Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Two UnPoliticised Countries

Written by johnleemk on 1:11:42 pm Aug 20, 2007.
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One thing that I've always found remarkable about people in Malaysia and Singapore is how we often seem to realise a problem, but don't seem to realise how it can be solved.

After all, there are always problems to be solved in a society. Whether it's potholed roads, inadequate schools, as long as we live in an imperfect world, we will find something to gripe about.

But the remarkable thing is, we often do not see a role for government or political leadership in solving those problems we find.

In Malaysia, for us all the government is good for is wasting money on obvious illicit abuses of public funds (such as the recent Port Klang Free Zone scandal), and making noise about racial and religious issues. That is as far as we see the role of government in our society — to waste money and make noise about race and religion.

In Singapore, I really have no idea what Singaporeans expect their government to do. It's obviously one heck of a socially engineered nanny state — the government merges educational institutions with an eye to encouraging marriages amongst the intellectual elite, taxes and fines are imposed to create incentives for or against everything, and everything is structured and managed to the hilt.

Government is pervasive — and yet, ironically, Singaporeans don't seem to care too much about how the government runs things, as long as it runs them. If there are problems, well, the government will take care of that; it's none of the people's business.

So, the two countries have opposing problems, in a sense; one state has insufficient or poor government intervention, while the other has government doing everything.

Paradoxically, despite the two different extreme political natures of both countries, both of them face the same issue: political apathy.

In Malaysia, the government's slacking off in policymaking has jaded the electorate's attitude towards the ability of politics and politicians to make a difference. Crime is something that just happens; the government isn't to be blamed for it, even if the root cause of the problem lies in politics.

In Singapore, the government has taken up the slack of the people in everything. The nanny state always knows what to do. If the government messes up, people complain, but ultimately don't really bother about it because the government will fix up its mistakes and continue on its merry way — the people see no need to involve themselves politically.

Both countries are thus very unpoliticised. Is this a good thing? I would think not. In Malaysia, the result is that people are not given the quality of life they deserve because they cannot see how their lives can be improved through political change. In Singapore, the people do not determine where they go in life; the government does. This "guided democracy" (as the regime there calls it) cannot be good in the long run — surely a state ostensibly run on free market economics should be aware of that.

Will these two countries ever emerge from their political malaise? As a member of the bourgeouis who has lived in both countries, I still cannot say. Ultimately, it depends on whether the people will decide to become masters of their own destinies, and I am in no position to observe whether there is any such movement on the rise. But there is hope. There is always hope.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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