Singapore Politics - Insights from the Inside

Thursday, December 14, 2006 

“The Argumentative Singaporean (Part 1)” – PAP-Bashing with Reasoning

I guess I am one blogger that never comes out with good eye-catching titles. The suggestion of having the title, “The Argumentative Singaporean”, was largely inspired by the book by Amartya Sen titled, “The Argumentative Indian”. If you are wondering if I’ve read that book, the answer is a resounding “no”. But I did catch a glimpse of the book and its synopsis. Guess this book must make its way to my shelves by this weekend! Anyway, the purpose of starting this “PAP-Bashing with Reasoning” thread is to engage any reader into a thought-process to see if our regular qualms and criticisms of PAP are justified. Just like what Amartya Sen argued, “discussions and argument are critically important for democracy and public reasoning”. The argumentative tradition, if used with deliberation and commitment, can also be extremely important in resisting social inequalities and removing poverty and deprivation. Voice is a crucial component of the pursuit of social justice.” Voting and balloting — the inventions of Athens and the ancient West — are just part of a much larger story.

Yes, this is just my little feeble attempt at assessing our own argumentative culture of voicing our grievances against the ruling. For this, let’s keep any open our mind to debates and challenges to our statements. Stand for what you believe in and argue your case. But accept the challengers’ points if they are valid and sound. I believe we are all matured and learned people who are rational enough to assess the validity of the points. The point we should also note is that when we seemingly lost the argument, we shouldn’t resort to petty mudslinging, personal insults and stubborn claiming victory, likening a “Party” familiar to us all.

Just to state my position in this episode is that I am writing a pseudo-govt’s perspective on possibly why they did that or have not done that or did that but no one knows about it. So don’t burn me at the stake or lynch me for my comments. Now, lets move on to your valued inputs and comments. From the 40-50 replies, I think there are some salient points repeated by the contributors. So let’s start with some interesting ones.

Qn: “My main beef with the PAP is that they are close-minded to criticisms. It seems like they care more about maintaining their ego and image than about real debate and feedback. PM Lee keeps claiming that he wants a more open and inclusive society, and encourages people to speak up for issues they are passionate about, but sadly does not match his rhetoric with his actions. Many examples abound, all taken from just this year alone…”

This is just one of the many comments and charges on the PAP not listening enough and slamming down hard on those who gave their piece. I think this encompasses several issues and sub-parts, 1) PAP not listening enough; 2) They closed-up whenever the criticisms get potential sever; 3) They force policies down the throat of Singaporeans regardless of the majority consensus; 4) They words do not match their actions, which is that the open and inclusive society is done at face-value; 5) They adopting an elitist and top-down action in regardless of nature of the policies or problems. While these comments are fairly common and one-sided (against the PAP, of course), I don’t think anyone or any group has adequately looked into this. It is hard to find any middle ground in this, as there is too thin a line to divide one who is in the “mainstream” criticizing the PAP and the other end of what the PAP are saying now. So bear with me in attempting to walk this thin line, as it will be likely that I’d be seen stepping more towards the PAP side (to balance the weight on the other).

In any political action, policy or comment, no party in the world can ignore the political cost involved, not even the PAP. The PAP, or any other parties, will not be immune to the political implications if they make decision regardless of the wishes of the people. One good example is the integrated resorts (IR). When it was first mooted that the PAP government will take the opinions and feedbacks of Singaporeans in deciding whether or not to have the IR, many voiced their opinions and opposition towards it. While there seem to be many opposing the IR, the PAP went ahead with it and allowed, not one, but two IRs. Again, many slammed the PAP for their “authoritarian” action. The question became not whether we should or should not have the IR but was whether the PAP made the effort to listen to the opinions of the people. Many felt that the PAP didn’t. May I just say this, “this is the true democracy at work, and in this aspect, PAP is democratic.” And I don’t mean this with any cynicism or to poke fun at PAP. This is really democracy to its true meaning.

Let’s put this into scenarios.

1) 51% (aka majority) of the people oppose to the decision to go ahead with the IR
2) 51% (aka majority) of the people agree to the decision to go ahead with the IR

If PAP chose (1), they would have suffered the serious political implications of losing a few seats during GE or the whole GE itself. Of course, you will think this is crap and the government will not lose the majority in parliament over an IR policy. But this is precisely how a democratic government should and would function. There will be a tipping point or issue that is sensitive to the median voter and threaten the position of the government. One such example of the “tipping point or issue” is the Shin Corp and Thaksin saga.

So, now we know that the issues or bitter policies that the PAP had implemented were not the tipping point issues, even the recent GST hikes. But the question is really, why then is the PAP able to make unpopular policies and still able to retain a comfortable majority in parliament? Let’s not be overly engrossed in “repressive crap” and fear of being traced and purged rubbish. We can go on and on about these conspiracy theories and have no conclusions. Frankly, to me, these crap hold little water.

From deduction, this leaves us with two other options: a) the policies that PAP implemented has the endorsement of 51% of the majority (likely the silent majority), b) net effect of the unpopular and popular policies are in favour of the PAP. Both are the side effects of the democracy or what the great John Stuart Mills called the “tyranny of the majority”. While we may not be a perfect democracy, but we are a democratic country. The point I’m driving at is not whether is the PAP right or wrong in their policies or actions and calculated move in assessing the tipping point. If there is an issue you felt strongly about, don’t be in the silent majority and grumble behind the scenes. Take your words into action. Back your words with reasoning and debate over your views. If you are wrong, take it head-on and accept the better argument. If you are right, persist and change the norms. Tilt the tide in your favour and be a change starter, not sitting there to wait for things to happen.

Make no bones about whether your views will be taken seriously. If you are serious about your views and your views are serious, people will take you seriously. We grumbled when the GST goes up or when the transport cost goes up. The government has a well-reasoned argument (don’t think you need me to state those again, but if you wishes to, I’ll be happy to do so), but have the critics got one? From the government’s perspective, it is logical and beneficial to the majority, but time and time again, people grumbled when their pockets hurt. We did what European governments failed to do, and they failed because they failed to do what we did. If we continuously fail to think beyond our self-interest and look at the net benefits, we will experience the same decline as many European countries.

I guess this thread should start many talking points and before we move on the other issues, let’s debate over this and not let this sweep conveniently under the carpet.

The Idealist

  • Thrasymachus
  • Propagating In: Singapore
  • The Critic, The Philosopher, The Pragmatist, The Moralist, The Egalitarian, The Confused, The True-Blue Singaporean
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    The author of this blog bears no responsibility for any misinterpretation, libel, defamation, injury and death as a result of reading this blog. Contents are high subjective and readers should read with caution. All readers should be 18 years and above, with half a decent brain to judge the validity of the articles.

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