An old friend of mine wrote this on Facebook, and it’s too good not to republish:
The PAP was for many years jocularly referred to as Pian Ah Pek or Pay and Pay. I remember one afternoon, many years ago, talking to the elderly Toh Chin Chye. He was by then long estranged from the party and still very anti-PAP. I shared with him these alternative interpretation of his erstwhile party’s acronym and was astonished that he hadn’t heard these rather clever jokes before. I was even more astonished when he burst out with such mirth that he wept; for a few minutes he was so seized by paroxysms of laughter, he almost choked. This sweet moment for him had to be prolonged and savoured. And so, in between more hearty guffaws and dabbing the tears rolling down his still-full cheeks, he asked me to repeat the joke, along with the other pokes about what WP, SJP and SDP also stood for. To refresh your memory: Why Pay? (Workers Party), Some Jokers Pay (the defunct Singapore Justice Party) and So Don’t Pay (Singapore Democratic Party). I chuckled with him and we continued a great yarn.
By now, of course, that joke is so 1990s. Not that the meaning has expired with time, since the PAP today still subscribes to that philosophy. User pays is in fact immutable, sacred dogma. I’d like to add another interpretation of PAP that is timeless in language and, regrettably, in meaning too: Patronising, Arrogant Pols. True, not as witty, but neither am I.
Today we still see a political party that is Arrogant and Patronises the electorate, despite great strides over some 15 yrs since that joke was in vogue. This Arrogance and Patronising attitude rears its unpleasant head especially in the run-up to the General Election, which is tragically unfortunate timing for the Party. In the intervening years between each electoral period, the PAP in fact strives its utmost to govern the country wisely, taking great pains to explain and placate bewildered and/or disgruntled people affected by any new policy, adopts a very patient and humble tone to educate the citizenry and finesse new initiatives it rolls out, with a few Truly Spectacular Failures in between (more below).
Yet when it comes time for it to really go out on a charm offensive, when we voters are about to receive our polling slips and decide to give them “five more years”, to adapt the US electoral turn-of-phrase, the PAP displays a Patronising and Arrogant attitude instead. And every time it has been punished for this unseemly behaviour.
In the matter of Tin Peiling, SM Goh Chok Tong is reported to have told this young political hot potato to ignore the “noise”. This Noise is, quel horreur, actually the Electorate, Mr Goh! The Noise is emitting from the very people she is trying to win over and eventually serve. Admittedly, not all those who complain are in the MacPherson ward where she is slated to run. After all, MacPherson is known to have a lot of old, blue-collared voters who are less likely to be setting the blogosphere aflame — and that’s where the old joke about Pian Ah Pek still rings true and fresh after all these years. Pardon us for being hoi polloi, but it is we who are assessing the parties overall, even if we only get to vote for individual MPs assigned to each constituency. I am sorry that we the people of Singapore are so bothersome to our political leaders. After so many years of endemic walkovers, the Patronising, Arrogant Pols may have forgotten that this time, a lot of us can actually exercise our right to vote.
And just to clarify, but not to belabour the point, this Noise is not emanating from political pundits, not meddling foreign interference, not sneering and jealous neighbours who wish us ill, not even the motley opposition in Singapore. This Noise is Singaporean Voters.
I am just old enough to remember the enormous uproar caused by the Graduate Mother Policy, followed by the mortifying climb-down. Then the condescending dismissal of Chiam See Tong’s “O” levels results, the consequences for which the ruling party has had to live with for many, many years. Then last election’s mortifying climb down regarding PM Lee’s Freudian slip about “fixing the opposition”, and backing off on The James Gomez Incident. Then in this latest election cycle, the desperate shutting of the stable doors after the foreigners bolted in in what must be the Most Spectacularly Unpopular Policy in Singapore’s short history. Add Mere Mortal LKY’s artful “I stand corrected” retraction-without-a-retraction.
This pre-election, it will have to be about Tin Peiling. The critical difference, though, is no senior cadre needs to be named, blamed and shamed; she can be her own sacrificial lamb.
Tin Peiling was picked precisely to appeal to her peers, so it is with tragic irony that it is those same peers — and plenty of us older voters — who are baying for her removal/ solo contest/ jumping off coat-tails. Her presence is a growing and hideous blot on the PAP’s otherwise burnished reputation. What a distraction for not only a Senior Minister to retire gracefully while unveiling his exit strategy; but to eclipse the introduction of a much more honourable candidate, a former Army chief. Beyond distracting, it is marring.
By insisting on her credentials and hanging on to her, the PAP risks reviving its image as Patronising, Arrogant Pols on account of one such mere mortal (mm, not MM). Why? Is she really worth it? Is she worth rekindling cynical voters? Is she worth lost votes in other constituencies to the opposition? Is she worth the diminished regard of the PAP’s hallowed abilities? Is she worth the unnecessary detraction from other worthy candidates? And, yes, is she worth so much Noise??
Early on, there was talk of a suicide squad of opposition MPs to contest both impregnable constituencies: Tanjong Pagar and Marine Parade. I don’t know if that idea is still alive regarding that rather bit player party that rises like Lazarus from the dead at each election. If so, it might actually get a whole lot more votes this time than even it could hope for in its wildest dreams.
So, to return to my suggestion. Tin Peiling should simply bow out of her own accord, acknowledge that Finance Minister has been manfully striving to close the income gap not as an extra-curricular activity but because he and his wiser colleagues actually do believe that it is the Government’s responsibility to do so, and save the party the ignominy of losing a staggering lot of votes, and unnecessary distraction, and all the other reasons already mentioned.
Then to prove her mettle, she can thumb her nose at us Noise by following her namesake, Sarah Palin, and run for (Singapore) President.