Thum Ping-tjin, the man who swam across the English Channel found himself in deep political waters after crossing the narrow Straits of Johor to meet the strongman of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. Dr Mahathir, who is now doing his second run as the prime minister of Malaysia, is now lauded as a champion of democracy for ousting a corrupt Najib Razak.
Inspired by the achievements of Dr Mahathir, Thum and his cohort of men and woman have apparently asked the Malaysian leader to bring about democracy in Singapore. The timing of it cannot be any better, or worse, given the strained relationship between the two countries since Pakatan Harappan came into power. Especially when we’re having issues with regards to the High-Speed Rail project and over the price of raw water purchased from Johor.
Thum, a Rhodes scholar, is now facing a backlash from the public as well as from members of parliament of the ruling party over this issue. Sitting MP Seah Kian Peng and Minister for Law and Home Affairs have weighed in on this issue.
Scratch the surface and you’ll find that Malaysia still has many long-standing issues with their divisive ethnic policies. The Malays or Bumis have many privileges that are legally, politically and culturally well-ingrained. And these pro-Bumi policies are there to stay.
The appointment of one Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister or Tommy Thomas as the Attorney General does not make Malaysia a meritocratic nation. While it is on its path to becoming more meritocratic, there is some way to go according to academics and political watchers in Kuala Lumpur.
Further from the power centres, the ethnic minorities are still facing discrimination in one form or another. And UMNO, the party that lost power in the recent General Elections will most likely stoke Malay rights as their main political agenda in the next elections.
There is also the pro-Islamic PAS and Amanah to contend with. Therefore, seeking any form of political intervention from Malaysia may be riddled with unexpected outcomes, especially, in Singapore to the existing balance that we have carefully maintained post-independence since 1965.
In a Facebook post, former NMP, Calvin Cheng calls Thum’s action as being hostile towards Singapore. But it may be more of naivety than hostility or a well-crafted publicity stunt to invite a head-of-state to attend the official launch of their website. These guys work on the maxim of all publicity is good publicity.
This is not the first time New Naratif has found itself in troubled waters. Earlier this year, the organisation received funding from Open Society to run democracy workshops in Singapore. The organisation was also banned from setting up a company with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore.
One opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party is at cross hairs over this matter. Dr Chee Soon Juan was quick to distance himself from this episode, while others have commented that the PAP is quick to cash-in to divert attention from other imploding issues like rising cost of living, HDB leases and the planned hike of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
And all this is happening while other opposition parties are stoking nationalistic sentiments, often including a narrative that Singapore is inundated by foreigners and our jobs are lost to them. Yet, the New Naratif, which is seemingly sympathetic to the opposition cause, keeps turning to foreign entities to democratise Singapore.
It is unclear as to whether New Naraif is a media outfit, an NGO or a political organisation. But having Tan Wah Piow in their circle makes one question their political motives. While one can appreciate the plurality of the fragmented opposition. Getting into the crosshairs of one another is not the way to go.
In a recent seminar held in Johor Bahru, Tan Wah Piow, a self-exiled ex-Singaporean said that the opposition in Singapore lacked vision. He comes across as being seriously disingenuous to the efforts of Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Chiam See Tong and Chee Soon Juan for staying the course and fighting the hard fight.
We have already achieved self-determination, economic success and prosperity. Though democracy maybe less robust and distribution of wealth not equitable here – these are issues that we can resolve on our own. Seeking foreign intervention is politically reckless. And I would like to end by saying, good fences make good neigbours and let’s keep to our boundaries.