Monday, 18 April 2011

The Power of Names, or defining the problem.

A philosophy of arcane magic (the "real" kind of magic, not stage magic - yes, I know, it doesn't exist, I'm just referencing the philosophy) is that to know the true name of something or someone is to have power over that thing or person.

So in two party democracies like the US, the Democrats and the Republicans have their ideologies named. One is Liberal, the other Conservative. And they go at each other with hammer and tongs.

Duverger's Law predicts that in first-past-the-post voting system, a two party system tends to emerge over time. With a two-party system, the difference between the two parties will gradually polarise to diametrically opposed philosophical and ideological positions. Inevitably, the two parties will evolve into a continuous dance of thesis-antithesis without ever achieving synthesis.

This is what we are seeing in the US.

But a key criteria for Duverger's Law to kick in may well be that the dominant party should have some ideological or philosophical foundation or base. Without a thesis, how can the opposition be the antithesis? So in Singapore, without such an ideological handle on the PAP, the opposition is unable to come to grips with PAP.

This is an analysis of the PAP's "ideology", such as it is.

The PAP does not overtly subscribe to any ideology or philosophy. The PAP is sometimes said to be rationally pragmatic (Deng's reference to "white cat or black cat, as long as it catches mice"). But to say that the PAP is rationally pragmatic is like saying they act thoughtfully, and logically, with consideration of the possible consequences. How does one take a position opposite that without seeming to be illogical, thoughtless, and reckless?

Another tenet of the PAP or perhaps Singapore is the separation of politics from religion. Because we are a multi-religious, multi-cultural society, common ground had to be deliberately carved out and secularism was the principle. Of all the principles secularism is probably the most at risk. The rise of religious fundamentalism not just in Islam, but more so the Christian fundamentalist and the Christian activist is a concern for Singapore. The rise of (Desert) Islam fueled by petro-dollars, and directed by Islam of the desert is a recognised danger because of 9-11, but the rise of mega-churches in Singapore is more germane, and not seen to be as much of an issue as the terrorism threat from militant Islamist. However, the AWARE saga was perhaps a portent of things to come, as faith plays a larger role in the lives of some people.

In the US, the religious right is making arguments that secularism is also a value-system, that evolution is only a theory and that creationism or intelligent design is as valid a theory as evolution, and so religious values also have a place in public discourse and public policy. Thio Li-Ann makes the same argument in Parliament.

Meritocracy was the principle that got us kicked out of the Federation of Malaysia. Linked closely to this is the principles of Integrity and Incorruptibility (which are more virtues than principles). A lot of the difference in progress between Malaysia and Singapore can be attributed to this. Again, how does one campaign against Meritocracy? And again, is Meritocracy a PAP philosophy, or a Singapore philosophy?

Way before "sustainability" as a concept was cool, the PAP considered sustainability of policies and prudently ensured that all policies were sustainable. Prudent sustainability must be a key PAP principle, if only because all the opposition parties seem eager to proposed subsidies for essentials, for transport, for the elderly, for the disabled, for housing, etc, often without any credible suggestion as to how these can be sustained. Prudent sustainability restrains the PAP from opening up the welfare purse because sustaining it is a long-term commitment, and the PAP cannot prudently make that commitment.

Another characteristic of the PAP is the Coherence and Consistency of their policies. When the PAP says it will do something, it does it. It held off from signing several international convention and treaties because it felt that Singapore was not ready to fully comply with the duties and obligations of the conventions. If you want an idea of incoherence and inconsistency, just read about Malaysian policies. They take one step forward, two steps back, say one thing today, another thing tomorrow, deny everything the third day and then proceed with a totally different policy the fourth day.

The consistency of policy also applies to internal policies. When they decide to make vehicle usage expensive and increase petrol taxes, they also had the half and then 3/4 tank rule to close a loophole.

While the PAP does not have an identifiable "ism" like Socialism, or Capitalism, or Liberalism, etc, they do have a consistent philosophy. In contrast, the opposition parties lack coherence and consistency. Members move between political parties like a game of musical chairs. Steve Chia was an NCMP under SDP, but is now with NSP. RP has (I've said this before), attracted new blood only to bleed them all away even before the election is announced!

Against such a well organised, consistent and coherent PAP, the opposition have been playing musical chairs. How can they win?

The only coherent and consistent party has been Workers Party. After this election, I would not be surprise if only Low Thia Khiang is the only elected opposition MP.

So to summarise, the PAP is
  • Rationally Pragmatic
  • Secular
  • Meritocratic
  • Consistent and Coherent, &
  • Practices prudent sustainability in its policies.
Against such a party, how can the opposition deal with them, let along defeat it?

Maybe in another post.


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