Opinion Sense And Nonsense PAP has been enjoying the mother of all free rides – until...

PAP has been enjoying the mother of all free rides – until GE2020

Sense And Sense by Tan Bah Bah




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Life is no longer a free ride for the People’s Action Party. If last week’s Parliamentary proceedings are any indication, it will get tougher for the ruling party and it has to seriously up its act in the battle for the hearts and minds of Singaporeans.

The party seems anxious to put on an appearance of accepting Singaporeans’ growing desire for checks and balance and diversity of political voices.  Even before PM Lee Hsien Loong’s NDP Rally replacement speech in Parliament, it allowed a number of its MPs to sound more like Opposition MPs than PAP ones.

For example, Patrick Tay (Pioneer), an NTUC assistant secretary-general, in an earlier session debating the President’s address, noted the many MPs had argued that more had to be done to strengthen the Singaporean core – a big issue during GE2020.  “In fact, I was doing a count as we progressed through the speeches – and the phrase ‘Singaporean core’ has been mentioned over 40 times in the last four days alone,” he said. Well, what do you know, good for him.

By the time Parliament debated the PM’s own speech, one could be forgiven for believing that the party has clearly got the message from GE2020 and will declare UNEQUIVOCABLY – no ifs no buts – that the interests of true-blue born and bred, especially NS-serving, Singaporeans will be the top priority of every government policy. Any other variation would be a debasement of citizenship and an insult to Singaporeans.

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That’s just one issue. I do not want to belabour my point about the undesirability of having an of-age male minister who has never served NS. The party will have to live with that seriously ugly blot – which will not go away by the way just because it has been ignored and wrongly regarded as unimportant.

More revealing. We now know that all this posturing about the importance of the Singapore core sounds hollow when we have to witness an over-the-top reaction to a perfectly fair observation about having more homegrown talents head Singapore companies. NCMP Leong Mun Wai, from the PSP, said he was disappointed that the DBS has not been able in 22 years to find and groom a homegrown talent to head the bank whose current CEO became a naturalised citizen on the day he was appointed.

“I am not sure what you mean by ‘homegrown’,”Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaranasked Leong. “Because what we say cannot be unsaid… And everyone — Singaporeans, new citizens, Singapore-born, others who are here — will all be looking at this.”

Yes, all true-blue Singaporeans are watching you very very closely, Minister. And they will continue to be sorely disappointed that no one from the Singapore core is considered good enough to head a national bank. They will also want Leong to continue to ask these inconvenient questions. That is the standard expected of all our MPs. To quote Iswaran himself: “And I think we in this House as elected representatives must hold ourselves up to a higher standard.” Exactly.

The PAP really has to move with the times. The performances of its non-office holding MPs last week and earlier – with one or two fresh exceptions – are either forgettable or predictable. Well done, PAP’s HanySoh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), for highlighting the struggle of food delivery riders to avoid being fined for over-parking. Reminds me of Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s successful attempt to get the HDB to come up with half-hour coupons and free parking on Sundays and public holidays when he was a PAP MP. I also note that lawyer Soh has been offering pro-bono legal services as a grassroots leader. They are Singaporeans.to.the.core.

The PAP should also move on and grow new bonds with Singaporeans. It ought to get out of its sense of self-entitlement and rely less on the legacy of its first-generation leaders. It has to earn new respect and support.

I thought PM Lee was doing well with his speech on Covid-19, jobs and the desire for diverse political voices until the exchange between him and Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh.

That dispute about “a free ride” opens up a small can of worms for the PAP.

What PM Lee said about the need for Singaporeans to realise that they cannot have their cake and eat it was fair. From his point of view, you vote for the party to take charge of the country and should not risk any other result, that’s how the system works. You cannot have a free ride.

Unfortunately, an unnecessary, maybe inadvertent, side comment in reply to Pritam Singh’s remark about the WP’s troubles in carrying out its constituency work as a loyal constructive Opposition seemed to suggest that Opposition parties have to accept that they were not going to get a free ride in a system which has not been built by them.

That turned out to be a monumental PR disaster.

Social media responded with a tsunami of memes, videosand comments about all alleged manners of PAP free rides and riders. They ranged from President HalimahYacob coming in for a gigantic free ride to PAP MPs riding on the coat-tails of ministers in GRCs.

And, have not the legacy and achievements of the first-generation leaders provided the ultimate free ride for subsequent PAP leaders all these years? It’s hard to see how the current unexceptional 4G leaders can cope with the challenge of young, hungry and capable Opposition leaders not used to any kind of free ride at all.


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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