[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Monday, November 12, 2007

[A Strong PAP – Keeping The Miracle Going]
Do We Still Need A Strong PAP?

1. Without the PAP, we would not have today's Singapore. That an independent majority-Chinese city-state should thrive in the heart of Muslim Southeast Asia is a miracle.

2. Singapore today has achieved a certain international reputation. In fact, it is held up as a model by many developing countries. The question is whether Singapore still needs a strong PAP to take it forward. Now that the PAP has performed its historical duty of giving birth to Singapore and raising it up, does it matter very much if the PAP is weakened or replaced by another political party? After all, Singapore has good civil servants, a strong private sector and established institutions.

3. This question cannot be answered out of context. If Singapore were a big country, we would certainly enjoy more latitude. If we were like Switzerland, occupying the same Alpine region for centuries, our political instincts would be different. Some people compare us to Israel. But we are not Jews and Southeast Asia is happily not the Middle East.

4. To answer the question, we have to do a concrete analysis of Singapore's concrete situation, borrowing an expression from Lenin. Like all other societies, we have to make a living and we have to protect ourselves. Let us consider each in turn.

Making A Living

5. Since we are a small island without natural resources, the only way to make a living is by providing a service to others. This has been our history since 1819 and cannot change. Singaporeans know that if we don't work, we don't eat. No one owes us a living. To make a good living, we have to be better than our competitors. As individuals, we are not all that exceptional. There are many in other countries who are cleverer and more hardworking than we are. What makes us special is our spirit and our system.

6. Singapore's operating system cannot be set on 'auto'. As the external environment changes, the system has to adapt. In some ways, the competition between countries is a competition between operating systems. In many countries, the operating system cannot change because of domestic politics. Vested interests block change even though the country as a whole may suffer as a result.

7. Adapting to a changing environment can sometimes be painful. For example, reducing direct taxes while increasing GST affects many Singaporeans. But not doing so would make us less competitive because high direct taxes drive away investors. Bringing in foreign talent can be unsettling because some Singaporeans may be displaced. But not doing so would lower our overall capability. Paying public servants competitive salaries is not a popular measure. But not doing so would degrade the quality of our public administration which is a critical success factor.

8. To make a good living, we need a can-do spirit and a system that is clean and efficient. Good political leadership is decisive. It matters a lot whether that political leadership is provided by the PAP or some other political party.

Protecting Ourselves

9. As for protecting ourselves, it is fundamental to the survival of a country, as Sun Zi recognized in the first sentence of the Art of War. We are doubly insecure. First, we have no geographical depth which makes the defence of Singapore a difficult challenge. Second, we live in a region where minority Chinese communities experience up's and down's in their relationship with indigenous communities. From time to time, we get dragged into their domestic politics. And, if we are not careful, our own domestic politics can also be infected.

10. We try by our foreign and security policy to create as favourable an external environment for Singapore as possible. A strong ASEAN community is good for us. An ASEAN that is neutral and friendly to all the major powers enlarges our economic and security space. Both our foreign policy and our security policy require the active support of Singaporeans. Our people (including our media) has to be calm and disciplined in times of crisis. Our NS men have to be operationally ready.

11. We need leaders whom Singaporeans trust instinctively. Without public trust, it is hard for the Government to act firmly against extremists, or to respond to emergencies like SARS. Without the full support of Singaporeans, the Government may buckle under external pressure of one kind or another. To the credit of our opposition parties, on matters pertaining to foreign and security policy, they usually stand behind the PAP Government. Why? Because even they trust the Government to do the right things.

One Singapore Or Two?

12. The PAP is not an ideological movement but a cause. Our approach on issues like democracy, ethnic and religious diversity, foreign relations, the market economy, the ageing of our population and welfare is a practical, hard-headed one. Our start and end point is always the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans. Not surprisingly, NTUC has a similar orientation.

13. Globalisation, however, is stretching out incomes in Singapore as in other countries. If we are not careful, we can become two Singapore’s. While the majority of Singaporeans benefit from the internationalization of our economy, a sizeable minority is in danger of being left behind. Among them are some older Singaporeans who are either less educated, in poor health or just unlucky. A disproportionate number of them are Malays and Indians. If instead of one Singapore, we have two, our politics will turn sour and our decline will begin. For this reason, we are putting in place a whole set of measures including job retraining, Workfare and CPF reform. But government is only half the story. The other half is better-off Singaporeans helping poorer-off Singaporeans out of a sense of family.

Our Strength

14. The PAP derives its strength from the people of Singapore. It is composed of ordinary men and women of different races and religions who rise above personal interest to take a higher view of Singapore’s overall interest. Working at the grassroots, it is they who hold our society together. Many are extraordinary in their dedication to the cause. They form the hard core. If we succeed in keeping that core healthy and vigorous, the PAP will stay strong and the miracle of Singapore will continue.

This article appeared in the November/December 2007 issue of Petir.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

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