READ: A former PAP MP on what Singapore’s leaders should learn from Malaysia’s political upheaval

Photo: Dan / Flickr

In the wake of the political upheaval with our neighbors up north, parallels have been drawn between the historical defeat of Malaysia’s ruling government and our own situation here.

Like Barisan Nasional, Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) have enjoyed continuous power over the country since independence. Unlike Malaysia’s ousted regime, however, PAP has maintained a corruption-free status, and a reputation for pragmatic efficiency — but at the cost of having a supremely heavy hand on citizen lives and privacy, among other things.

Though he’s stepped down from his position as a PAP Member of Parliament (MP) in 2015, Inderjit Singh remains a key pundit in the political arena, thanks to his 19 years of experience in the civil service.

“From what I read from reports, corruption and kleptocracy plagued Malaysia politics for some time now. People got tired of this and spoke at the elections through their votes,” the 57-year-old former MP of Ang Mo Kio GRC wrote in a Facebook post.

“We are fortunate that Singapore does not face these same issues. But this does not mean Singapore has no other problems of our own.”

Reflecting on Malaysia’s surprising election results and President Halimah Yacob’s recent address to Parliament, Singh outlined the key lessons for MPs and future leaders to earn their right to lead the country. Read his whole piece here, and check out some highlights below.


On the importance of keeping touch with the ground

1MDB was a serious issue but the people in power used all tools at their disposal to hide the truth instead of convincingly proving innocence. Cost of living was a serious issue but the leaders who were rich did not feel it and did not listen to the ground to understand the true situation. Malaysians were concerned about the over-investment by foreigners in their country, as they felt that their country was being “sold” to the foreigners, but the government pressed on to allow more and more investments. Sabah is a surprise. Opposition listened and understood what Malaysians were most concerned about and promised changes.

(Singapore’s) pioneer generation of leaders understood their ground very well and came out with the right policies that transformed Singapore from 3rd World to 1st World in 1 generation. Had they not understood Singaporeans, what their aspirations were and what they wanted for the future, Singapore may have gone the way of many countries that gained independence around the time Singapore did but are today worst off that before they became independent.

Currently, over the recent past, more and more Singaporeans are feeling uncomfortable about some issues affecting them. It is important that the government listens and understands them

On why old tactics have to change

A bold plan for the Future of the Economy would have been to turn things completely around and make SMEs and local companies the core contributors of our future economy. Currently, I don’t see any change in the government’s thinking about how we will be driving Singapore’s economy. We are still relying on the MNC/GLC model of the past in most economic policies. A fundamental change in the mindset of the government needed for this to happen. Then all policies will fall into in place to make real changes happen.

Recently I attended an event where a 4G minister made a speech about the government’s plan and what the government will do to support the future economy of Singapore. He shared three things the government will do;

a. The government will build the right Infrastructure quoting some of the same development plans we have been hearing for a few years now.
b. Provide Singaporeans with Education to prepare future generations to fit into the future economy.
c. Build system based on meritocracy and a corrupt free govt.

Frankly, while these three may be important, they did not really inspire.

On self-entitlement

UMNO took it for granted that they had the inherited right to rule and became complacent taking their voters for granted. The political elites took care of themselves and assumed they will always have the right to rule. They forgot that in a democracy people have the right to choose who leads them and the political leaders need to earn the right to lead.

In the same token, the future leaders also cannot feel that have inherited the right to lead Singapore just because they have been put in place by virtue of the past government’s ability to put them in their current positions. They must inspire next generation about their future. They must show Singaporeans, especially our young that there is hope and many opportunities for them in Future Singapore.

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