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The Orderly Lion

The Lion-Country Story Series

This is the second part of a story from Singapore, the lion-country which had recently conducted an election and celebrated its 50th anniversary as a republic

singapore_Tuomas_LehtinenFreeDigitalPhotosTo many Indonesians, Singapore is well-known for its orderly lifestyle. (Image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen


Wait, is the election really next month?

On August 9th 2015, Singaporeans celebrate their 50th National Day. And in four weeks, they would have “Pemilihan Raya”, the general election. Still, on the street at the time this article was written, there had been no signs of a national event in this country.

There were no posters, banners, billboards, or even flyers posted on walls that show signs the country will have a general election. No merriment of the mass to welcome political campaigns, no crowds watching politicians making promises with blaring speakers. For many, life goes on as usual.

Any festivity of general election being held soon could only been heard on the mainstream media (which mostly are government-owned) namely The Straits Times newspaper as well as Channel News Asia and other Media Corps television stations.  Some even started providing clues and hints about the election since three months earlier. The Straits Times edition of Saturday, June 6, for example, published new figures of the People’s Action Party (PAP) from 11 electoral districts. On the same page, they also showed candidates from nine political parties from the so-called opposition side.

Election in Singapore feels like a wedding prepared in a haste, where invitations were sent only a week earlier, or even 2-3 days before the voting day. We could find a much different situation in Indonesia, where people started discussing the presidential candidates even two years before the voting day.

While Indonesia has an independent Election Commission (KPU), Singapore has Elections Department which runs under the Prime Minister’s Office. Since 1969, every Prime Minister came from the PAP. This situation has similarities during Soeharto’s era in Indonesia where the Golongan Karya (Golkar), had been the only political party ruling the government for 32 years (1966-1998).

The Singapore opposition has long accused the Elections Department as taking sides and not being independent. Opposition figure Chee Soon Juan (of Singapore Democratic Party), for example, rebuked that the Singapore Elections Department take sides with the PAP, politically. The opponents demand that the government change election regulations and separate the Election Committee from the government’s political party.

Compared to the Indonesian election or other countries where election time is almost like a noisy celebration, the General Election in Singapore seems dull. I regard it as too orderly and controlled. It is because, during the election, Singapore nationals basically only vote for their representatives, from many districts, who will be parliament members. They do not directly vote the Prime Minister. It is these parliament members who will elect the Prime Minister for a maximum of 5 years term.

In this year’s general election, there are 89 parliament seats that were fought over by the PAP and 9 opposition parties. During the 2011 election, PAP controlled 81 seats or 70 percent of the votes, while the rest was contested among Workers’ Party, Singapore People’s Party (SPP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and the others.

Several urgent issues surfaced in the 2015 general election, namely the increasing living cost, the more expensive residential price, the many foreigners who somewhat bothered the citizens, and the wish of some (few) Singaporeans to have freedom of the press and expression.

Everything is orderly, and controlled

Having spent weeks living in Singapore, I see Singaporeans live their life systematically, almost methodical. In the morning they queue to board the bus, lunchtime they queue at food-courts, after work, they return to queue at MRT stations to get home. Undeniably, a discipline nation.

In Singapore, people can stroll comfortably on the safe sidewalks. While in Jakarta, pedestrians are almost risking their lives everyday. They might have to fight against egotistical motorcyclists, insane bus drivers or even hawkers that take over the sidewalk, before crossing the street, just to get to their office.

Singapore deserves a title of “a country with the most rules and regulation signposts in Asia”. Throughout the island, in addition to CCTVs everywhere, signposts forbidding this and that are almost everywhere, keeping Singapore residents from breaking the law. A fine, caning, or jail punishment, are available for those who dare to disturb the order.

Public facilities in this island country deserve many thumbs up. City parks are everywhere, conveniently reachable through the network of public transportation. The Mass Rapid Transportation (MRT) is the backbone of the citizens, having a network that integrates with bus lines that are equipped with comfy double decker or tandem buses. I told myself, “Don’t try to compare them to the private companies’ operating public buses in Jakarta,” the J-town, where reckless drivers race their bus as if they were in the F1 circuit, then they could decide to stop anywhere, and depart anytime, they like.

Indeed, there have been complaints from the public when the MRT had some technical problems. In general, the mass rapid transportation service deserves a score of 8 out of 10. Cruising around the city-country, I am convinced that the entire island is reachable by public transportation whether it is MRT, bus, Light Rapid Transit, or shuttle bus.

Oh well, perhaps there is one area in Kranji, where it is fairly isolated. The area is actually a vast land of future residential area for some Singaporeans, also known as the public cemetery. It is located deep into the village and close to the forest at the edge of the city. Kranji is also home to organic agricultural centers owned by rich farmers of Singapore.

The high quality public facilities of Singapore mirror a good corporate governance, an efficient bureaucracy, and low level of corruption cases.

Obviously such an orderly condition has helped Singapore to become the strongest in economy among ASEAN countries and as one of the big five economies in Asia. The city-state that has a population of 5.4 million (with only 3.5 million citizens) can be equated economically with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Singapore is like an attractive small lion that won’t bite.

Just a quick observation from having lived in Singapore for three months, it is easy to conclude that Singaporeans are workaholics. Most citizens are living in comfort since the government provide everything: easy access to food, residence, public transportation, entertainment centers, financial institutions, and even places of worship. Then, the duties of the citizens are to use the facilities provided and to pay them with work, work, and work. This looks like that the slogan of Indonesian president Joko Widodo, “Let’s work and work,” fits more suitably here.

It is by far a different view compared to Jakarta, where many are unemployed. In Singapore, it is not common to find people just sitting around chatting in residential area during work hours. Singaporeans are always busy at work. Even when they are on their way home, in MRT or buses, the working class of Singapore keep “working” in front of their gadget screens, often with their ears tightly corked with earphones.


This article is the second part of the ‘Lion-Country’ story series and is to be continued with subsequent article publications. Read the first part here: ‘The Lion Needs Freedom‘.

This article, The Orderly Lion, first appeared on – Indonesian Perspective to Global Audience.