Straits Times Forum letters

(1) Why PAP’s politics works for me

I REFER to Dr Chee Soon Juan’s reply (‘PAP just as confrontational, replies Chee’; Thursday) to my earlier letter (‘Confrontational model not ideal for Singapore’; April 6).

I am glad Dr Chee agrees with me that it does not matter what system we adopt as long as it works for Singaporeans.

It is indeed true that back in the 1960s and perhaps even the 1970s, the People’s Action Party (PAP) adopted a system of authoritarianism. That is a fact of history that no one can deny. Nor should we apologise for it.

When a house is on fire, we cannot be very democratic and have everyone sit around the table and discuss who calls 999, who fetches the fire extinguisher and who shepherds everyone out of the burning house. By the time we democratically reach a decision, we would all be burnt to death.

Or we can have the father of the household exercise his authority and order what is necessary to save his family. It is a case of ‘Don’t ask me why. Do as I say or die’.

The 1960s were tumultuous times for Singapore and our survival was a real issue. I was about four years old when the race riots broke out. Until this day, those memories haunt me. I grew up in a neighbourhood that was infested with gangsters where extortion and gang fights were part of daily life.

Without an authoritarian system, Singapore would have disintegrated or become a communist state. Would we enjoy the peace and prosperity we have today if we had gone another way? Would we even have the right to vote?

To ordinary citizens like me, the PAP system has indeed worked for Singapore and enabled us to achieve our best potential. How else do you explain the transformation from a swampy fishing village to a modern metropolis?

There are many policies of the PAP I disagree with; some strongly. If the question is whether we can and should change, my answer is yes. We can and must change. But change must come in a way that fits our culture. In our culture, social harmony is prized above individualism.

As an opposition Member of Parliament, Mr Chiam See Tong must have met hundreds of obstacles placed in his path by the PAP machinery. Some have hindered his effectiveness. Yet he was able to do his job and has introduced changes to Singapore politics in a constructive way. For that, I hold him in high regard.

From my casual observation, even the PAP is constantly transforming itself. It is now less authoritative and more open to listening. I shall, however, let the PAP defend itself.

Forcing change by staging protest marches, hunger strikes and criticising Singapore while in foreign countries may be juicy news for foreign powers and their media, but they do not help our cause in any way.

So far, Dr Chee seems intent on bringing down the PAP government regardless of the cost to society. That includes staging protest marches and hunger strikes. Looking at the past experiences of Taiwan and what is happening in Thailand now, we can only conclude that such actions will eventually lead to shattered peace.

Patrick Tan


(2) I want constructive, not confrontational, politics

I AGREE with Mr Patrick Tan’s view (‘Confrontational model not ideal for Singapore’; April 6).

There are some policies of the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government I disapprove of instinctively as they hurt my wallet. But in my heart, I will admit that while the policies are personally unfavourable, they are nationally beneficial.

I want Singapore to have constructive opposition parties which can act as a check and balance. On the other hand, I do not wish the PAP to lose control as the ruling party.

The current Singapore Democratic Party with its attitude of confrontation is not the type of opposition party I wish to see in Parliament, unless it changes to a more constructive style that will add value to national politics.

The fact remains that we must credit Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his successors who, through integrity and reliability, have transformed Singapore from a vulnerable state into a thriving, stable country of which we are proud.

Roy Ong


(3) Politics of confrontation redundant now

I REFER to Thursday’s letter by Dr Chee Soon Juan, ‘PAP just as confrontational, replies Chee’. His references to confrontational politics by the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the 1960s and 1970s pointed to a time when Singapore was emerging as a young nation from pre- and post-independence. This was when nation building was introduced to Singaporeans – a sense of nationalism to be imparted.

Dr Chee cannot use such references to prove his claim that he is not into confrontational politics but aims to champion freedom of speech and gatherings in the name of democracy, by opening up the current system. His ideas would work in political systems such as those in neighbouring countries, which are still politically unstable. If he can see an opportunity there, he should champion his cause there instead or form a party there.

I wonder what there is to open up. Confrontational politics was required after independence. We were vulnerable, we had no defence, we were unsure of our destiny, we had no natural resources. We were a fishing village with slums all over that happened to become independent accidentally.

A visionary leader was what Singapore needed at that stage. Thankfully, we had one. A selfless Lee Kuan Yew with a few good men began on a journey to plot what would work for Singapore in the future. What we see today is that future.

At that time, they had to confront the communists and others by putting their lives at risk for the future of Singapore. We do not need that today.

The PAP put Singapore on the world map within five years of independence and, after 45 years of independence today, we see ourselves as a regional superpower in terms of economic development. Dr Chee is also wrong to say we have a brain drain with Singaporeans leaving for other countries. He failed to mention how many of these Singaporeans return and how many are stuck in their adopted country longing to return. We have foreign talent now to supply the know-how we require for development and survival. Thanks to the PAP again.

They say ‘walk the talk’. In my opinion, the PAP need not be confronted today. It has given all Singaporeans and even non-Singaporeans an island to call their home with good opportunities. It is safe and peaceful here. That is what every citizen of any country needs and what every world leader should give his people. We do not need an opposition for the sake of having one. We do not need confrontation, but rather a contribution of opinions and suggestions to a system that is already working well.

Dr Chee’s thoughts and ideas are outdated, irrelevant and will not do any good for Singapore.

Joshua Selvakumar


(4) Rebellious nature may not lead to productivity

I ADMIRE Dr Chee Soon Juan as a man who stands up for what he believes in, but I am disturbed by his suggestion (‘PAP just as confrontational, replies Chee’, Thursday) that freedom of speech and assembly are somehow related to productivity.

The protests in Thailand amply demonstrate how unbridled exercise of freedom of speech and assembly can result in escalating social discord and political violence, with deleterious results for productivity.

And how would Dr Chee explain a nation like Japan, which is twice as productive as Singapore and (like Singapore) is devoid of ‘the rebellious’ and people ‘challenging the authorities’?

Peter Heng


(5) Chee must reinvent himself

DR CHEE Soon Juan’s letter on Thursday (‘PAP just as confrontational, replies Chee’) reads like the tired ramblings of a politician who has lost the plot.

When Dr Chee entered the political scene in 1992, he described himself as having ‘a good brain’. Expectations were high as the opposition saw hope in a candidate of good calibre.

However, his electoral performance since then has been dismal:

– 1992, Marine Parade by-election, 24.5 per cent of votes polled

– 1997, MacPherson, 34.86 per cent

– 2001, Jurong, 20.25 per cent

– 2006, ineligible to contest.

During this time, he attracted public attention with his bizarre acts done for unfathomable reasons.

Instead of galvanising the opposition, he has conceivably dealt his party and the opposition a death knell.

Is Dr Chee the big hope that he was made out to be?

As a citizen with no party affiliation, I argue that he has lost voter confidence and is in dire need of a strategy overhaul.

If he is able to think like a (political) entrepreneur, he needs to ask himself these key questions.

‘Who is my ‘customer’ – or ‘target voter’?’

‘What is my (political) ‘product’?’

‘Why should my ‘customer’ buy my ‘product’?’

I believe Dr Chee has failed to comprehend the strategic importance of these simple questions.

On the other hand, Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr Low Thia Khiang have carved a niche for themselves in an unfriendly political landscape, remarkably achieved with their humble qualities and modest resources.

By opting to focus on providing a calibrated voice in Parliament and addressing the municipal needs of their constituents, these respected gentlemen have created a unique political ‘product’ that resonates well with their supporters.

The ability of the ruling People’s Action Party to transform itself to respond to the changing needs of the electorate is also well known.

With the poor voter response he has received, Dr Chee should respect and listen to the wishes of Singaporeans, and reposition himself to be relevant to our aspirations.

Doing otherwise brings no value to his political career, family, party, supporters, the opposition, the health of our political system and fellow Singaporeans.

Han Tau Kwang


(6) Chee’s passion for democracy admirable

I READ Thursday’s letter by Dr Chee Soon Juan (‘PAP just as confrontational, replies Chee’), lamenting negative criticism of him and defending his ventures.

While critics are naturally subjective, I do not think Dr Chee needs to be overly defensive. I strongly believe his passion for excellence is in the areas of upholding democracy and protecting the rights of Singaporeans.

There is no perfect system of politics or governance, and any decision has flaws and opportunity costs. We will never know what is best for us, but we can always reflect on what we have done and make adjustments to ensure a better future. This appears to be working for us, or various systems in Singapore would not have become global benchmarks.

I admire Dr Chee’s perseverance and determination in his incessant fight against policies he deems unfair, to the extent that he has sacrificed much of his personal interests. He has exhibited a good understanding of our history and current affairs, but I believe he needs a clearer perspective of what Singaporeans really want and need.

Different social groups face different problems and there may never be a one-size-fits-all solution. We need good people in place to develop multi-pronged policies to ensure everyone gets a share of our national development. The exodus of talent seeking opportunities abroad is a natural by-product of globalisation, not necessarily a flaw in governance.

At least for now, I do not see an urgent need for a massive overhaul. We give the mandate to leaders based on what they have done for us and are capable of doing in future. We do not protest for the sake of opposing and many of us appreciate the political, economic and social stability we are currently enjoy.

I hope if Dr Chee is passionate about helping Singaporeans as his primary agenda, he should work with social groups and organisations to ensure his constructive input is heard.

Aloysius Lau


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