In case PAP doesn't know,
- Tiger palm was already exporting globally from a third world country in the 1910, even to New York
- Third world country Singapore was supporting Sun Yat Seng revolution with CASH
- Third world country Singapore was supporting China against Japanese with CASH
- Third world country Singapore was once the crown jewel over hong kong
Time for new PAP story
But the weight of history poses obstacles to party's endeavour
By Rachel Chang
EVERY person needs a story. A tale, still unfolding, in which he is the protagonist, and which gives sense to what he does and why he does it.
Every country needs a story. A founding myth of the forces that brought it into being, usually marked by heroism and derring-do - whether it is Christopher Columbus stumbling across America, Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent Salt March, Nelson Mandela's 27-year imprisonment or Mr Lee Kuan Yew's tears on Separation.
Every political party needs a story. A set of beliefs about what will lead to a better world, convictions that will draw men and women to stake their futures on the party.
For many politicians, the story often devolves into a quest for power for power's sake. But to the credit of the People's Action Party (PAP), whose story is inextricably intertwined with that of Singapore, that has never been the case.
In the wake of a watershed general election, the ruling party has been doing serious soul-searching. One thing was clear in May: Its old story, of an efficient and effective government that took the country from 'Third World to First', has less hold over Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, than it used to. But what would take its stead?
Our stories are what animate us and give our lives purpose. The PAP needs a new narrative, not just to win votes, but to situate its members in a narrative that would inspire them to, as PAP MP Denise Phua puts it, 'fight on... even if the person you are trying to help curses you'.
Last week, at its first party convention since the bruising general election, secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong opened his keynote address with a story. The current moment should be seen in the perspective of the party's 50-year history, he said.
It began with politics - 'the essence of the struggle' for its founding leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee. They had to mobilise a mass movement and 'get into power so that we can do things'. And even after it won power in 1959, the PAP's split with its extreme left wing ignited a deeper and more dangerous phase of political tussle.
After the PAP won the battle with the Barisan Sosialis, and entrenched itself as the dominant political party in Singapore, its second phase, the era of policy, began.
Politics took a back seat, for the PAP had no political opponents that posed a real threat. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said of this period: 'Therefore, we transformed Singaporeans' lives... The successful policies translated into support for the party and a whole generation of voters (experienced) the journey (while bonding) to the team.'
The May General Election marked the start of a third phase, he said.
In this telling, the PAP's pendulum swung from one extreme, of politics, to the other, of policies. There, it stayed for 40 years, until the jolt of losing Aljunied GRC to the Workers' Party.
Now, the pendulum is swinging again, to rest - the PAP hopes - in a happy balance of politics and policies. The PAP would 'carry the ground' (politics), even as it pursues hard-headed governance (policies). If it succeeds in achieving this balance, the PAP would have used its general election losses as the occasion to find a new equilibrium.
But will it? Two immediate challenges stand in the way of the desire of the 'new PAP' to engage Singaporeans in policymaking, and connect emotionally with them.
The first is that its policies-only phase went on for so long that its ranks are now filled with 'technocrats and civil servants', not politicians, as Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng characterised the common charge.
While they are all certainly aware of the 'new normal', PAP politicians still believe in the primacy of policy effectiveness over political emotiveness.
They believe in what makes sense, not what captures the news cycle. They believe that excessive debate is counter-productive, and opposition for opposition's sake is poisonous. And when it comes to the crunch, they believe in 'doing the right thing' - implementing the optimal, long-term policy - even if they cannot carry the ground in the process.
The word 'politics' has even come to have negative connotations of pandering to populist pressure. How can the PAP become political if there is an instinctive distrust of politics?
The second obstacle is that the image fixed in Singaporeans' minds of the PAP is a party that is all head and no heart, one that puts policy above people. So, its attempts at establishing an emotional connection with the ground are met with scepticism of varying degrees.
The debate over the Bukit Brown cemetery is instructive. Despite the protracted public engagement on the issue, some of those who do not want to see the cemetery give way to development believe the public engagement was just wayang (Malay for 'show'), that the 'new PAP' might spend more time consulting, but it will still not yield or soften its policies.
In this atmosphere, policies that change because of public input will be dismissed by some as belated; policies that do not change will be held up as evidence of intractability. Either way, the PAP cannot win, as far as this segment of the population is concerned.
For the first time in the country's history, Singapore's story is not clearly, nor necessarily, coincident with the ruling party's.
The PAP sees the current moment as the third phase of its history. But it is possible that this is the beginning of the country's second phase. After a long period of PAP dominance, younger Singaporeans especially may want the pendulum to move in the other direction.
While it is premature to speak of a possible change of government, it is clear that there are many who would prefer the ruling party to loom less large over the nation. The sentiments of these voters are beyond the PAP's ability to change, even if it manages to find a balance between politics and policies - for these are voters who object to its dominance per se, not necessarily its style of governance or its policies.
The ruling party is sincere about change. It has admitted that it has to better calibrate the balance between policy and politics. But since the May polls, the PAP has found itself, for the first time, in the position of playing catch-up to, rather than leading, changes in the country.
The notion of a 'new PAP' is its attempt to get ahead of the evolving political landscape. But only time will tell how the new stories the PAP tells of itself will end.