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PM Lee has to Speak and Act Now

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by Augustine Low/

Minister K Shanmugam is putting it mildly when he says that the SMRT issues “have sorely tested the public mood.” It has hit home that the litany of woes – now even extending to breach of safety – will drag on for sometime, more in terms of years rather than weeks and months.

The mood of the public is no more in a test mode – when people’s lives are affected almost on a daily basis, they run out of patience and evolve into anger and exasperation.

What will all this translate into? There is a precedent of sorts. In the few years leading up to the 2011 General Election, there was widespread unhappiness over housing woes and strained infrastructure like overcrowding on public transport, and yes, even then there were MRT breakdowns but not with the regularity of today.

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The 2011 GE result came as a rude shock to the PAP – it was their worst performance since independence, with the Workers’ Party winning six seats. Almost immediately after the GE, Raymond Lim (Transport Minister) and Mah Bow Tan (National Development Minister) were retired from the cabinet, along with Wong Kan Seng (Home Affairs Minister) who many saw as culpable for the Mas Selamat escape.

So it took the electorate to force the hand of PM Lee Hsien Loong because prior to the GE, he was reluctant to do anything to any of those three Ministers – not even a reprimand, let alone a sacking. Is he now also leaving it to the electorate to force his hand? What does his silence mean? What’s  on his mind? What is his message, his assurance to Singaporeans?

Voting is not an exact science, especially given the GRC system. Goh Chok Tong was incensed that the PAP team in Aljunied GRC comprising two Ministers and a Senior Minister of State was voted out. This was his petulant cry then: “What mistake has George Yeo made? You can take a Minister and criticise him for not delivering on perhaps housing and transport. Like Wong Kan Seng you can say he let Mas Selamat escape. George Yeo, what has he done to deserve this?”

So if history is not to repeat itself and Goh Chok Tong is not to be once again lamenting the loss of members of the cabinet not responsible for causing public outcry and unhappiness, then it is time for PM Lee and the government to act swiftly and decisively.

Augustine Low is a former journalist and managing director of a public relations agency.

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