So George Yeo did not become Prime Minister. Satirist cartoonist and author George Nonis made a number of interesting predictions in a book in 1991. A reader just posted in Reddit Singapore a reflective snapshot of that list. Top of the eight predictions of what would happen 15 years from 1991 was that Yeo, a former Foreign Minister, would be our PM after Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. That did not happen.
We know he lost in Aljunied GRC in 2011 to the Workers’ Party led by Low Thia Khiang in a historic defeat for the People’s Action Party. The ruling party lost a strong and arguably A team Cabinet minister and, if we are to judge from Nonis’ selection, of PM calibre no less in the eyes of some members of the public. And Lee Kuan Yew was still around! Anyway, Lee Hsien Loong became PM in 2004. Yeo quit politics.
Nonis’ seven other predictions were:
2. Goh Chok Tong becomes secretary-general of the PAP; Lee Kuan Yew retires from politics, finally.
3. Dual citizenship allowed.
4. Women liable for NS.
5. Satellite TV allowed.
6. Three major morning broadsheets and two afternoon tabloids.
7. Twenty non-PAP MPs in Parliament (most of them independent).
8. Prime Minister gets veto power on all issues over President.
Let’s go over these.
Yes, the Tall One did become secretary-general of PAP which was a powerful post. Hard to be PM if you were not. So that there is no confusion, George Yeo was part of 3G, not Goh’s2G. And Lee Kuan Yew did retire, confining his role in his later years to giving interviews and appearing in local forums, especially to answer questions from young Singaporeans with his “How old are you?” and “Why are not married?” and appearing in Parliament once in a while to lecture MPs on hard truths.
Dual citizenship is still a no-no.
Women have not been called up for NS, although we hear occasional calls for voluntary service. Watch this space.
Satellite TV is very much on. No more cable or TV boxes, I think, everything is through GPS.
The No 6 prediction on newspapers must have been based on a number of reasonable assumptions. Besides the monopolistic SPH group, there had always been market talk about allowing one or two more newspaper groups -MediaCorp, NTUC or any other group with the financial clout to sustain a morning paper. The vision was for Singapore to play a regional role in the dissemination of information. That was all before social media, smartphones and digitalisation and the increasing irrelevance of print media. The two afternoon tabloids idea sounds strange today because of almost similar reasons, although we did have two or three tabloids at intermittent periods. Now, only a limited circulation The New Paper is around in print form.
No. 7: At the time of Nonis’ predictions, 1991, there were only two Opposition MPs – Chiam See Tong (Singapore People’s Party, Potong Pasir) and Low Thia Khiang (Workers’ Party, Hougang). Obviously, opposition parties were not making much headway, as voters were caught in the ruling party’s relentless efforts to demonise opposition figures. Presumably, stronger untargeted individual candidates were more likely to catch the already growing wind for change. The PAP tried to neutralise that yearning with its NCMP and NMP schemes.
No. 8: No, the PM did not get veto power on all issues over the President. He does not have to, as the role of the President is still largely ceremonial and symbolic, except in certain areas such as assenting to drawdowns from the national reserves not earned by the current government and giving his more or less rubber-stamp nod to key government (civil service) appointments. Otherwise, the President acts as ceremonial head of state and the PM head of government.
Before we use Nonis’ list to offer our own list of predictions of what may happened 15 years from now, I just like to talk about what I predicted way back in the early 1980s.
Remember, this was the golden era. We were on a high growth path. Everything was going so well. Wages were flying, housing was very affordable, people were talking about having a five-day week and what to do with leisure time. Career prospects somehow ended up in discussions onself-actualisation, how to live a fulfilling life after most of your survival needs were well taken care of. The “emerging problems” ahead, at that time, would seem to centre on two trends or demands.
One was women issues. As we got more developed, what one half of Singaporeans wanted as they emerged in this modern and fast developing society would count and there would be pressure for gender equality and stronger representation in every sphere and greater attention to problems associated with women – family, women’s health, children’s education and so on. This has come true.
The other was municipal problems – maintenance of new towns and estates, transport and environment. So far, so good.The Singapore solution has been to devolve responsibility for the strictly local municipal activities to town councils.
What will happen 15 years from now – 2036?
Let’s do a George Nonis and give our own list of not eight but just five predictions:
See you in 2036.
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.
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