Reflections On The Protest Against The Population White Paper: Part 2

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Photo credit: Julius Yang

This article is a continuation of Part 1 of the article which was published yesterday. In Part 1, I had discussed that we need to be clear that in our disagreement with the 6.9 population figure thrown up by the government that we need to be cognizant that the unhappiness that we face shouldn’t be directed at the foreigners and that if we reflect further, we would know that the inequalities that has been created by bad government policies was what had resulted in further segregation among the people, and thus the negative emotions which we had thus misplaced on the foreigners. It’s time to shift the focus back onto the government for their bad policies, and not misdirect it on foreigners, who have become the inadvertent scapegoat, on both sides.

In this article, I will delve deeper into the social and political landscape of Singapore to help us understand the dynamics and complexities that exist in our landscape and how it affects our psyche. I would finally like to remind Singaporeans that the current sea wave of change is part of a larger shift in the awakening among Singaporeans to the realities of Singapore, and how if we believe that change needs to happen, we must ride the wave of change and create the possibilities that we want to become reality. We must take back the rights that are ours, and create a Singapore that we believe in.

So, What Were Singaporeans Protesting About?

On Saturday, when more than 5,000 Singaporeans descended onto Hong Lim Park yesterday, what were they really protesting about? This, in fact, wasn’t just what the media was asking, but I believe, what many Singaporeans were thinking about. If you take a look on Facebook on some of the reasons why people had decided to go to the protest, there was a multitude of reasons – because they were unhappy with the government, because they didn’t think the government is listening or because they feel that the cost of living has become increasingly too high. There really wasn’t one common thread that ran through why Singaporeans had wanted to attend the ‘protest’ for. They might be attending this protest against the 6.9 million figure, but was it really this figure that had evoked their feelings for participation? And as I’ve discussed, it’s not.

But to the foreign media, they do not understand the complexities that are rooted in the psyche of Singaporeans. To the foreign media which had come down, they wanted to know – if you do not want 6.9 million people, then what are your solutions? What are your alternatives to growing an economy without 6.9 million people?

But to the people who didn’t adequately understand their feelings towards the 6.9 million, they were simply unhappy and they were gradually realising that it could perhaps be the government that they are unhappy about, and actually not the population, or the proportion of foreigners itself. And that’s why at the ‘protest’, the speakers spoke about how Singaporeans felt, and the feelings of how we no longer we that we are at home, where we feel that we do not have a stake in this country. We do not feel that we belong.

How Do You Understand The Unhappiness of Singaporeans?

To the foreign media, they might not understand how Singaporeans feel because – so, Singaporeans, you are telling me that for a country recently ranked 6th in terms of governance by the Economist, where you have the world’s highest per capita income and which is an envy of so many other countries, you are telling me that you are not happy? Seriously?

But, you see, not everything is measured in terms of money. Well, of course the foreign media would know this! Their own governments also pander to capitalistic interests. But their governments are not capitalists themselves – not to the extend that ours are. Their governments do not sideline the people so much so that the people are accorded as little social welfare as the government can afford, where the only so-called pension that the people have – the CPF – has also seen withdrawals decline since 2001 even as more people would need to withdraw from it.

On the surface, Singapore seems to have a perfect government where the government has fine-tuned a system that has worked so well for the people, and where the government continues to maintain a non-corrupt and secure environment. But when surveys by Gallup show that Singaporeans are the least happy people in the world and that we show the least positive emotions in the world, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Trappings of This PAP-Led Government

As much as government might have perfected the system, this perfection disappeared more than a decade ago. The golden years of policy-making by the PAP-led government has long pass and this current government has lost the art of balance in policy-making more than a decade ago. From 2001 onwards, their policy-making, or rather, policy-tweaking has become more firmly rooted in their profit-making motives, that it has resulted in an imbalance in the way they manage their policies, such that the policies are increasingly disadvantaging the people, and diverging away from the people’s needs.

And unfortunately, this government continues to believe that it knows what is right and what needs to be done for Singapore. This government continues to think that Singaporeans do not know what needs to be done and slights them as “noise” – this, even as the think tanks set up by them, such as the Institute of Policy Studies are also quoting articles which are contrary to what they have purported in the population white paper.

As I’ve mentioned before, the second fundamental problem with PAP is that they’ve also let power rule them. You can tell, by their behaviour and their resistance that this is a government which is increasingly scared that they will lose their power. Having very few ideas on how they can curb the participation of the opposition parties at the election and in parliament, they know that their control and time as government has become very precarious and because of that, they are starting to withdraw into their tortoise shell. PAP is now operating on a state of semi-shock where they are trying to continue to cruise on the firm institution built by Singapore’s founding leaders, but yet not knowing how to oil this institution anymore. They fear of losing their power and their denial of this happening and their resultant delusion, has caused them to unwittingly cripple themselves in their ability to govern.

What we now have in the PAP-led government is a very lethal combination of a government which has styled itself as a business and monopolized the competition in our economy and one which has allowed the almost-50 years of power to get into its head that at this time of mid-life crisis, it’s now suffering from pangs of anxiety and withdrawals, that has led it to become ineffective.

Making Ourselves Heard, Whether They Want To Or Not

Now, when Singaporeans were ‘protesting’ on Saturday, these were all that we were protesting about. But not all of us could articulate this. Not all of us know that this was what we want to articulate because some of us haven’t thought thoroughly about the issue at hand yet, or even if many of us have, we are still trying to come to terms with how this government might actually be using us to further their own means. We are also living in our own state of denial.

To the foreign media, as a reporter, you want clear outcomes. You want to come to a protest, know what the agenda clearly is, look out for a clear trend and await an outcome which you can write about. But today, when they came, they didn’t see that. They couldn’t see a clear message or a clear outcome. Most of the speakers spoke about how they felt and what their concerns were, which were very diverse. At the end, when asked if the government would take note of the protest or the petition that will be submitted, no one could give a definite answer because we know that the government will most probably slight us, once again, as “noise”. Then, what is the point of holding a ‘protest’? To the foreign media used to seeing protests in their countries and possibly seeing protests lead to affirmative action by their governments, what were these Singaporeans trying to get act with their protests? What were we hoping to achieve if not to pressure our government into changing at least the content of the white paper?

I’ve been asked many times as well why, in spite of the education that so many Singaporeans have received, that we allow our government to run us down with whatever they want to do. People talk about how Singaporeans are such pushovers because we allow our government to steamroll over us. Indeed, some speakers said at the ‘protest’ that they do feel defeated or are at their wits’ ends. To non-Singaporeans, it’s very hard to understand this because how can anyone with such a good education (qualified by the number of years of education) be so seemingly incapable? This is because you have to understand the education that we’ve been through, which as much as it produces students with good mathematics and science scores, are only as much a factory of robots, packaged to be unthinking and unquestioning, that are churned year after year for the Singapore factory.

Understandably, the foreign media might have expected much more – for the people to push the government into action. Give us 3 years. When we put a new government in place, we will make sure that this government works for us. We will make sure that this government listens to us and do what we want. We will make sure that this government makes decisions that will be for the good of all, and even businesses. We will make sure that this government reprioritises itself and not allow themselves to become so bogged down by their profit-making needs that they sacrifice both the interests of businesses and the people to protect their own power and wealth.

But This Is Not A Protest, It’s An Awakening

The truth is that the ‘protest’ on Saturday isn’t really a protest. The ‘protest’ today is only part of larger awakening that Singaporeans are undergoing. It’s part of a realization of our rights as people, learning what is truly wrong with our government and trying to find new ways of thinking, working and developing solutions for ourselves and for our country. Today is only part of a larger awakening that has been ongoing since prior to the general election in 2011, and which intensified from the SMRT bus drivers incident, the Aim-AHTC saga, the by-election, the release of the white paper, finally the protest now, then later, Budget 2013 and then back to the Aim-AHTC saga, with the review of the town councils and possibly a report on Our National Conversation. Today, we might have organized a protest. But, for many of us, this is an awakening. The protest should really have been called an awakening, a realization – a realization that there are many other Singaporeans who feel the same as I do, that I am not the other one, that the unfairness I feel that I’ve been feeling is common among my fellow Singaporeans and slowly but surely, we are all realising that we are suffering from our unfair treatment under a government which has lost its bearings and is using us for its own wanton wants. And today, we will continue to be spurred to find out more and to push them to admit the truth, and to push them out of power, because we need to protect ourselves and our future generations.

In the last few months, the raising of our awareness has been fast-tracked. This is not a matter of whether we are want to be awakened. We will be awakened even if we are not ready to, because at the pace things are changing, we can only expect to be carried with the winds of change. Even the heavens are playing their part by not allowing us to let up in our learning, where we are left catching our breath, with each new incident – straight after the by-election, we have the release of the white paper and immediately after that, the protest. We are now given an excellent opportunity to understand the workings of Singapore. Each new incident has uncovered new understands of how this government operates and the inherent flaws. The more we know, the more we will be able to take them on at the next general election and the more we will be able to form a government, that together with the rest of Singaporeans, will be able to run on the ideals and principles that we truly believe in. When we put the next government in power, we will make sure that we will also be the ones to govern together with them. Governance is not the sole propriety of an elected group of people. If we want our rights to be respected, then we need to learn to exercise our rights and learn to govern ourselves.

*****

End-note: Do remember that even as we keep talking about the next general election as happening in 2016, it can happen in 2017, or 2015, or even 2014. So we must be prepared for the general election to be held at anytime. But rest assured that when that time comes, we will be more than ready to handle it, as our learning by then will more than adequately prepare us to handle what is to come.

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13 comments

  1. Pingback: Reflections On The Protest Against The Population White Paper: Part 1 | The Heart Truths
  2. c.j. Ng

    The central problem of the PAP Government is it’s trying to manage (and predict) things in a Linear way in a very Non-Linear world.

    Linear meaning if you do A, you will get B. In today’s Non-Linear world, no one can tell what happens if you do A, esp. if projections are for years in the future.

    In fact, .the Government is actually aware of this Non-Linear trend as early as the late-90’s. There was the talk about the New Economy then, and how the Internet is going to change the world.

    The Internet did change the world, but not even remotely the same way as what everybody thought back then.

    Even in the late-90’s, the government was already unsure about how the future will unfold. Yet, it gave high projections about how many more ICT (Info-Comm Technology) professionals we will need in the next 10 years (very Linear thinking), without noticing there was a bubble (Dot Com, Y2K, even Win 95).

    Since then, the world has become even more Non-Linear with changes happening in real-time. What worked in the past of Carrots and Sticks, don’t seem to work now.

    BTW, the assumption that high pay will attract the best talents to commit their heart and soul into important and hard work, has been dis-proven in many HR researches. It’s another example of Linear thinking vs. Non-Linear realities.

    To a Government that is used to managing things in a Linear way, or with a “corporate culture” of Linear thinking, it’s small wonder that we see a lot of mis-steps along the way.

    Is it easy to manage things in a Non-Linear world? Absolutely not. However, being humble by saying what you don’t know and listening to a more diverse group (apart of the Elite Scholars) certainly helps.

    Cheers,

    c.j.

  3. kaname

    I read both part 1 and part 2 and I agree that S’pore need to set up their own MNCs. In fact, when Tan Jee Say was running for president, he presented a paper to gradually close down Temasek Holdings so that our local SMEs have more space to grow.

    The biggest mistake that govt has made in the last 20 years was pursuing short term profits at the expense of ordinary Singaporeans. The floodgate for immigrants was opened to artificially boost the GDP. HDB was pegged to resale market so housing prices will rise to boost the GDP.

    I also have observed that during the white paper, it was the industries from the R&B and retail that lobbied for more FTs. These industries are very labor intensive and require a lot of manpower yet they are very low tech and low on the value chain. It is quite weird that SIngapore hailed itself as an innovative country but yet are still competing on low tech industries.

    To be fair, the govt has been pouring money into the creative media and aerospace industries in an effort to move up the value chain, but it is still very reliant on foreign MNCs to give us our jobs which is why we often at the mercy at these foreign MNCs and which is why wages have to be suppressed to retain these foreign MNCs.

    Many upper echelons of the PAP also held executive or directorship at many GLCs so it is in their interest to import more foreigners so housing, rental and other aggregate demand will go up that results for more profits for govt owned companies. It is so sad that most S’poreans are unaware of this and many of them are voting for the PAP at GE.

  4. Jonno

    @ c.j. Ng, the situation about the world today can’t be explained by linear or non-linear theory as you said. The world is more complex than that.
    The problem is that the Singapore govt thinks that they can micro-manage Singapore as they did successfully for 4 decades (1960-2000). The problems are increasingly of their own making. Instead of letting go, the system is suffocating & destroying Singapore own unique culture & people because of vested interest & arrogance.
    The internet was a game changer in that the world has become smaller, more mobile & transparent. Price discovery through the internet destroyed Singapore’s entrepot trade, PSA, SIA, etc. Cyberspace communications undermined Singapore’s strict censorship & political controls. People are becoming aware of better alternatives elsewhere through the internet thus Singaporeans are migrating or seeking prospects elsewhere. Those who cannot or would not, show their unhappiness online joined or linked by those in the same frame of mind.
    The ‘Arab Spring’ uprising of 2011/2012 was due partly to the internet & partly due to increasing food inflation & lack of economic opportunities to feed themselves. The Arab political situation then was a littany of vested interest, political nepotism & cronyism, entrenched elites, economic monopolies or oligopolies from political mandate, stagnant economy, etc. It had explosive ingredients.
    Singapore has not reached that stage yet but the ingredient mix are familiar. ‘Bersih’ movement in Malaysia is exactly for the same reasons the ‘Arab Spring’ movement is about. Singaporeans threw away several GE opportunities to make themselves heard. It took a full 13 years to feel the pain. Singaporeans have themselves to blame!

    • c.j. Ng

      Hi Jonno,

      Thanks for your reply.

      Since you mentioned that Singapore is not yet to the level of challenges or hardship as faced by the Arab States or even Malaysia, then it wouldn’t be appropriate to say that we threw away several elections. It would be more appropriate to say that the government hasn’t been adjusting its fundamentals for the past 13 years.

      In any change management process, it can be safely assumed that most people don’t want to change, UNLESS there’s a compelling reason to change. It’s not that it took 13 years to feel the pain, but the combined development of events over the past few years had somehow breached the pain threshold, and now “we want change”.

      However, do note that even the WP has mentioned that they are not yet ready to be the government. So even if we were to say we want a change in government, the question is: who’s going to be the next government? AND can that next government fix those problems that we face today?

      As it is today, neither the ruling party nor the opposition has a specific plan that addresses the burning concerns of the people, partly because it’s a darn complex problem. And as the article pointed out, even the so-called protest has got such a diverse agenda, there’s no clear goals other than the people yelling “We are angry, and we want you to know how angry we are”

      Again, it’s not like the PAP is all bad and evil, and any change is better than no change. And in the words of WP, we should not oppose for the sake of opposing.

      • My Right to Love

        Dear c.j.,

        I agree with you on most points.

        However, I think we need to remember that a government is elected by the people to serve the people’s needs, so a government should also respond to the people, take their feedback and make strategic decisions for the countries. The problem is that this government has not acted on this and has thus created a disjoint between the people’s wants and their own wants.

        The idea should be that any government should not hold themselves to their power so greatly, that they believe that they have a right to lord over the people, and this is what this government has done.

        What we need to do is to ensure that we vote people in who can become good facilitators who are able to gather feedback and work with the people as well as established think tanks and institutions to formulate decisions together. So, we do not need the best minds in government. What we need are people who are able to gather feedback, synthesise them and work with Singaporeans and other agencies to come out with a strategic direction together.

        Many people in Singapore would be able to perform this role, so this will open up a bigger pool of people for government.

        The thing is whether Worker’s Party like it or not, or for that matter, any other party, they need to be prepared to form the government. At the rate things are going, the people will vote PAP out in the next general election. When the time comes, any party that forms the majority will need to be ready.

        So, as mentioned, a new way of governance will need to emerge where this government does not have the control of all decisions, but need to consult and make decisions together. Also, the people should then insist that whoever is in government works together, so that they do not play by party lines, but work together for Singaporeans. This is how many of the democracies operate in other democratic countries in Europe.

        Thanks!

        Roy

      • Jonno

        @c.j.Ng, the Singapore govt hasn’t been performing since 1997/98 at the start of the Asian Financial Crisis. They even had the gall to take credit for guiding Singapore through the crisis when it was Dr. Mathatir & Donald Tsang who ended it by repelling those faceless speculators who tried to wreck the Asian economies. Of course in-between, there was the CLOB issue which was conveniently forgotten. That, to me, was the first sign of systematic failure. Since then, 15 yrs (1998-2013) had lapsed with the PAP-led govt not delivering the goods to the Singapore electorate – one & a half decade of very poor governance which they then rewarded themselves with astronormical pay increases. Along the way, the Singapore electorate suffered stagnant or even declining wages, job losses, permanent unemployment (if aged >45), increasing competition from hordes of foreign invasion, etc. Yet, the beauty of it all! – through several GEs, they continued to hand over the ruling mandate to a govt that did not care very much for them. A good analogy is that Singapore is like a good old cargo ship, one that worked between the officers & crew. After a terrible storm, the officers abandoned the old cargo ship & then boarded a newly built cruise ship with a new foreign crew. Of course, this cruise liner was built with the proceeds earned by the old cargo ship. However, the old cargo ship & the old crew is now abandoned by the officers & left to drift. It is taking on water & the engine had malfunctioned during the storm. Some smart crew members abandoned ship to swim to nearby lands despite captain’s orders not to do so. At the new cruise ship, the officers decide to open a casino section to cater to well-heeled clients. Of course, most of the casino staff continued to be foreigners since the operators had been outsourced to foreign parties. In addition, a night-time go-kart track was set-up between the officers & a long-time shop franchisee for the entertsinment of the clients. In a white shipping plan, the officers are now contemplating building a few more cruise ships, of course, manned by foreign crew. The deliveries will be completed by 2030. On the other hand, the old cargo ship continue to drift on a journey of no return – supplies are running low, crew health is declining, morale is low.
        I leave you to decipher the meaning of this parable.

      • c.j. Ng

        Ha Ha! Great parable Jonno!

        So where should the people at the old cargo ship go or do? Abandon ship or firing the Officers could be options, but what next?

        Since we are not going to have any election soon, perhaps we could spend some time thinking and reflecting what could be our possible next steps after the next step.

        Cheers,

        c.j.

      • My Right to Love

        Hi c.j.,

        It means that when the officers leave, the people on the ship take charge of the ship and make turn the cargo ship into a ship that they’ve always wanted it to be, make it better and sail it to the most beautiful part of the world, together 🙂

        Roy

      • Jonno

        @ c.j.Ng, in my analogy, I forgot to mentioned that the officer left the cargo ship promising the crew that they will seek help & come back to guide them to shore. They waited & waited in the old cargo ship, not realizing that the officers had in effect abandoned ship & boarded a new one which is manned by a foreign crew. The old crew still maintains faith in their officers despite no radio contact from them for a while.

  5. Wilson Wong U S

    Different wage structure – check
    Questionable Human resource practises – check
    Sense of loss – check
    Sense of betrayal – check
    Questions of what is home? – check
    Lack of control – check
    Lack of consultation – check

    Add them all together is what the protest is all about.

    • c.j. Ng

      Hi Wilson,

      Wht you have mentioned are the causes of the protest, not the goals. As mentioned in the article, the protest was for the protesters to air their grievance,

      It didn’t have any tangible or concrete outcomes that it sought to achieve, not even the call for a referendum (some protesters asked for it, but it wasn’t the central theme by any measure)

      Even for the referendum, with the Amended Motion, the 6.9 million figure has already been removed. So there’s no clear target to vote against.

      Cheers,

      c.j.

      • My Right to Love

        Dear both,

        I agree that the objectives and outcomes of the protest might not have been completely clear.

        However, as I have explained in these articles, as much as we were protesting against the 6.9 million figure, this was only what transpired at the surface.

        What we were protesting about, truly, was on bad policy making and a government, which because it has refused to listen and consult with the people, has been making chronic bad decisions. If that’s the case, there are three solutions:

        1) They start listening to the people and change
        2) They bring in people who know how to listen
        3) The people vote to change the government

        So, either one of these scenarios need to transpire soon, or the people’s dissent will only grow even stronger.

        Thanks!

        Roy

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