Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew gave an interview with Charlie Rose, which was broadcast on Bloomberg Television on October 22nd. The interview covered mainly the rise of China and India, and their relationship with the US.
While the discussion hardly touched on domestic Singapore politics, Mr Lee did reveal some of his thinking which has undoubtedly shaped the actions of the Singapore government.
Charlie Rose had asked how communications, technology and the flow of information will impact China. Mr Lee said that the Chinese leaders were “watching the Internet very carefully” and paying attention to what people think.
He revealed what he thought the Chinese leaders’ feared, saying:
“They’re afraid that they will lose control in the situation. In the old days, way back in Mao’s days, everybody is dependent on the state. The state is the only employer and everybody has what you call a Huku. A Huku is a residence permit. And if you lose your job because you’re anti-government or whatever, you’ve had it. There’s no other employer. But today there are multiple employers…They can be entrepreneurs.”
In this case, I think what applies to China applies to Singapore as well.
We too live in a country where the state dominates pretty much every aspect of our lives. The Civil Service is still the biggest employer here, and many Singaporeans are employees of government-linked companies (GLCs). Even many of those who work in local SMEs are indirectly beholden to the government for their jobs, because their companies depend on government contracts to keep afloat.
Is it no wonder then that so few capable Singaporeans are willing to stick their necks out and speak up publicly against government mistakes, much less join opposition parties?
In fact I’ve noticed from mixing with people in opposition party circles that a surprisingly high percentage of active opposition party members are entrepreneurs. Perhaps it is in part due to their inherent boldness to step out of their comfort zone to start their own businesses. But I think a bigger reason is that entrepreneurs have less reason to fear “retaliation” should they go against the government, since they can always choose to get their jobs from non-government customers.
While I think that concerns over job security are real, especially in these uncertain times, I also feel that many employers’ mindsets about their employees’ participation in opposition politics have also evolved since the last election. Few people subscribe to the subtle — and sometimes not so subtle — propaganda of the PAP that those who join the opposition are just out to make mischief. There is a increasing recognition among Singaporeans of all walks of life that more political competition is beneficial to Singapore.
I would encourage my fellow citizens who have a heart for people and a passion to bring change for the better to Singapore, to count the costs, and then step out and be counted. If more of us step out and live out our passions in life, it is really the ruling party which has to fear losing the control they have over Singaporeans.
Many thanks to Bloomberg Television for providing me the transcript of this interview. You can catch the interview again on Bloomberg Television on Monday at 7pm in Singapore/Hong Kong.