Go with a smile!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Plan B for Singapore

This was shared on Facebook. It’s a little strange for Nicole Seah. But in many ways it made sense. Nicole Seah was not merely a pretty face when she turned out during the 2011 elections. I think many of us saw that she was the real thing. She was an articulate, thoughtful person, and her heart was in the right place. Perhaps she still had a little bit of growing up to do, like anybody else under the age of 30.

She might have seen herself as a moderate. That’s the issue with all the new faces which come in during the 2011 elections. You had the younger generation being more idealistic. As opposed to the older counterparts, it was a more attractive proposition to be a member of the opposition party for the more educated people of my generation. 2011 was unusual because of the number of highly qualified people who showed up in opposition colours. Nicole Seah showed up wearing opposition colours but I would rather she showed up wearing nothing.

So that’s a problem for the opposition: not only are they going to expand quickly, they’re going to have to disappoint a lot of the people who had stuck with them through thick and thin, and who may not have the capacity for the leadership that’s required. This is something that the PAP had to face, as anybody who’s ever read the book “Men in White” would know. Corruption takes place not because of what happens at the top. Corruption takes place because of what happens one or two levels removed from the top: your barons and your lords, who have their fiefdom. How does the king keep them in line? If you are Lee Kuan Yew, you break their heads and twist their melons. For everybody else, it’s hard. That’s why the eradication of corruption in Singapore during the early days of our nationhood was such a singular and unique occurance.

But she had only been around for barely a few months before she got shot into her limelight. She had everything you could ask for in a politician – good looks, idealistic, intelligent. Maybe she would be the Lim Chin Siong of our generation. But perhaps she didn’t have a few other qualities. She wasn’t hard headed enough. She wasn’t political enough.

So somebody had a screen capture of something she put up on Facebook (and I think, for very good reasons, she had put up pretty aggressive privacy settings). This is what she said:

Don’t we have a roof over our heads? Three meals a day? We can improve many things around here, but enough is enough? Really? Then what? Vote the government out? Are you going to run the country? Do you have the alternative proposals needed to run the country? Can we even promise that we have a critical mass of the right people to run the country? It’s a responsibility that’s easier said than done.

There are a few people who would call her a traitor, and I can understand why they would think like that. I would interpret that as she’s not necessarily against the idea of there being an opposition. But she’s buying the idea that there won’t be an opposition ready enough to take over, and it would seem that she’s done with the opposition. Her horizons have been very much broadened in the post 2011 years. She’d have seen so much, talked to so many people, thought about how things work.

And one of the things that I’ve come to realize is this: the opposition can’t solve our problems. Only the PAP can. And where the opposition comes in, is that the opposition forces the PAP to take a good hard look at our problems. And even if the PAP wants to solve our problems, they are so deep and pressing that they won’t do much. They’ll talk about 6.9 million people. It’s totally ridiculous. They haven’t changed on a level fundamental enough to make a difference. There’s a lot of papering over cracks, but nothing substantive. Mainly the propaganda has improved, not much else.

But regarding Nicole Seah being a part of the opposition, this is what you have to reckon with: in any properly functioning organization, she would have risen very quickly. She would not have been a figurehead, she would not have been put down. To the extent that she was subject to very personal attacks, the NSP would have marshalled some support system to help her deal with it. Maybe set up an IB to handle some of the bullshit. But there’s none of that. People may call themselves “parties” but it’s every man for himself. If Jeanette Chong Aruldoss likes it, she leaves NSP and joins SPP. If Benjamin Pwee likes it, he leaves SPP and sets up his own thing. Tan Jee Say spends a grand total of 2-3 months in the SDP. Where is the growth in the opposition parties?

To a certain extent, we could say that things are always going to be pretty fluid and in a flux until there is some form of political success. Only when there are bums on seats in parliament, will there be any form of growth in the parties. But this is a very slow process. And the reason why it’s not good for the opposition to grow slowly is the way that our political system works. Everything is bundled up together. 4 or 5 seats are bundled up together. Vote in 4 of my guys, you people, otherwise we will lose a cabinet minister. But this also means that when the opposition gains ground, they will do so fairly quickly. The Worker’s Party used to have 1 person in parliament. Now, in the last term, they had 7, and if you add in the 2 NCMPs, they have 2 more. They’ve had to grow big very quickly and it would be completely surprising if they didn’t cock up at some point or another.

One of the most important forms of control in Singapore is the hoarding of information. The powers that be in Singapore make it sound like it's a really great thing, this defamation law against free speech. But the main idea is to place an onerous burden on people who want to go up against the system, to get their facts right when there is no information freely made available. So you have this twin strategy of defamation lawsuits and withholding of information, and that makes it basically impossible for anybody to oppose the PAP, much less provide an articulate alternative to the running of government. So far, the government, after having relaxed free speech for a while, changed course and clamped down on Yawning Bread, Han Hui Hui and Roy Ngerng. They also clamped down on Amos Yee but that was either a completely idiotic move or they got so used to wielding the stick and are so morally degenerate that they just can't help being brutal and cruel. Tellingly, none of their moves so far were against people in opposition parties. Except maybe Alex Tan from the Reform Party. Maybe it was that opposition parties are run by cautious people. Maybe it was that the PAP doesn't want to provoke an international outcry, because - this is pretty different from the situation in the 90s, but these days, the foreign press, far from being the fearless curmudgeons of yore, have written hagiography after hagiography about our economic miracle. It seems that they have developed the Stockholm Syndrome after having been sued way too much by the Gahment back in the day.

Then Lee Hsien Loong would say something like I would have to spend far too much time fixing the opposition and that detracts from running of the show. Although on this point I can't say he's completely wrong. (He was called out for using the word "fix" and I think that's hilarious). But here's the thing: some of the most visible resistance to the PAP has been people like Roy Ngerng, who have been caught out making unsubstantiable statements on the way that the CPF is being run. And he gets rewarded for his civic duty by being sued. Then as he gets strung out to dry, he becomes the poster boy for the anti-establishment, and Singaporeans are just going to talk more about him because somebody getting sued his ass off and being made to lose his job is more sensational than a more circumspect and well-reasoned critique of policy. The PAP has learnt that, and that's why they're going back to old tactics.

Suppose there’s another swing against the PAP and after this round of elections, the opposition has 20 seats. How are they going to manage 4 town councils between them? Suppose they captured more than 1/3, and they got to sit on all sorts of committees in parliament, and got to run enough town councils between them, how are they going to manage? That’s the problem with Singaporeans. We love our Samsui women, we love our hawkers, we love our opposition politicians. We all love our homegrown heroes, but nobody EVER wants to be one of them.

So what does it mean, when you have a system which is creaking, and suddenly, the PAP’s ability to fix these problems also starts creaking as well? What happens when we have a situation where both the PAP and the Opposition have to on one hand join forces to solve Singapore’s problems and at the same time engage in the customary mudwrestling that makes up the bastion of democratic politics? Things are going to be very very interesting.


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