Charting Singapore’s Future Part 2: Diagnosing The Problems Right

This is a continuation of Part 1 of this article.

Why Are People Discontented?

PAP is right. The people are discontented because Singapore is very rich. But is the link that PAP had drawn correct? The people are discontented that Singapore is so rich not just because they are ‘greedy’ Singaporeans who want a share in the wealth. You see, because the country is so rich, the cost of living has increased immensely. Over the past few years, the increase in cost has also been driven by external investments of wealth, which has driven up costs. And Singaporeans are discontented because of this – their wages haven’t increased in tandem with the increase in costs, their purchasing power has been eroded and has dropped to one of the lowest in the region, ironic considering that our country are the richest.

It is not because Singaporeans are ‘greedy’ and want the money shared – it is because they feel that they are not able to sustain themselves and thus need the money to be shared. Their discontentment arose not because they are greedy, but because they need to survive and have found it increasingly hard to maintain a reasonable standard of living. The people are scared – for their old age, for their children and for when they fall sick.

Which is why the people are willing to accept a slower rate of economic growth as well. For them, there was a period of time when Singapore wasn’t that rich but things were affordable. What is the point of Singapore being so rich if things are priced out of our means? For them, why is the country pursuing economic growth and creating so much stresses in our lives. When initially they are already concerned that they wouldn’t be able to sustain their lives, these stresses add on further to their fears. Thus the people are willing to ‘let it go’.

But if we are to understand the situation clearly, the government would understand that the people don’t want to “give up”. People are tired and with the complexity of how things have evolved to this stage and with the perception that the government isn’t listening, the people would rather just go back to square one, than to work with a government (which doesn’t seem to want to listen) to devise solutions to move forward.

Well, what is the solution? The very simple solution would be for the government to increase the people’s wages so that their wages are matched up to the high prices and cost of living. Things would equalise themselves down the road, once people are able to have the breather. I am not saying that this will solve everything, but this can resolve the deepest end of the root.

Why Have People ‘Become’ Vocal?

At this point, the government believes that because there is a new generation of Singaporeans, a younger population has learnt to become more vocal. The government believes that because Singaporeans have it good, they have become demanding, and in their desires to want more, they are becoming more vocal. However, if the government does indeed believes in this logic, the problem is that they are hanging out with only a small group of people – just among the elites. The elites might feel this way, but does the rest of Singapore feel this way?

The government seems to believe that from the early part of Singapore’s history, until the early-2000s, that the people were naturally docile and non-vocal. When people started being vocal, they attribute this to a new generation. However, it is perhaps the new generation of politicians who cannot understand the implications of PAP’s olden policies.

If the PAP looks at the trend of vote swing in the general elections, they would see that in the 1980s, the PAP was also at a very precarious position. Of course people won’t as vocal then because of policies which had prevented people from protesting against the government. Also, the mainstream media was tightly controlled by the government and there wasn’t the Internet. So, things seemed quiet. But back then, if the people were able to protest and come together on the Internet, you can expect as lively and vibrant a discourse as there is today. However, such discourse then was only limited to parliamentary debates, where the government could then lambast the opposition politicians as crazy and lunatics.

Back to the present, if our current politicians do not understand this, they would think that for most of the 30 to 40 years of Singapore’s history prior to this decade, Singaporeans were generally quiet people who were apathetic. So, in the 1990s, the government would lament how Singaporeans needed to take a keener interest in politics. Yet, one wonders if the discourse by the government is only an act of show.

But if indeed our politicians are ignorant to how the strangling policies of the past have led to a mild-mannered Singaporean and how the advent of the Internet have allowed Singaporeans to overcome this barrier and has thus resulted in a more willing Singaporean, the government would know that the increasing vocalness isn’t a result of a new generation, but a result of Singaporeans who feel neglected, and who have managed to find a new arena – the Internet – to express this neglect.

Importantly, if our politicians are able to understand this, they would understand that if you stifle people’s voices for far too long, when the people are finally able to find a channel to express themselves and when the floodgates open, the people will let it rip, as it is happening now.

Now, imagine if the government had allowed people to express themselves and to allow social discourses to be generated for the past few decades, the people would have decades of training in learning how to discuss critically and responsibly about socio-political issues. If the government had allowed such discourse to happen in the 1990s, when the mood was still favourable towards the government, this would give the people time to learn critical and responsible thinking and speech, so that when the late 2000s came, even as the people started disagreeing with the government’s trajectory, they would know how to bring their concerns out in more balanced ways.

What then is the solution? At this point, the government needs to act very boldly. First, it needs to ensure that the people’s most basic needs are uplifted. As mentioned, the government would need to at least increase wages, so that the people would be able to meet their basic needs better. Next, as this section has explained, the government would need to feed the people’s intellectual thirst. The government would need to open up spaces for discourse, even those which the government might not be comfortable with.

In the next part of the article, we will explore how the insecurities of the people and government have built up and how we need to regain trust again.

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