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PAP: Talk softly and carry a big stick

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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The two developments or issues hogging the news headlines right now are the AHTC trial and social inequality. Both have serious consequences for Singaporeans who need to pay more attention to them, including looking beyond the official narrative – for their own good.

With a few days left before the case hearings are wrapped up on Friday Nov 2, the trial has suddenly thrown up some anxiety over the fate of the Workers Party, or specifically, the fates of Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh. Their personal worry about the burden of legal fees has been somewhat assuaged by a mini-tsunami of donations amounting to $1 million raised in just three days. This means support for the opposition party has been unwavering, whichever way the trial has been turning.

Amid all the defence’s “I agree’s” and “I disagree’s” to prosecution suggestions and descriptions of some of the defence replies as “disindigenuous” or “lies” or worse, WP supporters and sympathisers have kept the faith with the three MPs from Aljunied GRC.

Let’s hope the flame of support for the hard fought and well-earned belief in a democratic system of checks and balances will not be snuffed out through, if nothing else, sheer attrition and intolerable personal sacrifice. At best, the country cannot afford a return to the old days of unchecked PAP dominance. Worst case scenario: Singaporeans lose confidence in the spirit of democracy.

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That $1 million may not be all that large. But it is huge in its symbolism. Very few people outside the PAP establishment want the WP to go under. Singaporeans have spoken very loudly.

So hang in there, Low, Lim and Singh.

Outside the court, another battle is shaping up over how to promote a cohesive society through diversity and prevent social and even cultural divides. Two big guns from the government have joined the dialogue, together with three young guns.

“We have a meritocratic system, but we have to strive to bring everyone to a good starting point, to give everyone a fair chance to do well and to compete, whether you come from rich or poor families, whether your parents have connections or not,” PM Lee Hsien Loong told grassroots leaders at a People’s Association Kopi Talk session. The script of the conversation held on Oct 14 was just released.

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam elaborated on some of the aspects of maintaining social mobility to deal with class divide at the Institute of Policy Studies 30th anniversary celebration on Thursday Oct 25. The best way to approach the problem of inequality, he said, is to make sure that the escalator on which we strive for progress does not stop. Once it does,…once you get stagnation in the middle of society, over a long period of time, which is what has happened in the US, it has happened in a range of other advanced countries, inequality becomes a much sharper issue – much more brittle. The politics of inequality acquires a momentum of its own which makes it harder to solve the problems of a broken escalator.”

Chan Chun Sing, Desmond Lee, Janil Puthucheary and Josephine Teo also joined in the Big Picture discussion in what appears to be a concerted effort by the government to reassure Singaporeans that nothing deprives them of more sleep than inequality.

This has been, therefore, a bizarre week.

Here we are, so patient and civilised, so caring, so anxious that no one is left behind. Government leaders seem to be bending over backwards to listen, explain, suggest and out-worry worried Singaporeans about class divide and sensitive issues.

And just when we think it is safe to assume that Singapore has or will become a first world society where a strong sense of fairplay prevails or is behind establishment thinking, we are, unfortunately, witnessing live the ugly daily pummelling of an opposition party.

This must be far away from the mind of DPM Tharman when he was making his concluding remark. At the end of the IPS session, he referred to the 1960s hit by British pop group The Hollies: “I can’t resist adding – what should always be in our mind is, he ain’t heavy, because he’s my brother.”

Low, Lim and Singh would disgustedly “disagree” with him. I would.

Najib’s missing RM2.6 billion: Ex-Malaysian PM’s LOL “explanations”

Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak has been maintaining that RM2.6 billion deposited into his account came from Saudi Arabia. He claimed the “donation” was part of Riyadh’s attempt to prop up Muslim governments in the midst of the 2011 Arab Spring threatening to bring down existing regimes all over the world.

The amount then vanished into thin air. And Najib said he was as eager as anyone to find out what happened to it. Really?

That’s just one part of the so-called mystery which I suspect will be unravelled in the trial awaiting Najib who faced 38 charges for offences ranging from graft to money laundering to criminal breach of trust.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Foreign Minister has reportedly changed his earlier 2016 “confirmation” that the money was a donation from his country to Najib to a denial that his government had anything to do with it.

My reaction to everything that has been said: LOL.

In fact, The Star Online has six emojis  – Love, LOL, Happy, Surprised, Sad, Angry – after each major story. Readers are invited to click on anyone of them in an ongoing informal poll.

I chose LOL (Laugh Out Loud) which invariably topped most polls involving anything claimed by the “innocent” Najib.

Tan Bah Bah 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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