Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2009 03:04:12 GMT
Local: Tues, Sep 15 2009 11:04 am
Subject: Why current pap leaders are fuckup ?
The PAP in crisis (Part 3): Lack of real political leaders in a team of
September 15, 2009 by admin
By Eugene Yeo, Consultant Editor
[In this classic five-part series, Eugene Yeo will examine the inherent
weaknesses of the ruling PAP, its implications for Singapore and possible
scenarios in the post-LKY era.]
The Singapore model of government which was characterized by a high degree
of efficiency with minimal fuss was often referred to by admirers and
detractors alike as "Singapore inc".
The entire government is run along the lines of a major corporate company
with the Prime Minister as the CEO and the ministers as directors of various
departments. With literally no opposition to speak of, Parliament became a
mere "board meeting" to rubber-stamp decisions already made by the party
Of course this definition of "Singapore inc" is pretty narrow as it includes
the mammoth bureaucracy and various government-linked companies connected in
an intricate network of mutual interests and relations.
After 50 years of uninterrupted rule, the PAP has become the de facto
government in Singapore and as the boundary between party and state becomes
increasingly blurred, the political aspect of governance is relegated to the
backdrop as ministers are handpicked from outside the party and parachuted
almost immediately into their respective positions in government.
In a typical political party like the British Conservative Party,
minister-wannabes usually spend the early years of their political careers
learning the ropes, gaining experience, building bridges and soliciting
grassroots support in the lower rungs of the party hierarchy. They will have
to prove themselves as capable political leaders within the party first
before they are allowed to assume positions in the government (in the event
their party win the general elections).
The current PAP bypasses this essential route for budding politicians due to
a weak party support base probably kept in this way deliberately by the
senior leaders to pre-empt a challenge to their leadership from young turks
in the party. Hence they are besieged by a perennial leadership crisis in
which they have to resort to recruiting "talent" from outside the party.
The PAP's definition of "talent" is based chiefly on one's academic
qualification, profession and status in society which explains their
fondness for lawyers, doctors, engineers and senior civil servants. However,
while these "talents" may be excellent leaders in their respective
occupations, they may not necessarily good politicians.
A political leader is different from a CEO of a company. Governing a nation
is not the same as running a business. Not only must a political leader be
equipped with the basic credentials on paper, he/she must possess the
uncanny ability to understand the concerns on the ground, communicate with
the people and to inspire a generation to follow his/her leadership.
Some are born to be politicians while others are not, but what is certain is
that all will need to have their political skills and acumen trained and
honed by passing through the school of life and unfortunately, given the
undemocratic nature of the PAP and Singapore's political landscape, there is
dearth of astute, intelligent and empathetic politicians in Singapore who
can connect with the ground and lead the government bureaucracy at the same
The present PAP cabinet is full of technocrats, but short of political
leaders. MM Lee, having gone through the baptism of fire is perhaps the only
minister with real political experience. Technocrats are good followers,
capable administrators and they can get things done quickly, but they are
hardly the type of leaders who will capture the attention of the masses and
motivate them to work for a worthy cause.
The lack of political training and experience is a key reason why PAP
leaders have been making so many insensitive comments, outrageous gaffes and
callous statements in public much to the amusement and fury of the
From Prime Minister Lee's infamous "fix the opposition" Freudian slip,
Charles Chong's deplorable "lesser mortal" and Tharman's hilarious
"strategic purpose" which would have caused politicians elsewhere to be
cruxified by the people, the PAP is only saved by a combination of
coincidental factors unique to Singapore - a dormant opposition, compliant
media and apathetic citizenry.
The PAP's current batch of MPs, especially the new recruits who did not have
to face an electoral battle seriously lacked the charisma, communication
skills, empathy, intelligence and most importantly, the "X-factor" of a good
politician. They may be leaders in their respective professions and careers,
but politics is a different ballgame altogether.
As they face no formidable challenges from the opposition, media or the
people, they do not have the opportunity to hone their political skills.
MM Lee said recently that "political leaders cannot be trained, but must be
found and be people with passion." (Channel News Asia, 2 September 2009). He
is only partly correct. Some are born politicians while others are forced to
become politicians by the surrounding circumstances.
In his early days as a politician, MM Lee was outshadowed by his party
colleague Lim Chin Siong who was a passionate and fiery orator. It was he
who won over the Chinese support base for the PAP, enabling the PAP to win
the legislative council elections in 1959. Being English educated and
spending 3 out of the last 10 years in Britain, Harry Lee was not proficient
in Mandarin and Hokkien, the lingua franca of Singapore in the 1950s.
Lee became a strong, authoritarian and some would say oppressive leader
because he had to fight for his own political survival after being forced
into a corner by the communists and leftists within the PAP who almost
caused the government to collapse when 13 of them left to form the Barisan
Sosialists. Without these traumatic experiences, Lee would never grow and
develop as a political leader.
According to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, only the fittest will
survive in nature and similiarly in the cruel world of politics, only the
most talented, capable and astute politicians will make their mark on
history. There is a Chinese saying: "Heroes are created by time and
circumstances." Lee himself is a product of the tumultuous period in
Singapore's history when a strong leader was needed to lift it out of
political chaos and anarchy. He was the right person at the right place and
The PAP's current leaders are like caged birds who have never flown in the
sky as they did not go through the baptism of fire like the first generation
leaders. To compound matters, there is no opposition for them to pit their
skills against in Parliament. Without the intellectual rigors of
parliamentary debates to stimulate their minds, many of them become
inflexible, ossified and one-dimensional in their thoughts.
Likewise, the lack of any challenge to their positions mean that they can
take the Singaporeans for granted without paying a political price for it.
They do not have to court the people for their votes since they are almost
guaranteed to win either via walkovers or safe seats in GRCs. Even in
one-to-one fights, the opposition candidate is often of such low calibre
that he/she will not pose a serious threat at all.
They do not have to be equipped with excellent communication and PR skills
when dealing with the media because Singapore journalists will never dare to
contradict or rebuke them. In the rare instances when a public gaffe is
made, the faithful journalist can be expected to take the rap for
"misquoting" their words since they are paid by SPH, a state-linked company.
That's why when our Prime Minister was interviewed by the western media, he
always appeared awkward, uncomfortable and unnatural. Unlike the local
media, foreign journalists usually minced no words in their questions which
can be rather sharp, acerbic and cruel.
Our PAP MPs are highly protected "endangered species" in Singapore. Any
forms of public display of disrespect or contempt for them will be
immediately stamped out with the culprit being arrested and charged for a
plethora of laws such as illegal assembly, rioting, harrassement,
threatening a public official etc. Not too long ago, a mentally retarded
teenager who slammed a chair against the glass door of a RC during a meeting
with a PAP MP was arrested by the police on the same night though nobody was
injured and no property was damaged. To spare the rod will spoil the child.
How can the PAP expect its MPs to be trained as politicians when they are so
pampered in such an artifically coistered environment without any challenges
The lack of real political leaders among the younger MPs and ministers will
mean that the old guards have to hang around longer than they should to help
them learn the ropes. However, few will find a government led by group of
octagenarians like the ex-Soviet Union inspiring. Even the Chinese Communist
Party have set a limit to ages of their Politburo leaders. Under ex
Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, an unwritten rule was introduced that the
leaders more than the age of 70 will have to retire from all positions of
public office "gracefully" out of their own personal accords which he
personally led by example (though he held on to the coveted position of the
Chairman of the Central Military Commission).
Singapore has produced many successful corporate leaders, technocrats and
civil servants, but it has few capable politicians to speak of because of
the politically apathetic environment in general, a disinterested and
nonchalant citizenry, a controlled media and a system which does not promote
The PAP is facing a major leadership crisis that is largely of its own
doing. The ruling elite want to find obedient, permissive and compliant
"leaders" who are smart, capable and motivated at the same time, but this is
simply impossible because real political leaders are their own men. They
have their own ideas, visions and principles and they will never bend over
to the will of others. Such a "leader" does not exist in reality at all.
On the other hand, if the PAP leadership were to appoint somebody with an
independent streak to take over the reins of the party, it may risk internal
turmoil because he may want to change certain rules and regulations which
may affect the vested interests and legacy of some people.
Either way, the PAP's crisis is Singapore's crisis because it has dominated
all institutions of Singapore to the extent that there are no viable
alternatives waiting in the wings of the opposition to replace them. If the
PAP should fail, then Singapore will surely fail for the party has
entrenched itself deeply in all aspects of the state which cannot function
without orders from the party.
In a way, the PAP is a victim of its own overwhelming success in maintaining
and perpetuating its political hegemony over the years to the exclusion of
its opponents and the eradication of any space for the meaningful expression
of political dialogue, discourse and dissent in Singapore.
As ex-Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad once said, the opposition
is like a mirror for the government to see its own flaws. Without a robust,
strong and credible opposition to check on it, the PAP has grown complacent,
arrogant and confused after years of one-party rule for there is nowhere
else in Singapore now for them to hear the brutal truth of their own
deficiencies. The MPs are all yes-men, the media dare not criticize or
offend them and no Singaporean will show any form of disrespect to them in
public. Such a surreal scenario which masks the fault lines of our society
does not bode well for Singapore's future.
What will become of the PAP when the real power behind the throne finally
passed on? Given its entrenched position, it will probably manage to
continue its rule for a number of years. Singapore will still retain its
economic superiority over its neigbhors while losing its slight edge now
over its nearest competitors Hong Kong and Taiwan, but its inherent social
tensions and divisions will worsen, caused partly by a government filled by
technocrats who are grossly out of touch by the reality on the ground.