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Tommy Koh: PAP should welcome constructive critics, not feel threatened by them

Mr Koh pointed out that the ruling party “also has very strong authoritarian…even majoritarian tendencies”

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Singapore—International lawyer and diplomat Tommy Koh encouraged the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to welcome constructive critics instead of regarding them as a threat.

On Monday, Nov 23, Prof Koh posted a photo on his Facebook account of a recently-published book from Hong Kong-based Singaporean academics Cherian George and Donald Low.

PAP vs PAP: The Party’s struggle to adapt to a changing Singapore, published last month, is an anthology of commentaries regarding local politics from the past years, as well as new articles from this year.

The authors said in the book’s preface that their goal in writing the book is not to find fault with the ruling party, but instead to “focus on how the PAP can respond positively to the challenges ahead, reskilling itself to remain relevant to the country.”

Prof Koh wrote in his post that he is an admirer of both authors, whom he says have “written a thoughtful critique of the PAP and urged the party to change.”

Moreover, he called them “loving critics of Singapore” who “love Singapore and want to build a better Singapore,” noting that he had written in The Sunday Times that the book has reached the number two spot on the bestseller’s list for non-fiction and offering his congratulations to the authors.

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He added that, in his opinion, the PAP is one of the most successful political parties around the globe.

“It’s record of bringing Singapore from the Third World to the First World, in 50 years is nothing short of a miracle. My book, 50 Secrets of Singapore’s Success, is a record of this extraordinary achievement.”

Furthermore, it is to the party’s credit that it has stayed “highly competent and non-corrupt,” and therefore it “should feel proud of its record and confident about its future,” Prof Koh added.

Prof Koh ended his post by writing that the party should not only be “magnanimous” but also “welcome constructive critics and not feel threatened by them.”

In an interview with Dhany Osman of Yahoo Singapore last month, Prof George further explained the book’s purpose, “What is holding back the PAP is within its own mind. It has choices to make to decide whether PAP continues to lead the country or degenerate into mediocrity and become just another party. The choice is within the PAP.”

Prof Low added, “We tried to highlight the choices between the two impulses within the ruling party. The first is capacity for adaptation. The fact is that it is an elite, expert-led government with a strong core of technocratic expertise…or adaptive capacity.”

However, he pointed out that the ruling party “also has very strong authoritarian…even majoritarian tendencies.”

The authors admit that they know the book “on its own will not change hearts and minds within the PAP leadership.”

But they expressed the hope that it will “spark conversations and spur action among Singaporeans who recognise the value of pressing for a fairer, more open and inclusive political system. Political parties will respond only to ideas that are publicly and persistently championed. An engaged citizenry will be the decisive factor determining the outcome of the battle for the soul of the PAP.”

The book is available for purchase online here.  —/TISG

Read also: Cherian George: “PAP v PAP” book is not a betrayal by critics of the Govt

Cherian George: “PAP v PAP” book is not a betrayal by critics of the Govt

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