Former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) once said that the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) grip on power in Singapore would end when the quality of talent in the PAP declines and the opposition puts up a team that is equal or better than the PAP’s team. Reading Lim Tean’s call to arms, it is clear that he thinks that time has come. Has it?
First and foremost, I would like to talk about the question of opposition calibre. In my opinion, quite a number of the opposition politicians were up to scratch years ago. They were simply not given the opportunity to showcase their abilities due to a combination of factors that included:
(i) the electorate not being prepared to rock the boat;
(ii) there being no forum by which the opposition politicians can get their message across; and
(iii) the mainstream media portraying the opposition politicians in an unfavourable light either deliberately or unwittingly due to their own unconscious biases.
Before the advent of social media and the internet, Singaporeans had no way of knowing the failures within our system. We didn’t know about the homeless families nor other blunders that the mainstream media may have been pressured into reporting because of the coverage by the alternative media. We wouldn’t have known that other people shared our grievances. We wouldn’t have had a chance to engage with opposition politicians the way we can today. Now that we have greater opportunities to be kept informed, the PAP is losing its sheen.
The first generation PAP leaders did have vision and drive. They were determined and innovative, willing to move into uncharted territory to build a nation. Did I agree with everything they did? No. But I couldn’t deny that they built a system that is running Singapore to this very day. Has LKY and his compatriots built a system so efficient and functional that it had gone on running for years despite a lack of leadership or talent?
Succeeding leaders of the PAP have not really added anything new. Were they merely administering a system that has already been set in place? Look at the fourth generation leaders – have they come up with any novel concepts or ideas? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything. Yes, they have repeated the values of the PAP and emphasised their own beliefs in the PAP. But really, aren’t they just highly paid administrators trying to keep a system built in the 60s and 70s afloat?
The world is going through a seismic change. From Malaysia to Britain, the winds of change are blowing. If we do not reform and rejuvenate our system, it is bound to eventually fail even if the decline is not immediate. The system is already showing wear and tear. The transportation system is showing cracks, the government bureaucracy appears to be growing unwieldy and government values do not seem to have moved with the times. The middle class is dwindling and there is a far greater divide between the haves and have-nots.
The current PAP leaders have inherited a system that they believe is fail-safe. While they know how to keep the status quo going, do they know how to recreate? Clearly, the status quo is no longer working seamlessly. Opposition leaders always had to be more creative and innovative. They had to find ways to get their message out in the face of overwhelming odds. Given the challenges of being involved in opposition politics, only the fittest and most determined have remained in the fight. With greater tenacity and innovation, aren’t they arguably equal or better than the PAP counterparts?
If the current crop of PAP leaders is merely a group of administrators of an outdated system, then, arguably, the PAP quality has indeed declined from the halcyon days of LKY.