Wednesday, 4 October 2023

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Why it is not wise to ignore the cynics in the National Conversation

By Ng Yi Shu

The recent ‘disinviting’ episode involving the Channel NewsAsia forum with the Prime Minister has raised eyebrows about the authenticity of the government’s commitment to listen to Singaporeans in the quest to create a Singapore for Our Singaporeans. These disinvitations has made the most cynical Singaporeans even more jaded, as the cynics confirm their belief that the National Day Rally this year, as with years past, has just been hot air.

This is rather unfortunate – as the cynics ought to be the first people the government should enrol in their vision of a national conversation. Notwithstanding the vocal minority responsible for the hateful rhetoric in our political discourse (which was lambasted in the recent National Day Rally), cynics like the disinvited bloggers do have a relatively constructive vision for a better Singapore – one that may not have been what the establishment preferred, but one that still aims to create a better Singapore.

The cynics should be the first people the government and the establishment seek to engage. The government should accept the fact that there will always be extreme views in any argument and public consultation and include them in its considerations – this acceptance is certainly crucial in proving genuine engagement with the public. Without this, it may remain hard to convince the critics of the authenticity of the government’s vision for a new Singaporean narrative.

Extreme alternative views may gain traction and steer our citizens away from what the mainstream community may deem right. Despite this, the government should have faith in the wisdom of collective citizenry. Citizens may not share common concerns with the government – and therefore the government should find ways to explain and educate these citizens to inform them of reasons why our nation will have to go in a certain direction. These explanations will be dismissed by some as an exercise in public relations – and hence there will be an increasing need for the government to place emphasis on freedom of information – to let Singaporeans inform themselves to build a better Singapore.

Cynicism, contention and opposition may build what the PAP fears – political gridlock – yet it remains crucial in political discourse and democracy. Trust too remains a crucial element in policy making and public consultation. Perhaps in its ‘disinvitation’ of bloggers from the Prime Minister’s forum Channel NewsAsia has eliminated a key opportunity for the government to build trust with Singaporeans – and a key opportunity for the government to show that it is indeed genuine in building a new national narrative.

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