The Straits Times recently published a letter from a reader that really resonated with me. A Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan made the very erudite observation that opposition politicians deserve national honours too. The writer of that letter had further noted that very few Singaporeans who have chosen to serve the people via political parties other than the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), have been honoured with the National Day awards.
Is it the view of Singaporeans in general that politicians, activists and volunteers outside the ruling party do not deserve national honours? Or is this the view of the people who are putting forward nominees imposing their views on us?
I guess the heart of the question is what connotes service?
To me, service to the nation means putting the interests of the nation first – above and beyond personal interest and regardless of subjective results. If this is indeed the formulation, then it is arguable that opposition politicians deserve the honours more? They put themselves forward with often nothing to gain apart from ridicule and in some cases bankruptcy (think JPJ, Chee Soon Juan etc.). Whether or not one agrees with their politics is not the issue here. What is not in dispute here is that they clearly loved their country and were courageous enough to put themselves forward at great personal cost. Is this not worthy of recognition? Contrast this with the PAP politicians who have high salaries and the backing of an entire machine.
Dr. Huang has suggested that opposition politician Mr Chiam See Tong be put forward for the award and I couldn’t agree more. Mr Chiam has prevailed against all odds to become the longest serving opposition politician to have ever graced our Parliament – no mean feat. I would, however, go further and suggest that more “non-establishment” names be put forward.
For example, Dr. Ang Swee Chai who founded Medical Aid for Palestinians, who has appeared on TED Talks, who has written books to name just a few of her achievements. However, given that she was married to Francis Khoo (considered anti establishment by the PAP) and went into exile with him, I doubt she would be put forward no matter how deserving she is. Sad that the world community consider her a success when her home country does not.
Let’s go back to the crux of the issue. Is this an award only for people who support the PAP? Or is it an award to recognise the contributions of Singaporeans in general? Is this a PAP award or is this a national one? Let’s not confuse the two.