Are Singapore's ruling party members losing their cool? Some of them seem to be extremely worried about losing their seats at the next elections – that is if one goes by some of the 'populist' statements which have started surfacing recently in parliament.
Populist policy ideas do not fall in line with the normal characteristics of the People's Action Party (PAP) historical ruling style. Typically, PAP MPs lead from the front and in a paternalistic fashion, i.e. as a PAP MP I am better qualified to make decisions about Singapore's future so please just trust me; it's for your own good.
These unusual ideas – clearly designed to catch the eyes of voters and popular sentiment – include a National Defence Duty for foreigners as well as providing free public transport for commuters during off-peak hours. (Do these officials remember that Singapore's train and bus companies are publicly listed entities and the Board of Directors has fiduciary obligations towards shareholders?)
To be sure, it is good that elected representatives are suddenly more responsive to their constituencies. Nevertheless, Singaporeans must be concerned about the direction some of its elected leaders appear to be taking. In fact, if such thinking reflects broader views within the ruling party then alarm bells should start to ring.
Singapore did not go from Third World to First World by appeasing all constituencies every step of the way. The political leadership demonstrated a fair balance of vision and compromise. For example, when much of the developing world embraced 'socialism' and left wing thought, Singapore turned to the right and free market policies.
It took courage to go against the grain.
Surely, Singapore faces real issues about the country's future. The city state's economic model – which hitherto relied heavily on population growth through immigration – is under pressure. Its 'true blue' citizens are disturbed as their 'traditional' way of life is disrupted by an unprecedented influx of foreigners: approximately two million in the last two decades. The 'taken for granted' yearly improvement in living standards has sputtered during the last few years.
Expectations are not being met. The traditional social contract is under stress. Singapore's leadership must put its head down and address these issues. Populist, pseudo socialist policies will take Singapore nowhere fast.
Singaporeans like having their voice heard but they still wish to be led by thinkers. Not by people who are willing to sacrifice the country's long term stability for short term gains.