Singapore and Malaysia have shared close bilateral ties since 1965. Over 400,000 Malaysians work in Singapore and trade between both countries amounted to approximately $28 billion in 2015. Beyond economic measures, Singaporeans and Malaysians share close emotional and cultural bonds, rooted in our common history. But what would Singapore look like today had we remained in the Malaysian Federation? Would we have been better or worse off? Here are 10 likely scenarios.
No National Day on August 9
In this alternate reality, because Singapore never separated from the Malaysian Federation, August 9th 1965 never holds any historical significance. This means no National Day, no fireworks, no NDP and no patriotic songs that we have come to know and love. Instead, we’d be celebrating Merdeka Day on August 31st, the day when the Federation of Malaya’s independence from the British Empire was officially declared.
And since Singapore’s merger with Malaysia was a “success”, September 16th would forever be celebrated as “Malaysia Day”, a day commemorating the merger of both countries.
“Negaraku” would be our national anthem
Negaraku was selected as Malaysia’s national anthem in 1957. Majulah Singapura was only adopted in 1965 after Singapore left the Malaysian Federation. Hence, in this alternate scenario, Majulah Singapura is never adopted since Singapore never becomes an independent country. Instead, Majulah Singapura becomes our state anthem, thus holding far less significance.
Singapore would be the richest of the 14 Malaysian states
At the time of separation, Singapore was already the wealthiest of the 14 Malay states, with a GDP per capita 54% higher than Malaysia’s. Given Singapore’s favorable geography and its status as a major port city, that trend would likely have continued if we stayed in Malaysia. The longer we stay in Malaysia, the greater the role we play in the Malaysian economy. In this scenario, we stay in Malaysia long enough to witness the great economic growth of the late 80s and early 90s, the invention of the internet and the global age of information. Singapore’s economic role in Malaysia would be similar to that of Hong Kong’s role in China’s economy or London’s in the UK.
Singapore would be sustaining the rest of the Federal Government
On the other hand, given Singapore’s relative affluence compared to the rest of the Malaysian states, we’d also shoulder a large portion of the tax burden. This means more money to the Federal Government in Putrajaya to help subsidise poorer states like Kelantan and Kedah.
The PAP would be relegated to the opposition
In this alternate reality, the PAP remains the dominant political party in Singapore. At the time of merger, the Barisan Sosialis which was the largest opposition party was dealt a major blow with Operation Coldstore. Hundreds of left wing activists were rounded up and detained without trial. Had Singapore remained part of Malaysia, it’s likely that similar crackdowns against Leftists would have continued, further diminishing the opposition’s presence in local politics.
However, since Singapore never becomes an independent nation, the PAP’s role is limited to that of a local governorate. The bulk of legislation and national policies would be decided in Putrajaya. Singapore’s Parliament would have taken up a similar role as the Scottish Parliament in the UK.
And given the existing tensions between UMNO and the PAP, both parties would have solidified their image based on race politics. Had Singapore remained part of Malaysia and the PAP go on to contest in Federal elections, we would see the PAP play a greater role in Malaysian politics. It’s unlikely that Lee Kuan Yew would have ever let the PAP join the Barisan Nasional coalition that was formed in 1973, given his cold relations with UMNO.
Reduced national service
In this alternate scenario, national service would still exist albeit, at a greatly diminished scale. In early 2004, the Ministry of Defence also initiated a compulsory National Service program for 18 years old Malaysians. Participants of the Malaysian National Service are chosen randomly. Although under the purview of the Ministry of Defence, the National Service is not a military program. Draftees are taught basic hand-to-hand combat and handling of certain weapons by military instructors, but are not expected to be conscripted or called into military draft. It is described as a nation and community building program.
Traveling to Johor Bahru would be much faster
Since Singapore remains part of Malaysia, no international border exists between Woodlands and JB. This frees up hours spent in traffic jams at both customs and troublesome border checks. Without an official border, the Johor state government would have likely collaborated with the Singapore state government to build multiple road links connecting Singapore and JB. Without the political sensitivities of diplomacy, a high speed railway and even regional MRT lines connecting Singapore with other Malaysian cities would have been conceived much earlier.
Singapore Airlines would never have existed
Singapore Airlines was formed in 1972 after splitting from Malaysian-Singapore Airlines as Singapore wanted to develop an independent airline to service international destinations. Since Singapore never gains independence in this scenario, Singapore Airlines would never have been conceived. We wouldn’t have the iconic Singapore Girl nor the distinguishable blue and yellow liveries.
We’d still be a conservative society
In this alternate scenario, Malaysia still remains as a majority Malay Muslim country. As one of the 14 Malaysian states, Islam would be recognised as the official religion under Article 3 of the Malaysian Constitution. Freedom of religion would still exist and modernisation and globalisation would bring increased liberal secular attitudes. But as a whole, we’d still be a conservative society.
Lee Kuan Yew’s historical significance would have been diminished
Lee Kuan Yew would forever be remembered as the father of modern Singapore who led the country through separation to become one of the richest countries in the world. But in this alternate timeline, his historical significance would be diminished since Singapore never leaves Malaysia. Lee Kuan Yew would instead have been remembered as a visionary statesman who was one of the architects of merger and independence from the British. Had Singapore stayed, racial tensions would still have continued and Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy would have been more divisive especially in mainland Malaysia.