What does it mean to be “one united people”?
Does it mean forging a national identity that can be shared by all Singaporeans regardless of race, language or creed? Does it mean accepting and respecting all our differences, whether in terms of political affiliation or sexual orientation? I can certainly agree with this.
Or does it mean adopting an unquestioning attitude towards Government policies and social issues, and agreeing to make personal sacrifices whilst the PAP reaps the benefits, in the name of “staying together, moving ahead” (PAP’s 2006 GE slogan)?
Does being united mean having to welcome large numbers of foreigners and accept them as part of the community, even if there are social consequences?
Does it mean agreeing to allow our heritage and our sense of belonging to be watered down in order to achieve some higher national goal that the Government tells us is right?
This year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on Singaporeans to stay united on at least four occasions.
Touting the concept of “Singapore United” at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers' Union (SMMWU) on 28 March, PM Lee called on Singaporeans to stay united and focus their energies on finding practical solutions to the economic crisis. In the past, this has meant accepting cuts in CPF contribution, lower wages and longer working hours, while the Government continues to fatten its coffers through indirect taxation like GST and our ministers continue to pay themselves multi-million dollar salaries.
At the same event, PM Lee also urged Singaporeans not to react emotionally during the downturn by lashing out at foreign workers and immigrants (Straits Times, “Singapore United the way to go”, 29 March 2009). This is an ironic way of passing the buck to Singaporeans, as it is the Government’s overly liberal pro-foreigner and pro-immigration policies that created the problems to begin with.
In his May Day rally speech, PM Lee again called on Singaporeans to stay united under stress, and he acknowledged that two potential divides that we have to overcome are the divides between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, and between different races and religions in Singapore (Transcript of PM Lee’s May Day Rally Speech by Prime Minister’s Office, 01 May 2009). He admitted that in a downturn, the Government is concerned that non-Chinese workers will be more affected because larger proportions of them have lower skills. After 50 years of nation building and paying themselves astronomical world-class salaries, the Government still has not found an effective solution to this conundrum.
Speaking ahead of Racial Harmony day on 21 July, PM Lee mentioned the threat of terrorism for the umpteenth time and told Singaporeans to stay united and resist that threat. I agree that the threat of terrorism is real and eternal vigilance is necessary, but by repeating it ad nauseum, the Government has slowly turned the issue into a bogeyman used to scare Singaporeans into focusing their minds on external threats rather than on the failings of the Government. By repeatedly mentioning terrorism In connection with racial and religious harmony, the Government has also indirectly reinforced unfortunate stereotypes that the Government itself tells Singaporeans to be mindful of.
And finally, at the opening of the Sengkang Sports and Recreation Centre on 26 July, PM Lee again urged the nation to stay united against any challenge the country may face (Channel News Asia, “PM Lee calls on nation to stay united to meet all challenges”, 26 July 2009). His reason for regurgitating this tired refrain escapes me. Is PM Lee somehow afraid that the government is slowly losing its grip on this illusive unity that it keeps talking about?
When we “pledge ourselves as one united people”, we are reaffirming our common identity as Singaporeans, that our similarities are more important than our differences, that we are proud to be collectively identified as Singaporeans regardless of our ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds, that we resolve to work together to tackle the nation’s challenges and make Singapore a better place for all citizens.
But this unity, this sense of purpose and the sense of having a shared national destiny can only be realized if we feel Singapore is truly our home, and not merely a stepping stone for all and sundry to use before venturing to greener pastures.
This unity and togetherness can only come about if the Government places Singaporeans first and refrains from treating us as mere economic digits in a rat race that they themselves have created.
PM Lee likes to parade his unique brand of unity, but his Government is not creating the economic and socio-political climate necessary for that unity to flourish. Until their policies change, all this talk about unity will be like echoes in the wind.