Tyranny or People’s Participation?


By Dr Wong Wee Nam
06 June 2014

In the recent Parliamentary debate on the President’s Address, Mr Low Thia Khiang, leader of the Worker’s Party, chose to focus his speech on constructive politics. He called for a change in the political culture.

Low said, “If the people continue to support a government party that uses high-handed tactics against its political opponents, we are endorsing a bullying political culture.

“If the people support a governing party that uses governmental resources, including civil servants, to serve its partisan goals, we are condoning the abuse of political power as an acceptable culture.

“Similarly, if you support a political party which believes in overthrowing the government by taking mass political action against the government regardless of the laws and proper channels to change things, you are building a culture of lawlessness.

“If you support a political party conducting its political engagement with a habit of playing racial politics and mud-slinging and launching personal attacks on its political opponents, you are building a thug political culture. If you support a political party with the habit of fixing its opponents, you are breeding a political culture of fear.”

At this stage of our political and moral development, Low’s call is timely. It is time we have a political climate change and do away with an authoritarian style of government that is free to govern in any way it likes. This will create a more transparent government and reduce mistakes in policy decisions, resulting in less pain for the citizens. It will allow citizens to participate in the process of government, thus giving them a sense of pride and community.

Such a culture will force the ruling party to listen more closely to the people so that they can make policies that are more likely to benefit a wider cross-section of the population and reduce hardships for the voiceless.

When people feel that they are being listened to, they will be more likely to participate in peaceful exchanges rather than become apathetic or vent their frustration in a destructive way like painting lewd graffiti on top of flats or bus-stops.

However, Mr Low’s reasonable proposals somehow touched raw nerves. Instead of getting a discussion on it, he must have been shocked by the hostile reception from his opponents. No less a person than the Prime Minister joined in the debate and give him a piece of his mind. The latter accused the Worker’s Party of acting like heroes and tigers at election rallies but keeping a low profile in Parliament and not taking any stand in the House. He said that they weaselled, played with words, flip-flopped and avoided important issues. It is the mark of a substandard opposition.

The lively exchanges between Mr Low and the Prime Minister that ensued, while highly entertaining, did not answer the question of giving Singaporeans a more salubrious political climate. Most of the time, Lee Hsien Loong spent his time attacking the shortcomings of the Worker’s Party and Low Thia Khiang had to ward off the blows like a grand taiji master in defense of his party. As a result, the issue of political liberalisation was totally forgotten in the heat of the exchange.

It is quite clear that the PAP does not want to talk about such issues. Many recent events have shown that it is not ready to change. A film-maker has been called up and interrogated for making a documentary, a cartoonist has been threatened with a sedition charge, a politician has been asked to apologise and pay damages to a minister, and bloggers have been similarly pressured, the latest being Roy Ngerng who is facing a defamation suit from the Prime Minister. Though Roy has managed to garner massive support for his case, the suit has nevertheless sent a chill into many people’s spines. Just as we thought Singapore was opening up, two commercial premises quickly cancelled NSP’s booking when they heard it was for a forum to discuss CPF.

The Prime Minister said we must have a robust and open debate to ensure that proposals are scrutinised and argued, so that we find out what the strengths are, identify the weaknesses and the problems, and we come up with the best ideas and solutions for Singaporeans. How are we going to do this if Singaporeans are going to live in fear?

Mencius, Confucius’ most famous disciple, has taught us that the first essential of a good government is to know the people’s likes and dislikes and to provide for the people what they like and avoid imposing on them what they do not like. How can any government ever know what a population truly likes or dislikes without allowing for real dissenting views? How can any government know the needs of the people by listening to its own kind?

The PAP often likes to cite Confucianism to justify it authoritarian ways. Does Confucius really advocate autocracy? If we read the story below, we will know that this is just a distortion of Confucius’ teachings.

Confucius was travelling around the Taishan countryside with his disciples when he saw a woman crying copiously over a new grave. He stopped his entourage and asked his disciple Zi Lu to find out what had happened. Zi Lu went up to the lady and asked her the reason for her intense grief. The woman replied, “Some years ago, my father-in-law was killed by a tiger. Later my husband was also killed by a tiger and now my son has met the same fate. How can I not be sad?” When Confucius heard this, he asked, “Since there are tigers here, why don’t you move elsewhere?” The woman replied, “This is a remote place, out of reach from the government. The tyranny of the government cannot reach us.” Confucius sighed and turned to his disciples, “You must all remember this. A tyrannical government is worse than a man-eating tiger.” — Book of Rites

Actual Text: 孔子過泰山側,有婦人哭於墓者而哀。夫子式而聽之,使子路問之曰:”子之哭也,壹似重有憂者。” 而曰:”然!昔者吾舅死于虎,吾夫又死焉,今吾子又死焉。” 夫子曰:”何為不去也?” 曰:”無苛政。” 夫了曰:”小子識之,苛政猛於虎也!” — 選自《十三經注疏》本《禮記•檀弓下》

By their show of support for the opposition in the GE2011 and the Hougang and Punggol East by-elections, and by their strong support for blogger Roy Ngerng, the people have sent a clear message to the PAP: It is to stop practising Oscar Wilde’s version of democracy which means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

Is the PAP listening?

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