Has the People’s Action Party (PAP) no sense of shame? Right after the Workers’ Party released its manifesto,
Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng called on voters yesterday to look beyond attractive proposals in the Workers’ Party’s (WP) manifesto and ask the opposition party for a detailed explanation of how it plans to implement the ideas.
‘Like in all brochures that companies put out, you have to drill down to the details,’ he said on the sidelines of a community event in Bishan. ‘What do they mean by the specific recommendations?’
— Straits Times, 11 April 2011, ‘Dig deeper, ask WP for details’
Wong must have known what would be in his own party’s manifesto. It must have been ready even as he took potshots at the Workers’ Party’s, for the PAP themselves released theirs only a week later on 17 April 2011. As far as specific proposals go, the Workers’ Party’s 17,440-word tome (excluding the table of contents) was chockful of them. The PAP’s — a mere 1,688 words (including Lee Hsien Loong’s foreword) — had none.
Instead we find line after line of feel-good statements, such as:
- Deepen R&D and innovation in every industry, so that companies can come up with new products and services to grow their businesses
- Reward work and the spirit of self-reliance, by enhancing incomes through Workfare
- Offer more support for children with learning difficulties and special needs
- Enhance our green spaces and blue waters, and expand opportunities for recreation around the island, including building the new Sports Hub
- Encourage our youth to pursue causes they believe in and take the initiative to build a green and sustainable society
Surely, citizens should scrutinise the PAP’s manifesto too? Perhaps we can compare the two? Let’s just take one example, say, the third bullet point above. What does the Workers’ Party have to say on the same subject?
A. People with Disabilities:
1. The government should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and take a whole-of-government approach to ensure that its key provisions are implemented in Singapore.
2. More resources should be developed to cater to the education needs of people with disabilities, including lifelong learning for adults. This includes more resources to adequately equip them with necessary life-skills. The Ministry of Education should take the lead in providing special education.
3. Better infrastructure must be put in place for the public transport needs of people with disabilities. Barrier-free access should continuously be reviewed for improvement.
4. Early intervention programmes for children with disabilities should be better resourced to reduce waiting time.
5. More incentives should be given to employers to encourage them to employ those capable of work. Public education is also necessary to eradicate any misconceptions and prejudice against them and their ability to contribute to society. The government, as the largest employer, should lead by example.
Why does Wong Kan Seng not hang his head in shame? Or do the standards applicable to mere mortals not apply to those who consider themselves gods?
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Instead of engaging with voters’ intelligence by presenting policy proposals for consideration, the PAP prefers to go with the politics of kiasuism. ‘Kiasu’ is a Singapore colloquialism for being afraid to lose out.
The PAP has been busy rolling out — with the mainstream media beating the drum for them — glitzy plans for “upgrading” whole constituencies.
Holland-Bukit Timah will get a new food market, a few neighbourhood parks and a new metro line — never mind that this metro line was announced years ago and is already under construction. To drive the point home that this constituency will be “beautiful” , the current PAP members of parliament organised a photo op wherein they held up toy watering cans to water what looks like plastic sunflowers.
Similarly grand-sounding plans have also been announced for Aljunied, Jurong and elsewhere, with the less-than-subtle hint that if voters do not return PAP candidates to parliament, they can kiss all these “brilliant” ideas good-bye. I’m curious though: What are they going to do with the metro line if Holland-Bukit Timah falls to the opposition — stop work and the leave giant holes in the ground?
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Just in case the politics of kiasuism does not work, there’s also the politics of insecurity. Expressions like “uncertain world”, “closely watched by foreign investors” and “you will be left behind” are played up. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, speaking to the Straits Times,
said an important consideration is the uncertain world that Singapore faces.
The country needs to prepare for that with policies, programmes and a leadership that can meet the challenges ahead, he said when asked about the manifesto during a block visit in the Punggol South ward of his Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
Mr Teo, who is also Defence Minister, said the outcome of the coming polls is also being closely watched by foreign investors.
‘They tell me that they want to see a continuation of long-term stable policies.’
But he stressed the importance of needing to maintain a good and stable government ‘so that once we decide what we are going to do, we can proceed’.
‘Otherwise we have a situation where we will continually be blocked… because some groups will not agree. Then you cannot start, and year after year, plans… have to be stopped and put aside,’ he said.
‘Other people will overtake you, and you will be left behind.’
‘This vote is a very important vote, this is not something to play around with, this is about our future… This is the only country we have (and there’s) no margin for error.’
— Sunday Times, 17 April 2010, DPM Teo offers sneak peek at PAP manifesto
It’s getting very tired. And what the PAP does not realise is that this constant harping about the risk of failure has actually damaged Singapore. Far from making us a confident, innovative society willing to try new things and benefitting from experimentation, it has made us risk-averse and slightly paranoid. It’s hardly any wonder stress levels in Singapore are so high.
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Also in the same edition of the Sunday Times (17 April 2011) was a feature article on Law Minister K Shanmugam’s role in spotting potential candidates for the PAP. He revealed that only one in ten potential candidates eventually make the cut after having to go through five or six “tea sessions” with a panel of PAP heavyweights and a final interview with PAP secretary-general and prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Shanmugam described this process as a rigourous one that finds the “best talent”, a claim made so often by all other PAP bigwigs, it’s sounding like groupthink.
They don’t seem to realise that multiple and sequential filtration is essentially a process of refinement that produces a purer filtrate that is completely unrepresentative of the starting mixture, and far more homogeneous. Is that why so many PAP candidates look like clones? And out of touch with real Singaporeans?
As it is, a reader emailed me recently to inform me that Zaobao publishes an info-box on each PAP candidate announced, and religion is stated in the info-box. According to the reader, a hugely disproportionate number of PAP candidates declare themselves to be Christian. (If any reader has access to Zaobao, could you look up all 24 new candidates and provide me with a table?)
I find this report from the reader quite plausible because religion came up in the Chinese-language version of Channel NewsAsia’s Question time with the Prime Minister, aired on 16 April 2011, and Lee Hsien Loong was compelled to give the pro-forma reply; I mean, what else could he say if he could not deny the disproportion? As reported the morning after,
Political issues took centrestage in the last 20 minutes, with issues such as the influence of MPs’ religion on politics, whether a dominant one-party system here is a superior system, and how the Government can stay corruption-free.
On religion, Mr Lee said Singapore is a secular state and the Government will not allow an individual’s religious values to affect policymaking.
— Sunday Times, 17 April 2011, MPs not out of touch with Singaporeans: PM
The unrepresentativeness of the filtrate from the starting sample may be that very “talent” the PAP leadership wants to find, but surely there are plenty of other qualities that are also filtered out. Especially as the process is filtration by a panel, the successful person is most likely to be the one who offends none of them. Potential candidates who offer innocuous replies to questions, challenges none of his interrogators, pleases them all by pandering to their prevailing worldviews, get through.
It’s almost as if the ideal candidate is something as unoffensive, but also as bland and characterless as white bread.