Minister Chan Chun Sing said that he was being inspired by what PM Lee had said to him about carrying out the reserved EP now rather than wait till later because “we may not have a problem here and now, but what if we have a problem 20 or 30 years from now? Will the fourth, fifth or sixth generation of leaders have the liberty, and the luxury of time and space for them to put in place a system?”.

I can’t help feeling this is how a leader of a dominant party does its work: leveraging on its near total domination of parliament (“the liberty, and the luxury of time and space” plus total control of parliament). Does this remind you of how certain policies (for example, the GRC system) unpopular but perceived by them as “right” were similarly carried out by previous leaders of the party? Strike whilst you are in total control (when the iron is still hot!).

Our pliant citizens (in a state of learned helplessness perhaps after decades of total control by one dominant party) have accepted (or “tolerated” in some cases) these unpopular but “right” policies especially if these policies in the end do not directly affect their livelihood, wellbeing and sense of belonging to the nation. But when a policy like the reserved EP is not only unpopular but wrong, the outcome, I am afraid, is going to be different.

When such a fundamental issue like meritocracy, which has been a pillar of our nation-building in the last five decades, is called into question, it is NOT going to be easy for our citizens to swallow. This reserved EP policy is not an inclusive one; in fact, it has been shown to be controversial and divisive. Previously, the dominant party can get away with their unpopular but “right” policies because our pliant citizens tolerated them. Today, with the reserved EP which is unpopular and wrong, I am afraid, these leaders have distanced themselves further from the ground. It’s easy to bull doze their way with unpopular but “right” policies in the past but it is going to be tough (and the political price will be remembered for a long time) to do so with a unpopular and wrong policy such as the reserved EP. The dominant party has created its own crisis.

Mr Chan further added that PM Lee is doing it “not for himself, not for his political capital, but always thinking about what this country needs.” On the surface, it would appear that PM Lee is self-sacrificing and doing this for the greater good of the nation. I would argue that what this country needs and what PM Lee and his ministers think this country needs may NOT be the same. After 52 years of nation building with much economic success, what many citizens need are more say and more engagement with the government in a level-playing political field so that the right and mutually acceptable policies are carried out. This is the time to do it.

An example of active engagement would be to carry out a referendum to see what Singaporeans have to say regarding the proposal of reserved EP. But unfortunately, a dominant party sees no need to conduct referendums (we have not had one since 1963!) because their leaders think it is a waste of time and the views of others don’t really matter. (Incidentally, talking about a smart nation, we can show the world how we can leverage on technology to conduct electronic voting to gather views on major issues such as the current reserved EP and this can be done with minimal cost and disruption; already for elections of officials to professional bodies like the Singapore Medical Council, electronic voting is widely used).

Now, in the absence of a referendum on this issue, the next right thing to do is to have a contest to allow Singaporeans to have a say who they really want to be the next President. A walk-over will be adding insult to the injury; doubling the dose of learned helplessness.

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