Sunday, 10 March 2013

Singapore turns to populist politics?

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.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at


  1. Better to scrap the GRC and bring back SMC.

  2. You have a good point there Imran. Back in the days the government had the foresight and courage to go against the 'conventional' ensuring our success. Now is the time for them to do so again. The current generation need to have the foresight/hindsight and courage to recognise that the policies they have in place are not working well and to go against the grain set by previous generations and forge the way to success again. Populist politics as said by the PAP MPs have been thoroughly panned upon by the people especially the NS tax,showing that the people are not swayed by these and want a genuinely workable policy to help them through these tough times.

  3. It all boils down to the quality of the leadership, which has been declining. Ministers without the benefit of a commercial/business background and the 'low life' so to speak. Ministers who allow things to go auto-pilot, on the wrong presumption that the equally highly paid civil servants are corruption-free and that they know their jobs. Linked to this low quality is the sad fact that 90% of our ministers were either lured by the money or an obligation to servce because of their govt scholarships in their formative years. In deciding to 'give back' to society, they are doing it relucatantly,as yet another 'national service' and like a ship in a passing harbour, can't wait to move on.

  4. Thank you all for visiting my blog and taking the time to post a comment.


    I agree. Single Member Constituencies are a better way to elect leadership than the GRC 'all or nothing' system.


    Absolutely, our leadership must show courage and review policies with an open mind. Not everything from the past is relevant to the 'New Singapore.' Clearly, one aspect of leadership Singaporeans desire is 'honesty.' I believe if the leadership is honest, most Singaporeans are willing to give the government time to work its way through some of the issues we now face.


    You are so right in pointing to the quality of leadership as a critical factor for success. Let us hope more Singaporeans become involved in the political process and, as more opinions are voiced and debated, improved policy options / decisions are implemented.

    Kind regards,