Four barriers to remaking the PAP

Earlier this week, our newspapers were carpet-bombed by news from the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) annual convention. From a cursory reading of the stories, it appears that there were some introspective speeches, attempting to diagnose what went wrong for the party during the general election of May 2011. Yet, my overwhelming sense, reading the news reports, was that we’ve heard all that before. The PAP has spoken of getting closer to the ground, listening better, being more responsive ad nauseum. Their problem is that their diagnosis is too superficial, and thus their “solutions” are little better than motherhood statements.

My take on the PAP is that they are not structured to be a responsive political party; they are structured to be a ruling party. Structure limits possible outcomes; organisations cannot achieve certain goals if they are not structured for it. So it’s no use wishing for a “new” PAP without looking at the way it is organised and its hard-wired relationship with the administrative bureaucracy.

I posit in this article, four major barriers to real change:

1.  A subservient relationship with the civil service

2. Members of parliament who are not fulltime at the job

3.  Its cadre system and a lack of internal party democracy

4.  Stonewalled by the government’s refusal to share data

As the reader will immediately observe, these are very deep-rooted issues. Changing any of these will be seen as extremely threatening to the status quo. But I will try to explain below why each is a serious impediment to real change.


But first a digression: What annoyed me most of the news stories this week — though it’s been a trend I have noticed from several months ago — is the media’s use of the word “activists” to describe the party’s members. They are not activists at all. An activist is someone who is a fervent advocate of a cause, particularly a political cause, but the word comes with connotations of being against the grain, or working to change or upset the cozy status quo. The word is also coloured by suggestions of direct and militant action.

The very attempt to appropriate this word to describe meek and faceless party members contradicts the message of soul-searching. It’s putting lipstick on a pig, avoiding honest appraisal.

I assume reporters are using this word in the stories because the party wants them to. Hence, not only does this reflect poorly on the party, it strips our media of integrity for using English in such a blatantly partisan and dishonest way.

* * * * *

Subservient relationship with the civil service

In a properly functioning democracy, when a party wins an election, its leading members parachute into the ministries as new ministers, bringing with them policy directions that the party has formulated and successfully sold to voters. The minister remains a party animal. In his job, he is supported by two senior executives: a Permanent Secretary and a Political Secretary. The Permanent Secretary is the seniormost civil servant. He advises the minister on the practicality of his party’s proposals and operationalises them. The Political Secretary keeps an eye over the implementation of policies to ensure that they do not stray from promises the party made to voters. Policies should not be captured by bureaucratic interests but remain true to the political weathervane.

The above does NOT describe what actually happens in Singapore. It is actually the reverse.  Today, virtually all ministers themselves came from the civil service, military, statutory boards or government-linked companies, parachuted into the PAP to be its “leaders”. The position of Political Secretary does not exist anymore (it used to, in independent Singapore’s early days). Diagramatically, our current situation is like this:

Given their origins, ministers bring with them, not ideas developed by the party (which, anyway, are perhaps non-existent) but the mindsets and priorities dear to the civil service. They quickly become defensive about their ministries’ track record and resistant to change. Unsurprisingly, the party has been hollowed out, its role seen by the over-dominant civil service as that of its public relations arm, so to speak. Party members are expected to sell to the public policies that were developed, often in grand  isolation, within the civil service. Members of parliament’s (MP) meet the people sessions have become the complaints windows of the various ministries, and MPs reduced to petition writers.

This whole structure is wrong. Policies should not be developed within the bowels of the civil service, unveiled only when fully-formed and hardened against amendment. Policies should be developed in the cut and thrust of public debate and the role of the civil service is (a) to provide the needed information, e.g. costs and benefits, to inform that debate, and (b) to dutifully carry out the policies agreed out of that debate.

It’s the PAP that should be a participant in that public debate. But for the PAP to participate in a debate, it must have ideas of its own. The next three barriers make that a pipe dream.

Members of parliament who are not fulltime at the job

Developing ideas is a lot of work. Especially in politics, it requires frontline service, extensive consultation and much reading. Consultation includes working with civil society and academia, because very often it is there where the real experts in various fields, from social questions to economic alternatives, are found.

Some would argue that there is no need to go this far. All the PAP has to do is to listen to the people and convey their wishes upwards. This is too naive.

First of all, there is no single coherent wish of the people. Ask 100 people, and you are likely to get 105 opinions. Worse, many of these opinions are ill-formed. Taking them on board in their raw state is to degenerate into mob rule.

Knowledge, enquiry and thought are necessary filters to separate good ideas from bad.

MPs who hold down fulltime jobs outside of their political responsibilities simply do not have the time for all this. What little time they have, they become petition writers for their constituents, or embarrasingly bad speechmakers at “grassroots” events.

It was interesting that at the PAP’s convention, Denise Phua was singled out as an example of a parliamentarian with ideas and a mission. She is unusual because she is involved fulltime in her area of interest: autism. And that only proves my point.

It is almost inconceivable for the PAP to dictate that its MPs must be fulltime in their political jobs; the PAP would never be able to recruit anyone if that were the case. So here is a huge barrier to the PAP becoming the kind of thinking, consultative and responsive party that its rhetoric paints.

Cadre system and a lack of internal party democracy

One of the most curious things in this age of transparency is how little Singaporeans are allowed to know about the internal workings of the PAP. What we do know is that it is structured as a Leninist party with a built-in caste system. There are members and there are cadres. In fact, in one Straits Times’ story about last weekend’s party convention, there was a passing mention that the 1,600 people who attended were cadres, suggesting that members were not welcome.

How does one become a cadre? We don’t really know. But from various other sources over the years, one has the sense that they are selected and appointed by the top leadership. Inevitably, a cognitive bias would be in operation, with top leaders tending to select those similar to themselves in personality, attitudes and priorities.

How would fresh ideas emerge from such an inbred circle? And even if one does, how will it rise up the agenda in such a pot of conventional minds?

Moreover, since cadres are chosen by the top leadership, there is the near certainty that they do not reflect ordinary citizens at all. Ideas that succeed in winning cadre approval, percolating to the top of the party agenda, may in fact be unsellable to voters at large.

Stonewalled by the government’s refusal to share data

Even if the PAP goes some way to get its MPs to spend more time on political work, even if it enhances internal democracy so that it is a less unrepresentative collection of handpicked clients, coming up with policy directions that are attractive to voters still depend on one very important factor: access to data. So long as the civil service continues to guard data and information jealously, the party will be as incapable of contesting the primacy of the civil service as other groups.

Here is where the PAP needs to find common cause with other political parties and civil society groups. It needs to fight for access to information. It needs to realise that the continued over-dominance of the civil service is detrimental to the health of the party.

* * * * *

Example: Despite it being a well-known fact that ministerial salaries were politically controversial and a vote-killer, there is no indication that the PAP even debated this matter internally in the run-up to the elections. The party has no opinion on this, deferring to the wishes of the inner cabal instead.

I mentioned above that the PAP is not structured to be a political party, but a ruling party. It’s a distinction rarely made in Singapore, so I should explain a bit more.

In the decades when parliamentary democracy was nascent in Britain and some European countries, there was a long tradition of what was largely referred to as “the king’s party”. These were the people in parliament who mostly saw their job as that of supporting the king’s right to rule, even in an age when parliament was gaining power.  Their job was to support whatever the king wanted, and to shout down the opposition if necessary. The king’s party had a symbiotic relationship with the ministers and other administrators appointed by the monarch to carry out executive functions. They were not totally obsequious; they knew that their positions depended on delivering good governance too, but it was never quite in their nature to contest the general direction of the king’s wishes.

The test for the PAP is whether they can outgrow that.

43 Responses to “Four barriers to remaking the PAP”

  1. 1 Jeremy Chen 3 December 2011 at 17:52

    The article is generally spot on, except for some parts criticising the cadre system. It the there to prevent covert/hostile takeovers. It also reflects best-practice in security: you implement security through a web of trust.

    However, it is agreeable that more transparency on how one gets to vote is useful.

  2. 2 tornadom 3 December 2011 at 18:44

    I have some problems with the cause-effect paths that you seem to be stating.

    To say that the present “subservient relationship with the civil service” is a barrier to change, seems to avoid analysing that what the civil service is also subservient to the ruling party, in the sense that with the kinds of limits that have been placed on our ‘freedom of speech’ and other such related rights, many in the civil service also carry on doing things and saying things which they think their leaders and political masters want to hear, simply because there is no distinction between the civil service and the ruling party
    I see the civil service and the ruling party as being mixed up in muddy waters, rather than the clear blue and yellow that you have represented.

    This is the govt that has used laws, secrecy acts, and other limits to prevent honest discussions for improvement.

    Your article also seems to point to a need for a civil service that will obey and be subservient to any incoming govt, and change with the flow. i have never seen any sign that the current civil service will do such a thing. In fact, all anecdotal signs point to a civil service that will try and continue doing things the same old way. What use would political change be? Will they appoint replace the old civil servants that don’t want to change?

    In addition, most of the civil service has grown up being indoctrinated by the ‘pap-style’ kind of thinking, be it the ‘we know better’ or the ‘people should learn to suffer now so that there will be a future’ type of thinking.

    During the General Elections, some of the opposition parties told the voters that they should not be worried about the PAP losing power, because the country was being run by the civil service, and they would carry on running the country even if PAP was not in power. I doubt that gives confidence to people who have lost confidence in the civil service as a service.

    I would love to hear what you have to say about the civil service, the huge bureaucracy that it is. Do you really think that it is as simple as, “since the politicians come from the civil service”, “then the civil services is actually the master of the ruling party”?

    While they may bring mindsets and priorities dear to the civil service into the ruling party, it doesn’t mean the mindsets and priorities are purely ‘homegrown’ in the civil service, as much of the mindsets and priorities have been ingrained through years of ruling party influence, particularly the old men in charge.

    I suppose my biggest gripe is that you make it seem that the civil service treats the ministers as puppets/mouthpieces. Wouldn’t that be something. With your logic, then it isn’t the political party that needs to be changed, but the civil service itself!

    As for your 4th barrier, the refusal to share data, is that the doing of the ruling party, or the civil service? I don’t think it is as clear-cute as saying that one doesn’t influence the other at all. They’re both as culpable.

    • 3 yawningbread 3 December 2011 at 19:16

      You are making very valid points. But I think we need to distinguish between the party and the palace. With that distinction one could say the civil service has been shaped by the palace, in terms of priorities, insecurities and attitude towards the whole business of governing. Unlike the civil service, the palace had less and less use for the party, and that is why the party has atrophied. Its weakness has made it subservient to the civil service.

      To the palace, the civil service was useful because they were the actual instruments of governing, whereas the party’s usefulness was sidelined when the palace discovered ways of shaping and controlling public opinion via draconian laws and media control; the need for a vibrant party to keep voters on side was reduced.

      I see the palace declining in influence in the years ahead, which will mean power defaulting to the bureaucracy. If anything the trend has been going on for some time. At least the palace was sensitive to political needs, the bureaucracy here like bureaucracies anywhere, are not. The increasing deafness of the government to public opinion is a symptom of the relative decline of the palace and the relative dominance of bureaucrats.

  3. 4 yuen 3 December 2011 at 19:31

    as you correctly point out, PAP “activists” play almost no part in formulating policies, which are determined by the central leadership and passed down; it is therefore very simple to “remake” PAP; the difficult thing is to make the new ideas, whatever they might be, effective, that is, new policies are implemented and produce the desired benefits, both in the sense of “ideas are correctly turned into action” and “PAP get more votes”.

    To achieve this the leaders have to deploy a very large “semi political” machinery, the civil service, GLCs, media, education system, NTUC, business associations, community centres… are all part of this; the party machinery actually has little work to do in this process once election campaigns are over; the “grassroots” activities are largely social in nature (both “social activities” and “social welfare”); while feedback gathering is an intended function of MPs and activists, the loop from “meet the people” sessions to the top back to action at the base, is not well established

    the four issues you raise are basically built-in features of this “system”; the leaders might be renewed, but the “system” stays

  4. 5 Anonymous 4 December 2011 at 01:20

    on a completely random and frivolous note, i wonder if our civil service and politicians are similar to the 80s UK sitcom Yes Minister. something like this:

    When the Minister is inundated with correspondence, Bernard offers to take it off his hands by sending “official replies”.

    Bernard: “I’ll just say, ‘The Minister has asked me to thank you for your letter’ and something like ‘The matter is under consideration’, or even ‘under active consideration’.”

    Hacker: “What’s the difference?”

    Bernard: “Well, ‘under consideration’ means we’ve lost the file, ‘under active consideration’ means we’re trying to find it.”

  5. 6 Anonymous 4 December 2011 at 04:23

    Why are we so enamoured with being a properly functioning democracy, especially given the current deadlocks in America and Europe? Yes, this sounds like usual PAP scare-mongering – but it is not clear that the clash of ideas will lead to the socially optimal brilliant outcome (especially since the regular Singaporean has a full-time job too, like the MPs), rather than one that either panders to populist sentiments or well-funded and dedicated interest groups. Happy to be convinced otherwise. As Singaporeans we all want the best for our people, but we need to be careful in making sure our means lead to our ends.

    • 7 yawningbread 4 December 2011 at 09:25

      You wrote: “we all want the best for our people”. What is best? How is that determined?

      • 8 zarquon 4 December 2011 at 10:28

        Nobody knows, and nobody can decide – hence, the complete democratic paralysis in the US.

      • 9 Poker Player 4 December 2011 at 18:33

        Why not use a country with a parliamentary system as example? The UK for instance.

    • 10 yuen 4 December 2011 at 10:58

      the school of thought “authoritarianism is good for economic development” has many proponents, whose articles ST regularly publishes; Mahbubani, whom, ST tells us a couple of days ago, ranks among 100 top thinkers of the world (despite the likelihood that he probably adopted his main ideas from LKY rather than invented them himself) is presumably one of them; it is not surprising that many adherents exist in Singapore, and even more so, in China; they conveniently minimize authoritarian systems’ lack of transparency that hides any mismanagement, financial risks, corruption and nepotism that might arise within

      however, economic miracles could suddenly collapse, as exemplified by Japan after 1991 and east Asia generally in 1997; when the next collapse occurs, people might want to revisit the issue of authoritarianism and economic development then

    • 11 Chanel 21 December 2011 at 15:15

      A properly functioning democracy is an essential ingredient for the development of good policies that benefit the majority of the population.

      The PAP loves to use the perceived “decision paralysis” of multi-party democracies elsewhere as a bogeyman, but history has shown that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

      If single party rule is what S’poreans want, we should declare ourselves a communist country and do away with bothersome general elections every 5 years!

  6. 12 Patrick 4 December 2011 at 06:25

    You conveniently forgot to mention that cadre system is also a feature in almost all other political parties in Singapore. It’s there to prevent hostile takeovers or party hijacks, not to stifle ideas.

    • 13 yuen 4 December 2011 at 11:04

      many years ago Goh Keng Swee (who enjoyed a rise in reputation after he passed away) said approvingly that the cadre system is like “pope appoints cardinals; cardinals elect pope”; the fact that the system is also adopted by opposition parties (with variations, e.g., NSP has “congress members”, i.e., those entitled to vote in a party congress, and a party president in addition to chairman and secretary-general) shows that the system meets a need, and is neither pro nor anti democratic.

      • 14 Poker Player 4 December 2011 at 17:43

        Wrong attribution:

        “An often-quoted Lee Kuan Yew maxim is “The pope elects the cardinals and the cardinals elect the next Pope.””

        In fact, do a search in google books and find the same attribution.

      • 15 yuen 5 December 2011 at 01:26

        actually the passage in your linked article is different:- An often-quoted Lee Kuan Yew maxim is “The pope >elects< the cardinals and the cardinals elect the next Pope." – second hand transfer with an error; I still believe GKS said it first, thought it represents the group's common idea

      • 16 yuen 5 December 2011 at 01:38

        in fact another slight variation was mentioned here

        In her 1971 political science thesis, Singapore’s People’s Action Party: Its History, Organisation and Leadership (Oxford University Press), Ms Pang Cheng Lian, now roving ambassador to Italy and Switzerland, describes the CEC voting as a “closed system”, in which “the cardinals appoint the pope and the pope appoints the cardinals”.

      • 17 Poker Player 5 December 2011 at 11:41

        ” I still believe GKS said it first, thought it represents the group’s common idea”

        Readers of this blog need to know published sources attribute it to LKY. Repeat: do a search in google books and find the same attribution (to LKY).

    • 18 june 4 December 2011 at 12:59

      more and more people feel that some things are going very wrong, yet do not have resource to find out who are really leading the country.

  7. 19 Jun Zubillaga-Pow 4 December 2011 at 10:16

    The party-palace-proletariat argument is so neo-Marxist-Hegelian! Can Singapore move beyond this binary/ternary oppositions that political hegemony, democratic or otherwise, is not as clear cut as this article has reduced?

    • 20 Poker Player 4 December 2011 at 18:18

      You got your philosophical terminology confused.

    • 21 O.olak 4 December 2011 at 22:45

      I don’t know what Hegelian means but I got your message loud and clear. You’re trying to show off. If you dispute an analysis, perhaps you would condescend to explain in simple English to us lesser mortals what your own analysis about the PAP is?

      • 22 Poker Player 5 December 2011 at 11:01

        “You’re trying to show off.”

        More likely Jun Zubillaga-Pow doesn’t know what he is talking about or it’s a parody.

  8. 23 Alan Wong 4 December 2011 at 11:25

    Our PAP leaders, LKY included, simply do not comprehend what constitute justice and fair play in our national politics.

    Incidentally how can they have complete access to public venues for their internal political party conventions while on the other hand, other interested parties are not even allowed to rent public space for their own public forums on the lame excuse that such public venues should not be used for political purposes ? Then likewise why is PAP allowed to do so ?

    And if LKY can even threaten voters with complete immunity from questioning, what kind of Rule of Law and double standards does our PAP govt stands for ? They still don’t care, isn’t it ?

  9. 24 george 4 December 2011 at 13:11

    I share your opinion that the PAP is no longer a political party in the traditional sense or from what it was at the beginning -the heydays of its origin to wrest power from the British colonial masters.

    In fact, IF the PAP does transform post-Ge2011, it would in fact be a SECOND major transformation. It’s first transformation from post independence to today has not been achieved overnight. It’s a very slow if not gradual ‘process’ of consolidation (of power) by the very top leadership – the ‘refining’ trend was probably initiated by LKY just before he handed over to GCT who continued it with the ‘mentor’ directing/steering ‘wooden’ from behind the scene. At the helm GCT was NEVER his own man (and for that matter, neither is the junior Lee ever truly out of his father’s shadow even up to today).

    It is quiet clear to me now that LKY used GCT to be the hatchet man to do the spade work of laying down the major structures that made the PAP what it is today (with him dictating from behind of course) which his ‘rising’ son inherited. It is quite apparent today that many of the unpopular policies bear the original stamp dating from the GCT period.

    We should be mentally prepared for a collapse when the senior Lee finally passes on. You can believe that many of the groundwork in preparation for this has already started, some probably already completed in anticipation of the inevitable ‘akan datang’. But how it would finally play out depends on how much of a man and PM junior Lee is without the father behind him.

    In conclusion, it is clear that LKY’s style after the initial period has devolved/evolved into one where the PMO treats the party and the civil service as two equal arms through which power and control are wielded. The Parliamentary system is really the superficial cosmetic window dressing for an autocratic system of govt by no more than a handful of trusted yes men. But given that LHL is not even half of what his father has been (which is NOT necessary all bad) and the environment, challenges and milieu are so different, changes are highly likely AD LKY. The problem is WHO in the leadership can we see who has/have the ability to hold the country together and pull it through in most if not all aspects -social, political, economic.


    Don’t be taken in by all those shiny structures and transient phony praises heaped on by outside interests. In many way’s it’s a house of cards and the vulnerability is clearly exposed by, and in spite of the lack of transparency, the toxic investment saga in which many many Singaporeans have still yet to find closure. What actually happened to our money, Mr Lee?

    • 25 yuen 4 December 2011 at 17:54

      I disagree with one of your points: I believe LHL is truly in charge now: before the election LKY said he intended to carry on, but after PAP’s poor performance he changed his mind and decided to step down; whether the initiative came from himself or from his son we cannot tell, but either way, he conceded that his “carrying on” is no longer a good idea

      20 years ago I thought he should have remained in parliament but left the cabinet, and started a foundation/thinktank as well as a newspaper column and international speaking circuit – these would give him a highly influential position, but much reducing suspicion that he put GCT in as PM only as a seat warmer; now he does start a foundation, but with a very restricted role, for an issue which happens to be personally dear (I guess pride in learning Mandarin, something many people have difficulty with but now highly beneficial because of the economic development of China)

  10. 26 kitsura 4 December 2011 at 16:40

    I knew Denis Phua from the time she was a principal at Pathlight School. It’s seems she is full-time only because it’s serves her interests as she has a child suffering from autism. Lest you think that they are in fact serving the nation’s interests.

    • 27 yawningbread 4 December 2011 at 20:55

      Doesn’t matter what the original motivation is. Some gay people, for example, are determined activists for the LGBT cause because its an issue dear and personal to them; that does not make their activism and success any less valid. Others fight for rights of the physically disabled because they have suffered an accident an lost a limb.

  11. 28 payalebar 4 December 2011 at 19:05

    The pattern is the same, only differing by degrees whether genocide is also used as a tool.. LKY comes to power some 50 years ago, enrich himself, his relatives and fellow elites and refuses to share power. To achieve this, he smothers the country into subjugation by malignant use of State Institutions and the Rule of Law.. As in Egypt, Singapore is so thoroughly infiltrated by his elites that it looks impossible to be freed of this LKY Regime. In Egypt , the scourge remained even after Mubarak was pulled down. I believe that even after LKY passes away, the Regime would remain in sole control of this island. State Institutions by the way include the armed forces whose leaders hop into the PAP with the greatest of ease.

  12. 29 ninja tortoise 4 December 2011 at 21:34

    The PAP have always said that the civil service must be “one” with the ruling party. So the civil service thinks and behaves like it is the political master. MPs will find the civil service a barrier, that will not take instructions from MPs. JB Jeyaratnam found the civil service closed to him – on instructions from the PAP. There will be no change for the next 10 years, and only when the Lees are no more around.

  13. 30 payalebar 4 December 2011 at 21:48

    It is indeed difficult to unseat the PAP. Every State Institution proclaims their glory and act for them. In addition they have stamped special state entities as their very own, like the PA, EC,CCC to provide us up with the essential services. So in Singapore the Government is the PAP. Why do we bother, as long as we are served?
    The fact is that for at least 3 decades we the citizenry have not bothered. We have been too busy struggling to find two coins to rub together. To our horror , we wake up one day to find ourselves in a sea of people from China, India, Philippines all squabbling around us in their native tongues worse than at the Tower of Babel. We find ourselves unable to clinch any jobs because the foreigner is always cheaper, younger, cleverer, more hardworking, more nubile and more of everything good is on their side. Why should it be that we become trash in the global job market? It is because the PAP has brought the concentrated essence of humanity and squeezed them into our tiny island. Like the marsupials we succumbed to the true mammals.
    Why does the PAP do this to its own citizenry? We pay them don’t we? Yes we pay them. Should we say the PAP pay themselves and astronomical sums at that. They took the opportunity of total control of a country and paid themselves king’s ransom, not to be seen in any other country on this planet. On average the PAP office holder is paid 6 times more than their counterparts in Superpower countries. The reasons they bring up to support this level of remuneration brings up blood to your ears.
    Now you ask me why do we tolerate all this? Because the PAP have us surrounded by the secret police who has the power to incarcerate us without a public hearing. Those incarcerated are still living but dragging their feet to make the matter known to the UN Human Rights Council. Singapore is equal to Myanmar in its Human Rights abuses but because of its economic prowess the International Community choose to look the other way. But for how long? As long as it takes.
    The world rush into Singapore to have their disputes settled. Which is a real achievement for the Singapore Legal System. But if you are a local person and have problems with the Government or you are fighting with a big business entity or you have a case with a member of the elite or you are a member of opposition parties, then you will see the dark side of the Singapore Legal System. For these cases, the judges seem to be different ones, or the same ones having a transformation like Hyde to Jekyl.These judges would destroy you at the command of their political masters. These men and women seemingly upright wearing the coat and tie of their esteemed profession would tear you to pieces using the most illogical, irrational, illegal arguments to aid them.
    If as it is reported that LKY have said that in the event of a freak election which sees the PAP out, he would bring in the Singapore Armed Forces to get the PAP reinstated. NOTHING COULD BE BETTER. At least we will have a chance to expose the real face of this Regime.As it is, day rolls into night endlessly as a population is in chains and in thrall to the best rigmarole the world has ever seen.

  14. 31 George 4 December 2011 at 23:21

    LKY had claimed to a US TV personality (Rose?) that he had no intention of continuing to rule vicariously through his son. But the facts says otherwise. He and GCT had ‘stepped down’ but both seems to be carrying on merrily with what they had always been doing as before. Apart from not being in cabinet, what else has really changed? Surely, he don’t have to be in cabinet to influence its decision making process. Every MP and minister knows who is really boss – junior or the old man/

    Right now, all of them are just playing around the edges, on the peripheral, of whatever core policies that have been laid down. Nothing that needs material even radical change and re-alignment has been touched. The ISA is a good example.

    Seeing is believing, it has been six months already.

  15. 32 yawningbread 5 December 2011 at 11:29

    A reminder about rules of engagement — comments must stay on topic. The comments section is not an area where you bring up matters unrelated to the post.

  16. 33 roughshod 5 December 2011 at 13:41

    There is no hope of remaking the PAP, not when it means dismantling their hold on the honeypots of the country, their vast remuneration written by themselves, their absolute commandeering of state institutions as organs of their party, their shiploads of newly immigrated supporters, their blackout of mainstream media, their thuggish use of the Rule of Law etc, etc. Imagine, can you get a Gadhafi regime to remake itself voluntarily? We the citizenry are just in for a long nightmare which may run for the next half century.

    The wonder is, the PAP has not gone into genocide as a solution or evacuation of the daft population to a leased land in neighbouring Indonesia and paying the transmigrated Singaporean workfare for his dislocation. Then the PAP can accommodate the rich of the world, served by the poorest in the world all within the island, space given up by the transmigrated Singaporean.The GDP would naturally soar and the officeholders would laugh with glee dancing their way to the bank.

    When all is said and done, this must be the grand design to make all the pathetic rigmarole and state sponsored thuggery worthwhile.

  17. 34 reservist_cpl 5 December 2011 at 14:50

    Isn’t the Parl Sec the Political Secretary?

    I think the Cadre system is really bad for all of the parties in Singapore. The self-reinforcing-feedback-loop problem results in parties having a myopic view; it also favours a certain type of personality over others (people-oriented+structured+short-term view/implementer type i.e. non-visionary) which stunts party growth in the long run since diversity is necessary to survive.

  18. 35 DetachedObserver 5 December 2011 at 16:15

    I would argue that the party itself is incidental to the political process, since actual political power in the past has been exercised by the incumbent leadership through other organs like the trade unions, the grassroots, traditional media and the civil service itself.

    If anything, the incumbent elite will concede more and more ground largely because the organs which they depend on continue to weaken due to decreasing relevancy or decreasing competency.

    If LHL seeks change, he will do well to revitalize these traditional organs. Once they are renewed and revitalized, the PAP will naturally renew itself.

  19. 36 ninja tortoise 5 December 2011 at 19:42

    The PAP is practising inbreeding. Only selected people they like, will be asked to apply to be a member. No one can come up and join, like in the old days. This change was made by LKY to prevent another Lim Chin Siong from entering the PAP. So it was only LKY who decides who can become a PAP member. This mutual back patting for 40 years has resulted in a politically weak PAP. They are wimps and school boys reading their essays in front of class. They will be no match for people like Tang Liang Hong, Chee SoonJuan, Tan Wah Piow, Francis Seow etc. These tough nuts became tough fighting the might of LKY and the PAP government. What better credentials do you need? These are the people who can lead Singapore forward, not the PAP. These PAPese have become puppies, manipulated by foreign powers. So who will you vote for?

  20. 37 payalebar 5 December 2011 at 21:54

    I suggest that the citizenry do not get enamored of the PAP remaking itself. The structural baggage is too hard to dismantle. Having become LORDS of the land suckling at all the honeypots of the country, writing themselves king’s ransom as remuneration, corrupting state institutions to their cause including the AG and the rest of the judiciary and keeping a stable of secret police with Kafkaesque tendencies, it is too much to hope that the PAP relinquish such supremacy in a paradise of their own making. To unmake it is counter to the commonsense of real politics.

    The pleasurable taste of sin is too strong to be dislodged voluntarily.
    When Gadhafi was dragged out from the sewer pipe he was still of his old mind as evidenced by his bartering with his captors for immeasurable wealth if his life were spared. All regimes who have known sin are constitutionally unable to change. Remaking the PAP is just the barter to suck the blood of the citizenry for the next 50 years with the promise of change.

    At any rate will the PAP countenance a reduction of the salaries of its officeholders to the normal scale of similar office holders on this planet? Will the relatives and friends of the innermost circle PAP let go of their grip of the honeypots of the country? Will the PAP allow opposition parties to exist freely without the intervention of the State Thugs? Will the PAP let go of its gag on the media and indeed individual wet mouths of the citizenry?

    I do not see it likely that the PAP will leave the paradise it has created for itself by 50 years of terrorizing the citizenry. …

  21. 38 payalebar 6 December 2011 at 01:07

    I have noticed something about these 80 PAP Parliamentarians which make the hairs on my neck stand on ends. After saying something which sounds original the PAP Parliamentarian would add the proviso,” If the Prime Minister agrees.” This has the result that if the PM agrees he is safe. If the PM does not agree he is also safe. Such schoolboyish and schoolgirlish behaviour is a far cry from that expected by a million dollar earner and yet these chaps tout themselves as deserving of salaries which tops 6 times that of the officeholders of even Superpower parliaments.. These parliamentarians are nothing but the chorus of a Greek play whose function is to summarize the atmosphere and the state of mind of the main characters in the play. The chorus by definition do not further the action of the play. This is the most significant thing about the present cabinet and parliamentarians: that they are not supposed to go beyond the explicit and implicit boundaries set up by the main characters. Who are the main character in the PAP? Your guess is as good as mine. Now to change or remake the PAP would mean that each end every PAP parliamentarian would pull his own weight in the governance of Singapore. I think that this arrangement would be repugnant to the collective mind of the PAP as it arose out of the mind of the founder. It has been thus for decades, the follow the leader mentality, don’t show a high profile, don’t rock the boat, don’t bite the hand that feeds you, and millions at that.

    This may be the reason that after Goh Keng Swee, there are no more meaningful sustainable economic development plans. What we have today is the imbecilic plan of just pumping in more and more foreign bodies into Singapore in large numbers so as to ensure the soaring of the GDP, which invariably passes over the indigenous population who incur only social costs of it.

    A law of Cybernetics says that The controller should have the requisite variety compared to the thing being controlled, We have 80 odd office holders but all are members of a chorus echoing the thoughts of one or two men. Surely this situation is not designed to achieve the requisite variety thrown up by governing a country. So the astounding mindblowing immigration of thousands of foreigners every year is the only solution offered by Lee Hsien Loong’s government. Would you expect LHL, although he is a Cambridge Mathematician, to let each one of the 80 underlings contribute to the requisite variety needed for efficient governance. I think not because so much is at stake. What is at stake? Your guess is as good as mine. . . .

  22. 39 MD 7 December 2011 at 16:07

    Dear Alex, do you have any comment/response to this ?

    “Today, virtually all ministers themselves came from the civil service, military, statutory boards or government-linked companies”

    One could argue tat unlike the democracy mess in India, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, in fact Europe and US … where every few years u parachute in ministers who know nuts abt the economy or healthcare or defence or education … in Sg u get pro people who already know the basics to head the ministries. A general (however real or fake) still knows more abt defence than a doctor or lawyer right ?

    • 40 Gazebo 19 December 2011 at 20:25

      but how would a general know more about complex macro-economics and global finance than an investment banker or a finance professor? how would a career civil servant know more about healthcare economics than a professor of public health? that is the case in singapore, where ministers and senior civil servants with completely no relevant background are appointed. and worse, they are rotated around the portfolios, and use exactly the same approach as they had for different issues. For example, imagine a career military person running the ministry of information, communication and the arts. yet that’s exactly what we have right now.

      • 41 Anonymous 20 December 2011 at 18:43

        Not addressing my point. I’m comparing to Western countries for example, where ministers are often career politicians for most of their working lives – not bankers or professors in relevant fields as mentioned. Actually Singapore is no better or worse than that. My point is that a former civil servant in the relevant ministry (cited as one of the four barriers) might be preferable to a career politician with zero relevant background

  23. 42 Gazebo 21 December 2011 at 01:30

    @Anonymous 20 December 18:43
    Oh really? Lets see now. Lets look at the Minister/Secretary of the Arts and Culture across Denmark, France, Spain, and Singapore. Lets compare their relevant career history, shall we?

    Denmark: Uffe Elbaek. founder and former Principal of the KaosPilots International School of New Business Design and Social Innovation, located in Aarhus. The KaosPilots school inspired the creation of several international schools, located in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

    France: Frederic Mitterrand. Throughout his career, he has been an actor, screenwriter, television presenter, writer, producer and director.

    Spain: Ángeles González-Sinde. is a Spanish scriptwriter, film director and the current Culture Minister of Spain

    Singapore: Yaacob Ibrahim. ’nuff said.

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