The Populist, Offensive and the Middle Paths

May 9, 2011

As I awoke half-naked from Saturday night’s drunken stupor and removed the Workers’ Party flag from one of my orifices, I had PM Lee’s words ringing in my ears. After all “reform” and “soul searching” are as synonymous with the PAP as “neutral” is with The Straits Times.

But could the PM be genuine about change? The lowest national share of the vote since independence must surely force home the need for not just a reassessment of governance ethos but also a studied shift in the type of policies implemented so far. And yet, with so much invested in the economy, any tinkering with public policies, whether in housing or immigration, will impact the statistical growth that the incumbent is so weaned on.

There are three possible paths the PAP can take – the populist path, the offensive path and the middle path.

The populist path would begin with the PM delivering on his promise to soul search and reform. People believe this path will point to the PM’s apology and pledge to “listen to all views”. If the PAP takes this path, we may see several policy changes like:

  1. significantly reducing ministerial and Presidential pay (say 40%)
  2. raising HDB income ceiling from $8000 to $10000 and significant lowering HDB flat costs for first time buyers
  3. reducing classroom sizes from 40 to about 30-25
  4. lowering rentals for SMEs
  5. tightening immigration policy by raising the bar for Employment Pass workers
  6. make it mandatory for employers to show that they cannot get Singaporeans before hiring foreigners
  7. reducing size of Cabinet
  8. turning REACH into a statutory board and enhancing its platform and power

The offensive path would be the opposite. With George Yeo gone, there is no agent for change. PAP hardliners would reason that going soft now would send a signal to the electorate and Opposition that the PAP is open to bargaining. Those who believe that this will be the path the PAP takes will point to the fact that PM Lee believes he has strong endorsement with 69% in AMK GRC and that 81 out of 87 seats is “strong mandate”. Furthermore unpopular ministers like Wong Kan Sing and Mah Bow Tan both continue to believe they have “strong mandate” with 57% each. If the PAP takes this path, we can expect:

  1. the civil service to be uncooperative with Opposition MPs when it comes to providing data and information
  2. Aljunied and Hougang continue to stand at the end of the queue for upgrading
  3. resistance from Aljunied grassroots leaders to WP MPs
  4. difficulty in assessing public funds
  5. more gerrymandering for Hougang, Aljunied, Joo Chiat, and Potong Pasir

The most likely path will however be the middle path. Here the PAP will make several symbolic gestures of reform, perhaps even implementing a few popular policies, but still going on the offensive. We could see

  1. incremental but ultimately unhelpful raising of HDB income ceiling and lowered cost of flats
  2. a symbolic but insignificant reduction of ministerial and presidential salaries
  3. PAP MPs more proactive in voicing ground concerns in Parliament but voting unpopular bills and policies anyway
  4. more Chek Jawa-type U-turns. Here the government chooses to make high profile back downs from unimportant policies calculated to demonstrate willingness to listen
  5. Meanwhile, gerrymandering continues, public funds for Aljunied made difficult to access, RC grassroots leaders uncooperative and act as feedback for PAP

One Response to “The Populist, Offensive and the Middle Paths”

  1. The Pariah Says:

    Ordinary folks in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC and many other opposition voters in other wards have stood up for Singapore.

    These voters have shown courage in their belief of public good and moral rectitude over and above immoral and unjust policies that were carefully calibrated to appeal to self-centredness and materialism (eg, public funded upgrading tied to PAP votes).

    As pointed out by:

    Dr Ho Kwon Ping – “A First World Parliament needs a First World Electorate”.

    Prof Chan Heng Chee decades ago – “Ours is a political system designed to give maximum leeway to the executive branch”.

    Dr Cherian George – “Besides, life in Singapore is not just shaped by statutes. It is also governed by subsidiary regulations and administrative decisions that don’t go through Parliament”.

    Will our Civil Service, Mainstream Media and Academia now Stand Up and Be Counted?

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