Challenge of communication

Dear Mr Shanmugam,

I refer to your commentary in the Petir as published by Straits Times on 9 Jan 2010.

You said the PAP has become one of the most successful political parties in history. History will show us that the PAP success has been achieved with less than scrupulous methods. Until recently, priority for lift upgrading has been tied to voting results. Lift upgrading thus became the ‘money’ used to buy votes. As many as six constituencies are lumped together as one, effectively raising the hurdle for other parties which goes against commonly understood anti-trust laws. All paid newspapers are owned by one company the shares of which belong largely to government linked companies and whose chairman is an important ex-minister. There is no sense that success came fair and square. There is no sense that such manipulated success deserves our respect let alone admiration.

You said the PAP has kept the people’s trust by continuously delivering amongst other things economic well being. That in essence is the reason for the continued success of the PAP. Through monopoly of the press, the PAP is able to perpetuate the myth that it and it alone is the reason for the country’s continued prosperity. No effective alternative media exists that can effectively reach out to the people to enlighten them of the fallacity of such PAP rhetoric. Even if all the ministers were to suddenly die tomorrow, the country will continue to function well because of the strong civil service we inherited from the British.

The supposed thorough self-renewal process doesn’t weed out the old patriarch who continues to perch high up in the ranks of the PAP. The supposed talent that is brought in is not worth the $1.5 million he is paid.

That the PAP should fear the loss of political dominance becomes clear when slowly but surely, people come to realise the truth.

You claimed that there is a deep belief that Singapore’s existence is always at risk which necessitates strong leadership and political structures for speedy decision making. But that is mere fallacy which falls flat in the face of the example of Israel where the government comprises not of one strong party but a coalition of parties even though the threat to Israel’s existence is much greater than ours. The example of Israel shows us that it is not true that only one party, let alone the PAP, can deliver good governance.

It was also wrong of you to conclude on behalf of the newer generations that the PAP message resonated strongly with the pre-1970 electorate since the opposition then was practically wiped out leaving the electorate with little or no alternative to choose from. This has to be taught to newer generations since, as you have said, their collective memory of what really happened is not strong.

You said that Singapore’s model of democracy has delivered rapid progress. If you teach that to newer generations, you would have merely taught them an opinion, not a truth. The truth in all likelihood is that Singapore achieved rapid progress despite our model of ‘democracy’.

You first asked if it is possible to change the model without trade offs, seemingly giving newer generations a chance to think about this issue for themselves. Then you show off your true colours of simply wanting to tell the newer generations what you want them to believe: that there will be trades offs that Singaporeans are entitled to choose between, which contradicts the real life examples of Taiwan and Korea. You want to tell the newer generations that there will be slower development and lower quality of life leading to social tensions. But Taiwan and Korea have shown us that democracy is not associated with slower development, neither does it lead to lower quality of life.

You said Singaporeans may forget how vulnerable we are given Singapore’s success in dealing with its vulnerabilities. At the same time, it is also easy to over state our vulnerabilities to justify anything and everything that might otherwise be unjustifiable.

You said it is fundamental for Singaporeans to understand the costs and benefits of different political systems. But it is even more vital for Singaporeans to understand that those costs and the benefits are not necessarily attributable to the political system. We may end up attributing more benefits and less costs to our political system than is true.

Your suggestion to contrast our experiences with other post-colonial independent states automatically leaves out Hong Kong which has always been the closest example of what Singapore would have become without the PAP.

All that you are proposing to be taught to students can easily be couched in one narrow perspective that distorts the true picture. As the political party in power, the PAP is in the best position to do just that.

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