When opposing is the loyal, royal thing to do

Edmund Tee

Before I start in earnest, I hope everybody recognizes that despite everything that the incumbent has done to stack the odds in its favour, I am grateful that we have an electoral system that actually leads to a result which the incumbent is mightily upset about. I ask that Singaporeans not lose sight of that.

Now, the most recent salvo that got my goat was from what some might consider the George Washington of Singapore (only without a wig, although he might want to consider donning one):

“You believe the Workers’ Party is in Parliament to help the good of Singaporeans or to oppose the PAP?” – Lee Kuan Yew, May 9, 2011.

I read that statement and did a double take. Does it really have to be both? I mean, one could pose this following question, which would be every bit as valid:

“You believe the PAP is in Parliament and Government to help the good of Singaporeans, or to make a decent living?”

To which my response would be, both! If they do the former well (and they do), they deserve the latter.

My thoughts are that by being in Parliament, and providing responsible, intelligent debate to what the PAP proposes, the Worker’s Party is furthering the good of Singaporeans by opposing the PAP where needed.  That was why I voted for Nicole Seah, whom I think needs to join the WP or contest solo in an SMC, and I think that was why the many brave souls of Hougang and Aljunied put their trust in Low Thia Khiang and his team.

Now, to be clear, while I am generally pro-opposition, Mr Lee has a special place in my heart. Kind of like a grand-uncle you grew up loving and respecting, but then as one got older and developed one’s own ideas, start to find him a tad annoying.

Mr Lee is one of the founding fathers of the country, and he did what he felt he needed to do to get the job done, including crushing his political adversaries. Ok, yes, so he is unlike George Washington in more ways than not having a wig.

Nevertheless, I am still awed by what he and his generation has achieved, and they deserve my respect. Without them, and without what Singapore has achieved, I would not have been able to start a new chapter of my life in the US with my family, at least not as easily as if I had been a citizen of any other Southeast Asia country.

Going back to the grand-uncle metaphor, well, it can still be vexing to have one that keeps reminding you that you must be grateful, that you must show respect, and that you must always remember his track record. And that, yes, do not forget that he and his family deserve everything in the world given what they have done (don’t forget, in this metaphor, the man is only our grand-uncle, and we are just distant relatives).

These admonitions eventually become tiresome, and even rings hollow when one sees how the Uber Grand-Uncle’s progeny simply fail to measure up to him. The second generation leaders acquitted themselves fairly well, but by the time the third and fourth generation came into being, we started getting individuals who lack the same substance that the grand-uncle had, who behave with an air of arrogance, and who come with a sense of entitlement at the expense of the members of the extended family.

People are upset about “once in every 50 year” floods that occur twice in 6 months; ninja terrorists limp out of our version of Gitmo and actually escape the country; foreigners are brought into Singapore without the infrastructure being ready for them; ministers get salaries that make their peers in other countries look like volunteer workers. And so forth.

Mistakes get made. Things go wrong. That’s part of life, and part of learning. We tell our kids it is OK to make mistakes, so we should extend the same consideration to the people we choose to work for us (yes, MPs and Ministers work FOR us). But until forced to by the opposition in recent days, the incumbent party has rarely felt the need to account and apologize for its missteps, or to entertain sustained objections to policy that the rest of us disagree with.

I am heartened that we now have six MPs from the WP. I would love to have seen Vincent Wijeysingha and Nicole in Parliament too for their incisive wit and intelligence, and also Chiam See Tong given how hard he has carried the burden of being in opposition for so long.

Mr Lee will always be one of the founders of Singapore, and when he passes, I will mourn the loss of a great man, and an even greater leader. What I will not miss, however, are his admonitions and threats.

It is time for us all to grow up and write a new chapter for Singapore – the younger PAP members, the opposition, and especially the rest of us who hire, and maybe fire, them.

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