As a Singapore citizen, and student of politics and security, it was gravely troubling to witness the knock-on effect of the Malaysian general election on Singapore.
Not only were some Singaporeans partaking in Malaysian politics, but Malaysians working and staying in Singapore also chose to actively express their political views on Malaysian politics through public protests. This is something that should not be encouraged or condoned as there will be grave consequences for both societies.
The 13th Malaysian general election held on May 5 was dubbed the mother of all elections. It was one of the most competitive elections with the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) believing that it could capture power from the Barisan Nasional (BN), in power since 1955. By the early hours of May 6, the BN was returned to power, capturing 133 of the 222 parliamentary seats, winning all except three of the 13 states but with only 47.3 per cent of the popular vote compared to the PR’s 50.8 per cent. Compared to many functioning democracies, the BN’s 60 per cent stranglehold of parliamentary seats was emphatic though short of winning a two-third majority with seven fewer seats than the 2008 elections.
The PR’s leaders, especially Mr Anwar Ibrahim, who had earlier declared victory barely hours after the polls closed, refused to accept the outcome and started a nation-wide protest movement. The rights and wrongs of Mr Anwar’s move are up to the Malaysian government and people to decide.
How this will eventually be resolved, through due legal process or people’s power street protests, is something only Malaysia and Malaysians should decide.
In an unprecedented move, Mr Anwar’s protest movement in Malaysia had a direct boomerang effect in Singapore when some Singaporeans and Malaysians decided to use the Republic as an overseas platform to endorse and support his political agenda and goals post-election.
On May 8, about 100 Malaysians gathered at Merlion Park to support Mr Anwar’s call to annul the election results. Police warned nine of the organisers. On May 11, 21 Malaysians were arrested for staging illegal protests at Merlion Park. On May 12, about 200 people gathered at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park, a platform meant strictly for Singaporeans and permanent residents, to hear protests against the BN-led victory in support of Mr Anwar and the PR.
The downside of Singaporeans getting involved in Malaysian politics and permitting Malaysians in Singapore to do likewise is limitless, not to mention dangerous. The raison d’etre of Malaysian and Singaporean politics are diametrical. Since 1965, Singapore leaders have assiduously tried to disentangle Singapore politics from Malaysia’s, especially following Singapore’s Malaysia experience.
Today, involving Singaporeans in Malaysian politics and vice versa will only bring more harm than good. Yet, in the post-election setting, some Malaysians were prepared to advance their home political agenda by using Singapore, often with the support of some Singaporeans.
As a small, heterogeneous society, Singapore can ill-afford to import dangerous foreign politics. Singapore is politically different! Just as Singaporeans respect and abide by the rules of engagements, so should foreigners. Foreigners should be mindful of the political culture, norms and mores in Singapore, and should act in consonance with Singapore’s laws rather than try to impose confrontational political culture and norms that are alien to our society.
USE HOME-BASED CHANNELS
If Malaysians strongly feel about the rights and wrongs of their politics, they should not use the space of Singapore to do so.
One needs to be mindful, sensitive and sensible. If they feel strongly about their national politics and issues of justice, etc then they should use their home-based channels to resolve their grievances and not break Singapore’s law to do so.
Foreigners, while benefiting from Singapore as a good host, should not pursue their political agendas that can harm Singapore, Singaporeans and the Republic’s interests.
Equally troubling was the role of the Singapore organisers of the protest movement in Hong Lim Park. Selectively hiding behind universal norms and laws, and repeating that the rally was an event by Singaporeans and permanent residents, one cannot run away from the fact that it can have serious deleterious consequences for the well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans.
Whatever interests these organisers had, they should not put Singapore in harm’s way. It has taken more than four decades to build trust, confidence and good neighbourly relations with Malaysia. This is non-negotiable and no one should be permitted to undermine these hard-earned assets that benefit Singapore’s politics, economy and security. Clearly, Singaporeans have benefited immensely from the good Singapore-Malaysian relations and these should not be undermined at any cost.
AVOIDING SLIPPERY SLOPE
If today, Singaporeans and their Malaysian counterparts based in Singapore can attempt to undermine the Malaysian government, what is there to prevent Malaysians and Singaporeans based in Malaysia from doing likewise to Singapore in future?
Clearly, this is a slippery slope that common sense dictates one should avoid. Politics is more than simply organising a rally to express a viewpoint. Politics, especially involving a proximate neighbour, is closely intertwined with key economic, social and security linkages, especially for a small state such as Singapore, which is highly dependent on Malaysia for many of its basic necessities.
Both the Malaysian and Singaporean governments have worked hard to develop a resilient, win-win relationship. This should be calibrated to move up the ladder and not undermined.
In the final analysis, do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you. The 13th Malaysian election was strictly a Malaysian affair. If Malaysians based in Singapore are unhappy with the outcome, they should find avenues back home to redress them and not the political space of Singapore.
Similarly, Singaporeans should be mindful that we should not give anyone an excuse to interfere in our domestic affairs. The first rule of ensuring this is that we do not interfere in the affairs of others, especially an immediate neighbour such as Malaysia.
There is simply too much at stake — it has taken too long to reach this current state of relations — and no one should be allowed to undermine this to the detriment of Singapore and its security. If anyone wants to speak on behalf of the Singapore Government, it is the duty of the duly elected officials to do so, and not any ordinary organiser(s) of a public rally.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bilveer Singh, PhD is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
image souce from net