Face the erosion of trust, not downplay it
In a twist of bitter irony, PM Lee’s defamation suit has effectively made Roy Ngerng a household name. While Mr Lee may have taken these actions to protect his public standing and image, many believe that the defamation suit is a political tool used to silence government critics.
If this assertion is correct, it would seem that PM Lee’s legal actions have been counterproductive for instead of suppressing Mr Ngerng’s views, he has propelled him into greater fame. Mr Ngerng’s story has now been carried by a number of international publications and Singaporeans who had hitherto no knowledge of who Mr Ngerng was now know all about him and his blog.
The saga has prompted reactions from some of Singapore’s more high profile citizens such as Catherine Lim and Alfian Saat who have both written against the usage of the dreaded defamation suit. Ms Lim’s article, in particular seems to have drawn attention from the Consul-General of Singapore in Hong Kong, Mr Jacky Foo.
Mr Foo defends the People’s Action Party majority government of Singapore and credits the ruling party for taking Singapore “through a number of serious crises relatively unscathed”. In particular, he referenced the Asian financial crisis in 1998, the outbreak of SARs in 2003 and the global financial crisis of 2008. In addition, Mr Foo has noted that the PAP has won four further general elections by healthy margins.
No one is denying that the PAP led government has done some great things for the country in the past. That has never been in contention nor is that the point of Ms Lim’s article.
Ms Lim’s article was an observation of the PAP’s decline in popularity in recent years. She has not said that the PAP is no longer popular. There is a difference between popularity and declining popularity.
Let’s use Michael Jackson as an example. In the years that led to his death, his popularity took a massive hit as a result of the child molestation suits against him. While his popularity waned, he was still popular – he was the King of Pop!
I know this sounds facetious but it does illustrate my point. Something or someone can be popular but also be in decline. That, I believe was the point Ms Lim was trying to make. I am disappointed that Mr Foo has missed that point wholly and chosen to see Ms Lim as bemoaning “a collapse of trust and respect for the government”.
Sadly, this seems to be the attitude of most senior PAP members when criticised. Instead of point on point engagement, the defense always goes back to past glories and Mr Foo has echoed just that sentiment. While the past is important, we live in the present and for the future. We want to know where our country is headed and we want to have a stake in the future of our country. To do that, we would need to be able to relate to our government on equal terms without the label of “complainers” and “bemoaners” heaped on us, just because we may have a different point of view.
Ms Lim was beseeching the PAP to take heed of the trend in Singapore not because she is anti-PAP. She is so doing because she wants them to take heed of what Singaporeans want and narrow the chasm of disconnect that seems to be widening.
Instead of trying to quell her valid concerns with a rehash of past glories and dismissal, perhaps it is time for the PAP to genuinely wake up to the reality of their waning popularity. While still popular, their popularity will continue to slide if they continue to engage in old methods that do not work for the digital age.
In the political landscape, nothing lasts forever. You will not remain in power if the public do not like you. This is the same for all types of governments, from democracies to dictatorships to monarchies, and history is replete with examples.
That the PAP has done some very laudable things for Singapore is not questioned, what is under the microscope is how they choose to react to changing concerns, issues and voter demographics. This will be what determines the PAP’s sustainability. I hope that they do not prove the old adage – “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks” true.