Questions from 2 Sep Sitting Day

By no means an in-depth political analysis; just some questions that I jotted down while attending the Parliament proceedings on 2 September 2020.

It gave me the opportunity to observe our national leaders at a close range, and also learn about how the Westminster model of parliament works. More importantly, sitting through the proceedings allowed me to hear from MPs that aren’t as prominent without the filters of social media algorithm or friends’ sharing on what to pay attention to.

The first question I had after hearing a succession of 3 lady MPs (Hazel Poa [*NCMP], Cheryl Chan and Carrie Tan) who spoke quite well in my personal opinion was:
What is required of our leaders in Parliament today?

Note the context of ‘today’ in this question, because as PM Lee rightly pointed out, each generation of leaders has to form their own relationship and trust with the people in his speech. Some thoughts:
1. Political rhetoric/charisma in communication: to the logical person this isn’t the way to go but there is no denying that being a good communicator, especially if you have #QOTDs, goes a long way to reach the hearts and minds of people. I write this also as a kind of reminder to be aware of one’s own biases that are shaped by these soundbites or newsbites. The way words are used by our leaders does shape public discourse in tangible ways.
2. Strategic thinking in proposing solutions while factoring in the complexity: policymaking and programme design is like tinkering with a small part of an intricate machinery whose functionality also depends on the prevailing environmental conditions (which cannot be controlled).
3. Alignment with Party ideology and values; yet having their own stand: The expectation that MPs must be able to defend their positions and answer questions in Parliament has also been communicated by PM Lee. What I was thinking about was; how hard it could be to both be a Party member and an individual MP standing for your constituents. On this note, an interesting upcoming book: PAP vs PAP.

The second question was underlined, and written next to my notes twice during PM Lee’s speech:
What kind of public discourse does this encourage?

There is some fear in writing this next bit (don’t POFMA me please). After addressing the practical issues of concern (COVID-19, jobs, social safety net, reserves, foreign worker policies), PM Lee went on to touch on politics.

Firstly, he rightly pointed out that politics is about power, and that the Westminster system is supposed to be adverserial (note that it is the system, not the language used). That is great, because that allows me to explain that the Opposition is not there to undermine the Government, even if they challenge the PAP. PM Lee also explained how the Government under his leadership is like. Emphasisng that “We must govern”, and then to take responsibility for their actions, he said that when there are disagreements even after discussion, the Government has to make a move instead of waiting for consensus. This is sending a clear message to Singaporeans about how the PAP intends to govern, and I personally applaud this clear messaging.

What I got quite uncomfortable about was when PM Lee went on to assert the PAP’s dominance by saying that PAP has a special responsibility that no other political party has, and that this is “our sacred mission” to maintain the system. There was a sense of foreboding that I felt was implied when he said that once the “virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle” of the current political status quo is broken, it will be “very difficult to put back together again”. It is of course his role as the Secretary-General of PAP to champion his Party, and rightly so. However, I believe we should think deeper about the impact of our leader’s speech on the hearts and minds of the people (point 1 above).

On a more positive note, I am very grateful for our national leaders that there is little of the acerbic or downright verbal attacks that are so polarizing in the Parliament. There is also a rejection of exceptionalism, but instead saying that success is “path-dependent”. I may not agree with the “Garden of Eden analogy”, where it seems to be implied that if PAP is out of power, Singapore would be leaving the Garden with no return. But I agree with the ethos that our leaders take no vote for granted and continue to work hard to keep Singapore running well. This in effect also communicates the expectation to the public that one important factor in this ‘path-dependent” success is for citizens to be on board the efforts with the Government as well.

Listening in on Parliament and hearing the range of issues presented made me appreciate our leaders more. Special mention of MP Louis Ng who made me almost teary with his speech on having an inclusive society and his efforts to welcome the Bangladeshi essential workers in his ward :’)

I expect to have more questions as Parliament proceeds, and so if noteworthy, I will follow up with more posts. In any case, I hope that it is clear that I am neither a PAP or Opposition supporter. PM Lee very rightly said that we cannot descend to partisanism, which is unhelpful for discourse. Rather, in seeking to grow as an active and engaged citizen, I am challenging myself to think about issues in Singapore. Comments thus welcome 🙂

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