By Masked Crusader
Some have dubbed this year’s national day rally speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong—made just two days before he “advised” the President to dissolve parliament and announce the General Elections—as a People’s Action Party election rally. Indeed his speech, in which he asked for the peoples’ support for him and his team in leading Singapore into the future, can be conflated with an election speech given he repeated that same rallying cry in a facebook post on the day the elections was announced.
Perhaps a more apt comparison might be made to the typical Multi-Level Marketing seminar where the speaker—surrounded by successful partners—trumpets the MLM business as something that genuinely works. Participants will also hear that the organisation is concerned with ethics in the conduct of business and that the wealth of the company is evidence of its legitimacy. Success stories roll out one by one all amid a constant chorus of applause from earnest attendees hanging on to every word. Throughout the spiel is the refrain that while the business model is proven to work, it cannot guarantee success. It ultimately depends on you, the attendee—you will need to work harder, work smarter, go for more training, etc.
My biggest beef with his speech, however, was the lack of inspiration and hope it provides to the youth of today. To them, Lee’s speech paints a picture of a PAP-led Singapore no different moving forward than the one they were born in.
Particularly disappointing was the continued marginalisation of single parents and same-gender couples in new schemes announced by the PM. In this day and age, it reflects a lack of empathy by the PAP Government and, possibly, political opportunism over moral fortitude—what Lee and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, euphemistically term as pragmatism.
In an effort to increase birth rates and contribute to a better work-life balance, Lee announced, fathers will be given two weeks of paternity leave. However, its implementation is half-baked in a manner typical of pro-employee schemes of the past. Only the civil service—volunteeredSingapore-style—would offer this enhanced benefit. The private sector will not be compelled to provide the benefit to “allow companies time to adjust”.
In an affront to dictionaries and science, a later announcement clarified that a qualifying father must be married to the mother and, additionally, that the baby must be a Singapore citizen! Not only is the scheme petty, no explanation is provided as to why all workers are not treated equally.
While Lee’s announcement that the re-employment age would be raised from 65 to 67 was met with polite applause from the audience, almost everyone else would have rolled their eyes.
Most Singaporeans in their 60s know that ageism is endemic in Singapore. Despite existing legislation ensuring re-employment, there are enough loopholes for employers to refuse contract extensions or offer derisory terms as a condition of re-employment. Further, the real fear is that one would be unemployed way before reaching 65 years old as it is generally acknowledged Singaporeans are becoming unemployable after they reach 40 due to the addiction of businesses to cheap labour from third world countries.
This news from Lee, therefore, does not instill any confidence that the insanely-paid PAP Ministers have any clue about the real concerns of Singaporeans. Worse, the new initiative is an affirmation of the issue of retirement inadequacy and that the key to survival for Singaporeans is to continue working till old age even if it is for third world wages.
Lee’s references to the politics in neighbouring countries and the insinuation that they are potential threats to our way of life gave much insight into the insecurities of the Government. This distrust does not augur well for solidarity within the already fragile compact of ASEAN which is composed of countries with histories of despotic regimes sensitive to perceived slights or external interference.
In defense of the Prime Minister, perhaps his speech seemed insipid due to the heightened expectations of Singaporeans since it was given on the occasion of the country’s 50th year of independence and due to imminent General Elections.
The biggest take away from the speech is that the PAP is a monolith and it is what it is. The PAP firmly stands by its policies and its politicians, no matter how unpopular they may be. (As if to underscore this point, Lee specifically talked up the achievements of two of the more unpopular members of his cabinet, Lim Swee Sway and Vivian Balakrishnan.) The speech yielded no conciliatory gestures by Lee on the issues that Singaporeans are most aggrieved with—overcrowding, cost of living, the Central Provident Fund scheme, retirement inadequacy, and the overly liberal foreign labour policy.
By his speech, it seems the Prime Minister has chiseled a clear line in the concrete and acknowledged that if Singaporeans want to see real change, the only way it will happen is with a new Government with different values and ideas. It may be a challenge he may come to rue very, very soon.
This post was first published at maskedcrusader.blogspot.sg