PM should be careful with name-calling over PID issue

April 21, 2014
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

Singapore Democrats

The developments over the celebration of the Philippines Independence Day (PID) by Filipinos at Ngee Ann City is cause for concern – a concern not just over the event but also over the wider and more pressing issue of immigration in Singapore.$CUT$

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-jin said that Singaporeans who oppose the celebration “peddle hate”, that such behaviour is “repulsive” and that they were engaging in “bigotry”. PM Lee Hsien Loong joined in, adding that these Singaporeans are a “disgrace to Singapore”.

The pushback by Singaporeans so accused has been vehement. For or against the PID celebration, one thing is clear: Social tension over the large number of foreign workers in Singapore is real and set to become more serious.

This country cannot descend into xenophobia and the SDP repeats our call to Singaporeans to focus our angst and energy on the root-cause of the problem which is the PAP’s immigration policy and not on the people who come here to work.

It must be acknowledged, however, that the frustrations of Singaporeans are not fictitious: We face an over-crowded city where jobs are increasingly harder to come by, the cost of living is at a record high, and an infrastructure that is overburdened. This is a recipe for social conflagration.

Given such a circumstance, education and appealing to our better angels is the more effective way to manage social tensions. Giving alternative solutions due attention is also important. To this end, the SDP has drawn up an alternative immigration policy to limit the inflow of foreign workers into this country and implement the Singaporeans First policy. (To read the paper, click here.)

A question of moral legitimacy

At such times, we need leadership. But leadership cannot come in the form of Ministers hurling epithets at Singaporeans, however justified they think their comments are. Leadership must come from authority that possesses moral legitimacy. Think Gandhi, King and Mandela. Such authority governs through persuasion and education, not fear.

Does the PAP have the moral legitimacy over the PID situation – and, for that matter, over the bigger issue of foreign workers in Singapore? How can it when over the years it has chosen not to openly debate the immigration policy but rather force it on the community?

There is also the issue of public assembly. The Government’s handling of the matter hardly inspires confidence. Does the PID event at Orchard Road have a permit? If yes (which, presumably, it does), then why were Malaysians arrested for holding a public event following their country’s elections in 2013? Why were the Burmese stopped from their gathering (also at Orchard Road) to call for the stop of bloodshed in Myanmar?

Back then, the police had warned that foreigners “should not import their domestic issues from their countries into Singapore and conduct activities which can disturb public order, as there can be groups with opposing views.”

More importantly, why are Singaporeans banned from commemorating events in our own country when Filipinos are given the green light? Members of the SDP were even prosecuted for marking National Day in 2008.

Then there are PAP MPs and Government-led organisations who are allowed to stage protests, including protests in security-sensitive areas like Parliament House. That right, however, is denied the opposition.

It is such arbitrary use of power and the disregard for the rule of law that has, in the eyes of many Singaporeans, eroded the moral standing of this Government.

The party claims that it derives its power from regularly held elections. Again, Singaporeans are able to see that the victory did not come from free and fair electoral practices but rather through the control of the mass media, the giving out of monetary packages just before polling, the threat of HDB upgrading, the use of lawsuits, the curtailment of the campaign period…

When moral legitimacy expires and the people don’t trust those who rule over them to act in their interest, trouble is seldom far away. And when these same persons in authority ride the high horse and indulge in name-calling, the antipathy grows.

If circumstances deteriorate, the threat of force – and even the use of it – cannot win the cooperation of the people. The most fundamental lesson that any student of politics learns is that without the people’s cooperation, a government is defunct.

At this crucial juncture, Singapore needs leadership – leadership that has moral legitimacy, not just executive power – and one that that will win back the trust of our people.