TL;DR – Would the era of a close but difficult relationship make a comeback?
Dr Mahathir Mohamad was previously the 4th PM of Malaysia. He has now been sworn in as Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister.
At 92 (he turns 93 on 10th July), he now holds the honour of being the world’s oldest Prime Minister. His victory was a result of the drama-filled 14th General Election, and ended Barisan Nasional’s 61 years in power.
What might this momentous change in Malaysia’s politics mean for Singapore and Singaporeans?
Cheaper to buy things in Malaysia?
Scrapping of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was one Dr Mahathir’s key campaign promises. He has reiterated that he will keep his promise and abolish the GST after forming the new federal government. Does this mean that things over the Causeway will be cheaper? That would be great for Singaporeans, right?
Hang on. That might not necessarily be the case. Dr Mahathir said that the Sales and Services Tax (SST) will be reinstated to replace the GST. He said:
“It’s a cancellation. We don’t need it. We go back to the sales tax for the moment”
Under the old SST system, some goods were taxed at 10%, higher than the 6% GST that Malaysia has now, while some goods were taxed less or completely exempted. So with Dr Mahathir as the new PM, there might be things that might become cheaper, things might become more expensive than with the GST in place.
Rockier relationship between Malaysia and Singapore?
When Dr Mahathir was last PM, relationship between Malaysia and Singapore was… rocky. For years, it was a close but difficult relationship.
Ousted former PM of Malaysia, Mr Najib Razak said earlier this year:
“We certainly do not want to return to the era of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric between our two countries. It was an era that we want to forget.”
Under Dr Mahathir, Malaysia and Singapore had many disputes. These included disputes about the water agreement between Singapore and Malaysia, issues concerning the CPF of Malaysians working in Singapore, and the construction of a “crooked” bridge to replace the existing Causeway.
Dr Mahathir has also publicly expressed that he’s against the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR). He had earlier said that should he come into power, the SR contract signed between Malaysia and Singapore may not be a done deal. He said:
“We need to do a study whether it is feasible or not because we don’t have the money and we have to borrow money, and that is not something the Government can bear at this moment. We have to know whether we really need this HSR or not”
And here I was, looking forward to being able to make regular day trips to KL soon… Sigh… Beyond the HSR, what other agreements will Dr Mahathir relook? Will Dr Mahathir want Singapore to give in more to Malaysia?
Word of caution to my fellow Singaporeans
I’m happy to read that the Malaysians have exercised their freedom to vote, and they have made their voices heard. It’s a Malaysia election, and her people have made their choice. Once the new Malaysian government is formed, what is next for our Government to work with the newly elected government from across the Causeway.
We will have to watch for the trend of their currency (ringgit), and whether there will be political unrest and how the international markets and investors see the latest developments.
One worrying thing is Dr Mahathir’s stance against Singapore on the issues that I’d brought up earlier and then some. Would he refuse the Points of Agreement of the railway project? Would he threaten to cut off water supply again? Would he threaten our defence? What about Pedra Branca?
Will it be stormier skies ahead?
Sign of what might happen in Singapore?
Many Singaporeans are cheering the drastic political change in Malaysia. Some of those think that Malaysia has shown a great example of how party that has been long dominant (BN, being in power for 61 years, was the longest ruling coalition in modern democracy) can be toppled, and democracy can be “reclaimed”. These Singaporeans think that what happened in Malaysia might influence Singaporeans to bring about a similar political change in Singapore.
I think that’s not likely. The level of unhappiness against the government in Singapore is far from the unhappiness against BN in recent years. But it certainly offers a strong reminder to the 4G leadership of PAP not to take things for granted.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew once was well aware that PAP might one day lose. He said:
“No system lasts for forever, that’s for sure. In the next 10 years to 20 years, I don’t think it’ll happen. Beyond that, I cannot tell. Will we always be able to get the most dedicated and the most capable, with integrity to devote their lives to this? I hope so, but forever, I don’t know…
There will come a time when eventually the public will say, look, let’s try the other side, either because the PAP has declined in quality or the opposition has put up a team which is equal to the PAP and they say, let’s try the other side. That day will come.”
Certainly, there are already things that Singaporeans are getting increasingly unhappy and concerned about. These include the reliability (or rather the lack thereof) of our train system, job stability, rising cost of living, retirement adequacy, income inequality, and many more.
If the 4G leadership doesn’t take bold steps to tackle these issues as they said they would, then there might really come a day when Singapore undergoes a drastic political change like what Malaysia just went through.
I personally hope that day doesn’t come, not because I’m pro-PAP, but because if that day comes, it means things in Singapore would have gotten really bad.
So, 4G leaders, I hope you are following and taking notes of what just happened in Malaysia.