Should I stay or should I go?

March 31, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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

This letter was posted on the New Sintercom forum on 25 March 2003

As the Clash (a punk rock UK band) sang in the late 1970s/early 1980s, “Should I stay or should I go?…If I stay, there will be trouble… If I go, it will be double.”

By now, there exists a sizeable number of people, Singaporeans, who are disgruntled and disenfranchised. There are some who are pissed off to the extent that they are willing to cut off national ties period. Yet, there are also others who have not reached that stage of no-return, but if left unchecked, could very well be permanent departures.

I’m a Singaporean, born and bred, for close to 30 years. I would say that I belong to the latter category, meaning that I am seriously contemplating being a permanent departure.

Whence this disaffection? I was brought up to be unquestioning, apolitical (or adverse to opposition politics) and conform to the status quo, whatever that may be.

In effect, this meant that the government of the day (or in this case, the PAP) issued an edict, and everyone was supposed to fall in line. If the reverse occurred, woe be to the perpetrators. This happens in all spheres of life in Singapore, whether in socio-political arena or otherwise.

However, thanks to the media, it appears that the political arena generates the most interest. We’ve seen what happened to Jeyaratnam, Tang, Chee and Seow, who are just some of the more prominent opposition “celebrities”. What was so damning about these people that provoked such a furious reaction by the PAP? Are they not Singaporeans too? Don’t their views matter for something, even if not always parallel or in agreement with the government? Was there really a need to vilify them and criminalise their actions?

And so it goes…that in Singapore, if you want to survive, or perhaps even prosper, the key is turn a blind eye to the actions of the PAP government. You can survive if you don’t agree with them, but just don’t oppose them. Or, you can try your luck and go all out to align yourself to the PAP, hoping that they’ll take notice of you and pluck you from obscurity and thrust you into the limelight.

On the other hand, if you get inquisitive, start to poke your nose around and ask questions, then somewhere someone will take note and you might just find yourself on the receiving end of a big stick.

Frankly, I’m tired of all that has happened, and is still happening in Singapore. I never thought I would find myself so at odds with the system. There is no question where my loyalty lies – it is with the country. But people have to got to realise that Singapore is not all about dollars and cents, ekeing out a daily living. There has to be more, and much more I might add, which can anchor Singaporeans to Singapore.

Someone once remarked that being a stayer didn’t necessarily imply that your heart was here. By the same token, being a quitter doesn’t equate to selling out your country and trading loyalties. This seems to strike a chord with me.

Sadly, I find myself increasingly confronted with the very real possibility of life elsewhere. I don’t want to leave, for the simple reason that I’m a Singaporean and Singapore, no matter its imperfections, means something to me, even if it is a little red dot to others.

But, the fact remains that I’m unable to reconcile my conscience, thoughts and beliefs to the system and policies of the PAP government, especially their brand of politics. I’ve even contemplated opposition politics but pragmatism, honed by years of indoctrination by PAP politics, eventually reigned supreme.

Above all, I asked myself this simple question “Why do people have to be persecuted for espousing and preaching a different brand of politics?” Being on the opposition bench means that you have to be constantly and mentally prepared to be ridiculed, slapped around and hauled up to court on defamation charges if necessary.

I might be naive and idealistic but I’m not prepared to face such treatment simply because I do not think it is impossible for a co-existence of ruling and opposition forces in government. Politics doesn’t have to be a cut-throat affair.

At the end of the day, governmental processes, systems, policies and, ultimately, the country is strengthened by more democracy and not less, as some people in the PAP government would like to believe.

In the final analysis, I do not know if I would actually have or want to leave Singapore. One thing I do know for sure is that being a stayer or quitter does not have resonance if the heart is not in it.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome, please.

ROTAIWAN