How Will Changes In Malaysia Affect Singapore?


IT IS hard to imagine the Datuk Seri Najib Razak was Prime Minister of Malaysia just over two months ago. His fall from grace has been rapid, and he is still falling.

On July 4, he was charged in Malaysian court of three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of “using his position for gratification” as part of probe for missing money from state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Each of the four charges carries a prison sentence of 20 years.

Najib pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Past Catches Up

Alleged past misdeeds have caught up with Najib. It has also contributed to the fall from grace of UMNO, which was previously one of the longest-running ruling parties in the world.

Government policies, including the implementation of a 6% GST, were seen as hurting the people or rakyat. In the lead-up to the elections, there were also rumours that the ruling party intended to raise the GST from 6% to 10% if they won. Such talk helped to swing votes towards the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Nonetheless, the underlying driver for many Malaysians’ deep dissatisfaction with Najib and UMNO was the way the 1MDB debacle dragged the country down the gutter. It cast a negative light on Malaysia that would have been difficult to shake off under UMNO.


Even though Najib had five years to rectify alleged wrongdoings after the 1MDB issue became public, he chose instead to keep a lid on it. His complacency over the matter suggests that the possibility of UMNO losing the general elections in May hardly entered his thoughts.

This also showed that Najib and UMNO had lost touch with the ground. It is a logical outcome for political leaders who allow themselves to be surrounded by sycophants and yes-men.

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Anticipating And Preparing For Uncertainty

Going forward, it is important for Malaysia that Najib’s court case is seen to be fair and just. Emotions will run high but the rakyat should take a leaf from the playbook of the new Attorney-General Tommy Thomas.

He has been cautious, deliberate and calibrated in his approach as evidence was gathered that enabled the charges to be made against Najib. This augurs well for the new shape of Malaysia. The courts should be more transparent now than they were during the days of UMNO’s rule and this works well for both sides.

The final outcome will be robust, just like the calls based on VAR (video-assisted referees) at the World Cup.

A Collective Will

How this legal process plays out in Malaysia will be a leading indicator of the efficacy of the new government. Independence of the judiciary is one of its key pillars. The rakyat will be closely watching every move and you get the sense that Pakatan Harapan members are aware of this and want to do right by the country.

There seems to be a collective will to lift Malaysia from the quagmire of the 1MDB scandal and other recent displays of greed and alleged corruption and start rebuilding the country again.

The new Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is leveraging his political capital to put the foundations in place to make this happen. He has already visited Japan and Indonesia, while the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has visited him in Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir has also said that despite reviewing China-related projects in the country, Malaysia wants to remain friendly with China without being indebted to it. With due respect to Mahathir, it is unlikely that someone of his years will be interested in petty squabbles. He will go for the big game-changing initiatives that first and foremost benefit Malaysia.

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Malaysia’s recent elections have impinged on some home truths in Singapore’s political landscape. One of them is that there is an age cap for a prime minister. Mahathir is 92 years old.

Another home truth is that there can only be room for one major political party in the country. UMNO is of the same vintage as Singapore’s ruling party, and its recent demise shows that there are other options.

Further, there is a shift towards transparency and accountability in Malaysia.


On his first day at his new job, Attorney-General Thomas told reporters that “free speech means everybody can criticise you, so I am happy for everybody to criticise me.” When is the last time anyone heard a Singapore leader in any field say that?

If Thomas’ stance catches on among political and regulatory leaders in Malaysia, then the country will arguably have solid foundations to lift itself from the deep hole dug by Najib and UMNO.

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  1. Singapore has always been viewed as more ‘ahead’ of Malaysia in mostly all aspects. However with the recent sea change in Malaysian politics, perhaps it will also compel Singapore to improve its democratic institutions


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