Besides slanted news generated by the mainstream media and fake news in general, Singaporeans have to be aware of fake controversy. A kind of kite-flying exercise meant to test the waters – for whatever purpose.
The last couple of weeks’ mini-preoccupation with the issue of settling on the next Prime Minister sounds like fake controversy.
In April last year, PM Lee Hsien Loong spoke about impending Cabinet changes this year after the Budget in February. Coupled that with a much earlier public statement that he intended to step down after the next general election which must be held by January 2021, Singaporeans could not be blamed for thinking he was going to announce or at least indicate who of the 4G frontrunners would be THE real frontrunner. He has just said he is not.
Bear in mind that there was no groundswell or any kind of pressure from anyone to force the issue, as far as the public is concerned.
Firstly, this has always been an internal Cabinet/party matter. We do not vote the political leader, unlike in the American presidential system. We vote for the party which will then choose its own Prime Minister, meaning, ultimately in the Singapore context, it could be the incumbent PM who could have a lot of influence and say, never mind who party cadres have in mind.
In retrospect, Lee Kuan Yew tried to distance himself from the final selection of Goh Chok Tong as PM because his son, Hsien Loong, would later be in the running to be the post-Goh PM and the senior Lee would rather, at least technically, “recuse” himself and let the party decide, to set the right tone. His charisma, clout and contribution notwithstanding. Proper protocol is the phrase.
Secondly, there is really no polite way to say it, to explain the lack of excitement. None of the touted 4G “favourites” has shown enough to be PM material. As yet. There has only been muted interest in any of the trio and, as a consequence, who among them will be the next PM.
Ong Ye Kung, who has subtly though not totally ruled himself out, is still new. Plus he has to erase his baggage of having been part of the losing People’s Action Party team in the Aljunied GRC in GE2011. Chan Chun Sing has not carried any GRC on his own. Heng Swee Keat’s health continues to be a concern. Also, his performance in delivering a speech at an NDP Rally was generally perceived to be lacklustre.
All three have not been tested fully.
Thirdly, do we know any of the three well? When will they share more personal stories with voters about their backgrounds and experiences beyond the official CVs? What are their interests and visions and life philosophies? What do others in the party have to say about them?
What are their own views on government policies? Set up a series of televised townhall meetings for them to take questions on important issues such as the MRT, GST, immigration and population policies, trade agreements, the Li siblings dispute/38 Oxley Road, jobs for PMETs, the Keppel scandal, the under-utilised SportsHub, FAS, the GRC system itself, scholarships for foreign students, social media, the over-controlled mainstream media and NS for PRs.
Against a backdrop of loud – and hard to fathom (for the powers that be, that is) – silence underlined by questions about the ability of any of the 4G leaders to be the “striker”, Goh Chok Tong’s setting of a six-to-nine months deadline seems like a testing of public waters.
There has, indeed, been a dearth of interest.
It may, sadly, be the fate of Singaporeans to be saddled with a collegial system of government led by nondescript and uninspiring leaders.
Maybe that is the idea. An interlude of low-key consolidation followed by the emergence of yet another blue blood or white horse with impeccable credentials.
SIA’s Pinkerton Syndrome
Channel NewsAsia carried a good commentary talking about the whacking that Singapore Airlines seems to be getting from Singaporeans every time the carrier does something wrong. The latest salvo was in reaction to a credit card surcharge plan for some passengers which was later scrapped.
Lin Suling, the writer, suggests Singaporeans should keep their expectations in check. Basically, be fair. The airline is, after all, a business, with a bottomline to worry about.
SIA does have an image problem with locals. It has long been perceived as having an atas attitude towards ordinary Singaporeans, especially those travelling on economy class. Put another way, the airline is said to be suffering from Pinkerton Syndrome. I leave it to you to find out what the syndrome means.
Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.