Malaysia’s 2017 SEA Games Cock Up–Getting the Indonesian Flag Wrong

August 21, 2017

Malaysia’s 2017 SEA Games Cockup–Getting the Indonesian Flag

by FA Abdul

Image result for The Indonesian Flag at Independence Day--August 17, 2017

COMMENT| A young journalist working for a local media company, Wai Wai Hnin Pwint Phyu walked into the training room in the Pazundaung district of Yangon the other morning, feeling somewhat upset.

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The Cock Up. But the Magnanimous H.E. President Jokowi Widodo said we should not make a mountain out of a molehill. But we in Malaysia should not make this kind of mistake. Actually, this oversight is inexcusable.

“Fa, what you think of SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur?” she asked in her limited English.

“I think we struggled to make it happen. Why do you ask?” I said.

“I am not happy. I am very angry,” said Wai, her face sour.

Since we had a good half-hour before beginning the training session, I pulled out two chairs next to her – one for me and one for our translator – and prepared myself for a story.

Before I could ask her what made her upset, Wai showed me a picture on her handphone. It was of a big group of Malaysian supporters clad in Jalur Gemilang.

“What picture is this?” I asked, curious.

“This is a picture of Malaysian fans, taken during the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar during the Malaysia-Singapore football match. See how happy they are supporting their country inside the stadium.”

I looked at her, confused.

“Do you know where the Myanmar fans were when our Myanmar football team fought Laos?” she asked, her eyes turning red.

“Where?” I asked worriedly.

“Outside the stadium,” she answered shortly as she showed me a picture of hundreds of fans with Myanmar flags outside the stadium.


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Malaysian crowd unfriendly towards our Singapore neighbours

According to Wai and allegations on social media, only 500 tickets were made available by Malaysia for the Myanmar fans during the Myanmar-Laos match at the UiTM Stadium, which has a capacity of 6,000 seats. Although there were a lot of empty seats during the match, no additional tickets were made available for the remaining fans. As a result, they had to camp outside – some climbed fences and some on trees, to catch glimpses of the match.

From time to time, someone from inside the stadium would ring someone waiting outside, to give updates on the match – that was how their fans outside the stadium celebrated all of Myanmar’s three goals.

Myanmar fans who were stranded outside were purportedly only allowed to enter the stadium 10 minutes before the match ended.

“This picture is going viral in Myanmar. It is making many people angry at Malaysia. Myanmar treated Malaysia so well during the 2013 SEA Games but Malaysia is treating Myanmar so bad in 2017 SEA Games. Why?” Wai asked an honest question.

I was lost for a reply.

“There are thousands of Myanmar people working in Malaysia. This is not fair for them,” she added.

“I agree, Wai. This is not fair….if it is true.”

“You always support your Malaysia,” Wai said. She did not sound too happy. “Look at this report in your own media.”

The news report was about the bus driver of the Myanmar women’s football team who apparently was arrested for theft during a match.

“The Myanmar team had already complained on social media that they were feeling scared of the way the bus driver was operating the bus while on the way to the stadium. And then after beating Malaysia 5-0, the Myanmar team who were tired and hungry had to wait almost two more hours because they could not find the bus driver. Nobody knew he was arrested,” Wai explained.

“That’s really bad,” I said, scratching my head.

Driving without a licence

“You know what is really bad, Fa? The report also says that the bus driver had no driving licence at all!”

My jaw dropped.

“How can Malaysia hire someone without driving licence for our athletes? What if something bad had happened while he was driving recklessly?” Wai was really upset.

I scrolled the Facebook page showed by Wai and was displeased to read chains of angry comments.

“If you are not ready for this, you don’t need to be a host. Shame on you Malaysia!

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Tony Fernandes and AirAsia Staff–The Bright Side of Malaysia

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“Everyone is angry at Malaysia. Me, my father, my boyfriend… everyone. We always like Malaysia because Malaysia is beautiful country, many of our relatives work in Malaysia and we have friends like you from Malaysia. But this time, we don’t like Malaysia.” said Wai, unhappily.

I apologised to Wai on behalf of Malaysia. She smiled, assuring me that it was not my fault that her countrymen were treated in such a way. However, deep inside, I know she is still very much upset.

With hundreds of millions of ringgit spent to ensure the 29th SEA Games unfolds perfectly, I wonder what went wrong.

Do the stories going viral in Myanmar hold any truth? Perhaps Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin should look into it.

As I was writing this, I received a text message forwarded by my son. It was an invitation for all Malaysian football fans to support the Malaysian team in the Malaysia-Myanmar match on August 21 in Shah Alam – the tickets all sponsored.

And I begin to wonder if Myanmar football fans in Malaysia will be able to purchase tickets for this match today – or whether they will be left allegedly stranded outside the stadium once again.


So much for the spirit of sport…

Singapore Thinks Ahead

August 20, 2017

Singapore Thinks Ahead–Former Prime Minister Goh calls Stronger and More Inclusive G4 Leadership


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With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stating that he will step down by 70, the new generation of leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team, the Emeritus Senior Minister says.

 Singapore’s new generation of leaders will have to build a “stronger and more inclusive millennial generation team”, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday (Aug 19).

Speaking at a National Day Dinner for his constituency, Marine Parade, Mr Goh said the robustness of the country’s leadership pipeline is one of the determinants of how a “small boat like Singapore” will fare in a turbulent climate of internal and external challenges. Other factors, he said, include the resilience of its politics as well as the cohesiveness of its multi-racialism and social equity.

Mr Goh noted that 65-year-old Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he will step down by the age of 70.

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet Colleagues

“The fourth generation (4G) leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team and identify the captain amongst them,” he said in the speech.

“They must try their utmost to bring in potential office-holders from outside the Singapore Armed Forces and public sector to avoid group-think. Highly competent Singaporeans outside the Government must also be prepared to step up and serve,” he said.

Beyond technical competence, Mr Goh also said Singaporeans will want to know what “the leaders stand for, what kind of Singapore they want to build and what they will pass on to the fifth generation later”.

Singapore Politics must be “Bold, Resilient, Forward Looking and Inclusive”

At the dinner, Mr Goh also said Singapore politics must be “bold, forward looking and inclusive of all races and different political opinions”. It also has to be resilient, he added.

Mr Goh credited the country’s stability to Singaporeans having successively elected a strong government. “This enables the government to plan for the long term and prepare for contingencies … a strength which most other elected governments lack,” he said.

Elaborating on how Singapore has adapted the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy to local conditions, he said that Singapore’s provision of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) prevents a dominant party from shutting down opposition as at least one in five Members of Parliament (MPs) is not a member of the ruling People’s Action Party.

Furthermore, the Group Representation Constituency system “guarantees” a fair number of minority MPs in Parliament, he said, adding that this “prevents the ‘tyranny of the majority’ in free elections and gives every community a stake in our shared destiny”.

The Elected Presidency is likewise “a check against a populist and profligate government”, Mr Goh said. He called the recent decision to set aside reserved presidential elections for minorities a “stabiliser to ensure our multi-racial society stays afloat”.

“If these stabilisers are not introduced to our political system, our democratic state risks being capsized when buffeted by internal differences and divisions, let alone external storms,” he added.

Meritocracy safeguards Singapore against Nepotism and Cronyism

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Mr Goh Chok Tong and his political mentor the Late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Goh stressed that meritocracy must remain a key pillar of Singapore’s “fair and equal society”, as it protects the country from the “greater dangers of nepotism and cronyism”.

Underlining the importance of maintaining social equity, Mr Goh said: “For a new country, the first round of meritocracy has produced the desired results. The brightest, ablest and most hard working have risen to the top. But for subsequent rounds, meritocracy entrenches the successful, widens the income gap and creates a sense of social inequity,” he said.

The Emeritus Senior Minister said children of well-to-do families inherit the gift of good family backgrounds and networks from the day they are born. The state, however, must intervene to ensure the meritocratic process serves it purpose, he argued, so that every citizen has equal opportunities at the starting line and a fair chance to succeed throughout life.

“We must guard against social inequity as a new fault line in our society,” he said.

Some Government policies that have gone some way to narrow the income divide are subsidies in housing, healthcare and education, as well as recent measures which soften the focus on academic grades and re-skill Singaporeans to take on higher value jobs, he said.

“The 4G leaders must find their own robust language, political values and programmes to lift the lives of lower-income Singaporeans,” he added.

These new leaders will have their “work cut out for them” – they will have to build their own social compact with the people and must be able to grow the economy, create jobs, resolve everyday livelihood issues, check divisive trends in society, give hope and improve the lives of all Singaporeans, Mr Goh said.

“But they will inherit a political system in good working order. In time, they will have to bequeath a fair and multi-racial society to the generation after them.”

Malays urged to emulate the success of Singapore Malays

August 19, 2017

 Malays urged to emulate the success of Singapore Malays

by Alyaa Alhadjr
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Sdr Salahuddin Ayub (pic above), a senior opposition leader, today cautioned Malays in Malaysia against falling for rhetoric that without an UMNO-led government in power, they may one day end up like their Singaporean brethren. Nothing is further than the truth, that is, Singapore Malays are doing well

Speaking at the Wanita Amanah second annual convention, Amanah Deputy President Salahuddin Ayub pointed out that Malays in Singapore today are able to survive without much assistance from their government.

“The racial rhetoric played up in our country, particularly through government propaganda, they say ‘what will happen tomorrow if the government were to change? Malays here will end up like Malays in Singapore.’

“Hello! Wake up. This is no longer the time. The Malays in Singapore today have enough money (on their own),” he said citing funds collected through a foundation (Mendaki) for the education of Singaporean Malay youths.

Rather than promising a government scholarship for Malay youths, Salahuddin said Singapore’s founding father the late Lee Kuan Yew instead facilitated a system for Malay workers to contribute a part of their salaries to the foundation for their children’s future.

“Lee Kuan Yew had provided all the leeway under the laws for Malay workers to make contributions from their salaries for their children. This is how Singapore teaches its citizen ‘how to fish’ rather than ‘give a fish’ every time we need to cook at home,” he said.

Over the years, Salahuddin said Singapore Malays have also risen through the ranks across various critical sectors and public administration. “They struggled to gain merit and not become a race that thrives on sympathy or a ‘subsidy race’ which is the practice here,” he said.

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Outstanding Singapore Malays

At the same time, Salahuddin also praised Singapore Speaker Halimah Yacob (pic above) who is set to run for the island republic’s Presidential Election and anticipated to create history by becoming the country’s second Malay President after Yusof Ishak.

He noted that Halimah had risen to her current position on merit, and not her on her gender as a woman.

“Singapore appreciates and uplifts the women of Singapore. Firstly, she (Halimah) is truly qualified and is capable. A woman who has undergone the processes in the political world. A woman who is great and is able to prove her worth anywhere she is,” he added. 

Salahuddin said Amanah as a small and growing party should also learn from the Singapore Malays, dismissed for their size but eventually rising to success above all odds.

The Wanita Amanah second annual convention held at The Mines 2, Seri Kembangan, was also attended by over 200 delegates and leaders from Pakatan Harapan component parties.


Thucydides’ Trap–Singapore Betwixt The US and China

August 16, 2017

Thucydides’ Trap–Singapore Betwixt The US and China

by John Blaxland, ANU

Image result for Singapore Air ForceThe Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) debuted the fighter aircraft (F-15SG) and Gulfstream 550 airborne early warning aircraft (G550-AEW)

Recently the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani, dropped a bombshell. He declared that Qatar’s experience of being embargoed by its neighbouring states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ‘reminds Singapore of the need for small states to behave like small states, and to cherish regional and international institutions’. His answer is for Singapore to ‘exercise discretion’, being ‘very restrained in commenting on matters involving great powers’.

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Kishore Mahbubani and Bilahari Kausikan–In Debate about Singapore’s Security Policy vis-a- The US and China

Prominent Singaporean pundits denounced his declaration but its resonance could be felt around Southeast Asia. ASEAN is not the GCC and the great power dynamics at play in the Middle East differ considerably from those affecting ASEAN and, in particular, Singapore. But the parallels are sufficiently resonant to make Mahbubani’s comments unsettling. After all, like Qatar, Singapore is a small state that has been the base for a considerable regional US military presence. Yet there are limits to the parallels, in part because of the different great power dynamics in Asia.

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Graham Allison’s book Destined for War has brought into vogue the term ‘the Thucydides trap’, which refers to the work of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. Writing about the Peloponnesian wars in the middle of the fifth century BCE, Thucydides recorded details of the clash between the rising great regional maritime power, Athens, and the land-locked city-state of Sparta. Worried that leaving Athens’ power to grow unchecked would lead to its own downfall, Sparta embarked on a catastrophic war that saw both states suffer greatly. The implication is that the structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one make war almost inevitable.

Great power dynamics can certainly generate tensions but the jury is out on whether such a war is inevitable in Asia. Smaller states sometimes play disproportionate roles, and other times not. During that war, for instance, Athens subjugated the city-state of Melos, which had sought to stay neutral in the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides observed that in subjugating Melos, Athens demonstrated a truism: ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’.

There is a sense that Mahbubani seems to have tapped into a fear that Singapore may have some Melian-like tendencies and that if not careful, the city state could become a casualty in a great power clash in and around Southeast Asia reminiscent of Thucydides’ war.

The seizure of Singaporean armoured vehicles en route from Taiwan in late 2016 by Chinese authorities in Hong Kong pointed to a growing concern that China was sending a message to Singapore: that China was unhappy with Singapore’s close associations with Taiwan, and by implication with the United States. The implication was that Singapore should heed Mahbubani’s advice to exercise greater discretion.

Mahbubani has been criticised by some eminent contemporary Singaporean pundits including Singaporean Law and Home Affairs Minister Shanmugam and by diplomats Bilahari and Ong Keng Yong, who have declared Mahbubani’s commentary ‘questionable intellectually’. Their view is that, for Singapore at least, size does not matter.

One pointer to that being so comes from the neighbourhood. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has spoken about Indonesia as the maritime fulcrum, poised between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as a gateway between East and South Asia. That arguably applies to all maritime Southeast Asia, but nowhere more so than to the city state of Singapore.

At the mouth of the Malacca Strait, Singapore sees a vast proportion of the world’s maritime trade pass its front door on the way to and from Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Northeast Asia. That location means great powers will always be interested in what happens to Singapore. Singapore has understood that very well and worked assiduously to cultivate a range of constructive relations to shield the city-state from the kinds of great power challenges the Melians experienced.

In light of its centrality, the US Navy operates a logistical hub from Singapore. Likewise, due to its location and importance to its engagement with Southeast Asia, Australia has established a comprehensive strategic partnership. In addition, Australia and Singapore, together with Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, form the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). This little-known arrangement has helped Singapore develop its joint (inter-service) and combined (international) military capabilities. The benefits of these ties make the FPDA more relevant than ever to help bolster Singaporean security. Even Indonesia, against which the FPDA was originally intended, now has observer status on FPDA activities, thus helping to renew and revitalise the FPDA as a component of Singapore’s internationalist hedging.

Today, the Singapore Defence Force (SDF) is a robust, high-tech and highly regarded organisation with considerable reach and power. Indeed, the SDF trains extensively in Australia, the United States and elsewhere. The SDF also looks likely to be included in the club of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter recipients.

Most importantly, Singapore is a founding member of ASEAN. Founded fifty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, ASEAN today has its critics, but it has served Singapore well as a forum for bolstering prosperity and security. It has done so particularly through the establishment of defence and security mechanisms including the ASEAN Defence Minister Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM Plus, as well as facilitating the quadrilateral Malacca Straits Patrol which has remained operational for more than a decade.

Mahbubani certainly caused a stir with his remarks. But reflections since then and the responses generated indicate that while Thucydides’ work remains eminently readable, due to geography, alliances, regional architecture and other ties, its application to Singapore is of limited utility.

John Blaxland is Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies, Director of the ANU Southeast Asia Institute and head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.


August 3, 2017


by Kishore Mahbubani*

*Professor Kishore Mahubani is Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

We live in troubled times, with pessimism clouding even the most prosperous parts of the planet. Many are convinced that the international order is falling apart. Some fear that a clash of civilizations is imminent, if it has not already begun.

Yet, amid the gloom, Southeast Asia offers an unexpected glimmer of hope. The region has made extraordinary progress in recent decades, achieving a level of peace and prosperity that was previously unimaginable. And it owes much of this success to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which marks its 50th anniversary this month.

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Dean Kishore Mahbubani and Singapore’s Ambassador at Large Bilahari Kausikan

Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most diverse regions. Its 640 million people include 240 million Muslims, 120 million Christians, 150 million Buddhists, and millions of Hindus, Taoists, Confucianists, and Communists. Its most populous country, Indonesia, is home to 261 million people, while Brunei has just 450,000. Singapore’s per capita income of $52,960 per annum is 22.5 times that of Laos ($2,353).

This diversity puts Southeast Asia at a distinct disadvantage in terms of fostering regional cooperation. When ASEAN was founded in 1967, most experts expected it to die within a few years.

At the time, Southeast Asia was a poor and deeply troubled region, which the British historian C.A. Fisher had described as the Balkans of Asia. The Vietnam War was underway, and the Sino-Vietnamese War was yet to be fought. Many viewed the five non-Communist states that founded ASEAN – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand – as dominoes, set to be tipped over by a neighbor’s fall to communism or descent into civil strife.

But ASEAN defied expectations, becoming the world’s second most successful regional organization, after the European Union. Some 1,000 ASEAN meetings are held each year to deepen cooperation in areas such as education, health, and diplomacy. ASEAN has signed free-trade agreements (FTAs) with China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, and established an ASEAN economic community. Today, ASEAN comprises the world’s seventh-largest economy, on track to become the fourth largest by 2050.

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As I explain in my book The ASEAN Miracle, several factors have underpinned the bloc’s success. At first, anti-communism provided a powerful incentive to collaborate. Strong leaders, like Indonesia’s Suharto, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, and Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, held the group together.

It helped that as ASEAN was getting off the ground in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the strategic interests of America, China, and the bloc’s members converged. But even when the Cold War ended, the region did not erupt into conflict, as the real Balkans did. ASEAN countries maintained the cooperative habits that had become established in Southeast Asia in the 1970s and 1980s.

In fact, ASEAN’s erstwhile communist enemies – Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam – decided to join the bloc. So, too, did Myanmar, ending decades of isolation. ASEAN’s policy of engaging Myanmar attracted criticism from the West, but it helped lay the groundwork for a peaceful transition from military rule. (Compare this to the West’s policy of isolation toward, say, Syria, which certainly won’t lead to a similar outcome.)

To be sure, ASEAN is far from perfect. Over the short term, it seems to move like a crab – two steps forward, one step back, and one step sideways.

Yet ASEAN’s long-term progress is undeniable. Its combined GDP has grown from $95 billion in 1970 to $2.5 trillion in 2014. And it is the only reliable platform for geopolitical engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, unique in its ability to convene meetings attended by all of the world’s great powers, from the United States and the European Union to China and Russia.

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ASEAN continues to face serious challenges. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have created deep divisions, and the intensifying geopolitical rivalry between the US and China poses a further threat to cohesion. And domestic politics in several member states, including Malaysia and Thailand, is becoming increasingly chaotic.

But ASEAN’s history suggests that the bloc can weather these storms. Its impressive resilience is rooted in the culture of musyawarah and muafakat (consultation and consensus) championed by Indonesia. Imagine how other regional organizations, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council or the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, could benefit from adherence to such norms.

The EU once amounted to the gold standard for regional cooperation. But it continues to struggle with a seemingly never-ending series of crises and weak economic growth. Add to that the impending departure of the United Kingdom, and it seems only prudent to seek other models of cooperation. ASEAN, however imperfect, provides an attractive one.

The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. But ASEAN’s approach may turn out to be the way of the future, enabling other fractious regions to develop sturdy bonds of cooperation, too.

Singapore’s Predicament, ASEAN Challenge

August 2, 2017

Singapore’s Predicament, ASEAN Challenge

by Dr Munir Majid

SINGAPORE is no longer a boring political place which finds its substitute excitement in neighbouring Malaysia or Indonesia. It has plenty of its own now.

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However in grappling with it and, no doubt, measuring cost-benefit, one probable consequence could be the strength of its leadership of Asean whose chair the island republic assumes next year.

The “small state should behave like one” debate among Singapore’s foreign policy elite that uncharacteristically broke into the open is as highly significant as its domestic political worries.

Politics in Singapore actually were exciting – sometimes too exciting – in the past, before 1965, when separation from Malaysia and the leadership of the towering Lee Kuan Yew focused almost all attention and energy on building a modern nation state.

There were race riots in July 1964 (22 killed), in 1969 as a spillover of Malaysia’s May 13 (36 lives lost) and incidents such as over the Maria Hertogh conversion in 1950 (18 died).

As Singapore’s first Prime Minister after attaining self-governing status, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew fought a huge battle for merger with then Malaya in 1961-192 against left wingers in his ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). In two by-elections in 1961 the PAP lost as they did not support their own party.

During a vote of confidence in the legislative council on 20 July 1961, 13 PAP assemblymen abstained from giving support to their own government, were promptly expelled, and went on to form the Barisan Sosialis (Socialist Front) opposition party.

A referendum on merger was held on 1 September 1962 and although there was a 71 per cent vote in support, there were 25 per cent blank votes as called for by Barisan Sosialis because there was no clear “against” choice in the poll. The opposition party gave the PAP a run for its money and won 13 seats (plus one independent opposition) in the 1963 general election even if the PAP romped home with 37.

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It was the crackdown against leftists and their supporters on 2 September 1963 that paralyzed Barisan Sosialis which made the further mistake of getting out of Parliament in 1966 after separation from Malaysia. In the 1972 general election Barisan Sosialis failed to win a single seat before it finally disappeared from the political scene on absorption by the Workers Party in May 1988.

The period of feisty politics was pretty much over as Lee Kuan Yew’s post-Malaysia Singapore became the great success story well chronicled in the two volumes of his excellent memoirs and many other commentaries on the modern island republic.

There has been some excitement over drop of the popular vote and loss of a few seats by the PAP, as in the 2011 general election, but these were a far cry from what had gone before. Of course the relatively barren intervening years might have something to do with the easily raised level of excitement.

Just recently the public quarrel among the siblings over the future of their father Lee Kuan Yew’s former residence at 38 Oxley Road spiced up further some of the issues that are coming through in today’s Singapore after a long period of relative political abstinence.

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Singapore’s Deputy Prime minister, Teo Chee Hean, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: AFP

Some of the most populist comments reflect on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a way not imaginable about Lee Kuan Yew. If he cannot even keep his siblings in line how can he control the country? He’s nothing like his father. And so on.

All this is rather harsh. Family, as we know, can be more difficult to control than even a nation. In public light any response at all would be deemed wrong, especially as one party may have all the power and authority. As for Lee Kuan Yew, he was one of a kind, and neither subsequent Singapore Prime Minister has been put up in comparison to him.

Still, all these throwaway comments must hurt. When coupled with what happened during the Singapore Prime Minister’s national day address last year, in the unforgiving world of politics the suggestion of weakness has ready audience.

One battle too many

All this too at a time when Singapore’s hitherto smart political succession planning has been thrown out of kilter by unfortunate illness of assumed heir apparent and by the reality that a person from a minority race, however well-qualified, cannot be made Prime Minister in the Chinese majority island republic. It would be one battle too many for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Cartoon commentary President Xi's Vietnam and Singapore visit 3: Keeping up with China-Singapore all-round cooperation

For he has yet another front to fight. The relentless attack by China on what its Global Times calls “the tiny red dot”. China’s Yang Jieche had presaged this at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in 2010 when he glared at Singapore’s George Yeo as he thundered: Some countries are big and some states are small – and that is a fact!

What irks China is Singapore’s principled stand on the issues of international law in the South China Sea disputes. For Singapore a small state relies on the protection of the law in international society. Its violation or disregard by a big country, especially against smaller countries, sets a dangerous precedent.

There are some in Singapore who now openly say a small state like Singapore should behave like a small state. What is implicit is this: Singapore should not have crossed China. The suggestion is that the government under Lee Hsien Loong has made a serious mistake which has harmed Singapore’s interests.

However, the fact of the matter is that Singapore has always acted bigger than its size. Lee Kuan Yew towered not only in Singapore but among intellectuals, leaders and foreign policy establishments across the world. Even China – Deng Xiaoping and other leaders following him – took his advice.

If the suggestion is it does not now qualify and should not any longer do so, there will be ramifications in its relations with other countries, not just with China. For ASEAN, this could mean that when Singapore takes over as the chair next year, it should not provide any kind of leadership that could be construed, especially by the larger ASEAN members, as going beyond its remit.

This would be a setback not only for Singapore but for ASEAN as a whole. As a founder member of ASEAN, Singapore has always been among the more committed to the regional grouping which is crying out loud for leadership.

It can be expected Singapore will give the South China Sea disputes as wide a berth as possible – unless it has to do with cooperative endeavor. Which would be no bad thing as China seems to be in the mood for joint development of disputed areas as well as for some agreement on the Code of Conduct in whatever truncated form.

All the signs are that Singapore will give attention to digitization, the onset of the fourth industrial revolution in ASEAN. However Singapore should not stop at identification of new means of manufacturing and providing services, at new platforms for distribution, trade and payments – at robotics, internet-of-things, artificial intelligence etc. It must lead ASEAN into looking at the social and economic consequences of these new technologies, the impact on employment and unemployment, on education, training and re-training, and on disparities within and and between ASEAN countries. Indeed the potential impact on ASEAN integration and cohesion.

Finally, Singapore should also lead ASEAN into thinking seriously and strategically about how to continue to be relevant in the next 50 years. It should propose that ASEAN ask the young people, for a change, on what they want of and from ASEAN.

Singapore has the capability to take ASEAN through all this. But would Singapore have the will to do so, given the so many matters on its plate, and the suggestions it should not over-reach and antagonise bigger states and therefore harm its own interests?