In October 2001, I was introduced as a candidate for the People’s Action Party in the November 2001 election. This was the statement I made to the media at that time. From time to time, I re-read it and check that I have stayed true to the cause.
My decision to enter party politics has been a very difficult one, made after intense soul searching. I have spent most of my adult life being sceptical of the PAP. I have also been publicly critical of some government policies in the past. It would be hypocritical for me to pretend that these objections have suddenly evaporated.
I will therefore have to explain my personal political journey thus far.
Like many younger Singaporeans, I felt an emotional dissonance with the PAP. To some extent, it was a more a question of style rather than substance, because there is no doubt that the PAP has delivered substantially to all Singaporeans since 1959.
Free speech, fair competition, egalitarianism, checks and balances on power are all deeply attractive concepts to my generation. Initially, I believed that my political involvement would run counter to these ideals, and hence stayed away from party politics.
There were also other issues that I disagreed with, like priority for children of graduate mothers and policies that accentuated ethnicity. I made no secret of my disagreements, having written and spoken publicly on these and other issues over the years.
My commitment to these ideals has not changed. However, events over the past year have altered my perspective.
Firstly, I have been reminded that Singapore is a small and fragile nation. Our long term survival is not a given. I have come to the belated conclusion that we need all hands on board this little ship. There will always be a diversity of opinions and perspectives. I have seen honest good men have major disagreements, but continue to respect one another.
In my multiple discussions with the senior leadership, I found them open, patient and fair. Even the SM listened, and patiently explained his perspectives to me. They did not try to impose their views on me. Instead, they pointed out that if I compromised my integrity, I would lose my value.
We need a core group, not unified by uniformity, but united by a shared commitment to build and nurture our nation. I believe the PAP represents this core group.
How to make a living
Secondly, the economic recession has been a reality check for me.
Some fundamentals have not changed. We need to make a living, and nobody owes us a free lunch.
The world has changed, and Singapore will have to adapt. We need to find new ways of making a living, because the old niches will become too crowded. We will not be able to compete on price, and even having systems which are highly efficient will not be enough.
Our human talent must become more creative and our systems more flexible. We will need a wider range of talent, and a broader definition of success. Inevitably, this must mean a greater dispersion of responsibility and accountability.
How to live with one another
Thirdly, the racial, religious, linguistic and economic differences between groups of Singaporeans may be become greater and will pose a great challenge to our social cohesion. Recent events in New York and the riots in a neighbouring country have underlined this in blood.
The concept of Singapore, Inc may be a useful business analogy, but it will not be sufficient politically. We cannot just be a successful company, recruiting the best and retrenching the rest in our search for more profits. On the other hand, we cannot pull everybody down to the lowest common multiple. Instead, we have to find ways to bring the tide in, so that all the boats will rise, although not all will rise equally. We have to help the less well-off members of our fleet whilst we search for new ports and businesses.
I spent the first two decades of my life searching for identity. My peers found easy answers within their communal identities. Ultimately, Singapore, and being Singaporean became for me the central tenet of my identity. The Singaporean Singapore that the PAP espoused in the 1960s was not just another political slogan. I needed to believe it desperately, and continue to do so, for it cuts to the very core of my existence.
My generation, born in the 60s, represents the first generation that was nurtured and has come of age entirely under PAP rule. Our successes, and deficiencies, represent the first fruits of the PAP rule. However, the true test will be whether my generation is able to transmit the values, systems and institutions to the next generation. The essential feature of viable life is the ability to reproduce and transmit attributes over time.
I do not pretend to be an ideal candidate, and I have more than my fair share of defects and mistakes. Nevertheless, I am prepared to try my best, to be honest in thought and action, and leave something worthwhile for my children and country.