A government is a representation of the people. At the same time, the government should always listen and understand the views of the people, and translate them into equitable actions which balance the people’s interests with the government’s other governing issues.
There are three fundamental errors PAP has made in its rule.
First, PAP believes that it knows what is best for the people of Singapore. This might be true during the early years of Singapore, but it no longer holds through now. The identities and qualities of the leaders have changed. At the same time, the social and economic dynamics of Singapore has changed as well, and it is no longer possible to have a straight-line understanding of the needs of Singaporeans.
Second, because PAP believes that they know what’s best for Singaporeans, they’ve become attached to their power – they believe, and they sincerely do, that they need to continue to hold on to this power, so that they can prevent Singapore from ‘falling into the wrong hands’, which they think will result in instability. This is why they go through all sorts of means they can devise to prevent the opposition from upsetting their power.
Third, because PAP’s fundamental principles lie in ensuring the economic success of Singapore, it’s fervent belief in economic principles has caused them to have a steadfast, but more and more so, one-sided understanding of complex social structures that a society and nation is built on. Their understanding of Singapore has become too clinical and functional, and they’ve lost the ability to appreciate complex social and psychological constructs, which are not economically-aligned.
To be sure, there are Singaporeans who continue to believe in PAP and will stand by PAP’s principles and values. These Singaporeans are by no means the minority, but it’s no longer clear if they still form a majority. Also, truth is, among a majority of these Singaporeans, most of them are politically apathetic and are sitting on the fence, but they are gradually awakening to another reality – one that is not part of the predominant discourse of PAP.
And this is where the evolution of Singapore’s landscape is developing into. It is important to know that even as political parties, especially in Singapore’s context, look like they are fixed permanent structures which do not change, they are actually malleable structures which change according to the needs of the people. This is what PAP needs to realise. What PAP has done in the past is that they’ve chosen to set the discourse, and when Singapore first gained independence, they had arguably set a discourse which most Singaporeans agree with, because they were bold moves which brought Singapore through leaps and bounds into a new era – the common discourse of a Third World to First World Country. But, yet, PAP has befallen into their own trappings – by creating a discourse that’s only defined by them, they don’t realise that their discourse has become more and more irrelevant. PAP has always embarked on a more conservative discourse, and during the early years, a conservative discourse produces a workforce which is unquestioning and abiding to economic growth. But over the years, the Singaporean society has evolved in ways that are faster than what PAP had anticipated, or what PAP is ready for. Yet, they continue to set conservative standards, which no longer sync with the beliefs of a section of Singaporeans. This is because PAP continues to uphold economic principles of governance, which requires a conservative mindset, they think. But our society is changing.
So, as said, what PAP does not realise is that they need to evolve with the change in Singaporeans. PAP has often describe themselves as taking the middle ground as being able to anticipate the needs of Singapore, and Singaporeans.
However, PAP doesn’t seem to be able to appreciate the social changes occurring among Singaporeans and they are have read the middle ground wrongly, which is why they are lost votes – a more than 6% swing in voted to the opposition – in the last elections. If the PAP continues to be able to read Singaporeans, a bigger swing will occur in the general elections of 2016.
Also, PAP is good at anticipating problems and solutions, but they are good at doing so, when it comes to economic issues. When it comes to social issues, the new batch of leaders within PAP has grown up within an education which has been prioritized towards economic growth – the focus on mathematics and sciences – that their understanding of social issues isn’t complex enough for them to understand the social changes occurring in Singapore.
Of course, what could be happening is that PAP is able to read the social changes in Singapore but because they believe that a population with a conservative mindset and which are not expansive in their individual thinking will be more useful to economic growth, and thus PAP might have chosen not to change the fundamentals of control mechanisms that they have institutionalised – prohibition of the freedom of speech and public demonstrations, control of media and use of litigation, such as the threat of the defamation laws.
But, PAP needs to evolve and they to evolve in bold and dynamic ways. If PAP wants Singapore to continue to be a one-party state, it needs to evolve towards the new middle ground that Singaporeans are moving towards. If they choose to continue to define a discourse that they are comfortable with, Singaporeans will move towards choosing a political party, or parties, which are more representative of their values, needs and wants. But this is an evolution of a political landscape that occurs anywhere in the world, and in history. When a party becomes too ingrained in their beliefs and hold on to them, when the people no longer align with the party, they will align themselves with another and help that party to grow.
What this means is that the aspirations of Singaporeans are beginning to diverge – a group of us continue to champion the economic principles propagated by PAP, while another group are beginning to realise that their social values are more important. Another political party, or parties, will thus begin to come into relevance and provide a balance to the needs of this new group of Singaporeans. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. In fact, it is ideal. What this means is that Singapore might start going through seasonal change of political parties in power, as and when one or the other principles – economic and social – become relatively more important. Along the way, if there are other principles that Singaporeans start aligning themselves with, the same thing will occur – either one or some of the political party start shifting their principles to meet the needs of this group of Singaporeans, or a new political party will emerge to represent this new group of Singaporeans.
However, what can be worrying is this – because the political parties might want to protect their power or legacy, they might start ‘playing politics’. I will not pinpoint names here, but historically, when a political party or institution stays in power for too long, they are more likely to hold on the power and want to prevent another from taking over them. But this is a basic human behaviour – you want to protect what you have developed for so long. So, this isn’t unique. But it becomes worrying when a party starts protecting their power, and in doing so, create rifts among its people, such that a group of people start siding them, and another group start opposing them. When this happens, tensions start to arise and this will tear apart the social fabric of the nation. This is the state that America is in – that because there are only two parties, they’ve torn the country apart as they pull people over to side them. Is this a Singapore that we want?
What this means is that for whoever is in power, they need to be very conscious that they should not allow this to happen. The recent episode with Aim and Aljunied-Hougang Town Council and the upcoming by-elections has exposed the fundamental what-not-to-do, and this will be a good time for all the parties to realise how they should ensure that in their communications and dealings, that they do not put down another party or cause people to doubt any one party, such that protective feelings occur, and then Singaporeans start taking sides. This is already happening in Singapore.
What can be done? On a philosophical and spiritual level – yes, spiritual – the political parties need to be very cognizant that they do not hold on to their own party ego too strongly. What this means is regardless of what our party might stand for, we need to always go back to the basics and remember who we are working for – the people. We need to always listen to them, and always ensure that what is done is for them. And truly, listen and work for them. This also means that if in a country, there is only one party, the party must be willing to overhaul it’s governing principles, to constantly change them, and align their principles to the shifting needs of the people. We need to remember that our principles do not define the party. Rather, governing needs are defined by the people. We cannot become too attached to our principles or the legacy of our party. When we are able to adopt a mindset of non-attachment, then we will realise that our role is to represent the people, and we would be able to represent them adequately. This way, a one-party system can continue to rule throughout the ages because it continues to stay relevant, adjusts or overhaul itself when necessary, and listen to the needs of the people.
What if its a two-party or multi-party system? The same principles lie – if the parties adopt different principles and align themselves to the different groups of Singaporeans, they need to have the awareness to learn to respect the stance of the different parties, and work with one another, to collaborate and develop solutions for all of Singaporeans. This way, Singaporeans will also learn from the people who represent them and learn to respect other Singaporeans for different viewpoints. Singapore is a small country. We cannot afford to have our people adopt such drastic differences and angst towards one another, which can tear the country apart.
Of course, you might say, but this is easier said than done, because political parties have their egos, because they are represented by people who have their egos, and who allowed themselves to be defined by the party, and to define the party by who they are. Then, the question we have to ask is, how mature are our political parties? How mature are the people who run these political parties? How mature are the people whom we have who are representing us and our viewpoints? And truly, how mature are Singaporeans that we can learn to understand and respect each other’s viewpoints. This is the fundamental question. And truly, how aware are we to have the broad-mindedness to appreciate differences, and learn to allow them to flourish in their own way?
Our political landscape is evolving. Different viewpoints are coming out. This is good – it creates diversity for Singapore, and diversity is good for innovation and new solutions. It should be celebrated. Now, all it is left is to see whether our political parties, and Singaporeans, can have the maturity and awareness to learn to understand these differing viewpoints, and to respect that they should have their time and then, learn to co-exist with one another. It doesn’t matter what the form of our governance take – whether it’s a one-party, two-party or multi-party system, or whether there’s a government which makes all the decisions, or a government which facilitates decision making. What matters is that we have the right mindset and awareness, and then, whoever becomes the government, will have the right frame of mind to engage a Singaporean who is also of the right frame of mind, and let the country grow and dynamically prosper together.
All it takes is for us to have the awareness and willingness to understand, respect and embrace differences.