In PM Lee’s Coalition “Naive” is the new “Daft”.
Many readers will have seen PM Lee’s recent “Lunch with the Financial Times” interview. That interview was no doubt aimed at a UK or global audience but actually it is vitally important for us Singaporeans, giving us a rare opportunity to see our PM perform without the protection of PAP control. Here in Singapore we are unable to see or hear anything about or by the PM that hasn’t been scripted beforehand or edited afterwards. The PAP has total control over our media corporations through the management shares and the rights this gives them to appoint directors or in fact over the hiring and dismissal of any member of staff of a media company. These rights are enshrined in the Newspapers Printing and Presses Act and not some speculation on my part. Check the Act out here.
So how does our PM perform away from the cosy protections of a media controlled by his own government? The answer, for all to see in black and white, is not very well. His interview is best summed up by a comment left on the, “In Memory of JBJ” Facebook page. “what a lame duck interview” .
I hadn’t been expecting any great insights but even so I was surprised by what seemed to be random thoughts or coffee shop musings more bluntly referred to as mind fa**ts. He was overwhelmingly unimpressive and I was surprised that there is no sign of him being a pundit like his dad. Maybe he was trying to be “his own man” in which case I recommend that he immediately start trying to be someone else instead.
This pathetic interview is the perfect illustration of why having no competition in government has been bad for Singapore.
There were multiple gaffes but it was the one where the PM seemed to admit the possibility of a change of government in Singapore and even the PAP going into coalition that caused them to rush around in panic later. This is the passage in question:
So can he envisage a day when the PAP is not running Singapore? “It could well happen,” he replies mildly. “I don’t know how it will work but it could happen.” A little later, he hints that the PAP is beginning to consider the possibility of one day forming a coalition government. “It may not be one team in, one team out, it may be more complicated – you’re getting used to more complicated than that in Britain now.”
It seems abundantly clear to any ordinary reader that when the PM talks about things becoming “more complicated” in Singapore and then says “you’re getting used to more complicated than that in Britain now” that he must be referring to the fact that the UK has a coalition government.
However this interpretation resulted in some hurried backtracking on Facebook, presumably when he realised he might have given the impression that Singapore might progress one day to something more resembling a democracy. To quote his loyal States Times:
“PM Lee sought to clarify that what he meant was that he could imagine a situation in the future where the PAP is not dominant, but that he had no idea how that would work, “or whether it could be made to work at all”.
“To think that instead of PAP dominance we will have a stable two party system is naïve,” he wrote.
“Just look at the UK today – even there the two party system is no longer what it was. A coalition govt for Singapore was not on my mind.”
It is always a bad sign when your PM needs to clarify in his own newspaper and then again on his Facebook page. Despite his attempts to correct the situation and warn that Singapore would descend into chaos if we ever had a functioning democracy, the PM unwittingly provided the best argument in democracy’ s favour. It is because of the lack of competition in the political arena that we have a situation where the PM is clearly not able to think fast enough to avoid being caught out by even the mildest of questioning by an independent journalist.
This is particularly true when he has to face the novel experience of not being able to subsequently re-edit what he says. Typically even with all his clarifications, the PM was not able to produce a single argument why political competition would be bad for Singapore, just alarmist hints for consumption by a domestic audience fed misleading facts about gridlock in Western democracies. I note here that the new term of denigration for his voters is ‘naive’. Previously we were “lesser mortals” and then “daft” . Our people quite rightly angry got angry with being called names by their leaders and turned daft back on them so it seems that naive is the term du jour.
As I said in a Reuters interview in 2010,
“Firstly, do not be afraid. You have a right to exercise, to have a say, in how your country is run,” Jeyaretnam told Reuters in an interview at his apartment…
“Singapore is not going to collapse. Competition in politics is as necessary as it is in economics to ensure efficiency.”
Instead 50 years of repressive measures to prevent the development of an alternative government have left us with is a clear demonstration that where the Darwinian laws of competition are not allowed to operate survival of the weakest triumphs. Lame duck is a good enough term but Dodos are what the PAP are actually turning themselves into. The PM is as environmentally ill-adapted to the bracing world of competition outside Singapore as the Dodo was when new predators invaded its sheltered Mauritian environment in the seventeenth century. The longer the PAP continues to resist the development of political competition, the further Singapore will fall behind the advanced democracies in terms of creativity and innovation.
Meanwhile our people are trapped in this authoritarian state. If our people are naive then they are naive only because the PAP controls all sources of information, blocks transparency, provide no accountability and keeps them in a childlike state of dependency.