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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Deja Vu

Deja Vu

Last night, I sat through our Prime Minister's National Day Rally Speech, all 2 hours of it, and through it all felt an overwhelming sense of deja vu.

Although this 'State of the Union' address is probably the most important speech of the year, nothing was new.

I hasten to add that there were new policies and incentives.

There were the usual raising of possible issues and present and coming problems and how the PAP would go about solving them, but it was all so deja vu.

I do not watch it every year. But at 49 years of age, have watched enough during Lee Kuan Yew's time and Goh Chok Tong's time, to be familiar with the format.

For format it was, almost formulaic.

There will be CPF top ups. There will be incentives for making babies. There will be increased spending on schools. But nothing really new.

How can there be anything new when Lee Kuan Yew was there in the front rows casting his long pall over the proceedings? And dominating all discussions in the back rooms of policy decisions?

It was clear that I missed little or nothing in the years I didn't watch the NDR speeches. Because the formula that was established by Lee Kuan Yew is still being adhered strictly by Goh Chok Tong.

So when I switched off the TV, my one sobering thought was that as long as LKY is around, nothing will be questioned, which means that nothing will change. Then, the even more sobering thought occurred. That even if LKY is not around, the ministers he moulded and cast in lead cannot break out of their moulds and give the country really new perspectives. Then, the most sobering thought of all came. That the next PM will be LKY's son. A man LKY had literally programmed from birth to continue exactly as he would.

Or, as one philosopher said of 'tradition', that that is how the dead continue to control the living, through iron-clad policies and ideologies that cannot be challenged, but only blindly followed.

Singapore needs an opposition government like a parched land needs rain. And the longer the people do not recognise this, the longer the interests and Singapore's development will suffer.

Oh yes. Goh Chok Tong spoke about the need for creativity and change and then proceeded to demonstrate in his speech that the PAP had no new ideas and were not about to change. After all, they think they have the winning formula.

So real change will only come with an opposition government. Perhaps that is why in truly democratic countries, the people, perhaps with only instinct to guide them, often chucks out a government that has ruled for a long time, even successfully, to elect one that is untried and untested but which promises real change and different perspectives. Perspectives that can only occur to men and women who have never been part of the ruling group and hence, can question its orthodoxies.

Now, I know why Dr Chee Soon Juan titled his first book, "Dare To Change". For change is crucial in a democracy of real ideas and new and better policies. Singapore has gone on too long without real change. From the 1960s when LKY consolidated his iron rule until now, with his carefully handpicked ministers.

Without real change, Singaporeans will be shortchanging their real potentials and missing many opportunities. LKY and the PAP and GCT are all Old Guard. The new Hopes are people like Dr Chee Soon Juan and the many Singaporeans who have survived the unceasing brainwashing with their critical faculties intact.

Perhaps there is hope yet. I think Singaporeans will surprise themselves at the next General Elections in 2002. Not, perhaps, with an opposition government, but with enough opposition MPs to bring Parliament debates to a new level.

Until then, we shall have to go through the deja vu of more NDR speeches that are essentially devoid of real ideas, and policies without real change.

Robert HO
21 Aug 00