Several interesting facts jumped at me when reading an old economic journal on Malaysia’s formation.
One was that, believe it or not, Kelantan and Singapore, both started on an almost equal footing.
In 1965, Singapore recorded a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$517, while Kelantan trailed marginally at US$510.
Fifty-seven years later, in 2022, Singapore’s GDP has reached a staggering US$82,808, a jump of 160 times. Meanwhile, Kelantan’s growth has barely grown tenfold, to RM16,567, far behind the national GDP per capita average of RM54,863.
In terms of land area, Kelantan’s expanse, stretching 17,100 sq km, is more than 23 times Singapore’s 734 sq km. The northeastern state brims with untapped wealth from gold to gas, timber to fertile lands. In contrast, Singapore’s modest plot of land is scant in natural riches.
Yet, their stories could not be more different.
Singapore, under the disciplined stewardship of the PAP and its visionary leader, Lee Kuan Yew, has engineered an economic miracle. Meanwhile, Kelantan under PAS has stagnated, ensnared as Malaysia’s poorest state, a title unshaken since 1970.
Today, the disparities between the two are profound. Singapore boasts a robust housing policy ensuring shelter for all, while many in Kelantan lack even clean water, let alone proper housing and education.
Job security is a given in Singapore, but Kelantan suffers from the highest unemployment in Malaysia.
Singapore has gone on to attract high tech industries while Kelantan flounders, failing even to attract “halal” industries.
This economic dissection lays bare the consequences of political mastery, or its absence.
It also paints a compelling hypothetical question. What if PAP had steered Kelantan? How would it have unlocked the state’s latent potential and positioned it as Malaysia’s beacon of prosperity?
In this narrative, the triumphs and tribulations faced by Kelantan and Singapore illuminate the fundamental truth that political foresight and effective policy-making are the engines of economic destiny.
Obviously, PAS leaders do not possess any of those attributes.
This begs the critical question: what is it that underpins Singapore’s success, or conversely, Kelantan’s stagnation?
The political party, its philosophy and leadership, appear to be the three pivotal factors.
Under the PAP, their socialist agenda and Lee Kuan Yew’s premiership, Singapore flourished.
While PAS’s lack of an economic development agenda and poor governance has seen Kelantan consistently take the unwanted mantle of Malaysia’s poorest state, a position it has held since 1970.
Today, Kelantan grapples with infrastructural deficiencies, including unreliable access to clean water, no comprehensive housing policy, high unemployment rates and no cultural heritage to boast of.
The narrative suggests a stark difference in the effectiveness of government and its developmental policies.
It posits that had a pragmatic party such as PAP been at Kelantan’s helm instead of PAS, the state’s fortunes might have mirrored those of Singapore.
With advanced infrastructure, ample housing, and employment opportunities, Kelantan could have been transformed into Malaysia’s exemplar.
Political leadership and policy direction are key to a state’s destiny.
As a political party, PAS has displayed none of these.
Will the state ever see light?
Will the same fate befall Perlis, Kedah and Terengganu?
Selamat Hari Deepavali to all.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.