Having sat through about three hours of the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally 2011, I was reminded of some words that an opposition politician had shared at an event a day earlier.
The opposition politician had suggested the ruling party has run out of solutions to offer Singaporeans and, like its dying founding fathers, it is ailing. The Minister present at the event naturally disagreed reflexively, “He has been very political today!”
I thought, “If politicians are not political, who else would be?”
At the National Day Rally, the Prime Minister added new meaning to being political. He had nothing new to offer, except certain enhancements to his policies here and there. The more the Prime Minister talked, the more his words sounded like an opposition party manifesto.
Yet, the solutions he offered fell just short of the solutions proposed by the opposition. Perhaps, just like the blue he wore - some shades darker than the blue of the Workers’ Party - a feeble attempt by the Prime Minister to be different?
If that was not enough, he reverted to the usual fear-mongering tactics, which has become the bulwark of dominant Singapore politics. Investors will pack up and leave. Jobs will be lost. The country will falter.
While emphasising that Singapore is not a welfare state, he announced welfare-driven changes to Singapore’s health policies.
Dismissing the suggestion that the government of the day is not populist, he paved the way for populist measures to improve access to housing and universities. The ultimate populist move came when he pandered to an opposition theme of “putting Singaporeans first” and announced a slew of initiatives to stem the flow of immigration into Singapore.
To me, the National Day Rally did not reflect a Prime Minister speaking from a position of power. It reflected a Prime Minister frightened and bullied by the electorate. His real message to Singaporeans like me was however not lost.
In encouraging Singaporeans to come forward and share ideas, in urging Singaporeans to seek different paths to success, in pleading with young Singaporeans to listen and follow the example of their elders, all the Prime Minister was effectively emphasising was that it is time to be bold and masters of our own destinies.
Behind his words, the Prime Minister was underscoring the urgency of taking a page from our forefathers to allow a new person to bring fresh ideas to the table.
If these are the kinds of things that the Prime Minister is going to champion for the next five years, the only real change likely to happen is the Prime Minister himself or the government in power.
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