In an opinion piece for Malaysiakini entitled ‘The fallacy of Singaporean exceptionalism‘ on Wed (25 Jul), Malaysian Political Activist Nathaniel Tan has argued that supporters of the PAP should not blindly believe in their own propaganda. The idea that they are the best and are therefore irreplaceable is not valid in today’s political environment.
Tan’s opinion piece took a swipe at Banyan Tree Chairman Ho Kwon Ping’s speech at an OCBC forum 2 weeks ago where he said that it was the “egregiously blatant” corruption in Malaysia that brought Najib down. Ho then believed that PAP is likely to stay in power for 20 to 30 years as it was corruption-free and infrastructure was functioning well.
Quoting Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong, Tan remarked “The first rule of politics is not to fall for your own propaganda”.
He believed that Ho was driven “by a desire to maintain the same old, tired status quo in Singapore”; propaganda that the PAP “can stay clean and good without competition or real checks and balances while others cannot”.
Tan describes this as “delusional at best, and racist at worst” before laying lessons which he believes that the PAP government can learn from the fall of the BN coalition in Malaysia’s GE14.
Lesson #1: The lack of political competition has made the PAP complacent, which is a factor which brought Najib down
While he acknowledged that Singapore is “relatively corruption-free”, there are also problems that has been created by the way of government – ““Singapore faces all sorts of problems regarding immigration, growing inequality and so on””
PAP “exhibits all the symptoms of a business that is no longer too concerned about customer satisfaction, simply because they believe they’re the only shop in town”.
“Alongside is the tired old bogeyman – if you vote for anyone else, the country will be plunged into chaos and disrepair. I think one of the biggest lessons you can learn from BN leading up to GE14 is – don’t assume people are stupid”.
He also frowned on the notion that the PAP should expect the electorate to vote for them because of their past track record: “You can [rave to] kids these days [about] how they should appreciate the achievements and sacrifices of the older generation”.
“If you think young people listen to those rants and think to themselves, “Gee, they’re right”… then perhaps it has been a little too long since you have been a young person. It didn’t work for BN, that’s for sure”.
“The thing is, nobody ever performs at their peak consistently without any sort of competition. So when you shut down the competition, you compromise your own performance. Ultimately, the lesson should be that one should never rest on one’s laurels”.
Lesson #2: When you repress the people, you limit Singapore from reaching its full potential
Tan also said that “there are few governments around the world as sensitive as [the PAP] to criticism”. He added that “the most insecure among us are the ones who are the most intolerant of criticism”.
Perhaps as a result of this sensitivity “Singapore’s reputation in the arena of civil and political rights” is at the opposite end of its economic success. PAP’s “fear of any type of change or genuine openness… has kept Singapore from fulfilling its full potential”.
They cannot and should not propagate the notion that “human rights are some sort of Western imperialist invention, whereas meek submission to authority and our elders like good Confucian children is true Asian culture”.
This propaganda no longer works because “people are smart know [how] to question: who exactly is trying to peddle these lines and who benefits from them? The answers to both are the same – our “elders” who are in authority”.
Simply put, we cannot expect the PAP preach to us that we should respect the elder then defined themselves as the “elder”.
“When a paranoid PAP seeks to move in the completely opposite direction of history, thinking Singaporeans know to question: is this really done for the benefit of all Singaporeans or is this done for the benefit of the Singaporeans on the top of the food chain?”
“Other modern, successful democracies protect the right to free speech, encourage mature civil and political discourse in the public sphere and do so knowing that it’s not going to lead to the disastrous breakdown of anything”.
The lack of reform is, ultimately, to the detriment of the PAP
Tan then concluded that both PAP and BN have both been too complacent for years. The latter “had the opportunity to reform and evolve for decades. When push came to shove, it looked inside itself and said: “Nah, I’m good.” Thus always to tyrants, as they say.”
“Make no mistake, some things will come crashing down; but this will only affect the ones so deeply entrenched in power that they are not only responsible for the rot, but are themselves the rot”.
For the PAP to truly reform, it needs to “unshackle the media..and throw open the doors to a functioning opposition. Or it can cower like the proverbial frog under a coconut shell and meet the same fate BN did – likely sooner, rather than later”.
Do you agree?