Thoughts on GE2015: the past, the present, our future

ESM Goh Chok Tong is the senior politician running in my constituency and I’ve been pondering over some comments he made in a recent mainstream media interview (26 August 2015, CNA):

“If the Government doesn’t get good support, you’re repudiating what they’re doing. It’s very important that you give them a very clear signal and support their agenda.

“I’ve travelled all over the world as PM. I know the impact of politics on people’s lives … I came to the conclusion that we can categorise government into three categories: The good, the bad, the ugly.. As you can see now, in many countries in the world, there are ugly governments. We are lucky that we have a good Government. So I look at this election as a mandate for the Lee Hsien Loong Government.

“Opposition parties come and go like nomads. Nomads will not have an interest in the people’s welfare. A new tribe is coming – do they really have interest in Marine Parade’s welfare?… The opposition will be there just throwing all kinds of distractions.”

I also watched a rally speech by WP’s He Ting Ru, a Cambridge educated lawyer with international, corporate and legal experience – one of the “nomads” contesting in my constituency for the opposition. Since returning to Singapore in 2011, she’s been learning the ropes of constituency work by volunteering in Chen Sho Mao’s meet-the-people sessions and doing party level work (which includes policy research and drafting parliamentary papers, part of the process for proposing and questioning policies when parliament sits).

Some of her points during her first rally speech (3 September 2015, Jalan Besar Stadium):

“There is much for us Singaporeans to be proud of despite the worries we sometimes feel about our future. When I decided to run for member of parliament, many of my friends and family were extremely worried… about the impact on my family, my career, about whether I will get fixed… I had the exact same thoughts myself. But then I asked myself, three questions:

1) Do I believe that it is healthy for Singapore to have a handful of people from the same political party, deciding what is best for our country?

2) Do I want a future for my country, where my children dare not responsibly disagree and speak their mind, because they are afraid of being fixed?

3) Do I think that our current policies and policy making processes are perfect, that there is no need for improvement, that nothing more needs to be done for Singaporeans, especially vulnerable Singaporeans?

The answer for each one of them, was no. As a young Singaporean I have my idea about what should be my nation’s path… I want a future where we see more citizens involved in deciding our own future, a future where we pay close attention to vulnerable groups and a destiny where we promote access to opportunities for all…

There is no more direct way of effecting that change for Singapore than running for parliament…The government’s job is not to fix the opposition. The government’s job is to do it’s job well… I decided to run for parliament because I think the government can do better, and all of us can and must help them do so…

When in the polling booth come 11th September 2015, I would like each one of us to ask these three questions:

1) Do we want more different voices to be heard in parliament, voices representing what you want to say?

2) Do we want our children to be able to speak out responsibly without fear because they disagree with the government?

3) Do we want to live in a country which empowers our citizens to create a society, which looks out for the vulnerable, where our elders are active, healthy, and our children are not weighed down by the pressure to succeed at all costs?

I hope the answer is yes to all of these questions and that you would want more voices, no more fear in speaking out, and a compassionate society for all Singaporeans.”

Not surprisingly a lot of what was expressed by the opposition candidate echoed my own thoughts, which are, that Ting Ru and her WP colleagues ask the questions I want to ask and in fact, many Singaporeans have wanted to ask, but those who have asked out loud in the past have been persecuted, prosecuted, sidelined or even exiled.

Since 1984, when Chiam See Tong first won a seat in parliament, we progressed as a nation. Despite clear hurdles placed in his path and, by extension, the path of the residents he served for 26 years, they proved that Singaporeans are not all about freshly painted HDB walls and early Starhub cabling. Despite these deficiencies, Potong Pasir did not fall apart or become destitute.

Again from 2011, this progress accelerated with the WP’s first GRC win. Apart from Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East not being any closer to becoming a slum, this slightly larger opposition in parliament has also created more dialogue. Now there are questions in parliament, about ministerial salaries and about the 6.9 million white paper, for example, and votes against it (none from within the PAP), which are essentially saying, “there are merits to your plan, but it is not yet good enough, it’s too narrow. There will be other ramifications and many Singaporeans will suffer because of it. We must keep looking for possibilities. Let us contribute”.

Unfortunately, this questioning voice is still small and, almost unheard, within the single-party government’s highly protected inner chamber, where all the big plans are made and decided upon.

Over 50 years and even during the past 10, the current government has shown an undying need to protect the seat of power fiercely, and to discredit, discipline and often punish dissenting voices from within or without the party ranks. This is an outdated mode of government – a relic from World War II and an unnecessary hegemony borrowed from the armed forces.

As can be seen from the past decade of gaffes and shape-shifts, gerrymanders and U-turns within the current administration, they too, seem to be scrambling to keep up with the world and are chasing the money trail like every other developed country, albeit with the help of expensive consultants and an insanely rich reserve, happily amassed from relatively good governance (apart from a number of major, superficially investigated, lapses) and handsomely helped by our small geographic size, topography and location, willing population and dense per-capita contribution to the coffers.

What this means, as signs have started to show is, if we continue on this path unabated as the current administration is ordering us to do, the country will increasingly become corporate-like, where the strongest and most connected survive and the weak are eventually weeded out and replaced, even if the weak laid the foundations for current success. That is not a vision of a country for the next 50 years and it is certainly not the country I want.

Singaporeans are no longer servile employees of a corporate nation looking to our leaders for all direction, while waiting for the carrot and the stick to egg us on. We, too need to move out of that mindspace, become our own people and know our own true worth. I feel that a lot of us need our egos re-calibrated, our skills need updating and our world-views need to be consistently expanded and deepened. In short, we need to get our inspiration back. We can’t do that by taking the, “look back on the past 50 years, do you want to lose that?” path.

Consider also that many Singaporeans have established themselves as top learners all over the world and many have consistently produced work in the real-world that is recognized outside of our tiny shores, while not being part of the state-funded and protected machinery. These are the real-world entrepreneurs that are talked so much about by the ruling party, but, for the most part, are lacking in said party because of their (also outdated) recruitment and progression structure that sacrifices diversity for a narrow view of success and “suitability to rule”.

I think the entrepreneurs whom ESM Goh calls “nomads” and “arrogant” exhibit a toughhness and humility that is lacking in many of his own cohort, who can be verbose, but tend to gravitate to reductive binary arguments and put-downs when challenged outside of their comfort zone. ESM Goh’s “good vs ugly” statement is an example of such. At best, it is a simplistic statement unbecoming of an experienced elder statesman; at worst, an oppressive method of sowing fear, in case we don’t do as we’re told.

But back to the nomads in the opposition. I think Singaporeans should bring some of this valuable nomadic expertise and chutzpah back home and allow them to be a conduit between our current government and us; Singaporeans who have smarts and problem-solving abilities of our own to contribute; Singaporeans who have a love for our country that has seen us through decades past. In contrast, if ESM Goh keeps pushing away these nomads, he risks living out the twilight of his illustrious career as a big goldfish in a very small bowl.

Of course, as I pen my thoughts, I don’t expect that anyone from the establishment will read it. Many more illustrious, skilled and accomplished people have written letters to people in our power space asking for change. Very few of them get read and even fewer get more than a cursory consideration.

But I do hope that other Singaporeans will read this and ask of themselves the questions that the nomads ask and that I ask too. It doesn’t matter to me what your individual answer is. We are all entitled to our opinion and our vote. That is the point. But at least, take the time to consider the various alternatives. The unknown is not as scary as we might think.

Sincerely, for our future.

Timothy Nga

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