Manifesto: Society and the People

October 8, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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The PAP government continues to propagate the notion that if Singaporeans are distracted by anything other than the pursuit of material wealth, the economy will disintegrate and misery would reign. Such an antiquated tactic may startle many into political submission. Unfortunately, it will also steer society to mediocrity.

State intervention in every facet of life has reduced Singaporeans into an uninspired people, alienated from the public process. The dependence on extrinsic motivation to encourage or penalise social, economic, and political behaviour has led society to become even more rigid and un-enterprising.

Focus less on materialistic wealth

The overall philosophy of the government must be one of ensuring the well being of Singaporeans in a holistic manner. Being obsessed with material acquisition inadvertently makes it harder for society to create wealth. This reminds me of the visual phenomenon of stargazing. When we focus too intently on a distant and dim star, we often lose sight of it. But when we gaze in its vicinity and make less effort in trying to bring it into our visual focus, we see it better. This is because the periphery of our vision detects light better when it is dark. Similarly, making money the nucleus of our existence will blind us to the other values in life, some of which may even lead us to greater opportunities of wealth creation. The greater our obsession with crass materialism, the more elusive wealth will be.

To develop a dynamic and well-rounded society, a government must invest in the people. The PAP’s idea of fiscal spending on education and training and then extracting payback in the form of economic production is not what I am talking about. Political investment in the people by way of guaranteeing a free flow of information through a free mass media is vital. National debate, even intense ones on controversial subjects, will allow the literate population in Singapore to draw energy from the passions of the various interest groups in society. History tells us that it is the unread and uninformed society that poses the greatest danger to itself. Frequent exchanges of diverse viewpoints teach a community to be mindful of opinions that are often at odds with one’s own. With a good legal system to ensure that voices do not escalate into violence, tolerance and acceptance of non-uniformity becomes embedded into the political culture. This in turn provides the vibrancy, the ‘buzz’ that is lacking in Singapore but necessary for the economy to innovate and compete. Cracking the whip and admonishing Singaporeans to train and re-train in order to upgrade their skills while continuing to reduce their political space, drains them of energy and commitment.

Let the people return

Genuine attempts must be made to lure Singapore émigrés back. When authoritarian states, such as South Korea and Taiwan, make the successful transition to democracy, its overseas citizens who have hitherto made their homes abroad return in great numbers. Having a political voice in one’s home country remains a major consideration for professionals who may not be inclined or have the wherewithal to launch a political struggle with the government for democracy. Many of these individuals take their skills to other countries that they find have more in common with their own political persuasions. It is notable that among the major economies in Asia, Singapore is the only one facing a serious outflow of its skilled citizens. By embarking on the foreign talent policy, the PAP is only creating another problem to mask the current one. This policy is doomed to fail as the best of the brightest in the world will not be attracted by a political system that is anything but democratic.

Respect, not manipulate, the ethnic minority

A concerted effort must be made to address the concerns of the ethnic minorities in Singapore, especially the Malays. Merely identifying high profile individuals within the Malay community and bringing them into the fold of the PAP is insufficient. If the ideal of multiracialism is to be realised, the PAP cannot galvanise anti-Malay feelings among the majority ethnic Chinese by raising the spectacle of communal politics every time the Malays call for an alternative form of leadership within their community. Such a tactic will only engender greater resentment and polarisation among the ethnic groups, and eventually back-fire on society.

Conclusion

The PAP government continues to propagate the notion that if Singaporeans are distracted by anything other than the pursuit of material wealth, the economy will disintegrate and misery would reign. Such an antiquated tactic may startle many into political submission. Unfortunately, it will also steer society to mediocrity.

State intervention in every facet of life has reduced Singaporeans into an uninspired people, alienated from the public process. The dependence on extrinsic motivation to encourage or penalise social, economic, and political behaviour has led society to become even more rigid and unenterprising.

The Singaporean society is painstakingly stitched together so that every cog and gear of the system runs in perfect timing to produce greater economic wealth. The educational system in particular has been used as an instrument to fulfil such state plans. Whether they are primary one students or university professors, individuals are meticulously tested, selected, and trained to be productive units in an economy that the government sometimes refers to as an efficient corporation, sometimes a well-trained football team. Such a regimented system may be good for ball-bearings, but they seldom work for human beings. Citizens who have the skills and the means to emigrate have left and continue to leave in disquieting numbers. Rather than institute reforms, however, the PAP resorts to encouraging the influx of foreigners to replace the haemorrhage, with little forethought about the consequences of such an unstudied strategy. In such a contrived society, the quality of life cannot but become moribund.

Someone once said that Singapore smells and tastes like a hospital—well-organised, efficient, and above all, clean (even sterile). This may not be a bad thing. After all, order ensures security which humans yearn for. In Singapore, however, the fixation with control and regulation has choked the human spirit out of the three million islanders. The danger is that the longer we live in the hospital, the more we behave like patients.

This segment rounds up the series of chapters that make up the manifesto of the Singapore Democrats. It presents our vision for Singapore in the various aspects of society, including the political system, the economy, education, social security, distribution of wealth, the media and, here, society and the people. To read the rest of the manifesto please go to What We Stand For.