We are now facing twin threats – a virus pandemic that may kill many in Singapore and a General Election that may wipe out the Opposition. Ironically, success in coping with the first problem may contribute towards the second scenario. So let’s hope Singaporeans are smart enough not to mix the two and be able to see that an effective government will always need a viable Opposition to do better.
Surely, people here are not blind to the danger of Covid-19. At the time of writing this column, the number of cases worldwide is 1,201,767 and the number of deaths, 64,710. Singapore has 1,189 cases and six deaths. After China, the new epicentres have been Italy, Spain and now the United States. Every other country has it. It’s global and Singapore is a global city, depending on the world to earn a living.
Nearer home, in our neighbourhood, we see governments almost whistling in the dark. Scary thought. They do not seem equipped or have the will to hunker down to tackling the problem which will not simply dissipate in the hot tropical weather, as suggested by some Indonesian officials or be cured by drinking lots of water, as proposed by a government minister in Malaysia. The pandemic will grow in the region and remain a very real threat to our well-being, whatever we do to mitigate it at our borders.
So that we know what we may be up against, the weird side corollary is this: If it is true that inaction (irresponsibly using religion as one convenient, lazy or delusionary excuse) and non-scientific hocus-pocus can solve Covid-19 or protect people from the virus, then all the money that the world has been spending on modern medical science and its practices would have been for nothing. Certainly not.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the multi-ministry task force used two images to explain what the Government is doing to deal with Covid-19. First, there is the now famous “Circuit Breaker”. Limit non-essential activities and human interaction to stop the further spread of the virus. Then there is the “Ring Fence”. Trace people linked to known cases and quarantine them, ring fencing them from the general unaffected population.
These may be nice graphic media-friendly phrases but they would have served no great purpose if the people who have to convey the messages lack the finesse and credibility to put them across. In a crisis situation, that can be the difference between success and failure. Whole of government effort stumbles where it should not – rallying people to the cause.
How has the performance of the 4G leaders been so far in their handling of the crisis? Have they risen to the occasion?
Heng Swee Keat’s two Budgets – the original plus the second stimulus – were the DPM and Finance Minister’s signature songs, so to speak. With so much experience in budget presentation and with so much largesse to tap into, he could be singing all the way to the Istana, sans minor hiccups in troublesome Parliamentary exchanges with the likes of Workers’ Party’s Sylvia Lim. And he has yet to stop singing. More monetary measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19 are in the bag. The PM-in-waiting is somewhat Teflon-coated.
Question is: Has the number two question been settled? It would take something major to raise doubt that Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing would be the deputy to Heng, having once been touted himself to be a potential successor to PM Lee.
This brings us to the assessing of the performances of the 4G leaders in the multi-ministry task force (including Chan) at the altar of public communication. Let’s put aside Chan aka Kee Chiu aka Mr Supply Chain whose public persona most observers are familiar with. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung is not quite in the main spotlight which falls squarely on Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
National Development Minister Wong has been quite impressive as a communicator. He is composed and clear-minded. He obviously has a good grasp of each development and explains the measures which have to be taken in an uncomplicated manner. He speaks well and logically, straight from the hip. He seems like someone the public can trust. He seems to have struck a chord with younger voters, judging by netizens’ reactions.
Crises are the best test of leadership. The 4G leaders have not failed and their growing confidence is bad news for the Opposition in the GE.
There is some talk about a boycott by some parties. That would be suicidal and defeatist. They will find it hard to recover like the once formidable Barisan Sosialis discovered after their boycott of Parliament in the late 1960s. The party never returned.
Politics is for stayers. Nothing that has happened since the WP broke the GRC threshold in 2011 has lessened the need for a bigger Opposition presence. Good government comes from the crucible of fire – whether in the form of a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic or a contest of ideas or programmes. The virus outbreak will pass. Not the need for an Opposition.
Stay at home listen
Someone sent me a request. While we are staying at home, support our local artistes. Spotify these performers (each gets a small amount for each play):
Hanging Up The Moon
Paint The Sky Red
Yung Raja & Fariz Jabba
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.