By Ismail Kassim – Written on 19 September 2012
I was in Kaifeng (Central China) last week when I read my old friend and former colleague Maidin Packer’s great letter to PM Lee urging him to explore all options for the future of Singapore. The letter was also carbon-copied to several ministers.
By any yardstick, it was a well-written piece. Backed by facts and figures and amply illustrated with personal anecdotes, it does not lack ideas on the future options facing our tiny island Republic.
Obviously, Maidin has benefitted immensely from his days as MP and parliamentary secretary in several ministries to pen a finely-tuned letter that warmed the hearts of many thorough-bred Singaporeans, while not stepping on the toes of his former colleagues.
I think the government will be quite happy to include his ideas in the ongoing National Conversation to reconcile the PAP with the people on the road that is to be taken in the next decade or so.
After the initial positive response, the first thought that came to mind is: Is there really anything new in the letter that PM Lee and his inner circle do not already know?
My gut instinct is NO. As currently composed, the present PAP mafia dons and their small coterie of advisers could not have been ignorant of any of the issues raised by Maidin.
NO, there is nothing in the letter that has not already been discussed, debated and rejected in favour of the growth-at-all-costs policy.
No right-thinking Singaporean is against growth – slow or fast. The problem is that such a policy as implemented in the last ten years had the unique distinction of enriching the top 20% of the population while impoverishing the bottom 20%.
The question is why. Why the unseemly haste to become the world’s no one, to be the richest country in the world, even at the risk of alienating the working classes? Is it because of geopolitical realities or an underlining strategic imperative?
In short, is there anything that PM Lee, former MM and ESM know that we the common people do not know?
Could it be that, just as the sleep of some American leaders are haunted by the spectre of the yellow hordes peering at them over the Pacific, the sleep of some of our leaders are being disturbed by the chatter of the brown hordes beyond our backyard?
It is not inconceivable. History provides many examples of the tendency of nations and their leaders to demonise their potential enemies based on real and imaginary fears.
An example of self-serving hallucination was during the Cold War when the Americans grossly and persistently exaggerated the threat from the Soviets to justify enhanced defence expenditures that benefitted mainly the industrial-military class.
Another pertinent case was the self-created hysteria in American and its allies over Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
As I see it, it was a Malay-dominated government that willingly – and I think happily – gave Singapore its independence almost half a century ago and over that period, not a single bullet has been fired in anger nor has there been any action or event that even remotely threatens its existence.
Yet, fears of the brown peril – real and imaginary – remain unabated. The Singapore Malays have already had to pay a heavy price over the last 47 years as they were marginalized in the security services and it may take another 47 years by former MM Lee’s reckoning before there could be any appreciable improvement.
Now, and over the last ten years, the non-Malays too have begun to feel the pain because of policies that have been designed to counter and eliminate any possible combination of threats from within the region to its existence.
The Malays too are also suffering from the same combination of policies, and for them it is like being penalized twice for belonging to the wrong colour.
If the National Conversation on the future that we want for Singapore and our children is to have any meaning, it must include all relevant issues including geopolitical and regional realities, and the issue of discrimination against Malays in the security services.
But I am not hopeful. PM Lee said at the recently-concluded APEC meeting that the government initiated dialogue is not about slaughtering sacred cows. I take it to mean that sensitive issues too would be excluded.
If that is the case, then the National Conversation that is designed to last for one year might end up as the conversation of the deaf and dumb.
No Hard Feelings
This article was first published in Mr Kassim’s blog and reproduced with permission