Two separate events in the past week poignantly reflect the intimate links between the state of the country's economy and the political landscape of that country. Although diametrically opposed in political terms, both incidences indirectly or directly resulted from the dire state of the respective nations' economies. The eventual arrest of Philippine president Joseph Estrada was a culmination of dire economic mismanagement under his watch, coupled with what Filipinos have termed 'economic plunder' (Straits Times, 25th April 2001a). The election of Junichiro Koizumi as ruling LDP party chairman - and effectively as Japan's next prime minister - was premised on the economic reform platform that he campaigned under (Straits Times, 25th April 2001b).
Both developments augur well for their respective countries, and for the future of the region as a whole. The arrest of Estrada is the first step towards sending a clear signal to those in power that corruption should not and will not be tolerated even in leadership ranks. Filipinos, tired to the malaise that continues to plague their economy, believe that this is a positive step towards encouraging the return of investment to the beleaguered country. They are not far wrong: indeed, the action of the current administration would establish a credible precedent that feeds directly back into rallying the confidence of foreign investors that the political climate is recovering to even keel. This is but a manifestation of the underlying trend that citizens would not tolerate improper or inept economic management.
Similarly, the surprising sweep of Koizumi into the primacy of the LDP party shows that the Japanese - tired of a decade of economic stagnation - want changes in the way that the Japanese economy is handled. Although the success of the proposed drastic economic reforms remain to be seen - and there are those who argue that a simple spring cleaning in the banking sector will do little to rescue Japan from its liquidity trap - it is difficult to deny that there are clear signs that governments are expected to do more than simply passively run the country with little regard for economic slumps.
In a sense, these developments ought to remind Singapore that its good economic progress coupled with a stable political climate is the result of sound policy management. It is certainly not a right, and should not be taken for granted. The is a need to continue to be vigilant in our treatment of the economy, and the future of our small nation depends on ensuring that the population is flexible and responsive to change in our turbulent times.
'Estrada Arrested Amid Riots', The Straits Times, 25th April 2001a
'Reformist Set to Become Next Japan's Next PM', The Straits Times, 25th April 2001b