The following is a contribution by a member of the audience at the Face to Face forum
By Dr Wong Wee Nam
I went to the TOC Face to Face Forum as a guest of The Online Citizen and came away pleased and puzzled.
I was pleased to see the various political parties coming to share their views on the same stage. This is the first time that all the major parties are seen together at a single event. Except for the PAP who did not turn up and the Worker’s Party who sent a representative, all the secretary-generals of the invited parties honoured the occasion.
It was not a forum where the political parties make speeches about their stands on issues. It was a Q and A Session. However from the answers given, the listeners were able to know what the various parties stand for. From the answers given by the leaders of the various political parties, it was obvious that there were really not many differences in views and stands to the many issues that were brought up.
All the leaders agreed that the problems faced by Singaporeans had been brought about by the PAP and the people should vote for the opposition. In the past, speakers sometimes prefaced their speeches with some concession to the economic achievements of Singapore. Not this time around. No one credited the PAP with anything.
Why then did I say I come away puzzled? With so much in agreement and so little discernible differences, I was wondering, why no one embraced one another at the end of the evening and tell each other, “Hey we share the same views. Why don’t we meet up and see how we can work together to advance a common cause?”
Everyone just shook hands politely and smiled for group photographs. I don’t know if they were more pre-occupied about their own performance that they could not think of seizing the opportunity to strengthen ties that could be developed further for the benefit the country.
The forum had given them this golden opportunity. Yet during the post-forum socializing, none of the leaders gathered and exchange views. During and after the forum, the various parties had not given any indication that they are willing to come together to fight this round of electoral battle that is looming. The feeling is that in spite of all these agreements and lack of differences, everyone is still trying to keep the status quo and trying to fight the giant on its own.
The current political landscape is akin to a situation where many provision shops selling the same thing are trying to compete with an efficient hypermarket. Instead of pooling and combining resources and getting the economy of scale, these small outfits are trying to see who can battle the giant best and muscle out the rest at the same time.
The end result is the hypermarket gets stronger and more powerful and the provision shops get weaker and ineffective.
I don’t know if the various parties at the forum realised that they share many things in common. As far as I can see, the differences are only in the personality and temperament of the people in charge. From the views expressed at the forum, there is no difference at all in ideology.
Unfortunately, if differences in personality and temperament cannot be set aside for a common cause, then any alternative to the PAP will continue to remain fragmented and ineffective. This would indeed be a disservice to Singapore.
As long as political parties stay in their own cocoons, they will continue to make motherhood statements without being effective in changing things.
Take for example the question of the ISA (Internal Security Act). Everyone wholeheartedly agreed that it should be abolished.
Mr Chiam See Tong summed the mood very eloquently by his stunning declaration “I agree with Dr Chee” (that the ISA should be abolished). It is telling because Mr Chaim and his protégé, Dr Chee Soon Juan, had fallen out almost 20 years ago.
From the look of things, this issue is likely to remain just a little line in the various parties’ election manifestos (or even not at all).
If the parties were so convinced that the ISA should be abolished, why were they not committed enough to call a press conference immediately after the forum to issue a joint press release on this? After all the main stream media and the yahoo news reporters were all around and certainly ready to give audience.
The answer is simple - the bodies have met but the minds have not. Hopefully, the forum would be a step towards the meeting of minds. Otherwise all the wonderful individual manifestos put up by the political parties will not stop the juggernaut from continuing to run the lives of Singaporeans completely in the manner that it has been doing for the last 51 years.
Dr Wong ran as an opposition candidate in 1997 and is a regular contributor to The Online Citizen.
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