Image by Rob ZS/

by Shiro

I’m a relatively new contributor to TOC, but I noticed something along the lines of differing interpretations of Populism in Singapore, and the People’s Action Party (PAP). Here’s a brief guide to Populism – and why the PAP should really reconsider using the term.

1. Here are a few politicians in Asia that are or were very, very different – but are populists. Our late founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Mao Zedong and Tunku Abdul Rahman. The PAP ranks among them. Why? Unlike what is popularly thought – populism is actually simply a movement that gains power through support from large sections of the populism. It’s not right or left-wing. In fact, very much, populists have been very good before; which brings us to two.

2. Populists can be very, very good. Point in case: 1933 American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a huge populist, and rode into power promising immense reform – which he did. He proposed a New Deal for the U.S, and since then, the nation has never been quite the same. Not only that, he fixed the nation’s banks, ailing workforce, reformed the currency, and revitalised the economy.

3. Now contrast that to the third point. Adolf Hitler was also a populist. And if your history is decent, you know that he caused a World War, murdered over six million people of Jewish ancestry in death camps, destroyed academic institutions and wrecked the Weimar Republic. So why the difference?

4. Populists are not criminals. They are popular people – that’s all there is to it. But to get popular, they have to run on often immense platforms of change (depending on the political affiliation, racist or non-racist), throwing around the word ‘reform’ like a bouncy ball. Unlike typical politicians, they are not beholden to typical doctrine. In fact, they have the most flexible platform of any politician – free to say whatever they want, free to do whatever they want. That is what makes populists so excellent yet dangerous; as for every honest person on earth, there are a hundred people who would con you.

5. The part that the PAP should really think about – Populism is the best description of the People’s Action Party at its height. It’s simple: They rode into power promising reform and merger, they came to power and the man behind it all, Mr. Lee, did what he promised – reform. But without him, the PAP is much less a populist party than an establishmentarian one – like the Hungarian Fidesz, an anti-EU & anti-liberal party. And much like Fidesz, the PAP loves condemning populism – that is, the populism that isn’t theirs. And honestly, it’s pretty humiliating to be describing the ‘divisive actions’ that rode your own party into power as being a bad thing.

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