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Written by Ng E-Jay
11 April 2013
There is a crisis of leadership at the People’s Action Party (PAP). For many years now, the PAP has suffered from the lack of ability to recruit candidates of ministerial or MP caliber. The PAP’s self-renewal is under threat, as can be seen by the declining quality of candidates offered at each succeeding general election. There is a crisis of confidence in the PAP, and the matter is not going to be resolved anytime soon.
It is not surprising that things have turned out this way for the PAP, given that the party’s image has taken a severe beating in recent years. It is increasingly recognized that PAP’s policies have resulted in a declining standard of living and quality of life for Singaporeans, for example, overcrowding, structural underemployment faced by PMETs over the age of 40, lost of jobs and wage depression caused by having too much foreign labour, frequent breakdowns in the public transport system, and a property market that has gone haywire.
When so many of PAP’s policies have gone wrong, and the PAP still refuses to change course, then men and women of high caliber start to shun the party and refuse to be recruited into its ranks, no matter how high ministerial or public service salaries are. Good men and women do not want to be associated with a political entity that is increasingly being seen as a creator rather than a solver of problems, a party that is seen as making lives harder for Singaporeans.
The PAP still insists on insulting the intelligence of Singaporeans by speaking in condescending or arrogant tones, and sweeping matters of importance such as the AIMS saga under the carpet. With the rise of the internet as an alternative media platform, these issues can no longer remain hidden from public view. Gradually, the PAP ceases to be regarded as a force of good, and they lose the ability to attract capable men and women into public office. No good person wants to be seen as a mere sycophant or as an ally to bad policies and bad governance.
This recruitment dilemma was clearly seen in GE2011 when the PAP produced a mediocre slate of candidates drawn largely from traditional ranks in the civil service and the military, prompting netizens to observe that the PAP was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Unless something drastic is done, the same will again be seen in GE2016, and by then, the situation will most likely have worsened even further.
In two years alone, from 2011 to 2013, the PAP has lost a Speaker of Parliament (Michael Palmer), lost one GRC as well as an additional SMC (Punggol East), lost two prominent ministers in a general election (at Aljunied GRC), and also lost the chance to recruit a person of ministerial potential (Dr Koh Poh Koon). That’s a lot to lose in two years.
Existing ministers such as Teo Chee Hean and Teo Ser Luck have failed to show their leadership (for example, by bungling up the Punggol East by-election campaign). Newcomers Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan-Jin are seen as lackluster, and Heng Swee Keat has performed poorly in marketing the National Conversation as a credible platform.
Ultimately the root cause of this malaise may be poor leadership by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself.
PM Lee’s approach to politics has been book-wormish rather than street-smart and savvy, and he has thus far applied only short-term bandages to existing problems despite claiming to have a long term vision for Singapore.
When the top brass exhibits poor leadership, it is little wonder than the underlings quickly lose their focus.
It is no longer healthy for Singapore to remain under the political domination of a single party, the PAP. Their policies as well as their brand of politics have failed us. It is time to recognize the need to move towards a more plural, multi-party democracy. That is the only way to rejuvenate our political system. Otherwise, the situation will only worsen for ordinary Singaporeans suffering the brunt of over-congestion, sky-high property prices, and unfair competition from foreigners in the job market.