Yes, DPM Tharman, we’re not idiots. We do read the inside pages and between the lines

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah

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I totally agree with Tharman Shanmugaratnam. “I don’t think Singaporeans are fools”, the DPM said at a Q-and-A session held after the NTU’s inaugural Majulah Lecture on Wednesday. Yes, we are not.

Tharman said Singaporeans are discerning. When people get news from the mainstream media, they “do not read blindly”: “They know some things are more likely to come up on Page 4 than on Page 1; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things.”

Translation:  The main controlled media can manipulate, bury as much of the real story (or even the truth) as they can but smart readers automatically know how to read in between the pages and lines and seek out the truth.

Remember that famous Abraham Lincoln quote: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” You can’t.

Social media, smartphones and the Internet have made it almost impossible for anyone to lie, tell half-truths and push one-sided propaganda for too long.  And that includes seeing the inevitable emergence of more people who will question and not accept even long-held beliefs and sacred cows – even that Lincoln quote in the preceding paragraph. There are now doubts whether he actually said it. According to the Associated Press: This was thought to be part of a speech Lincoln gave in September 1858 in Clinton, Illinois, but the line was not in the text printed in the local newspaper. It was attributed to Lincoln in 1910 when two people remembered hearing him say it in 1856 –  54 years later!

With that in mind, let’s put this more discerning Singaporeans in the new more open world theory to the test.

Take Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his MRT nightmare. He came to the job with a reputation of being a hands-on problem solver, with his vast experience at the HDB and his encounter with SARS. Much was expected of him. But it has been one excuse after another. The Transport Minister has more or less given up on the Bukit Panjang LRT as a lemon which has nothing to do with him as it was built before his time.

If the picture of a minister trying his best that is being painted by the main media is to be accepted, do we then cut him some slack and bear all the continuing delays without protest? Do we also believe that the MRT mess is merely technical? Should there not be more accountability on what happened with the whole MRT system  – who was at fault or what can be done to prevent a similar fiasco? First, it’s the signalling system, next it’s “political pressure”. Singaporeans deserve to know the truth and the real picture. Dribs and drabs and a litany of excuses will not do.

The disconnect between main media narrative and the truth is just as pronounced in two other current events.

There is Lee Hsien Loong making his trip to China for his much-awaited meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. And, of course, the whole Singapore mainstream media machinery went Pravda-like.

PM Lee was shaking hands with just about anyone who was anybody in Beijing. PM in PMO Chun Chun Sing and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat were posing for pictures everywhere. Like long-lost brothers, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen was bear-hugging PLA general Chang Wanquan, the Chinese Defence Minister.

As Tharman correctly pointed out, all on Page 1 and top of the page prime news. It was fence-mending all the way and at the same time, to PM Lee’s credit, a bit of flag-flying as he tried to boost the flagging ties between Beijing and Singapore.

The real story, or at least Xi Jinping’s message, was innocuously massaged into Goh Sui Noi’s column at the bottom half of Page 8 in Saturday’s Straits Times: “However, in a sign that things are not yet all hunky-dory, Xi, at his meeting with Lee, said the two sides needed to build mutual political trust and support each other on issues of core interests and major concerns.” This was not mentioned on Thursday’s Page 1 coverage of the Lee-Xi meeting.

I think Singaporeans are really not fools. They can make up their own minds on issues. If the issue is that China wants to pressure us, we may as well know it rather than pretend the pressure does not exist or that we are dealing with angels.

Finally, the “walkover” election of Madame Halimah Yacob – again. No, the issue will not go away, however the government wishes it to.

I have no solution except one. There is enough angst among many Singaporeans on the streets and online regarding the moral legitimacy of the just-concluded Elected Presidency to warrant concern. How do we get all this behind us?

I would suggest holding a public meeting between President Halimah and Dr Tan Cheng Bock. Both should have an open dialogue followed by a Q-and-A with concerned Singaporeans, including live calls from members of the public. This will be better than the forum which was supposed to have been held before the walkover was announced. It will be much more productive – for the sake of all Singaporeans and the EP’s evolution.

Trust us. We are all Singaporeans.

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.

94 COMMENTS

    • No one will notice it as it was a quasi commentary and buried in inside pages. Further, stuff like that won’t appear digital. There are plenty on Xi’s negative vibes in china’s papers, including HK’s. Chinese readers, local and abroad, know not all is well between the two countries. Only ST tried to fool the readers in Singapore and the world. Call it an informative and objective newspaper. No way.

  1. From Speaker of Parliament to Here Comes Super Woman. MSM, Day 1, tagged her, Heartland President, People’s President. Sing, Sing, Sing. A fortnight, non-stop.
    Or, is the work of the President one of the easiest jobs? An admin to organise to meet the less fortunate, a team to pen kind words, an escort to drive one to meetings, ….. smile, shake hands?

  2. Sporeans are not idiots. They are mostly highly educated. It’s not an intellect issue. The main issue is they have no guts. No guts to express themselves. No experience in having a free press. No guts to vote their conscience. No guts to take risks with their careers. Not guts to take the road less travelled.

    It’s the culture that was cultivated over the years. We are inured to the volley of misinformation fed to us. We have become a nation of “follow the leader, or else “.

    Lastly , we will be overrun by FT in the coming years. We are not as hungry, and not as ambitious as they are.

  3. Yup Singaporeans are not idiots. However there is a huge segment of the population who support the PAP no matter what screw ups and transgressions they commit.

    Let’s hope that more and more of our young eligible voters and new citizens will see the PAP for what they truly are….. and vote for a more fair and democratic Parliament come GE2020.

    • The PAP is not a bad gahmen. Of course they can improve. Eg by being a more kinder and gentler gahmen , esp to the elderly.

      We must not hope that the young voters vote out the PAP. That’s NOT the solution.

      Instead we should hope that the young generation step up to do public service , offer themselves as alternatives and improve the current gahmen.

    • Tom Wang Chen Yong u think anyone (younger gen) stand up and fight for right for Singaporean and the PAP government will gladly happy and listen and allow them??? Com’on, they probably shut them up or sue them (eg Roy). If not for the “allegation” he made against PM, all info share thru him was true after being disclosed. So you telling me NOT to vote them out?? I hope I m dreaming reading the text

    • As long as the Lee remain as PM and ministers salary is tag to the top 5% of the private sector nothing will change.The only alternative is to deny the PAP a two third majority.

    • Tom Wang Chen Yong If Singaporeans dare not act to save their future, then don’t complain. With 70% majority, it’s like a blank cheque allowing to do almost anything they want.

    • Tom Wang Chen Yong ,Singaporean need to take action for themselves and their children.Nobody will help Singaporean if they don’t want to help themselves.So don’t blame the PAP if Singapore don’t want changes.

    • Tom Wang Chen Yong Complaining means the issues are identified and that’s good. But when one can act on such issues, but are not willing or dare to do so, then complaining is just …. complaining.

    • Tom Wang Chen Yong you sound so logical but it is exactly the direction the ruling government would want it to be , that is monopoly of power …….”join us , improve the system , be part of us etc………” then many a capable talented individualist would end up singing their tune when sucked into their system , what can one expect of a MP or Minister drawing the kind of $$$$$$$$ to be motivated to do thing right as against doing the right thing ?? Which most probably doing the the later would be deemed the smarter choice! It cannot be that all policies made in the past 52 years were near right at one time or another , was there 1 occasion whereby the majority members in the law maker house exercise their duty with a majority nay???

  4. The Govt still think we are idiots. But they realise we have alternate media and views – through internet & social media. So, they have stopped trying to monopolising the media. They cannot anymore. So the wayang has started to tell us they know we are not idiots…

    • Times have changed and so do the People. Most of Gahment are still in the past. Living on achievements of past and failing to realise the challenges ahead. Might be a blessing in disguise making us see their real worth. If there is any.

    • Maybe we are not idiots but we are cowards, and the G knows that. They do anything they want, and may destroy Singapore and what do we do? We complain, complain, complain but 70% still vote for them!! More s**t will be coming.

      • We are not idiots or puppets, under the old guards we trust & hope, together with them in the name of tolerant for peace and stability which we achieved. We don’t want to end up like some of our neighboring countries do we?
        But now l am not too sure we can di that looking at how they perform?? Hopefully we the people of SG come together again to defend our land against FT who also think we are stupid after enjoying our fruits if labour by not contributing or appreciating us! Which our leaders leaders believe in them more than the citizens and shame and making a fool of us.We appreciate their presence but we do not condone them to smear our culture and service standard.

  5. The only true solution is for a real democratic parliament that needs to be well represented with oppositions for real representation of the people’s needs, welfare and aspirations and not the Govt’s. For this to be possible citizens must start to open their eyes and ears and use their brain to discern and question pap’s policies and Govt media propaganda, and not be afraid to give opposition candidates a chance to represent and to serve the communities’ interest by voting for the oppositions at the next election.

    Pap under LKY stood firmly hard on corruption, incompetence of the civil service and implemented people’s interest policies such as affordable public housing, CPF strictly for retirement, creating jobs with industries and financial establishments, and most importantly to foster unity amongst the different races by stressing on race equality and meritocracy. All these great attributes have brought great development and wealth to SG but are now quickly being undermined by the new generation of corrupted pap Politicians ironically headed by LHL, the son of LKY.

    The current Govt policies everyone is well aware of seeks to enlarge the population by opening doors to cheaper foreigners to generate growth and wealth at the expense of local jobs, lower pay, lower standard of living and increasing cost of living. CPF is allowed to be borrowed by the individuals to take on long term loans at significantly higher interest than banks causing a surge in borrowing and growing debts while the Govt happily cashing in with higher pricing of public housing.
    Medical cost are ever increasing with shortages of hospital beds, and while there is national medical insurance, it’s access is limited and often require a long wait for critical illness treatment.
    While many are struggling with unemployment, low wages, insignificant wage rise, pap is rewarding themselves obscenely with world highest pay.

    Incompetence of Govt servants is becoming rampant and brazen as there is no repercussions other than to continue to receive high pays without fear of losing their jobs.

    National reserves account is kept secret from the people without them knowing if it is squandered, misused or increasing in value.

    The pap led Govt has become corrupted with greed for wealth and power due to the mandate given by the electorate. If this is allowed to continue, there will not be much achievements to talk about for next 50 years other than the eventual downfall of SG.
    Who are the victims- the people, while the ill gotten wealthy Politicians enjoy the people’s spoils.
    Corruption is destroying many countries that have much natural resources, eg Brazil, Venezuela and many African countries. SG without natural resources and dependent on people’s hard work can more easily fall from corruption. Don’t be indifferent or wait till it is too late even to raise your voice. Do what is good for yourself and the country, and not serve only the selfish interest of pap.

    • Sure, more opposition but how many actually dare vote for them? 30%? Hahahaha. Why not? Opposition no good? Says who? Some may not be but others are pretty good, makes more sense than many in the G. How do you know? Read, verify and think! Then find some courage to do the right thing! For your country.

  6. Tharman is a good guy the only PAP Minister who earn my respect…. but he still pulling party line…. Suggesting to have Mdm Halimah and TCB on the same public forum is just a token to eased out things (online bombardment and critics)… but to me is adding insult to my intelligence… ✌️️

  7. If Tharman has some shred of decency, he should have said something before the election not after the dusts has settled. He is just like Goh Chok Tong, dishonourable. Thumbs down.

  8. I disagree with DPM Tharman. Singaporeans are all idiots, believe me. GE2020 not only tells us we are idiots but bloody fools too.
    Hmm….Mr.Tharman that’s a smart move playing those mind game.

  9. Pap now is like the franchised of the old company.. Nothing is as good as the yesteryears old guards. These new greedy government’s agendas are only suited to themselves and their own pockets NOT for the country, not for Singaporeans. Only stupid folks believe the newbies are like the old guards, these are the very people refusing to change and living in denial of yesterdays’ believes.

  10. I think we should not have a freewheeling media. But should there not be at least two persons in each “prestigious” media who dare say “that’s the truth. Print it”. Now, from what I know, there is none. The shame is that they would give prominence to issues like LGBT and single motherhood so as to look progressive. But political facts and scandals? No.

  11. IS THARMAN FOOLING SINGAPOREANS AGAIN??

    THARMAN DISAGREE OF GUTTER POLITICS??

    HOW TRUE AND SINCERE IS HE?

    IF THAT’S THE CASE, WHY THARMAN HIMSELF JOINTLY COLLABORATED WITH ANOTHER “FOREIGN TRASH” CRONY MINISTER, KHAW BG, TO ATTACK OPPO PARTY, WP, ON AHTC ISSUE?

    THARMAN WAS THE “ONE” WHO LODGED A REPORT TO AGC ABOUT AHTC BASED ON “CONFLICT OF INTEREST”.

    DON’T THARMAN KNOW THAT THE “BIGGEST AND NOTABLE” CONFLICT OF INTERESTS EXISTS WITHIN HIS OWN PARTY ITSELF AND THAT IS HIS OWN LEADER LHL AS PM WHO COULD APPOINT HIS OWN WIFE AS CEO OF TEMASEK??

    THARMAN SAID AS COMPARED TO THE EARLY DAYS, SINGAPORE IS “MORE LIBERAL” NOW? REALLY?

    OR WAS THARMAN TRYING TO “COUNTER ATTACK” MY FB COMMENTS WHEN I SAID ROTTON GOVT WAS THE ONE TO BE BLAMED FOR BEING SO “CONTROLLED” AND TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING SINGAPOREANS SO “KIASI” AND SO “KIASU”?

    AND NOW IS THARMAN TRYING TO PRETEND TO EMPATHIZE WITH THE CITIZENS? SOME” HIDDEN AGENDA”?? BEWARE!!

    IF SINGAPORE UNDER THE CURRENT ROTTON PAP GOVT IS” MORE LIBERALISED” THAN LKY’S ERA……….

    1) WHY WAS AMOS YEE BEING OPPRESSED AND SENTENCED TO JAIL FOR WEEKS AND MONTHS A FEW TIMES TO SPEAK AGAINST LKY, WHEN LKY HIMSELF WAS IN THE DYING STAGE? IT WAS “NOT” LKY HIMSELF WHO TOOK ACTION AGAINST AMOS BUT RATHER IT WAS THE CURRENT ORGAN OF STATE WHO DID IT?

    2) ROY NGERNG WHO SPOKE UP ON CPF ISSUE WAS BEING SUED BY ROTTON LEADER LHL AND NOT LKY?

    3) THEN LEE SHENG WU, LEE HSIEN YANG’S SON RECEIVED WARNING LETTER FROM ORGAN OF STATE FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT?

    4) AND SOME ACTIVIST LAWYERS LIKE ALFRED AND EUGENE, BOTH WERE WARNED FOR THE SAME REASONS AND DEMANDED FOR APOLOGIES TOO? AND THE LATTER WAS EVEN FINED.

    5) AND MANY OTHER CASES HAPPENED TO OTHER CITIZENS WERE BEING INTERROGATED, AND THEIR HOUSES WERE BEING SEARCHED AND THEIR PERSONAL COMPUTERS AND MOBILE PHONES WERE ALSO DULY CONFISCATED.

    6) PPL WERE BEING STOPPED FROM TRAVELLING TO MALAYSIA AT THE JB CHECKPOINTS FOR ATTENDING VIGIL FOR THE EXECUTION OF A DRUG INMATE OUTSIDE CHANGI PRISON , ETC

    YOU CALL ALL THESE ABOVE RIDICULOUS ACTIONS BY ORGANS OF STATE IN SG AS “LIBERAL ACTIONS” ?

    BUT CERTAINLY, ALL THESE WERE.”SCARE TACTICS” TO THE CITIZENS, TRYING TO “SILENCE” ANY DISSIDENTS INSTEAD.

    WHO IS THARMAN KIDDING?.

    IN MY OPINION, THE ROTTON GOVT HAS DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY GIVEN THEIR STATE OF ORGANS “MORE LIBERAL AUTHORITY” TO ATTACK CITIZENS IN ANY WAY AT ALL OPPORTUNITIES RATHER THAN CITIZENS ARE GIVEN “MORE LIBERAL ABILITY” IN EXPRESSING THEMSELVES UNDER THIS CURRENT ROTTON GOVT.

    WHY DOES THARMAN SPOKE UP NOW WHEN THE RICE HAS ALREADY BEEN COOKED, AFTER WHEN HALIMAH YACOOB HAS ALREADY BEEN CONFERRED AS SG PRESIDENT, KNOWING THE “UNHAPPINESS” AMONGST CITIZENS OVER THE CONSTITUTION?

    IF HE IS TRULY SINCERE, WHY DIDN’T HE SPEAK EARLIER AND DURING THE TIME WHEN HE FELT THINGS WERE NOT RIGHT?

    SIMILARLY, WHY DIDN’T THARMAN SPOKE ON THE LEE FAMILY SAGA, IN WHICH MANY SG WERE ALSO DISAGREED THAT SUCH MATTER SHOULD NOT BE DEALT IN THE PARLIAMENT, AN “INAPPROPRIATE” PLATFORM TO AIR AND TO SETTLE IT AS A FORM OF “CLEANSING CREAM”.

    OR WAS HE ALSO AFRAID TO BREAK HIS IRON RICE BOWL OF MILLIONS $ SALARY, JUST LIKE ALL HIS OTHER FELLOW WAYANG CRONY MINISTERS, WITH ALL “UNITED” TO EITHER “AGREE OR DISAGREED” FOR THE SAME “COMMON RESULTS OR GOALS”?

    FYI, SINGAPORE IS RANKED THE 151TH POSITION OUT OF 180 FOR PRESS MEDIA CONTROL IN THE WORLD.

  12. Andrew Koh , I beg to differ on your reasoning that voting for the ruling party, Sg. is finished and voting for opposition party, if they screwed up , Sg. is finished; No , the scenario in your thought may not happen .
    Having a healthy balance of opposition and ruling members in the law maker house would rather in the contrary to your thought(which is a fear propaganda disseminated by the establishment to suppress the grow of opposition politic) , would help to develop real democracy in Singapore resulting in both the opposition and ruling members competing for the best policy with the good interests of the people and the country considered!
    The fear that without a single party government in control instilled in the mind of most people by the ruling party, be it real or imagined would served to be the greatest mistake in the people’s life. You need not agree with me.

  13. DPM Tharman is number 1 in the No Action Talk Only (NATO) org. Now, he claims he prefers a contest after the fact of an engineered Walkover by the PAP. What has Tharman done to ensure there is a contest before the Walkover? Nothing. No sound no picture. Tharman can sense the open defiance of the people in the street of being robbed of their rights to vote and he is not underestimating their fury with the PAP. The word ‘contest’ spoken by Tharman now is too thin and meaningless. Just cold comfort. PAP will have to pay for this one way or the other, sooner or later – preferably the next GE.

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