Chee Siok Chin
The host and the audience in a studio discussion that was aired on Channel News Asia on 24 February 2003 grilled Prime Minister Tony Blair about the impending war against Iraq.
Although he was asked tough questions, Mr Blair answered them all in his stride with respect and courtesy, addressing each concern candidly.
It was not the unassuming and calm manner in which the British Prime Minister handled the issues that impressed me, however. It was the fact the audience was not made up of so-called professionals, experts and academics but the ordinary citizen. There was a company secretary, a sales assistant, a student, a computer manager V in other words, the everyday layperson.
One of the most powerful leaders of the world was taken to task for his stand on the US-led war by people who might not have expert knowledge on the matter but who had opinions and concerns that they wanted him to address. The British people are holding their prime minister and his government accountable for their policies, decisions and actions.
Let us now compare this to the Singapore scenario. I don’t recall there ever having been any panel discussion between our ministers with the ordinary worker. Yet the issues that these ministers decide on directly affect the lives of these people. Has there ever been an occasion when aside from the interviewer, people were asked to participate in the discussions held at the studio? The only kind of “debate” aired on TV in which any of our ministers have ever been involved in were monologues with the host sheepishly asking questions.
More significantly, panelists in these programmes always involve the so-called “experts”. It is almost as if these were the only category of people whose views should be taken into account. Do the views of the layman not matter? Are the elite in our society the only ones who have voices? Does the great divide serve to oppress the have-nots in “First World” Singapore?
The patriarchal society in which Singaporeans live in encourages acceptance of authority without question and at any expense. The notion that “father (read as PAP) knows best” is a highly dangerous one that any nation that professes to uphold democratic principle should reject.
Singaporeans must have a strong sense of ownership of the country before we can put the nation before ourselves. This can only be cultivated through respecting, addressing and taking the views of the people V not just a select few V seriously. This is possible only if Singaporeans feel that they matter enough for those in authority to genuinely pay heed to their concerns and struggles.
PAP Ministers and MPs must treat people with dignity, respect and on equal terms. Unfortunately they have become conceited, dismissive and disparaging of those whom they are supposed to serve. Their response to issues must not be one of disdain and disrespect as was the case when DPM Lee Hsien Loong used the term “no-brainer” in one of his replies to a participant during a Q & A session a few years ago.
Intimidation is the common tool by which those in the ruling party use to preserve their hold on power. More subtly, but no less effective, is the air of superiority the PAP adopts to make the citizens feel small, unimportant and unworthy of being heard.
Singaporeans must not be intimidated into accepting this callous treatment. We must not be made to feel small, unempowered and disregarded by this government. It is high time the PAP takes lessons in humility and show respect for its citizenry.