Low Thia Khiang’s breathtakingly cynical view on politics

From ‘Constructive politics will help Singapore scale new height: PM’, 28 May 2014, article by Charissa Yang, ST Singpolitics

It is very important for Singapore to get its politics right because constructive politics will help it scale new heights, but wrong politics will doom it, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

He joined the ongoing debate in Parliament over constructive politics, first mentioned in the President’s Address on May 16. Mr Lee criticised Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang’s speech delivered on Monday and responded to Mr Low’s point “that whatever way ‘politics’ is described and coloured, it is still politics”.

Calling this a “breathtakingly cynical view of politics”, Mr Lee said: “Politics cannot just be about politics alone. Singaporeans’ lives and Singapore’s future are at stake.”

‘Constructive politics’ has been bandied about since Low Thia Khiang ‘cynically’ said that this rhetorical hokum doesn’t happen ‘by order of the Government’. But most of the ‘constructive politics’ supporters in Parliament seem intent on providing their own whimsy definitions rather than citing concrete examples of its existence. Positive adjectives to describe a party’s political style like ‘constructive’ are rare, perhaps because it’s redundant. After all, we pay good money for our million dollar ministers,  and it’s a given that they better bloody hell deliver the goods. Constructively. It’s like saying your kid studies in a ‘good’ school, something which our Minister of Education would say applies to EVERY damn school anyway.

Here’s a sampling of other ‘brands’ of politics that have been used to describe our PAP and Opposition parties, proof that there are more bad things to say about politics in general than sincere compliments.

1. Compliant politics.

Low’s example was the MDA imposing licensing on news sites. Another example I can think of was the voting results for the passing of the White Paper, with 77 PAP MPs all voting yes vs 13 non-PAP saying nay. One Inderjit Singh abstained. Also known as ‘Yes-men’ politics.

2. Pork-barrel politics

A term to describe inducing the electorate with sweeteners prior to an election, like GST vouchers, Progress packages, upgrading, MRT etc. George Yeo once denied that it existed in Singapore, that there was very little ‘pork in the barrel’. You could say the PAP does ‘halal’ politics, then. Also politics of property.

3.Package politics.

A term coined by Goh Chok Tong to ‘defend the link’ between upgrading and winning votes (See pork barrel politics). Today you have Pioneer packages and Jubilee Baby packages, all little rewards given out to Singaporeans for being good, law-abiding boys and girls (or old men and women).

4. Politics of make-believe

Chee Soon Juan is credited with this term, using it to describe how the PAP is out of touch with reality and insist on painting a rosy picture of the state of affairs on the ground. Or ‘Potemkin’ politics. Like denying that we’re the most expensive city in the world, for example. Nothing like a healthy dose of cynicism in the land of milk and honey, eh?

5. Politics of envy

Matthias Yao used this to describe Chee Soon Juan’s tactics of ‘exaggerating class divisions in Singapore to attract votes’. Today, the PAP makes childless couples envious with their Baby bonuses and special Jubilee gold medallions, and local gamblers envious of foreigners who don’t have to pay $100 casino levies. They also are very accommodating to billionaires settling down here, making us salivate over their Sentosa Cove homes while we languish in our 3 room HDB flats (which they promise they’ll upgrade before the next election).

6. Third World gutter politics/politics of discreditation/politics of distraction.

All coined by James Gomez after his ‘misplaced application form’ incident and being called a ‘liar’. LKY himself accused his opponents of ‘gutter/snake-pit politics’ when they tried to discredit PAP candidates. A political ‘low-blow’, so to speak. Both sides are equally guilty of this of course, though one is more likely to get away with mudslinging than the other. Also ‘character-assassination politics’.

7. Hardball politics

A legacy of LKY’s style of balls-clenching governance. Hardball finger-pointing is what the PAP excel in, with an army of lawyers at their disposal, not concerned if what they do is unpopular, as long as it’s ‘right’. PM Lee just used ‘weasel away’ on Low Thia Khiang, by the way. I don’t think you should use any animal references on our PM without getting a letter of demand, and make him, well, barking mad.

8.Communal politics.

A euphemism for ‘racial politics’, this was tossed at a WP candidate in 1991 by Goh Chok Tong for ‘agitating the Malay ground’. The PAP themselves once accused Tang Liang Hong of being a ‘Chinese chauvinist’. Needless to say, Davinder Singh was involved then. He’s like Alfred to Lee Hsien Loong’s Bruce Wayne. I can imagine him tucking the younger Lee to sleep, whispering ‘So sire, who shall we sue tomorrow?’ before planting a warm avuncular kiss on his forehead.

9. Sound-bite politics

PM Lee’s retort to Low’s speech refers to how politicians use catchphrases to get attention but don’t back them up. All bark but no bite, essentially. Wayanging is a natural course in any form of politics, from the idealistic (WP’s ‘First World Parliament’) to the ferocious (LKY’s Repent) and the downright silly (Citizen-centric, Actionable, Recalibrate, Future-ready).

Mention ‘dirty politics’ or ‘money politics’, however, and you may be accused of ‘impugning the PM’s integrity and character’, and end up being best pals with Roy Ngerng. The PAP is a mixed bag really, and to proclaim that it practices ‘constructive politics’ exclusively is omitting the uglier aspects of its indomitable governance, that sometimes you need to be a hardball bastard, offer some ham and sausages, knee the opponent in the balls, or just follow the crowd and stick to the status quo to stay in power. It’s also ironic that a ‘heated debate’ about what constructive politics means is anything but constructive. A case of ‘popcorn politics’, perhaps?

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2 Responses

  1. […] Everything Also Complain: Low Thia Khiang’s breathtakingly cynical view on politics – Mothership.sg: 10 Quotable Quotes that really show PM Lee & WP’s Low engaged in an […]

  2. It was really a joke to hear PM accusing WP for flip flopping because his father is the mentor when it comes to doing the u-turn or in PAP speak “Rethink”. He should go read his father speeches before they took power, especially of press freedom and detention without trail. That’s the ultimate classic u-turn.

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