot of Temesak:

    Ken, your father was a Lion fighting against gutter Rats & Liars with his teeth removed…

    Yes, the ODDS were against him when you have A Coward – Traitor – & Racists who used every means Evil or otherwise to Shutout not only your father but every OPPOSITION he sees as a THREAT!!!

    Today he is burning in Hell and the Internet is readily available to ALL!!

    The TRUTH shall and Had Prevailed…the ONUS is for the OPPOSITION to seize upon this opportunity in a Lifetime to Rally the People and Country into Reality and not the ILLUSION created…

    STOP the BICKERING and sit down to discuss a Strategy and Manifesto that will and can EXPOSE the White self-proclaimed Elites & Aristocrats…

    If Malaysia Boleh(Can!!!)) so Can we the People!!!

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  • opposition dude:

    For now let us all observe how the new government in Malaysia will do. Domestic issues at the forefront so I want to see how long it will take to affect the average Malaysian should the cost of living come down.

    One thing that I haven’t read is that should the ringgit strengthen against our money it would lead to fewer Malaysians working here. If the ringgit falls to, say, 2.5 and below it could make some balek as prospects might be better back home so who knows.

    It will be an interesting 5 years for Malaysia.

    GD Star Rating
  • PeaceNprosperity:

    If the new Msian gov stays clean n on track, then malaysia will quickly surpass this red dot in many aspects.
    Their country is so much bigger n has so much potential.
    Good luck to them.
    May we have peace n prosperitu together /on both sides of the causeway..

    GD Star Rating
  • Unlikely:

    @ If the new Msian gov stays clean n on track, then malaysia will quickly surpass this red dot in many aspects.

    Unlikely , 1MDB debt need 30 years to clear. Discount 30% still need 20 years. Thats tip of the ice berg.

    GD Star Rating

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