For now, Singaporean politics is not as messy as other “normal” democracies. We don’t see the chair-throwing (Taiwan), balloting irregularities (Malaysia), repeated coups (Thailand) and stalled government (the UK, USA for example). To keep things running as smoothly as it is, this country must evolve differently. Just continuing and moving with the flow is insufficient. Eventually someone has to step up to lead the country, no matter what colour of allegiance he or she might be. The knee-jerk, old fashioned mindset would be to dissuade any would-be candidate simply because of the huge opportunity costs involved.
When we talk about the nation’s “future”, it is hard not to draw parallels from this with the General Elections (GE). Writers, journalists and politicians alike epeatedly advocate the use of the vote to “define our future”.
The future is more perilous than a mere hinge on a vote. It is our attitude, not the vote that will decide our future.
Despite our modest age, we have a plethora of issues being discussed in our society. Divisive ones like LGBT issues, attitudes to Israel/Palestine, censorship and religious matters. Human rights ones such as rights to free speech, right to life, rights to privacy. Bread and butter ones such as CPF, healthcare, education, inflation and salary increases.
Whilst it is good that the nation is not short of active discussion, the question is: do we give enough airtime to issues that we need to answer, or are we giving this time to questions we merely want an answer to?
If you trawl through online media, discussion is rave over ALS Ice bucket, Kong Hee and wild saucy stories. But there are much bigger issues that really demand talk time, but netizens couldn’t care less!
Say for instance, how the direction of the country would go towards post-National Day Rally? Why is there a shift away from the traditional belief of degree-holders being given majorly preferential treatment? Why are we so intolerant of others online, yet so accepting of whatever we read that catches our fancy online without critically asking ourselves, “Is this really the issue at hand as claimed by the writer?”
We have much shorter attention spans than before. Social media has indeed changed the dynamics which we read, think and react to issues. Writing classes repeatedly emphasise the importance of a catchy headline. Slogan politics is becoming the “new normal”. Do these benefit our country at all? Perhaps not, but we are forced to adapt to a new reality.
Unfortunately the G is slow to catch up on it, not only because of bureaucracy, but because the G has been too used to planning extremely comprehensive and complicated policy that works majority of the time, but are difficult to convey in a simple, succinct manner. Unfortunately the make-up of the G is such that it will not be able to move in that direction anytime soon.
So what next? Speaking to people offline about many issues would be the best way of understanding the future at stake. Online media presents many problems when discussing local issues: matters that pertain to security, foreign relations and even home affairs are “OB” markers for anyone. It is also almost impossible to sustain intellectual discussions with people online (unless you have very good friends who do not mind responding to long posts with long posts).
Online media, too, does not respond as well to serious questions like, “Will Singapore survive in the next thirty years?” But when you ask something absurd like, “Will PM Lee take up the ALS challenge?” – fwah, the internet explodes with discussion.
If I were an opposition figure, I too would go down the relatively simple path of engaging negative sentiment online and stoking the flames. This makes one more popular rather than talking shop.
A rhetorical question like, “Why is are ministers paid so highly?” certainly suits opposition politics better than “How should MTI position itself for various industries over the next 10 years, and what other policy measures should other ministries take in line with such a position?”
For the new voters in the coming GE, attempting to understand issues by reading online media is myopic. One gets nearly no insight or analysis into the real issues at hand unless one is particularly strict with one’s sources. Ironic as it may sound, this “freedom of expression” online has led instead to an obscuring of important matters to discuss and self-censorship for fear of being STOMPed or becoming a mockery on TRS.
While the GE is political, people are not political animals in general; they just want to live a life they can sustain and hopefully enjoy. We, can start by asking the simplest of questions:
What kind of aspirations do I have? Are the opportunities present for me?
Can I live in safety and security?
Am I willing to fight, in good times or bad for the country?
Is this country a conducive place for family?
These do not have simple answers, but are certainly more worthwhile than reading yet another piece of plagarised work. Who knows, you might be more well-informed once you take the effort to actually get to know your own country?