This is an interesting post from Temasek Review on the ruling party.
You guys (PAP) were once my heroes. When I was young, I was so proud that I had a government that was indeed one of the world’s best, if not, THE BEST. Although LKY was (and still is) portrayed as a fearsome, if ruthless leader, he was much respected. When he appeared as our PM on the world stage, my heart never failed to swell with pride because it was obvious that he was also someone other world leaders respected.
But not now. The problem is, you are victims of your own success. And the world has changed, yet you remain stuck in the 1960s. This is why your once-fantastic branding is being eroded, why I find it hard to support you like before.
1) You were too successful
First, there was LKY and he was a great leader. He was like a god and still being treated like one. He “miraculously” transformed a small, poor, resource-less little island into a country that now has one of the highest GDPs in the world, where other countries are now trying to learn from. No one can take that achievement away from the first PAP team and indeed, I would guess that this is also the main reason why many in the older generation are still your loyal fans. I may not agree to all the strategies you’ve used then (and some were downright questionable) but I can’t deny that you had some very good reasons to do so. But unfortunately, when you’ve set the standard of governance so high, every other subsequent PAP team that comes along can only look worse and worse. And it doesn’t help that you constantly try too hard to be perfect. The higher the bar is set, the more difficult it is for the PAP teams that come after to match it. In a way, I think LKY only does his own te am a great disservice by publishing so many personal memoirs, recounting again and again how good he was. Because the more god-like he is, the more voters like me will wonder, how can we ever have another “god” like him to lead us? And the answers you propose will always be a disappointment. Because, against a god, everyone will look like a mere mortal. Didn’t anyone tell you that you can’t replicate a god using your same old cookie-cutter?!! Great leaders are first of all rebels, don’t you know (and LKY was one too!)?
2) You were too smart for your own good
No one can or has been able to rival you in terms of your (mostly) rational and well-thought through, sound policies. Especially in terms of our economic policies. You’re so darn good with your cost-benefit analyses, your economic forecasts, your financial planning. Every policy you rolled out is justified using very rational arguments that the opposition and the public find hard to counter argue. You are top-notch, because you have a very brainy team, all with impeccable qualifications from world renowned universities. Unfortunately, this made you assume that only you have the brains and everyone else is just an idiot who needs only to listen and obey. The game of politics cannot be played by cold logic alone. And it certainly can’t be won by treating your voters as morons.
An example of this would be the issue of bringing in the IRs. Yes, your cold, rational argument makes very good economic reasons for having casinos in Singapore . No one can argue against that. But not everything can or should be measured by dollars and cents or by the amount of GDP it will generate for Sg. We’re no longer the generation in the 1960s that constantly had to worry about money or material matters. We’ve moved up the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In fact, most Singaporeans work ridiculously long hours, are constantly too stressed to even go on dates or have sex (hence the low marriage and fertility rate) that we’re all very very disillusioned with the constant drive for wealth. Increasingly, we want to slow down, have time to smell the flowers and be with our families. And having casinos that will bring in more crime (organised ones too), encourage more addictive behaviour and increase broken families will not sit well with a population who now values quality of li fe rather than personal wealth. Yet, you bull-dosed these concerns and won yet again with your cold, rational, economic arguments because there wasn’t enough opposition in the parliament to stop you.
While people may buy into the cold logic of your policies now, your lack of empathy and human touch are slowly alienating voters. The breaking point may not be now, but you can be sure that the disconnection is getting wider by the day. It’s a time-bomb that will go off at some point.
3) You forgot evolutionary laws, history and your own past
While you’re very brainy, you’re mostly all technocrats and specialists. You’ve scorned the social sciences and the humanities, you think these are only for sissy people whose A Levels don’t qualify them for specialist degrees. Yet, if you had been more well-informed in these areas, you might have learnt some valuable lessons about power. History, for example, is the best teacher that could have taught you that power never ever ever ever lasts forever. Indeed, the more you try to hang on to it, the more it will invite adversity. History would also have taught you that every regime was once in opposition. As Marx could have told you, the history of mankind is all about class (or power) struggles. You may be in power now, but one day you’ll be overthrown. However, you have hope of leaving your great legacy behind if you take a leaf from the pages of human evolution, which would have taught you that it’s human diversity that has helped the human race to overcome the odds, to sur vive this long. But instead of embracing diversity, you tried your hardest to kill off any form of alternative views, whether these come from within your party or externally. You only wanted to hear your own voice or voices that are exactly the same as yours. This inbreeding will eventually be your demise. Most of all, you forgot your own roots, where you were once an opposition party too. You focused so much on hanging on to your power, you forgot your original vision, you forgot your voters and you forgot why you are governing Singapore .
4) Power breeds fear and paranoia
In the beginning, you used power in order to stabilise the political situation so that you can give the masses homes, food, clean water and their livelihoods. That seemed a justifiable use of power even though it involved some ruthless and ugly tactics. But over the years, you started to crave power for itself. Again, you forgot the story of Macbeth (see, I told you the humanities are important!!) – where an originally good leader was so obsessed with his new power that he saw everything as a threat towards it. He became so paranoid that he even killed his best friend whom he thought was after his throne. He only heard what he wanted to hear from dubious soothsayers (which turned out to be half-truths). Needless to say, Macbeth eventually had a tragic end. Like Macbeth, you’ve become so obsessed with winning overwhelmingly in every GE that you use every weapon you have, every trick up your sleeves to clobber the opposition to smithereens. Smear campaigns, legal suits, changin g electoral boundaries, raising the cost of candidature, forming GRCs, threatening the electorate with upgrading…it’s like watching the Brazilian football team beat the Singapore team by 82-2, except in football the rules are fairer and the referee neutral. Why do you need to resort to such gangster-like ways? You could have won overwhelmingly anyway with all the talent you have! I’m not sure how long this bullying strategy can go on but sooner or later you’ll become the thug that the electorate can’t wait to get rid of.
5) Power corrupts absolutely
Power is not power without money. And in this aspect you’ve outdone yourselves by pegging your salaries to the private sector. You’re the highest paid politicians in the world and your income is >40 times that of the median income of the general population (only less than Kenya ). Of course, you justify it with yet another one of your cold, rational arguments of attracting and retaining the best talents in the government. But seriously, how can you compare public sector salaries to the private sector? In fact, many of your candidates have never worked in the private sector before and one wonders if they’ll survive even for a day in a private company. Yet, they are paid private sector salaries, paid not from profits but from taxpayers’ money. And though I fully agree that politicians must be paid their worth, don’t you think getting 40x the median income is crossing into the lines of corruption? Ok, even if all our Ministers and PM are worth every cent of their $4m annual sa lary, it also means that they have to perform much much much better than any other government in the world. Again, you have set the standards and expectations so high, you only have yourselves to blame when you cannot meet those expectations from the ground. And the more you fail to meet their expectations, the more the electorate will think you’re not worth your astronomical salaries. It’s a vicious cycle that you’ve started and it’s going to be very hard to stop now.
You talk about the so-called “crutch-mentality” of the poor, yet this same mentality can be applied on yourselves. When you’ve used money as the main means to attract people into your party, you’ve basically recruited people who value money above serving the country in the people’s interest. These politicians who are in it for the money will not have the incentive to think independently or to represent the people’s interests because they’ve got millions to lose if they don’t toe party lines. Because they’re paid millions, what incentives do they have to empathize with someone struggling with 2 jobs to make ends meet? Very soon, the voters will feel that you’re just a bunch of corrupt officials, no different from those in many 3rd-world countries.
The way I see it, you only have yourselves to blame for this situation you’re in. The only way you can somehow reverse these trends is to learn from Madonna (see, you never thought popular culture could teach you anything right?). She keeps herself relevant not by sticking to the same old formula again and again. That would have killed her career long ago as it did to countless of other pop stars. Rather, she keeps re-inventing herself and her image to keep them relevant to the current times. And she pushes the boundaries. She’s always ahead of her time and like a true leader, she sets the trends not follow them. She’s a rebel. Yet, all you have done is to remain exactly the same as you were in 1960s. The electorate is increasingly tired of your same old scare tactics using HDB upgrading as a stick, tired of you saying that Singapore will go to ruins if the opposition wins, tired of you always using smear campaigns against opposition candidates, tired of your arrogance and la ck of empathy, tired of you giving out inconsequential hongbaos before elections only to increase your own salaries by millions after.
You keep encouraging us to think out-of-the-box, yet you’re perpetually stuck in the same adversarial mindset towards the opposition. If you can only start to think of your relationship with the opposition as a mutual symbiosis – you share a portion of power with them in return for your longevity and credibility. Power is always temporary, but your legacy needn’t be. Just look at the current Conservative Party of UK which traces its roots back to the Tory Party in 1678. Do you think they could have survived this long without any meaningful opposition, no defeats, no radical internal reforms? Are you so politically shortsighted that you can only see your future in the next 10, 20 or 50 years? C’mon, think further!! And didn’t anyone tell you that in other to be the best, you need to have competition? Otherwise, how can the electorate be sure that you’re indeed the best, if they can’t compare you to any other party?
I’m no military strategist, but I do think that sometimes, you need to lose some battles first in order to win bigger battles later. It will not be a bad thing for you to lose a few GRCs in this GE. In fact, if I were you, I will be celebrating. Because nothing gets people going like failure. Rather lose some small battles now than to wait for the big bomb to explode later. By then, not only will you disappear into the dust heap of history, so too will Singapore . That will be your ultimate betrayal to this country that you so painstakingly and successfully created out of a little red dot on the map.
Neo Yu Wei