Autocracy, belief and control


Karen Tse /

"You believe the Workers' Party is in Parliament to help the good of Singaporeans or to oppose the PAP?" – Straits Times, 9 May.

Before I answer MM Lee, I would like to pose MM Lee and anyone who shares a similar concern a question. Which person is more useful to you: the one who imagines why your idea will work, or the one who articulates why it won't? As a prologue to this article, I must state that I continue to find the approach of voting out of plain party allegiance, blind loyalty and gratitude irrational and reprehensible*. Hence, my answer to MM Lee’s question outright: both.

In politics, it is dangerous to be looking for heroes; we should be looking for good idea. MM Lee’s statement necessitates an omniscient notion that white is the only colour that will help the good of Singaporeans. The PAP’s primary operating philosophy seems to be: all other parties hold illegitimate and evil reasons for pursuing seats in Parliament. Despite his experience and intellect, I doubt that anyone is all-knowing with the capacity to know everything infinitely. An objective person should hold any political parties to the same standard, and judge them with the same scrutiny – incumbent or otherwise. Blind faith to either sides results in subjectivity. For this reason, one could even ask the analogous: is the PAP in Parliament to help the good of Singaporeans or to oppose the opposition?

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Once you label me, you negate me.”  The primary problem that Singapore is facing is not one of the ideological differences between the PAP and any of the opposition parties. The problem is that PAP has established itself to be the sole party capable of running the country with good intentions. A cursory glance at the state-controlled media reveals how labelling of “the opposition” by the PAP is problematic because it suggests an unruly quality in all opposition parties.

As witnessed in the past decades, either PAP runs on a deeply fused party line or they are used to settling their disagreements behind closed doors. Is there indeed true consultation of matters or do PAP members fall under the first archetype I raised in my question, a person who does not question and hence raises no objections? I do understand the motivation of an autocratic political system: to be fast, free of stalemate, and efficient. But I cannot comprehend the need to isolate immediately any alternative voice as dissent. On the contrary, I believe that sightless subservience by any members of Parliament will be unhelpful for the good of Singaporeans.

Let us evaluate some possible approaches of how the Workers’ Party could function in Parliament:

i)              The scenario that the Workers’ Party opposes the PAP on every count for the sake of opposing is not quite likely. Firstly, it is simply not in their interest to do so. If their inputs are not constructive and do not reflect sentiments of the masses, voters will almost certainly remove them from Parliament come 2016. Secondly, based on my cogent grasp of mathematics, 6 against 81 carries relatively little weight. So even if the tenacity of the hammer is used for the wrong reasons, resistance is futile.

ii)             If in the event that the Workers’ Party does not abuse its power, it is likely that unlike their PAP counterparts, they will not toe the glaring white party line. This would result in more ideas and alternative views, less groupthink. Their contributions would be beneficial to the good of Singapore.

I do not believe that any party sets out to be intrinsically evil. There is a need for MM Lee and the PAP to stop placing opposition members immediately in the ideological box of radicals who are essentially anti-PAP and anti-establishment. There is a need to pull away from autocracy, to eradicate this belief that “white is good, colours are bad”, and to ease over control to constructive members of the opposition. At the end of the day, one does not have to be pro-PAP to be pro-Singapore.



See the brilliant note “Thank You, Sir! - On the Politics of Gratitude” by Desirée Limée-lim/thank-you-sir-on-the-politics-of-gratitude/10150178935113774)

The writer is a sociology undergraduate. Her favourite Chinese proverb: 司马昭之心,小人眼里皆为小人.