Straits Times Forum letters, Part I

(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) 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

Strait Times Forum letters, Part II:
(3) Rebellious nature may not lead to productivity
(4) Chee’s passion for democracy admirable

Strait Times Forum letters, Part III:
(5) I want constructive, not confrontational, politics
(6) Chee must reinvent himself

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