"Foolish" to think PAP will suffer the same fate as Barisan Nasional: Ho Kwon Ping

He said S'pore is different from M'sia as it is not plagued by massive corruption.

Kayla Wong| July 14, 06:33 PM

Across the causeway, a historic victory by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in May that ousted Najib Razak from his premiership made international headlines.

Many have given their take on what this means for neighbouring Singapore, because of the similarities that both countries were governed by ruling parties -- People's Action Party (PAP) for Singapore and Barisan Nasional (BN) for Malaysia -- for more than five decades.

But Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping has a different take.

"Foolish" to echo Mahathir's comment on S'poreans

Ho said that while there are "unnervingly close parallels between Singapore and Malaysia", it would be a "foolish mistake" to echo Mahathir's remark that Singaporeans "must be tired of having the same government". Ho was speaking on "Singapore Politics and Business in an Age of Disruption" at an OCBC forum on Thursday, July 12.

According to Today, he argued that while PAP and BN are founding parties in their countries, it does not mean that the former would suffer the same fate.

He said that Singaporeans would be "drawing the wrong lessons if we look at Malaysia and think that the fall of the PAP is imminent for whatever reasons that are happening across the Causeway".

Corruption brought BN down

Ho pointed out that there was a "huge and critical difference" between both Singapore and Malaysia in that the latter is plagued by "egregiously blatant" corruption of the previous administration.

He contended that it was the "massively enormous corruption" of Najib's government that brought him down, rather than the following: 

  • Absence of full democratic institutions
  • Absence of full human rights
  • Putting down of dissent
  • Presence of paternalistic governance


Good governance more critical than desire for full democratic institutions

According to him, PAP's downfall may only happen if there is widespread corruption among its leaders, not due to the desire for full democratic institutions as westerners believe.

He said:

"The Asian political culture has shown, that it is not the presence of democratic institutions, but it is the presence of good governance which is most critical. There's a high degree of tolerance within Asian countries for even incompetence. But there is very little tolerance for totally selfish regimes which only perpetuate their own well-being."

He added that although Singapore does not tolerate corruption, things might change if the PAP allows nepotism and cronyism to creep into the government.

To "avoid the futures that we do not wish to have", he said "there must be an inflow of totally fresh new blood into the political system".

Things PAP should be careful of

Ho warned of the possibility that the PAP might no longer be in power in the future, although it might only happen in the next 20 to 30 years. This is because Singapore is still ruled by its second generation of leaders, who still "clearly" remember the principles of the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

However, a lack of new solutions to solve future problems, complacency, and internal competition within the party could be detrimental to the PAP.

Although he said that factions within the party can help induce some competition, it should not be allowed to reach a point where it causes the party to be deeply divided -- a factor that resulted in BN's loss.

Consistent with his past views

Ho's opinion is consistent with the views he shared in the past regarding Singapore's domestic politics.

He warned of the risk of internal schisms within the PAP back in 2009, and said that cohesion within the party over 50 years was due to LKY's forceful personality.

He also said dramatic political liberalisation is not likely in Singapore in the era without LKY:

"This is not a pent-up society awaiting the demise of the strongman in order to overturn highly unpopular laws. The present Government has the support of the politically critical heartland in its pragmatic approach to liberation."

More recently in January 2017, Ho commented on the hypothetical scenario of the ruling party losing power and another government taking the helm.

He said that as long as PM Lee Hsien Loong is still in politics, the PAP is unlikely to lose any elections. This is because Lee remains the torchbearer of the party's values and political culture.

Nevertheless, Ho said that the "critical issue is what will happen 20, 30 years from now", adding that he doubted "anything is forever".

His opinion on the importance of injecting fresh blood into the political system has also been consistent. He said back in 2017 that when a ruling party loses a political election, it is very often due to the leadership being "quite old, moribund and intellectually feeble".

"Young turks within the party" will then "generally result in the previous ruling party coming back in power again".

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