Many factors have been proffered for the results of the recently held general elections: the impact of new citizens as a voting bloc, the fidelity to the memory of the late Lee Kuan Yew, the lingering effulgence from the SG50 celebrations, the fear of the PAP being inadvertently voted out of power, and the spectre of external threats to our national security all played in the minds of the voters as the walked into the polling stations.
All these factors had a powerful effect – so powerful, in fact, that a significant segment of voters chose (perhaps unwittingly) continued one-party, authoritarian rule over their own expressed need for more voices in Parliament, greater transparency and accountability in government, reduction in cost of living, constructive Parliamentary opposition, progress in democratic development and so on.
One can quite reasonably attribute the outcome to two factors: fear and the lack of information. The potent admixture of these two ingredients produced what was merely the most recent manifestation of the Singaporean psyche.
Such a collective mindset can come about only by the tight control of the mass media. It is the reason why the first acts of Lee Kuan Yew when he came into power was to subjugate the media by detaining without trial several journalists and editors. By 1971, he could declare that “Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to…an elected government.” The subtext was, of course, that the media would serve to perpetuate the election of the PAP as government.
It is also the reason why the PAP forbids, under the Newspaper Presses and Printing Act (NPPA), the ownership of news organisations by private citizens.
The objective was to achieve the submission of national will and thought to the PAP. This is, perhaps, best summed up by Lee Kuan Yew who tragically likened the training of Singaporeans to that of dogs: “It’s like with dogs. You train in a proper way from small. It will know that it’s got to leave, go outside to pee and to defecate.”
The resultant effect is that Singaporeans today accept – even expect – the PAP to monopolise air-time and column inches in the media. We have come to see this as the natural order of things. The party has, in the last 50 years, used the media, both in print and on air, to serve the public uncritical and insipid fare about its leaders.
The media reinforce the idea that the PAP can only run Singapore effectively if the government is not impeded by a system of checks-and-balance provided by a greater opposition presence in Parliament. Without a contrary voice, the electorate cannot help but continue to elect the PAP in such numbers that perpetuate the party’s stranglehold on the national media and, thus, power.
The propaganda focuses the minds of Singaporeans to doing what the government prescribes rather than what we critically assess to be right or wrong.
The result is the crippling of the Singaporean mind. We fear the uncertainty of tomorrow. We shun the complexities of a free society. We turn away from the unchartered waters of a truly modern, intelligent and progressive society. This aversion to risk-taking has had grave consequences for our national economy. There is a price that we will pay.
The inculcation of fearful dependence on the PAP will consign us to always retreat to a false sense of security; it will certainly keep us anchored to mediocrity. As Julian Persaud, an executive at Google, remarked:
“It is worth wondering where Singapore’s fear of failure comes from. I think you get a good idea when you ask: What is the opposite of failure here? It is not success. It is obeying rules and sticking to a plan. So long as you are doing either of those things, nothing can go wrong for you. Many panelists said they felt that when it came to creative ideas, permission was still somehow needed—from investors, from the Government, from elders.”
Yet, it is in the realm of creativity and innovation that Singapore will have to compete. It is where Lee Kuan Yew’s “training” of the people will discover us thriving – or wanting.
We must awaken
I wrote last year in my Huffington Post piece that “The control of the media and the heavily financed propaganda has held Singaporeans in utter thrall, enabling the PAP to rule uninterrupted for more than half-a-century.” Fast forward to post GE 2015, nothing has changed.
And nothing will change if we continue to slumber. If we are to extricate ourselves from such a situation, Singaporeans must awaken and make the intelligent, indeed the sensible, demand that the PAP relinquishes its arm-lock on the media.
To do this, leaders of the political opposition, civil society, and intelligentsia must lead. We must raise awareness about the dangers of continued control of the media by the PAP and shackling of our society.
I have said many times before that our struggle is not against the PAP, it is against what the PAP has done to our minds. We must arise from our mental wheelchair. Only then can we start walking proudly and confidently into the future.
Chee Soon Juan