When there was a change of government in 2004, one thing that the PAP did not understand then was that you cannot allow for more freedom of speech and still expect to be able to earn more money from Singaporeans, yet expect that no one will question your behaviour.
In 2004, PAP embarked on a bold belief to allow for more free speech. Lee Hsien Loong said in his swearing-in speech as prime minister in 2004, “Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different. We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as to understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions, and open up new spaces.”
When the new government came onboard, it seemed that they wanted to establish themselves from their predecessors. In their minds, they would have thought – more free speech, higher GDP growth, more wealth, let’s make it look like we are a “progressive” government and win the hearts of the people!
Indeed, Lee Hsien Loong also said in 2004, “Through our hard work and dedication we have together built a cohesive and progressive nation that is founded on the principles of meritocracy, social justice and compassion.”
From a marketing perspective, all these looks very nice. But from a fundamental perspective, the new PAP got some things wrong.
PAP Underestimated the Dejection of Singaporeans with the Government
First, for the first 40 years of PAP’s rule prior to 2004, the PAP criminalised public protests and demonstrations (except for the token allowance at Hong Lim Park from 2000). They also controlled newspapers, and TV and radio stations. In effect, they were able to limit the grievances and outpouring of Singaporeans, by sculpting the story the way they want it – Singaporeans were happy and fortunate, and lives were beautiful. Doesn’t matter if this is not the reality, PAP needed to make themselves look good and appearances matter more than reality, for aren’t looks deceiving?
Alongside, during the first 40 years, PAP began to increase their own salaries, reduce subsidies for essential services for Singaporeans and made Singaporeans pay more than is required for these essential services. Meanwhile, PAP also reduced tax for the rich while making the rest of Singaporeans pay more of our wages into CPF. This caused inequality and poverty to rise in Singapore. Poverty is estimated to be about 30% in Singapore today.
However, because the PAP was able to control the media and restrict the freedom of speech, they were led to believe in the illusion that because Singaporeans were not speaking up against what the PAP was doing, Singaporeans were generally contended, or rather that Singaporeans would not have the guts to speak up against what the PAP was doing.
So, in 2004, the PAP would have thought – we have a new government, let’s make ourselves look progressive by allowing more freedom of speech, but not knowing what the impact will be. Yet, at the same time, they wanted to continue to earn more money and make Singapore a more unequal place. Herein lies the next fundamental issue that the PAP doesn’t understand.
You Either Have Free Speech or North Korea
Since 2004, over the past 10 years, income inequality and poverty have risen, housing prices have risen while wages have remained stagnant, purchasing power has declined, and the cost of living in Singapore has risen to become the most expensive in the world.
Alongside this, more and more Singaporeans have harder lives and more Singaporeans are speaking up against the lack of protection of the policies to protect our labour rights and livelihoods.
Naturally, as people’s lives become harder, they would only continue to speak up further.
However, from the PAP’s perspective, they are beginning to realise that you cannot want to continue to siphon money away from the citizens and cause inequality to widen, while at the same time allow people to speak up.
You either choose to be North Korea, where you prevent people from speaking up against you and make all the money you want, or you become a truly progressive country where you allow people to speak up, to voice out what’s wrong, what solutions can then be implemented, so that the country advances as a whole, inequality lessens and the country truly progresses.
In short, the PAP cannot have its cake and eat it as well. This was the second fundamental point the new PAP did not understand.
Progressiveness is Not GDP Growth
Which leads us to the third fundamental point which the PAP does not understand. Progressiveness is not just about how rich the country becomes or how much the rich can earn. Progressiveness is about how your citizens as a whole advance, how your country becomes more equal so that everyone can advance altogether, which also explains why progressive taxation is one where the rich are taxed more, so that the wealth can be redistributed to allow the poor to advance as well.
When the new PAP came into government in 2004, these were three fundamental points that they did not understand, and they could not because they were trapped in their elitism bubble. Yes, apparently being in the ivory tower has its pitfalls too.
PAP Started the Internet Brigade in 2007
As the PAP’s new but disjointed strategy started to take shape from 2004, PAP realised the mistake of its follies – you cannot give people the freedom of speech, if you still want to make money from them. You have to silence them, if they start questioning you. No wonder the old PAP wanted to instill fear in the people, to prevent them from speaking up, but it was too late for the new PAP to backtrack then. They wanted to upkeep their appearance as the modern, cool and relevant government.
So, in 2007, they got some of the younger PAP members of parliament to spearhead a team of people who are now known as the Internet Brigade (IB), with the aim to go online to steer the conversation. If people were going to speak up against the PAP, then let’s steer the conversation back to be in favour of the PAP.
Their efforts failed disastrously. PAP saw its lowest votes in the 2011 general election.
PAP Descended the Laws Onto Ordinary Singaporeans
No matter, last year, PAP went even further. At the most basic, there are three tactics that the PAP have been using to “convince” the people – (1) persuasion (such as via the IB), (2) rules and (3) laws.
The first tactic by using the IB failed miserably and for a while, the PAP was not ready to use the law to the full extent on Singaporeans yet. So let’s come out with a stop-gap rule, and so the Licensing Rule by the Media Development Authority, aimed at committing bloggers and online commenters to financial penalties for speaking up against the government, was created.
The rule backfired terribly against the PAP, as many bloggers were riled up and protested in one of Singapore’s largest protests in recent history. The PAP silently shied away from the ruling, perhaps with the intention to implement it closer to the date of the next general election (which is expected to be held soon).
What PAP did not understand is that there cannot be freedom of speech, and yet expect people to want to curb themselves from speaking freely (but of course, responsibly). Such an irony exists in the minds of the decision-makers within the PAP but such disjoint does not in the logical minds of people.
So, since both persuasion and rules did not work, the PAP decided that the use of the law was the only way out for them, to protect their wealth, as much as it was heavily unpopular.
And thus what transpired with well-known blogger Alex Au and comic artist Leslie Chew, and so on.
However, at this point, all the curtailing of rights and the backpedalling on letting Singaporeans have the freedom of speech was confined to the restriction of online discourse.
Clamping Down on Free Speech at Hong Lim Park
Then, the PAP felt that it unnecessary to act on the protests, as the protests had yet to get traction and the PAP was able to deride the protests by giving them minimal and distorted coverage in the mainstream media controlled by them, so as to limit the spillover effects of the protests.
PAP would have also understood that it is necessary for people to “vent” their frustrations, so that the pent-up anger would have lesser of a chance of exploding in the face of the PAP, where revolution might then take place, and thus the creation of the Speaker’s Corner in the first place to prevent that.
However, since last year, with several protests attended by a significant number of people, numbering in the thousands, the PAP started taking the threat that the protests would pose to their rule seriously. We can stop what the media we control say, but we cannot control what the bloggers and online social media is saying, and they are beginning to gain more traction than we do, and not just online but in physical space!
So, the PAP decided something needed to be done.
Fear Takes Root in the PAP, Creates Insecurity Among Themselves
The PAP’s next steps became more disparate and rushed. Over the last few weeks, they have been seen to change their tactics desperately. From the non-coverage of the protests, they decided to cover them, but with a strong negative slant. Specifically, the PAP targeted the protest organisers and participants, this in itself a recognition by the PAP that the protests have gained traction and that the protests and their organisers have become a threat to the PAP.
In the next desperate move, the police started investigating the organisers and participants for criminal acts.
Before we even go into analysing the futility of such actions, the PAP’s actions only go to show one thing.
The PAP is desperate. And because of their desperation, their bad planning is beginning to show. To act on their plans without the proper think-through of the consequences, or if they knew the consequences and yet still carried them out, goes to show how feeble the attempt the PAP has in trying to protect themselves.
Gone are the days of the old PAP who knew what they were doing, who had thought through their actions, anticipated them and carried them out exactly – to the full impact of victimising Singaporeans. These days, the PAP runs around like headless chickens, ironically they themselves fearing their loss of their power and thus as they act out their fears, they allow their bad planning to befall on their plans as well.
Limit people’s freedom of speech, give them a token space to speak, then charge them for breaking the law while they exercise their basic right as a citizen at that space. This is like taking a lollipop away from a child, then deciding that maybe the child can still have the stick of the lollipop and when the child starts licking the stick, smacks the child for doing so.
It simply does not make sense.
To Fear or Not to Fear?
But if one is to appraise the PAP’s actions over not only the past few weeks or months, but years, we begin to see a story coming through, a story of a new government which wanted to continue to establish itself as a forerunner in the world, but without the deep-rooted understanding that its predecessors had, committed themselves into a promise that they realise they could not and did not want to hold on to, and as they could not reverse what they had done, they started to rely on old methods to hopefully ensnare Singaporeans back into a fear, which would allow them to then continue to advance their plans – to continue to earn from the people.
The ultimate question at this point is – would Singaporeans allow the PAP to ensnare you back into fear?
This is why maybe the rhetoric that it is not important for Singaporeans to study for degrees. Maybe Singaporeans do not need to be given to many statistics because it is not in your personal or national interests to know.
And why not? The more you know, the more you will know what the government is really doing to your money and your CPF. And if you do, what are you going to do?
The (new) PAP regrets saying that they wanted to open up the Singapore society. And with what has happened over the past half a year, the PAP cannot be even more flabbergasted by how badly the situation has backfired on them.
At this point, for the PAP, they will do anything to bring back security for themselves, and this means using fear and the law to prevent people from speaking up. At least if they can reverse what they would deem as damage that has been done, they would then be able to embark on their plans (to keep earning money) with much lesser interference.
Because honestly, if China can do so with 1 billion people and keep the control, why not the PAP?
Well, because China does not have elections. The only saving grace for Singaporeans now is that we have elections. The PAP is going all out to silence dissent and instill fear so that at the next election, they can still be kept in power. God knows what will happen if they are put back into power. Will all hell break loose? Will we see another Operation Coldstore or Operation Spectrum? All signs point to a PAP which would be more willing to take hardhitting action to keep themselves in power, and this means moving closer towards the North Korea option.
For Our Families, Will We Fight Back or Hide?
The final question for Singaporeans now is this – is our survival important enough for us to know that we need to speak up and fight back, if not at Hong Lim Park, but at least in the voting booth? Or is our survival so important that we will fear and shrink back into our shells?
Both forms of survival are quite distinct. For one, the fear lies in the fear of what will happen to our bodily self and how we fear the pain that will affect us as one person alone, and thus choose to accept the oppression and keep quiet.
The other lies in knowing what is at stake for our country if we do not speak up and do what is right and in knowing that for the greater good of our country, we need to do what is right to protect ourselves and our families, and to vote for a government that will take care of us, to give us a new lease of life.
At this point, it is up to Singaporeans now. The PAP can very easily clamp down on one or two or a few Singaporeans and stop the efforts to demand for change, but the PAP would not be able to stop hundreds and thousands of Singaporeans who feel similarly and prevent the PAP from sashaying themselves into government anymore.
If Singaporeans were to take up the mantle and brave the courage to fight as the people of Hong Kong is doing now, change will not only be a determined outcome, it is only a question of a matter of time, and sooner than later.
The PAP government wants to play itself to look like a democracy, then perhaps it is time Singaporeans learn to act as citizens living in a democracy. If the people of a country recognise their power, they do not know how much this will cause their government to tremble in their knees.
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself – what do you really want? Do you want your lives to really get better? Do you want a government that will no longer just sit on the problems that this country is facing, but would take decisive action to solve these problems and to improve the lives of not just a few Singaporeans at the top, but for all Singaporeans, so that we will truly achieve equality as our pledge says and so that our country and our people will grow and advance as a nation, and Singapore can have a new beginning, as we search for the pride that we once had but have lost, and to rebuild our country together once again.
This is something you have to think about.
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