It is the Year 2083. Singapore is now the 8th largest city in Malaysia, and has been renamed Pulau Selatan, or Southern Island. After years of infighting, Singapore was unable to catch up in the new economic world system and had to ask Malaysia to buy off its fortune. Iskandar is now the largest port in Southeast Asia. Bintan now rivals Iskandar as the regional hub, after the Indonesian government poured in millions to develop the Riau Islands in the late 2030s.
There are now about 500,000 people living in Singapore, not bad for a country which once was the shining beacon of Southeast Asia, where at its heyday when it had nearly 6.5 million people on the island. Most ex-Singaporeans had migrated to Kuala Lumpur, Iskandar and Penang to work in the service sectors there, after Singapore underwent waves of recession and collapsed. Most of the MRT lines built in the early part of the century had gone into disuse and had to be closed down. They provide refuge for the many homeless people who are now allowed to roam free on the island.
Things weren’t always like this. If you speak to an elderly sleeping in one of the disused MRT tunnels, he would tell you that in its days of glory, Singapore was the richest country in the world. It’s GDP per capita was the highest in the world in the 2020s, for at least over a decade. However, he also remembered how the income inequality was so high that it got people very angry. The government wasn’t able to appease the people and had turned to a strategy of chastising the people for not appreciating the government. This only got the people even angrier and the squabble just went downhill.
The government had turned back on its policy of welcoming foreigners into Singapore in the early 2010s, as a result of its people’s demands. By the late 2010s, there were only less than 10,000 people accepted as Singaporeans and PRs annually. Singaporeans had mostly cheered but what also happened was that industries in Singapore starting facing a shortage of labour and started to move their investments to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Instead of improving the work-life conditions of its people and increasing funding for fertility programmes, the government refused to do so but made a sudden U-turn instead, as it had done in 2005, to allow for an influx of foreigners without a well thought-through policy. It got the people angry once again as once again, incomes in the lower wage groups became depressed and Singaporeans felt slighted.
By the 2030s, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia were prospering with the investments that were leaving Singapore. It would be another two decades when their GDP per capita outgrew Singapore’s. Meanwhile, Singaporeans continued to go online to complain about the government and the government continued to fight back with self-appreciating remarks, not realizing that their outdated PR strategy wasn’t working for them anymore. No one had any solutions. Mass demonstrations were legalized in the late 2020s. But as Singaporeans were new to the concept, they took to the streets and continued their avalanche of complaints. The years of controlling Singapore had now created Singaporeans who knew nothing about critical social and political thinking and could only degenerate themselves into loudmouths who had nothing useful to say but with anger spewing out in every direction.
By then, the “silent majority” started to speak up. They tried to mediate among the angry people and the government. But even then, it was too late. There was very little trust between the people and the government and nothing the “silent majority” tried could bridge the differences. They started offering solutions and taking things into their own hands to fix things. But they continued to face the wrath of the angry Singaporeans, who turned onto them, thinking that they were the government’s lackey.
In the general elections of the 2040s, PAP finally lost power to the opposition. The people were overjoyed and finally, for once, we thought that things were going to get better. The people might actually work with the government to change things! But as it is, the angry people continued to be angry. Only then were we starting to realise that they were angry because they simply were. Sure, it was the PAP government which they were initially angry with but it snowballed and they couldn’t hold back. By then, a newly minted opposition-led party tried to introduce policies which appeased the people, but these policies were less effective than what they would have been if they could be hard-hitting and did what was necessary. In the next few elections, new governments were voted in and as they continued to try to appease Singaporeans, and rendered the government useless.
By the late 2070s, Singapore was long forgotten in the world economy. It ranked in the nineties in terms of GDP per capita. Malaysia’s GDP was several times higher than Singapore’s. Many Singaporeans had started leaving Singapore from the 2050s – at least for those who could still afford to do so. By the early 2080s, the government started negotiating with Malaysia for a buy-back deal, where Malaysia would take Singapore back, in exchange for cheaper labour for Malaysia’s service industries. The deal was finalised by the late 2080s and Singapore started sending its first batch of workers to mainland Malaysia.
When the elderly man who was sleeping in the train tunnel was asked why he didn’t have a home to go to, he said that when the government had proposed to build a nursing home next to where he had lived, he had petitioned against it. Now that he was in his 90s, not only does he have a home to go to, the nursing home which would have benefited him wasn’t even built. He regretted his decision for being self-centred and to have thought only of himself. But it didn’t matter anymore then since Singapore was in the down in the dumps anyway.