Reading Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing’s keynote address at the Business Times Leaders’ Forum, I cannot help but think that Singapore’s leaders are more than a little spooked by the recent freak election result in Malaysia that saw UMNO toppled from power after more than 60 years at the helm.
In his address, Chan made repeated allusions for the need for the ASEAN bloc of countries to be more cohesive and cooperative. Chan stated that the regional bloc also needed to ensure that its economies are digitally connected and enabled, and continually update its trade architecture, adding, “Given the challenges, ASEAN must press on with regional economic integration, and strive to achieve a level of coherence and connectedness among us such that the world sees ASEAN as one market.”
I wonder if this is a veiled message or exhortation to Malaysia’s new government that it needs to work together with Singapore for the greater good. There have been concerns that Najib’s downfall could lead to a more hostile relationship between Singapore and Malaysia with the potential cancellation of the High-Speed Rail project now that Mahathir is back in charge.
Read in conjunction with how the PAP ministers have back paddled in their treatment of the opposition MPs (from badgering Sylvia Lim for an apology to heaping praise on the Workers Party), the idea that the People’s Action Party’s sudden focus on unity (both within the region and the government) is no doubt in strong part due to events across the causeway.
If this is indeed the stance of the PAP, it should give some thought to how it treats its activists. Case in point: Jolovan Wham who now faces contempt charges due to a rather innocuous FB post. In Chan’s own words, we need to be “digitally connected and enabled”. While he was saying this in the economic context, it is important to remember that the health of a country’s economy is also affected by how a country balances the grievances of its people. If the balance is not calibrated properly, instability could ensue.
It is also important to bear in mind that one cannot be digitally connected and enabled only in terms of the economy. Where do you draw the line? A blurred line only causes confusion, speculation and ultimately instability.
I am not suggesting that there be no limits to free speech. Hate speech and speech which incite violence will need to be limited. But do Wham’s observation lead to such outcomes? I would think not. Many people do have the notion (whether misconceived or otherwise) that the courts will always favour the political establishment and by going ahead to punish Wham, it is feeding into this speculation. This is the type of speculation that will cause instability.
If Singapore is serious in its message of unity, collaboration and “stronger together” ethos, it will need to reconsider how it treats people who raise legitimate concerns and feelings no matter how inconvenient.
Addressing concerns openly and working with constructive detractors will only add to PAP’s reputation. Najib tried his best to crush all critics and in the end, where did that get him?
Of course, Najib is also flagrantly corrupt which obviously contributed to his demise. That said, there are still lessons to be learnt.
Singapore’s leaders need to learn the difference between deliberate saboteur and constructive critic. Looking at Wham’s track record, he is definitely not a saboteur. He loves Singapore and has given up his time to look after the most vulnerable in our society. These are people we should be grateful to.
In light of recent events, I hope our leaders can see the difference.