by Micheal Han
Politics is a strange game. Still water runs deep. The silent majority is, well, always silent. They surprised us at the last election with close to 70% of the votes to the ruling party.
The opposition was in full force that year (2015). They were confident that they are going to tip the balance their way. They had credible candidates. They were everywhere rendering heart rousing speeches.
We thought they were going to secure more seats. But alas, they lost Potong Pasir and only won Aljunied marginally.
This brings me to what a Senior Minister of State, Chee Hong Tat has to say about the test balloons that Sylvia floated in Parliament this week.
As Singaporeans, we know how that drama ended last Thursday.
In the public perception, Workers’ Party won. They stood their ground. They didn’t blink. People’s Action Party (PAP) had to retire back to their chamber licking their apology-less wounds.
And in comes Chee. He is somewhat not done yet. He came onto Facebook to set the records straight yesterday.
His main gripe is that “had the Government not pursued the matter in Parliament, most people would have overlooked Ms Lim’s “test balloon” comment. However, the WP could later use it to great effect for political attacks, including during the next general election.””
He added that “WP could use the lack of rebuttal in Parliament to claim that its allegations must be true. They could allege that the Government cannot be trusted, either on taxes or any other policies, and encourage people to “vote against the PAP to teach them a lesson, and stop them from raising the GST after the elections.””
1) Chee should know by now that it is really not about pursuing the matter, or direct rebuttal, which Heng, Shanmugam and Grace promptly did (not to forget Indranee weighing in on social media, and received some flak for it).
All’s well on that Eastern front there, up to that point.
But what Chee left unsaid in his post was how the PAP went further than a timely rebuttal. They did what Tan Cheng Bock had considered as “browbeating” Sylvia to say sorry.
In his Facebook post, Dr Tan wrote: “Many people perceive this brow beating as arrogance. I remember our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once told all PAP MPs in 1988 “Any show of arrogance or indifference by any MP or Minister will erode confidence in him and, later, in the government.””
He continued: “Instead of getting upset, the Ministers should be thankful Sylvia Lim gave them an opportunity to explain. If the government’s position is ‘no’ then just say no and let’s just stop at that. No need to get defensive.”
So, if Chee were asked this, “How many MPs does it take to demand an apology from Sylvia?”
I would expect him to answer along this line:-
“Well, it took four MPs, at different times, with a stern ultimatum issued, and a warning that the next time, she may have to pay for it.”
Alas, the point is that, most Singaporeans get it. They get that a rebuttal is in order. No one is saying that PAP should not rebut for good order sake. They have done so. That’s not the issue here.
The issue is the “browbeating” part. That’s the part that did not go down well with many. That’s the part Chee glossed over.
And his clarification on Facebook may just prove TCB’s point when he said, “No need to get defensive.”
2) Judging from the netizens’ response, I feel that Chee should have just let well alone well alone.
In politics, especially when it comes to plans to tax the people, the politician has to manage not just expectations, but emotions.
While giving fair warning of a GST hike is a prudent move, and it is one good way to manage expectation, pursuing a point that Tan Cheng Bock sees as “browbeating” and most netizens see as “bullying” is less prudent.
Clearly, most are not happy and the perception that PAP are bullies may just work against the ruling party.
As such, I feel that MP Chee’s clarification adds nothing to manage or assuage the people’s emotions.
At times, silence is golden.
3) The last lesson is that Chee may have underestimated the intelligence of the silent majority.
Singaporeans are largely educated and discerning. Unless our economic, social and political stability are threatened, or the Government screw up big time, we are not going to run helter skelter with our votes like a dog chasing its own tail.
Apology or not, test balloons or not, the endgame is to fix our eyes on the prize. And the prize is how Singapore can flourish as a whole.
Our concern is with the bread and butter issue. What counts is to raise the standard of living while addressing the cost of living.
Other related issues are how to raise the economic tide for all without drowning the many struggling sampans, how to find more acceptable and creative ways to finance the rising healthcare costs, and how to deal with poverty, transport, the aging population and to constantly reassure the people on the necessity of some unpopular measures (and not get overboard on some knee-jerk issues).
At such time, Chee should just let things be, rather than exhume the taxation bones of contention as sentiments on the GST hike is still seething.
In any event, the silent majority is not a sponge taking everything in without due consideration.
We know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from fake news, and the substance from the form. And most of all, we generally vote with our brains, not feelings, as the last election had shown.
From time to time, the ruling party needs to be reminded that we have grown up quite a lot since the time of independence. Cheerz.
This was first published on Han’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission