Many have remarked over the last few months that Singaporean society was becoming more divisive (see HERE). Indeed Mr Lee Kuan Yew has recently said that Singaporeans needed to “prevent the current political divide from becoming a national divide”. PM Lee has also stated that Singapore was “too small to afford a political gridlock”.
These comments, while valid seem to focus only on the negative aspects of people having differing views. The term “divisive” gives the connotation of disunity which implies chaos. Are Singaporeans divisive or do they merely have dissimilar opinions which are not necessarily incompatible?
Take GE 2011 as an example. This GE saw the rise of more credible opposition party members. It also saw an influx of open opposition supporters. People clamoured for change as dissatisfaction against the status quo became more vocal. The concepts of pro-PAP and pro-opposition were coined and people were arbitrarily divided into groups.
However, if you read between the lines of supposedly anti-PAP comments, the message these so called pro-opposition party supporters were sending was that they wanted the establishment to understand their concerns and address their problems. Behind the facade of “PAP slamming”, were frustration, anger and helplessness at a government they felt was elitist. Can this really be considered divisive? People simply want to have a better life for themselves and their families. Is that negative?
Besides, people who have resentment against certain policies introduced by the ruling party are not necessarily pro or against the PAP. Many a time, the despair is targeted at specific policies and their underlying problems.
If these could have been addressed, this group of people (who I believe represent a majority of Singaporeans) are not at all anti establishment. They are simply irritated by a seeming lack of effort on the part of the government to take on board their grievances.
As such, the PAP should not view dissenting views with fear. It is the best form of feedback a government can have. Perhaps, after so many years in power, it is hard for the ruling party to understand different opinions.
Consequentially, they mistake all opinions that deviate from theirs as “divisive” and therefore damaging. As a result, they go into “defensive mould” on auto pilot without trying to genuinely get to the bottom of what the different view entails. They strike before understanding which in turn brings on even more public backlash.
The Presidential elections highlighted yet another issue. Each presidential candidate had arbitrary labels put on them. Perhaps there is some degree of truth to these labels but to divide the candidates so neatly hints at some level of generalisation. Tony Tan was the company man. Tan Jee Say was the man of change. Tan Cheng Bock represented the middle ground and Tan Kin Lian who had no label was relegated to the loser’s corner.
I can understand why politicians need to define what they stand for. They need to create a niche to differentiate him from the other candidates so as to appeal to voters. Voters do not want lengthy paragraphs describing each candidate. They want tag lines and slogans which can neatly summarise what each candidate represents. This is essential to win voters.
However, I do not believe that each candidate is diametrically opposed. They have differences in opinion as to how to do certain things and they have distinct viewpoints on certain policies. However, I do not believe that what they want for Singapore is so divergent that to vote for one of them over another would lead to the collapse of our governmental infrastructure, spelling doom for Singapore.
The fact that the government has chosen to interpret this difference so negatively implies that they have misunderstood the concept of difference. Difference does not equate to division and gridlock. Many a time, difference is stimulating and inspires people to come up with their best ideas. It is within difference that people are challenged to come up with their most inspirational plans.
There is nothing to fear from difference and the government needs to come to terms with these differences and harness it for the collective good. Doomsday warnings need not be sounded just because there are divergent views.
Take Hong Kong for instance. Hong Kong has a multi-party system, with numerous parties in which no one party often has the chance of gaining power alone. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong is non-partisan, but has to work with several parties to form (de facto) coalition governments. Despite its many voices, is Hong Kong on the brink of collapse? On the contrary, Hong Kong is one of the most vibrant economies in Asia!
So let’s not put the cart before horse and assume that difference equates to division. Let’s first try and understand:
- Why there is a difference?
- What that different opinion entails; and
- How that difference can compliment, complement and improve the existing structure.