The trouble is that the PAP is right, the people are so disengaged and/or fearful that they need to be coaxed to play their part as citizens. We are probably one of the few remaining countries in the modern era that does this.
But therein lies the problem. After decades of being threatened and seeing their fellow citizens detained, sued, prosecuted for speaking up, is it any wonder that the people have withdrawn from the public sphere?
We’ve been ordered over successive generations to be quiet and do as we’re told. On this, I can do no better than quote Lee Kuan Yew: “…who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”
The chicken, it seems, has come home to roost. It may have been convenient to rule with an iron-fist and pound the public into submission. But now, the price of an uninterested people has to be paid.
What is more tragic, if that is possible, is that the PAP has still not learned the lesson. It is still willfully obstructing Singapore’s growth by continuing to control public debate and get Singaporeans to speak its words and carrying out its agenda.
The latest undertaking, the SGFuture, a dialogue series aimed at engaging Singaporeans fools no one. In 2012, the govt conducted the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) asking the people “What do they hope for the future?” Here we are again in 2016 calling on Singaporeans to “exchange views and ideas on shaping Singapore’s future”.
The PAP talking to Singaporeans on its own terms, in its own contrived manner and inside its own echo chamber won’t work. If it did, we would not have to repeat the charade just 4 short years later. (That’s not even counting the funds spent for such exercises.)
The PAP may derive gratification from the knowledge that it is able to extract such docility and obedience from Singaporeans, but in this day and age where spontaneity, critical thinking, and even dissent are crucial for progress, it may be advisable to hold off on the celebrations.