PAP: Acting On Its Insecurities
What the PAP needs to realise is that it cannot be too attached to its power. The problem is that because the PAP has been in power for nearly 50 years, as the “incumbent”, they fear losing this power. And thus, in their fear, they begin to grip at every strand of power that they have.
And this is why, they might have suddenly gone on another rampage of arresting people or using threats against people. In the past, if they had used these instruments of the law to target people from establishments, there is a sense that since the opposition politicians, academics and journalists have been attacked for decades already, that this is the norm and so even if what the government does against them is unacceptable, there is a quiet acknowledgement of the government’s snide ability to repress those from the establishment.
However, over the past one year and in the early part of 2013 especially, the government has started to shift its focus onto the people, which got people very uncomfortable. First, it has never been the norm to target individual Singaporeans who do not belong to any establishment (though the Internal Security Act was used to arrest individuals as well). The government’s actions now thus seem like a bully. Second, the people have found a new lease of life and voice through online bloggers, cartoonists, commenters and moderators – by hunting them down, the people perceive the attacks more personally. With attacks on the establishment, there is a certain distance between individual Singaporeans and such establishments. But attacking individuals is drawing it too close – it’s making it too personal. Taking it together, with the ability to speak out more, the people aren’t taking it sitting down. As disparate as they might seen, individual Singaporeans add on to the chorus of voices and in its disorganisation, become an organised voice that the government will be forced to back down from, as Budget 2013 had shown.
So, are the people tired of PAP? If the PAP thinks so, then it is taking it too personally. It might seem like the people are tired of PAP, but really, the people wouldn’t care less. Try replacing the government with another political party and if the party isn’t able to meet the people’s needs and come back on the people’s path, the people would similarly reject the party – this has been shown in countries all over the world. The people’s primary concern is this – come back onto my path, meet my needs and do your job. We don’t care who you are or where you are from, just do your job. And maybe if once in a while, the party gets someone popular in, the people might celebrate him or her – like Mdm Halimah Yacob who was perceived as humble – and thereafter, they will move on with their lives. Really, the PAP cannot take it so personally. If so, they have fallen into their own trappings of power and might be better off not in government, until they reflect and realise not to do so.
What can the PAP do then? Simple – let go of their attachment to their power and just do their job. Just get on with it already! As said, the people are simple – ensure that their basic needs are met, ensure that they are given equitable wages and ensure that they are able to exercise their stake in the country. When the people achieve the balance with how they can contribute and be part of their country, they will be happy with the government – simple as that.
The 2000s: New Politicians, New Climate, New Insecurities
But the question is – will the government do it? The problem is that this government continues to make up stories to scare itself like an insecure person, thinking that Singaporeans are out to get them. And so, they create policies to stifle Singaporeans, to repress them, in the hope that Singaporeans won’t pounce on them. If so, the government needs to regain its composure. It needs to realise that all the people want is balanced governance – you get your job right, you take care of their needs and they will have your back.
Over the past decade, we have new politicians who are newly introduced into their jobs who might feel that they would need to prove their worth and to stake a claim in their job. Perhaps they feel the need and pressure to perform, when comparing themselves with predecessors who have transformed Singapore. If so, they have to let it go – no one is interested in judging you.
It might perhaps be unfortunate that most of the current politicians have been introduced into the government from 2001, who have also solidified their insecurities in government around a time that the government had also shifted its trajectories. In the government’s inability to turn around to respond to the people, this might have gotten on the nerves of the PAP politicians who then judge themselves, or feel judged, perhaps believing in their own inadequacies. And so, in response, they have come out even more hard-hitting on Singaporeans, to defray the tension.
Perhaps it is time for all of us to have an honest conversation with one another – why am I angry with you? Why am I angry with myself? What do we really want, moving forward? Sure, Our National Conversation might have been intended to do that, but some questions abound – is the PAP sincere, since the PAP have put their own people to head the conversations? What will the PAP do – will they respond to what is said? The people are not yet convinced.
In Singapore, The Egos Are Clashing
In Singapore, the people in our country is coming into a head-on. For now, our institutions can hold us up – but for how long? The problem is with a people who feel vulnerable and who are scared that if they cannot trust their government to protect their rights, then who else would they be able to count on? For the government, it is insecure about its power, as the politicians who have entered mostly at the start of this socio-political turbulence, themselves feel that they are being attacked unfairly by Singaporeans who do not seem to understand their good intentions, and they feel slighted and angry, which in their haste, meant throwing rocks back at the people.
Coupled with growing instability in the global and local economy, wages have stagnated, purchasing power lowered, and a perceived standard of living that is sub-par as compared to the 1990s, this is a recipe for an unsettledness that can unravel the good that have been done in Singapore. The PAP government believes that it needs to try hard to prevent the institutions that it has built to unravel and so it continues to hang out to every thread that it can – onto Temasek Holdings, onto the Singapore companies, and onto the People’s Association – drawing them closer at every turn. And the people themselves are holding on tight too, as they start defining what it means to be a Singaporean, what the national identity is, and what the Singaporean core is.
Everyone is hanging on to everything and their dear lives, as the insecurity that edges them on causes confusion between one another – because we are not listening to one another. Because we are not empathising.
Perhaps it is really time to slow down – only because a Singaporean who have become so muddled in catching up have become so befuddled. Maybe we need to slow down, sit down, speak to the next person, listen to what he or she has to say, understand where they are coming from and then realise – Oh, you are feeling as insecure and vulnerable as I am and that all this time, while we are shouting over each other, in anger, that is is really because we want to protect ourselves – to ensure that our needs are met. And actually, I don’t want to take away what’s yours. I just want to have what’s mine and you can keep what’s yours, while we work on things together. And this is really what we want.
In Singapore, PAP Needs to Trust
At this point, the government still has the upper-hand. While the PAP can, the PAP needs to take a step back. People might get angry and people might shout, but it’s not at you. It’s out of their own fears. And if our politicians can understand that, they need to stop reacting, but respond in much larger ways. There’s no need to jump at people by using the law or threats to stamp down on them, because of our own fears. When people criticise, it isn’t because they want you down. It’s because they have something to say and for now, they might not know the best way to say it. If they have something to say, it doesn’t mean we have to shut them off. It just means we have to hear what they want to say, and not how they are saying it. Behind the anger there is still a message. It is hard but the government still has the upper-hand in Singapore, and until the government allow the people to speak on an equal level, the people will still shout because from below, that’s how they think they would be able to get their voices heard at the ivory tower.
The government wants the people to trust them, perhaps because the government still knows it knows what needs to be done. Perhaps it is right. But so do Singaporeans know as well what needs to be done. For trust to happen, the government needs to show that its sincere in wanting to trust the people as well – it needs to allow the people to conduct discourse among themselves, it needs to allow individuals to be able to speak at different platforms, even if their are members of organisations affiliated to the government or who receive funding from the government. It needs to allow Singaporeans to create intellectual discourse that will enliven Singapore, regardless of which perspective is being taken. The government needs to trust that when that happens, that a richer Singapore will develop.
The only question is – if people become as critically-thinking, will they vote PAP out of government? But this shouldn’t be the question to ask – the question to ask is this – no matter who is the majority in government, will the PAP or any other political party continue to play a strong and supportive in running a government together, to protect Singapore? When PAP knows to ask the right question, it would be motivated by the right principles – it would know that it doesn’t need to protect its dominance, rather that it needs to truly protect the people.
For now, the PAP continues to want to protect both its dominance and the people, but something has to give and the people have been given up. But if PAP understands that it is not synonymous to the government, but it will play its role as part of the government, then it will shift its focus back to the people, and when the government protects the people, the people will work together with the government. But if the government doesn’t step in tandem with the people, it will lose the people and it will lose its power.