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Written by Ng E-Jay
25 March 2015
Mr Lee Kuan Yew governed Singapore with an iron fist. Under his reign as Prime Minister, he enacted tough laws against public assembly and even public speaking. He imprisoned many people without trial under the ISA, he muzzled the press, he created a highly unlevel political playing field, and he co-opted the best and brightest of society and made them conformists. But he and his team of cabinet ministers also brought tremendous economic growth to Singapore and brought about great social development. His team turned a thriving British entrepot and already bustling metropolis into a first world nation.
But can the current administration carry on Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy? The current political administration has flooded Singapore with foreigners, but without adequate planning. Our migrant workers are being housed in cramped quarters and are sometimes given food of inferior quality, as has been widely reported. The large numbers of foreign PMETs we are taking in have collectively displaced Singaporeans from their jobs, and pushed property prices sky high. The strain on our physical as well as social infrastructure from this huge influx of foreigners is clearly visible. In addition, we have a government that has withheld the CPF savings of Singaporeans against their wishes, and insufficient measures have been enacted to deal with the escalating cost of living.
Clearly, the achievements of Lee Kuan Yew’s administration has not been matched by the current team of political leaders. As a result of failed government policies that have caused wages for the lower and lower-middle income segment to stagnate, the opposition has seized the opportunity to gain mass support. Lee Hsien Loong’s cabinet has vacillated between continuing the brutal dictatorial methods of his father’s administration, or taking a softer approach that will most likely win hearts in the long run. Thus, we have witnessed the curious spectacle of a political administration saying they wish to open up and have freer debates, yet at the same time using the sledgehammer of lawsuits against prominent activists like Alex Au and Vincent Wijeysingha.
The post-LKY era will present massive challenges for Singapore, in part because the present political administration is lacking in leadership and decisive planning. Measures to tackle our housing woes and sky high prices have been haphazard at best, with the underlying structural difficulties ignored. Witness for example, the Population White Paper which purports to plan for a population of 6.9 million, passed by Parliament in the face of severe over-crowding and increased strain on our public transport system as well as property market.
The PAP has created the SG50 celebrations and the Pioneer Generation Package in the hopes of winning back political support, but it remains to be seen whether such measures will be effective if people don’t see their lives actually improving over time. In an effort to deal a blow to WP and perhaps the opposition as a whole, the PAP has also launched a full scale attack against the WP-controlled town council, AHPETC. But despite this massive effort at discrediting AHPETC and WP, people remain convinced that all this is but a propaganda show. It is highly unlikely that the number of opposition seats in Parliament will decline as a result of the AHPETC saga. Instead in 2015 or 2016, the number of opposition seats look likely to increase even further as people remain convinced of the need for alternative voices and for political plurality, and are not swayed by the poison-pen tactics used to discredit the WP-led town council.
Lee Hsien Loong’s administration therefore is caught between a rock and a hard place. They are imprisoned by their own dogma and cannot overhaul their policies, but merely enact small tweaks. Yet, they are desperate to win back votes. With the global economy softening and the PAP government floundering, it seems the only solace that Singaporeans can have for the moment is to reminisce about the great strides that Singapore took under Lee Kuan Yew’s administration (minus the political incarcerations) and hope one day things will get brighter again.