Lee Hsien Loong’s two challenges to voters and the opposition

Lee Hsien Loong

By Reperio Simon

Watching Lee Hsien Loong at his lunch time rally on 8 September, I deduced that he has issued two challenges. The first challenge was to voters, the second was to the opposition parties.

His challenge to the opposition parties: “Don’t go into Parliament to check us. If you want, dare to govern, or else don’t bother“.

On all counts, this is a fair challenge. Governing means going through all the data, information, sentiments of the people (if it does exist), etc, with the civil service machinery, to develop policies. Plenty of pain, anguish, frustration, sleepless nights and not to mention sheer hard work to deliver policies, implement them and make them work. Is the opposition ready for that or do they just want to check and balance?

The opposition is not without any alternative policies, they have it. The weakness is not whether they are workable or not. If you don’t try, how will you know it will work or not? Do we just compare it with other countries? How can you compare when Singapore is a “unicorn”? How do you know (for yourself) that durian actually tastes good although it smells terrible? You have to crack one open, take one piece and taste it. There’s no “bao jiak”. So what’s really wrong here? It’s us, the voters.

We want PAP policies, but moderated. We want the promises of better pay, jobs, houses, cars, you name it – minus the extremities of the consequences that come with it. In short, buy two (PAP and the opposition) and hopefully get one free. Fat hope.

Yes, policies can be moderated. But when they do, the outcomes are also moderated. It is the same with everything else you decide in life. If you choose the safe route of working for others, instead of taking the huge risk of starting up your own business, be prepared to lose your job when the company folds. If you start your own business, be prepared to fold if you mismanage. If you want to be clever by doing a job and start your own business at the same time, be prepared to not get anywhere. There’s inherent risk in everything.

The majority of Singaporeans might not understand how policies come about unless they are directly involved in the policy formulation process. Governments do not pluck data, information, analyses, assessments from out in the open and hammer out a policy. There’s a lot more going on in the data and information gathering phase. Most of it, you never get to see, you may never even know. It’s a black box. It exists but you don’t know what goes in there. If you ask the WP MPs who have been in Parliament for the last four years how much data, information and analyses they have seen that we, the public are not privy to, my guess is their answer might be “zero”.

Image - Wikipedia
Image – Wikipedia

There are infinitely many ways to interpret data and piece information up to develop a narrative. If you don’t know the 5Ws & 1H of what the building blocks are, it’s like having a hammer, but no wood and nails to create anything, even though your party may have a fairly large hammer.

It is little surprise, then, that when opposition parties ask for the data and information that went into the policy, they often get only two responses: Silence from the government, or “we cannot release the information”. On certain areas such as security, revealing sources and information compromises both the collector and country itself. But does that bear true in all areas?

As such, it is actually very commendable that opposition parties can formulate alternative policies with the limited resources they have, since the civil service obviously doesn’t work with them. Sure, the Internet is a great leveller but it doesn’t have all the data, information and analyses. It’s all coming from somewhere which they have no access to, now and forever, if they remain just the checker.

We need to get off our circular reasoning. If the opposition wants to govern, they will fail because they have no experience. They are best suited to be checkers. So if the opposition wants to govern, I won’t vote them. In which case, they will never govern and PAP will either give you a lot of moderated policies, which delivers really nothing concrete or gives you something concrete that breaks you, and your checkers will be nullified by the parliamentary vote.

That’s how stupid it can get and for 50 years, we have been doing it. More does not mean more effective. More just means more debate and horse trading, which eventually still goes to a vote. Depending on how “balanced” the Parliament is, we might not get anywhere at the end of the day. They get frustrated, you get frustrated, we all get frustrated. The divide will only deepen.

The PAP was an opposition party with no governing experience when they started but to their credit, they dared to govern. I think this is the lesson opposition parties must learn or else they lose their relevance. Anyone can check – you, I, anybody really. We mark their report cards and at the end of five years, we decide if they did their job right and if the price for that is right.

The second challenge by Lee Hsien Loong to voters is probably the more ingenious one: “It’s either the PAP or not, meaning either we are all in or we are not.

Survey answersI believe he knows what we the voters are like. Buy two, get one free. He’s literally calling us out. He’s basically offering you either carrot or stick. In reality, Singaporeans are caught between the carrot and stick. Sure, we will get carrots but we will also get whipped. We have a modern, clean, safe and secure country but we also pay the costs for it. Really, it’s our decision. Just don’t complain if the carrot wasn’t large or sweet enough and certainly don’t complain when you get whipped real hard.

Lee mentioned one united people, but throughout his speech, he asked you to consider your and your children’s future. He’s actually appealing to your selfishness.

His intended message was: Don’t worry about anybody else, we will take care of it. Don’t worry, just make sure you vote us, you get all your stuff (and of course the token sacrifice), you will be ok.

Do you buy it? Is it really ok for us to go along with that? Is it ok that I have enough for me and my family while my neighbour starves? His vision of one united people is that of those united with the PAP. Whatever happened to unity regardless of race, language or religion? Or is it that the PAP is all of the above and perhaps beyond race, language and religion? It’s a moral question that you have to answer yourself.

So there you go – two challenges, and less than three days to figure it out.

If we have a “freak” result – that is, PAP becomes the opposition – it is most likely that the 13th government will be a coalition one. I much prefer it that way, as there won’t be just two egos fighting it out. They will have no choice but to work together. In that scenario, who is going to check them?

Us. We will be the checkers because anytime they get it wrong, they know that they are on their way out. Why are we the best checkers? Because we are on the ground, their policies will affect us the most and our children.

Chee Soon JuanAnd I don’t think they are going to be just popular. Dr Chee Soon Juan has already dropped a large hint when he read the letter to JB Jeyaretnam in one of his rallies. Note that they are from different parties and they had their disagreements and arguments, but fundamentally they shared one purpose – for the people and nothing else.

I wonder if any of the rest of the opposition parties noticed, or if they were they too self absorbed that this isn’t a race that they are running on their own.

It’s time to wake up and we must wake up.