Be thankful for 50 years of white

Posted on 25 May 2011

PAP rule has taken us where none of our neighbouring countries have ventured. And I’m grateful.

By Ng Zhong Ming

Majulah PAP! Majulah Singapura! Photo: TERENCE LEE

PRAISING the PAP seems unfashionable these days, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Look at how far a small island nation with no resources has come. And not just survived, but done terribly well economically.

Go ahead, scan today’s newpapers and headlines. Politicians talk about realism and pragmatism, their speeches peppered with practicality and gritty competitiveness.

This is because the global economy is in uncharted waters. Even European nations, with their generous welfare systems and enforced immigration policies, are in trouble.

Soul-searching is not reserved only for the PAP: The purported forefathers of democracy are struggling and have a lot to think about.

America is facing up with a resurgent China – a complacent giant that has awoken from its long slumber and realised that the ascendency of the West and Western ideas has been but a blip in the world’s long history.

Even India – the world’s largest democracy, is lagging further and further behind.

And why?

Because ideals, yes, even those that developed democracies depend on, ultimately don’t feed people. Doing what is necessary, to ensure survivability, doing what puts food on the table – feeds people.

Put it this way: In Singapore, ideals are for restless youths who will move into nice, air conditioned offices soon enough after getting a decent education. Beggars living day by day just don’t give a damn.

But idealism can only be sustained if and only if there are other people out there doing the grunt work of being industrious and holding the economic front.

And don’t forget, a decent education to begin with, is the result of the foundation laid for by the PAP, through more than 50 years of proven track record.

Yes, the PAP is not perfect. It even acknowledges that.

However, which government doesn’t make mistakes? And which other government in the world can make a small island state, expelled from a federation, punch way above its weight in regional and international affairs? And this is no hypothetical question.

Should we be voting for the opposition, for so-called democracy and for less tangible gains, while all over the world, democracies are also in trouble, and real competition is heating up?

Therefore, I don’t buy the argument that the presence of opposition enables constructive competition.

Sure, we don’t want to emulate those types of democracy where it is all a mess. But can it not be possible that the presence of PAP is the compromise between a democratic and authoritarian state?

Think about this: Is this the time to push for democratic change without any of the negative trade-offs? Can we afford this, when nations, particularly in our region, are becoming more practical, more competitive, when our immediate neighbours, with their natural resources and vast markets at command, are fast catching up?

It is economic growth that holds Singapore together, that ensures we have a say in ASEAN and beyond. In the dog-eat-dog world of international politics, poor beggars will be ripped to shreds.

Are we abandoning what is done, for what ought to be done? To this, Machiavelli had this to say: “He who abandons what is done for what should be done, will rather bring about his own ruin than his preservation”.

We should be mindful that Singapore’s economy is based on international trade and the free flow of capital. And international capital is easily spooked. Investor darling one day, pariah the next.

And increasingly, alternative options are multiplying in the investment horizon in emerging, growth markets.

We are sailing into uncharted seas, and to this, you need a single-minded determination – the captain that you can trust, the captain with the best proven track record.

We are all familiar by now about this driver/pilot analogy, but to be fair, let us hope that the co-navigator will attempt to provide constructive feedback and advice, instead of attempting to undermine the captain’s decisions at every chance, or God forbid, try to wrest the ship’s wheel.

Let us hope the opposition will be able to step up to the task, what more in a small, swift ship in a sea plied with much bigger vessels than ours, braving the storm, and some of these heeling.

Should not a small ship in turbulent seas be more pragmatic? Let us not forget that it is economic growth that holds Singapore together, that ensures we have a say in ASEAN and beyond. In the dog-eat-dog world of international politics, poor beggars will be ripped to shreds.

Detractors say that there is a need for “heartware”, beyond sheer hardware. This is another fair point.

But then again, take a look at today’s papers – not the Straits Times, for the skeptics – and you will notice countries with “soft power” reserves, which are enjoying life, are getting a massive reality check.

The Europeans are waking up to the fact that their lifestyle is not sustainable.

Even the Americans are facing up to the end of hegemony and a new, multi-polar, competitive world order.

Countries with “hard power” reserves and huge resources and markets are the ones delivering the goods. The era of small economies rapidly developing based on trade is over. From the old development “formula“ of Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, now comes the aptly named BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and add to that, Indonesia.

The million dollar question remains – will the opposition ensure better governance, and better management? Let us hope so. To be fair, the debate about Singapore needing soulfulness is a perfectly good one, but above that, one is faced with the reality that continued economic performance and growth in a competitive world is what is needed to sustain this small island republic, and its already high living standards.

These are the issues that make an immediate impact on everyone’s daily lives.

Put simply, results feed people. This election, if nothing else, is a healthy injection of realpolitik.

Put simply, realistic politics.

Not the airy-fairy stuff that makes someone teary-eyed but nothing more.

Deliver the results; deliver us across these uncharted seas. For there be economic and political dragons, not ideological fancies. Let us hope the opposition does serve this function, if nothing else.

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  • T

    /// …is the result of the foundation laid for by the PAP, through more than 50 years of proven track record. ///

    Slight correction there. 35 years of proven GOOD track record, and 15 years of proved BAD track record.

  • s

    the opposition merely offers the same socialist policies that are driving america and europe bankrupt. Look at how successful Obama has been at creating jobs; trillions of stimulus later, and he still has 9+% unemployment despite a decreasing labor force. The time when asia looked towards the west for guidance is long over.

    • zmng

      S – well said. The purpose of this article is just to throw up ideas la, to debate, and consider. We should not behave like the party most of us are criticising in being intolerant of other perspectives and possible ideas. If your ideas are good, and you are passionate and commited, confident about it, you would want to test it against alternative points of view. Its something like getting a new car and wanting to see how fast it can go 😉

  • Dannon

    Good read. I think what should be advocated should be independence of thought and not blind faith to either parties. That said, it is time the PAP gave some leeway in order for alternative political voices to not just sound out but to develop into a substantial force.

    Like the author says, we cannot look to the west for guidance anymore. Rather, we have to start breeding a new intelligentsia that can effectively bring Singapore into the uncharted future. A stifled civic sphere cannot achieve that. The political elite have to start treating its citizens like adults.

  • Sloo

    What created the financial mess that has caused millions of jobs lost in the started was basically a capitalist model that the republicans promoted and Obama had to pick the pieces up. What the Pap has created thepast few decades was in many was way economic based model of governance with a proven track record that has alleviated our country to first world status. What we act o course is a developed countrie’s social development,

    What use is sterling results when only select people benefits from it? The results achieved so far has been amazing on most economic and financial scales but are there similar achievements in the social and welfare segments? Clearly not.

    We will have to chart our own path and my hope is that it will be a fair balance of hard and heart ware

  • Daniel Ho

    So in essence, are you saying democracy is stupid and we should emulate the Chinese government?

    You also seem to confuse democracy with the protectionist campaign of the opposition. Not sure why. Democracy is a theory of government, protectionism is a theory of policy.

    And finally developed democracies are facing problems not because they are democracies but rather because they are developed. Just so happens developed countries are quite usually democracies. And the reason why developed countries are facing such difficulties is due to the realities of globalization. 

    Let us not kid ourselves into thinking that simply by being an illiberal democracy we can some how immunize ourselves. The past ten years have clearly shown this to be a false argument. There is no dichotomy.

    Regardless of how strong a mandate the government has, regardless of how much we pay our ministers, regardless of the amount of high-handedness and elitism we tolerate, shit is still going to hit the fan. I say with a participatory democracy, at least we would feel like a nation collectively as we wipe the crap off of each other’s faces.

    • zmng

      Daniel, that’s a very good point, really.

      Imho its the perils of globalisation, that makes us want to be more cautious with our choices la… and we do have quite a good option in the existing system. But of course, if i am allowed to be idealistic also, the best is a good, constructive opposition voice in parliament. But that is a good to have, and a risk we have to take. We will have to weight the pros and cons of this choice rather carefully, especially given our rather unique geo-political situation.

  • Something to consider

    Before we get democracy, try feeding ourselves for a hundred years, or more.

  • Daniel Ho

    Except I don’t believe we will even survive another 50 years without a real democracy.

    Without an entrenched and true system of democratic leadership renewal, we would be resigning ourselves to a fate of gradual but eventual atrophy of collective cognition. With the likes of TPL sneaked into the establishment, we are clearly already suffering the unintended consequences of the last 50 years.

  • JX

    Just a thought: when we trot out the statistics of economic growth to trumpet before other countries as proof of our purported success, how much of it exactly is going to the people who need it the most?

    Is the woman who reduced Nicole Seah to a blubbering wreck because she couldn’t cough up 80 bucks for a tuition class withdrawal refund benefiting from our 14.7% projected GDP growth? Or is that money going toward lining the pockets of the corporate monoliths and well-established MNCs that have set up base in Singapore? Or to pay more 5-figure minister salaries?

    Economic growth is but an abstract concept, certainly not an indicator of the economic well-being of the people.

  • BigReturn

    The truth is always somewhere in between. For those of us who have witnessed the transformation of Singapore from swamp lands into the current metropolis, we are grateful to LKY and the legacy he has left behind. However, the current leadership and setup in place going forward seem to suggest that some cogs in the machinery are not favoured by the passengers on board. To quote TJS, “gratitude is not servitude” and similarly, CSM, “only with competition is there progress”. Already the fruits of competition are starting to bear – PAP MPs have to work harder, nicer and cheaper!

    This is critical because if we were to move forward with the ministerial bottom line tied to that of the GDP, there will be unfortunate consequences. The recent global financial crisis attest to this when bank CEOs have their remuneration tied to pure economic performance.

    Yes we have limited human resource and talent in Singapore. Hopefully, we can move forward together with a better balance between hardware and heartware.