Getting away with hubris and arrogance

Andrew Loh /

On 30 April, six ministers refuted allegations that the People’s Action Party (PAP) had become an arrogant party. According to the Today newspaper, the “strongest comeback was from Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, who described it as ‘classic politics of negativity’, with nothing to back it up.” (See here.)

As if to provide just that proof to “back it up”, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew – on the same day – warned voters in Aljunied GRC that voting for the opposition team would mean “they must also accept the consequences of their actions.” (Straits Times)

MM Lee then went on and said:

“If Aljunied decides to go that way, well Aljunied has five years to live and repent.”

His remarks remind one of what another PAP minister, Mr Lim Boon Heng, said before the election proper started. Mr Lim said being a Member of Parliament was a “thankless job”. He gave the example from the Bible of Jesus Christ healing 10 lepers. “When Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank him,” Mr Lim said.

Repentance is for those who may have committed crimes, or who have done a bad deed. Apparently, MM Lee feels Aljunied GRC voters would be doing something just as bad if they voted for the Workers’ Party team there. This has raised questions of whether the PAP, and MM Lee in particular, sees opposition voters as some sort of criminals.

Should not the PAP, if it loses Aljunied GRC, reflect on why it did, and do some soul-searching instead of thinking that it is voters who must “repent”?

Mr Lim’s likening of Singaporeans to “lepers” is another example of perhaps the PAP seeing itself as an omnipotent entity, one which Singaporeans should bow to in reverence.

When asked about MM Lee’s remarks, Mr Lee Hsien Loong brushed it aside. He is reported to have said, “MM understands our style. But MM is MM. Election time or not, his style does not change. PAP’s style has changed. You know MM’s style – he’s hard hitting, straight off the shoulder. You know our style, we talk through it. It’s a generational change.”

Mr Lee seems to be saying that it is acceptable for the elder Lee to use such remarks on voters. Who then is the master, and who is the servant? It is disappointing, to say the least, that Mr Lee would dodge the issue and not make it clear that MM Lee’s remarks are out of line.

To deride voters as people who need to “repent” for making a democratic choice which is not in preference to one’s own is pure arrogance. To warn that such voters need to “repent” is akin to putting oneself on a pedestal as a higher being and the rest seen as “mere mortals”.

And on the same day that MM Lee made his remarks, PAP candidate for Hougang, Mr Desmond Choo, waded into the circle of arrogance as well.

The Straits Times reported Mr Choo’s rally speech:

For instance, he spoke in Teochew of meeting an old man who said that choosing an MP is like choosing a wife. ‘If your wife is unable to cook, there’s no point. You must choose a wife who is able to do things for you,’ he recounted.

Needless to say, his remarks have raised howls of protests from the public. (See here.)

Mr Choo owes all Singaporeans, and not just women, an apology. But it is left to be seen if he will do so, given the PAP’s penchant for wriggling out of doing the right thing when caught lacking.

Over the last five years, there have been numerous occasions where the PAP’s hubris and arrogance have been displayed. From suggesting that older folks be packed off to homes in Johor Baru, Bintam and Batam, to accusing Singaporeans of being “daft”, with “spurs not stuck to their hides” (an analogy which likens Singaporeans to animals or mules), from saying that there is “public interest” in the losses incurred by the GIC and Temasek holdings but that this “is not sufficient reason to disclose information”, to the denial that there are homeless people in the parks, etc.

And during this election itself, one minister engaged in a smear campaign against his opponent just days after another senior minister called for a “fair fight”.

The hubristic behavior of PAP members can be distilled down to one reason – its 46-years of uninterrupted rule. MM Lee, in particular, represents this hubris – someone who can get away with making disparaging remarks about the Malay community, and about Singaporeans in general as well.

Seems younger ministers have learnt this well and are exhibiting the same disconnect with a more educated, more vocal and more expectant electorate.

This being out-of-touch, which incidentally was denied by Mr Lee last week, is also evident in MM Lee’s words of recent times. Indeed, he admitted that he was “out of date” even in a matter as important as racial integration among the races.

What voters expect of MPs are humility, a sense of awareness of servitude, and an ability to admit mistakes. More importantly perhaps, a sense of responsibility towards and respect for Singaporeans.

These can only exist if one sees oneself not as some omnipotent god-like entity, or as one who is above others, but one who is equal and indeed a servant of those who have given him power.

But for now, with the PM defending the MM’s behavior, and ministers denying that the PAP is arrogant, it would thus seem that nothing will change if the PAP is given another overwhelming victory at the polls.


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