Want to know what is really happening in Singapore’s inner-circle politics? Sometimes you have to read a newspaper in neighboring Malaysia.
On September 1st, Malaysia’s big-circulation daily newspaper The Star ran a report on major speech by neighboring Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong’s at the National Rally Day. The newspaper noted Singaporeans surprise at the new rhetoric used by current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to describe the need for citizen involvement in the state’s development. This message starkly contrasts the rule of PM Lee’s father and Singapore’s first prime minster, Lee Kuan Yew.
The former prime minister came into power at a time when the nation had a need for fast development and strong, undisputed leadership to bounce back economically from its split from Malaysia, an event in history that affects Singapore-Malaysia relations to this day. During this time, Lee Kuan Yew fiercely crushed any opposition to his single-party People’s Action Party government. Newspapers reporting on public dissent of the PAP or new policy were met with threats of legal action or having their license revoked… or, in the early days, worse.
Older Singaporeans who remember those early days after independence were stunned by the difference between Lee Kuan Yew’s authoritarian rule and the encouragement of “national conversation” by the current Prime Minister and his cabinet. This “national conversation” is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s way of inviting Singaporeans to actively participate in civil society. Lee Kuan Yew believed that consulting the public in decision-making was a sign of weakness — and could lead to policy error. The perhaps unintended consequence was an uninvolved constituency that believed its ideas did not matter. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attempts to change this attitude are sure to generate conversation and perhaps even significant political participation among Singaporeans as they continue to develop as a nation. Will citizens jump on board and trust the son of Lee Kuan Yew? All we can be certain of at this point is that neighboring Malaysia is definitely keeping a close eye on the consequences of a politically involved Singapore.