Category: Current Affairs
Published on Thursday, 08 October 2015 00:00
Written by Andrew Loh
The elections are over and on 1 October, a new Government and Cabinet have been sworn in.
In the last nine years, since the general elections of 2006, and perhaps even earlier, Singapore had threatened to be an ugly and fractured society with all the unhappiness and divisiveness over a spectrum of issues, many of which were allowed to fester for a long time.
One could feel the uneasiness, the frustrations and the uncertainty from ordinary Singaporeans, which led to the momentous election results of 2011.
Singaporeans should be credited for not taking things lying down, and woke the ruling party up from its slumber and arrogance. Let's make no mistake: the PAP was an arrogant party, dismissing and even looking down on its citizens. And here, the late Lee Kuan Yew was just as guilty as his colleagues in the party.
But things have somewhat changed since then.
The late former prime minister is no longer with us, and the national leadership is going through a transition period the next five years.
A new government is being put in place, with a very significant mandate of 70 per cent support from the electorate.
It is indeed a turnaround for the PAP, and credit should be given for its effort the last four years to right the wrongs.
There is however one thing which is vital, as we move forward from here - the way the Government talks to those it governs.
The brash and curt manner of the late Mr Lee should be assigned to the dustbin of anachronism. They are no longer adequate or effective in gelling a new generation.
In a recent episode of Debate-IQ, writer and blogger Alex Au asked a question which stood out for me in the entire two-hour discussion, which had retired PAP MP Inderjit Singh on it as well. Mr Au had asked, referring to the PAP Government: "Why can't they be nice? Why can't they just be nice?"
And for a long time, this was a question which many - especially those on "the other side" and even some among the PAP itself - had asked.
Why is the PAP so arrogant? So insecure that it has to always put others down, even though it has at the same time such all-encompassing powers and authority over all and sundry?
The more curious thing is this: the PAP in fact can be nice - if it wanted to.
Of course, it can also say that it has indeed been nice, but that it has to react in certain more abrasive ways to keep everyone in line. And so we saw the use of threats, the issuance of legal letters of demand, the launch of lawsuits, against those it deemed had stepped out of line, and the introduction of new legislations to curb freedoms, the ban of what the government deems "undesirable" material, and so on.
Now that it has won such overwhelmingly endorsement from the people, will it be more confident of itself, and the support it has, and relent on acting in such a manner?
One wouldn't know until some time has passed.
But I do believe that there is here a golden opportunity for the so-called 4th generation leadership to chart its own course, a new way of being for our society, from the top to the very bottom - and that this starts with the way we communicate with each other.
The passing of the late Mr Lee, and the soon-to-be stepping down of his son - the incumbent prime minister - presents the 4th generation an opportunity to think afresh in how it they can hold this society together, and carry the people with them.
"PM Lee says Singaporeans are the biggest winner in the elections," the Straits Times Facebook page says today. "They were very clear about the issues facing Singapore. He promises that the Government will work with Singaporeans for a better future."
Mr Lee's words are nothing new and it is almost customary for him to say these things after an election.
But perhaps the results of GE 2015 makes his words this time round more important - for the new leadership can (mistakenly) see the 70 per cent as a blank cheque to unilaterally do as it pleases, or to see it as a bigger responsibility to embrace and include all Singaporeans in its decision making.
Personally, I see the 70 per cent vote share as an opportunity for our society to come together better than it had before. The people have spoken, and a majority of them has made it very clear where their confidence lie. And even as some of us hope for more diverse parliamentary representation of various political parties, it does not mean we cannot all stand together and see if we can help enhance our sense of identity and do what we can to make Singapore a better place for all of us and our future generation.
I am therefore hopeful that we will see a more humble government, one which speaks with wisdom and humility with a genuine listening ear - and that while the government and individual ministers and MPs may engage public relations firms to polish their public personas, the underlying purpose and attitude is one of authentic service.
But let's make no mistake - the challenges going forward are many and significant, and the new government will have to prove itself worthy of the mandate given to it.
And it is perhaps because of this that the government will have to genuinely listen and communicate with humility, and be patient in its dialogue with the people at various points in time over various issues, especially the most contentious.
So, while I have reservations about the capability and ability of some of those in the new Cabinet and Government, I nonetheless hope the new leadership will shed the old ways of arrogance, and lead Singaporeans on a new path of co-creating and cooperation in a spirit of unity.
If it is able to do this, then the 70 per cent vote of confidence would be truly well deserved.