It has been the modus operandi for the People’s Action Party (PAP) to tap on institutions like the People’s Association, National Trades Union Congress, government-linked organisations, the administrative service, the army, navy and air force as “breeding grounds” for its candidates.
There has been no surprises in the slate of general election candidates bandied about so far. Among them is Desmond Tan Kok Ming, who has stepped down as chief executive director of PA to potentially contest as a PAP candidate in the upcoming general election.
Tan is a former army general, which makes him eminently qualified for PAP colours. The Deputy Chairman of PA, Minister Chan Chun Sing, and the Chairman, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, are also former army generals.
Plenty of men and women cut from the same cloth for the general election
Also reported to be a PAP candidate in the upcoming GE is former Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Brigadier-General Gan Siow Huang, the country’s first female general. She is now parked with NTUC.
Another candidate is Changi Airport Group vice-president Poh Li San, a former RSAF Major and Singapore’s first female aide-de-camp to a President (S R Nathan). Yet another GE candidate in the media spotlight is Mohd Fahmi Aliman, a former Colonel in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for 26 years and currently with NTUC.
So we have plenty of men and women cut from the same cloth, providing the safety and shelter of harmony and conformity, closing ranks at all times, applying groupthink and the same problem-solving approach.
That, in a nutshell, is what makes the PAP predictable and habitual– keeping to the same tried and tested formula, making sure that what has worked for decades must be made to work today, come hell or high water.
The Prime Minister says we must reinvent, even cannibalise ourselves — really?
Ironically, PM Lee has spoken often about reinventing the PAP. Last year, he said that “we ourselves (PAP/government), not just the population, need to know and to remind ourselves every morning that we have to keep on being prepared to reinvent ourselves, and sometimes to cannibalise ourselves, because otherwise somebody else will do it.”
But when we see that the PAP is most comfortable welcoming to its fold men and women cut from the same cloth, expected to devoutly toe the line, are we seeing reinvention or regurgitation?
PM Lee himself is a product of the system his father created. Whoever succeeds him is duty bound to perpetuate the same system, so many of us wasted much time debating who his successor should be. Does it really matter?
Would a former fish and chips waitress who never received a scholarship, never went to military school, never went to Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard, ever pass the PAP smell test if she were a Singaporean?
Such a person is New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who graduated from the University of Waikato in Hamilton. “I worked as long in a fish and chips shop as I did in Parliament. I’ve had particular experiences in politics, but they’re not my only ones, and they’re not the ones that defined me,” she said.
Passion to celebrate success, courage to denounce failure – leadership for the modern age
PM Ardern received global attention for her extraordinary response to the Christchurch mosque shootings that killed 50 worshippers. She also stared down a virus, leading her country decisively through the COVID-19 crisis.
But on Tuesday, a 24-day run with no new cases was broken when it emerged that two infected women from Britain were allowed out of quarantine early without being tested for the virus. PM Ardern immediately called it an “unacceptable failure… it should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”
Hailed as an inspirational leader for the modern age, Jacinda Ardern is unafraid to celebrate success and denounce failure in equal measure, no beating around the bush.
But the point is, we do not need to look for a Jacinda Ardern for this country.
We need a ruling party which embraces those who dare to reinvent, not regurgitate, men and women whose instinct is not to hunker down, fall in line, conform and close ranks, but is unafraid to do and say the right thing at the right time for our country.