Charting Singapore’s Future Part 1: Getting to the Root of the Problem

Moving Along Divergent Paths

Understandably, the government is at a crossroads – should it continue to control Singaporeans and hold them by the reins or should it open up?

Yet, this isn’t so much a question anymore – a government that doesn’t move along with the social evolution of a society will render itself irrelevant and eventually will be voted out. To the government which has been in power for nearly 50 years, the lack of political competition has created a psychological complacency, where they continue to believe in their ability to change the course of society and to shape society towards a direction which they want to plan for.

DPM Tharman had said that, “I think the first challenge the PAP faces is the fact that it’s the incumbent. People want a check on the PAP. And that’s natural. It’s just human psychology. So that’s the first disadvantage you face in terms of human psychology.” However, what DPM Tharman might not understand as well, in terms of psychology, is that people do not want a “check” on PAP because PAP is the “incumbent”. The real reason why people want a check on PAP is because they feel that PAP is no longer working in their interests, and so they want to “check” PAP, to bring the government back to the line.

Are the people angry PAP? Yes and no. PAP needs to understand this – people do not want PAP out because they are tired of seeing the faces of PAP politicians for 50 years. So, the PAP brought in good looking faces to be politicians, in the hope that perhaps these new faces might stem the tide against PAP. But PAP has read it wrong – it’s not who you are (or how you look), but what you do.

What has happened is that the people have been evolving on one pathway, and the PAP has gone on another. There is a divergence of pathways, and this is why the people really want a “check”. The people are asking – “Hold on a minute. We are here. Why are you governing for a small group of people on the other path, over there? That’s not what we want! If you do not come back on our path, we would need to vote you out, so that we can get this government to come back on our path.”

Governing on Outmoded Principles (1): Self-Reliance vs Wealth Accumulation

But is the PAP wrong? Or right? It isn’t an issue about right or wrong. It’s simply because PAP continues to govern on a outmoded path of securing the country’s interests so stridently that it pursues the ideology of self reliance to a tee – we cannot provide social welfare so that the people can be forced to take care of themselves. The people need to take care of themselves, so that we can accumulate wealth. We need to accumulate wealth, so that we can make sure that this country last forever.

But what the government doesn’t seem to realise is that the ideology of self reliance lies in contradiction with the country’s strategy of wealth accumulation. If you want people to be self-reliant, you need to give to the people enough. On the other hand, if you want to accumulate wealth, you need to take from the people. The government would need to constantly maintain a balance of giving the people enough so that the people can be self-reliant and taking away enough, so that the government can accumulate wealth. However, over the past decade, the people feel that the government has taken away more than they have given – the government thus went on a different trajectory from the people.

Governing on Outmoded Principles (2): Control Over People’s Freedom of Expression

As the trajectories grew apart from one another, naturally, the people began to voice out their concerns. Herein lies another barrier of an outmoded governing principle that has put the government on a head-on clash with the people. For a long time, the government doesn’t believe in allowing the people to express themselves freely for fear that this would disrupt their economic strategies – too much cooks might spoil the broth, but what had allowed them to maintain their hold was two factors that had previously worked in their favour.

  1. First, the government had worked in the people’s interests and the economic strategies were aligned to the people’s needs, so the people could be contended.
  2. Second and more importantly, there was no Internet, so the government could control any discourse and prevent alternative viewpoints from disrupting their economic strategies.

As mentioned, in our current time, the government had stopped aligning itself to the people, so this took away one factor in their advantage away. The expansiveness of the Internet removed the other advantage. But crucially, these two removals have worked in tandem to expose the government’s governing flaws. As of fore before the widespread use of the Internet, the people started voicing out their concerns and ‘complained’, believing that they wouldn’t be able to change things. They didn’t know how to use the Internet to greater effect and because Facebook was only launched in 2004 and took some years to gain traction, the people had no way of organising themselves online. The government thus took no notice of the people, and of the Internet.

However, as the use of Facebook gained momentum and Facebook began to introduce tools which allowed people to form communities, Singaporeans learnt to form themselves into groups, albeit loosely, online. At the start, these groups were consolidated portals of complaints, but as people learnt to take advantage of Facebook tools better, they learnt to evolve from helpless complaining to empowered critical thinking. This explains why it took several years since the advent of Internet before people could organise themselves more effectively. It also explains why the government had believed the Internet useless and ignored it in the infancy of online social networking.

Identifying the Symptoms to the Problems

With this depth in understanding, one would be able to understand what the root of the current disparity in viewpoints between the government and people lies within. There are many but it is definitely not because of the Internet – the Internet was only the facilitator which otherwise people would still learn to eventually organise themselves, albeit at more slowly.

The government’s mindset is that it continues to believe that they know what is best for Singapore.

  • It believes that because Singapore has grown so rich, the people have learnt to be discontented and want more.
  • It believes that a new generation of Singaporeans have grown up, who want to express themselves more openly and this openness has caused them to want to ‘check’ on the government, because they believe that they have a right to.
  • It believes that Singaporeans are tired of the PAP.

PAP might have identified the right symptoms of our current problems, but have they been able to diagnose the symptoms accurately? This is why it is important that people should be allowed to express themselves – right now, only PAP gets to define the discourse, and thus they have analysed the current problems from their own views. But with nearly 50 years in power, they have learnt to think like one another and are not able to think beyond what they have learnt to tell one another. DPM Tharman is right to say that “people want a check on the PAP,” but not because PAP is “is the fact that it’s the incumbent” but because PAP has become too shrouded in its own views that it needs to “checked” on, so that the government can develop more encompassing viewpoints of all Singaporeans, and not just a select few.

In the next part of the article, we will be looking at the symptoms and understand them more clearly.


  1. The Pariah

    Solid stuff – Applause for your sterling contribution to public discourse. Exemplary active citizenry at work. Heartfelt thank you from a fellow Singaporean.

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