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Singapore Parliament – in desperate need of alternative voices

March 17, 2011

They rushed pass in a whoosh.

I am talking about four things – two of them took place within the hallowed halls of Parliament and two outside of it. And they show why Singapore’s Parliament is in desperate need of alternative, questioning, voices.

The first was the rise in ministers’ salaries and the eight-months bonuses which our ministers will be getting this year. The Minister in Charge of the Civil Service, Teo Chee Hean, made an announcement about it – and that was it.

Not a single question was asked.

The second incident happened at the very last day of Parliament’s sitting. The President’s salary was increased by S$890,700 to a mindboggling S$4.2 million.

Not a single question was raised in the House.

Singapore’s main broadsheet reported on the President’s pay hike – in the most inconspicuous space you can find in a newspaper, in its inner pages, buried at the very bottom left-hand corner.

The following days, not a single letter about it was published.

Then there was Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s atrocious remarks about Malay Muslims. Some MPs stood up to speak about how their experiences were different from that of MM Lee.

Minister in Charge of Muslim Affairs, Yaacob Ibrahim, then said it is time to “move on”.

MM Lee was not chided, nor was his views condemned.

The next day, MM Lee issues a “statement” – apparently taking pains not to offer an outright apology.

The fourth incident is the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report which basically rearranged all the constituencies in Singapore.

It issued what it called its “recommendations” which were, unsurprisingly, fully accepted by the Government immediately.

The EBRC did not offer itself to the press or media for queries, neither did it explain its “recommendations”.

There was absolute silence, even though millions of Singaporeans – who will each cast their vote in the next General Election – are affected.

Silence. Total. Complete. Silence.

It is dangerous – and I would like to stress “dangerous” – that a Government, with a complicit media, is able to so easily do what it wants.

It is dangerous because this Government, as indeed with all governments anywhere, are not always right. And when it is able to bulldoze through such actions, such a Government will tend to become complacent, unfeeling, insensitive, and arrogant.

All of these have been exhibited in one way or another by this PAP Government over the last decade, maybe even longer. These four latest incidents are just a continuation of this deep-seated hubris which has overcome the PAP as a party.

The upcoming General Election is an opportunity for Singaporeans to seriously take stock and ask themselves: Is this Government what it claims to be – intelligent, transparent, accountable? More importantly, are the policies which this PAP Government has instituted the last five years benefiting Singaporeans?

Look around you. It’s crowded. It’s tough. Things are getting more expensive. You are expected to work longer, work smarter, work till you drop. Yet, you will not have enough to retire. In fact, this Government have told you not to even think of retiring. That the very word – “retirement” – should be obliterated from our vocabulary.

The PAP packages its latest recruits as “4G leaders”. A nice soundbite. But take a closer look.

They are made up of the same kinds of people they’ve been recruiting all these years – the elites.

Military commanders.

Civil servants.

Unionists.

Where are the common folks?

The arrogance of the PAP Government needs to be checked. The callousness of this Government needs to be curbed.

And it is only us – the ordinary people – who can do this.

How?

By giving alternative leaders a chance. By casting a vote for them in the General Election.

For 50 years, we’ve never had another voice in Parliament in any meaningful way. A true voice which is effective.

We have a chance now.

So, please. Take a look at our Parliament. 82 in white. 87 seats in the next Parliament.

Do you want 86 or even 87 of them wearing white?

Think about it.

What would that mean to you?

Where indeed would your voice be?

Who will speak for you?

Parliament desperately needs alternative voices.

And we can make that happen.

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