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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

The Party before the riot

If not for Sunday’s riot in Little India, the MSM would have splashed an event earlier in the day, the People’s Action Party congress, all over Monday’s print and broadcast news. Actually, Zaobao kept the Prime Minister and PAP secretary-general’s speech as Page 1 lead. But it looked like ST made a quick decision to replace the story with what happened in Little India. PM Lee’s speech was moved to Page 2. I’m reading tea leaves here…

The decision isn’t wrong. The first riot in 40 years beats a party congress any time news-wise. Truth to tell, I was more obsessed with the whys and hows of the riot than I was in what the PAP leadership said although it was to be a re-making of sorts for the ruling party.

Belatedly, therefore, I went over the speeches at the party website and took a look at the resolutions approved.

I have to say I was a little disappointed. The PM’s speech was not unlike what he said at the National Day rally, except that it was customised for his audience of party members with references to the work done by stalwarts. The most significant thing was that a group will be set up to look at ageing issues, known as the PAP seniors group. This is not a gathering of old folks, the PM made clear, but of people, including old folks, who want to take a close look at the issues which affect our greying population.

That’s a good move. Politics-wise, it would give older party members a sense that they have not reached their expiry date of usefulness to the party. Nation-wise, a group of ordinary people, including older people,  looking at the multi-faceted issue of ageing might give all a better feel of problems than the numerous high-level committees which have discussed the matter in the past. Seriously, so much attention is given to the youth and young people issues that we forget that the bulk of the population will be the older folk. I am guilty of it too.

I don’t know how often I’ve told my undergraduate students that Singapore is “yours now’’. If problems arise, you are the people who will have to face them and solve them. Me? Hopefully nicely retired and lazing by the pool. This is why I push them to get interested in the Medishield Life discussions because hey, thanks, for paying my premiums when I get old(er). This is why I asked them to write about the URA Masterplan in the now-comatose Breakfast Network  because it will be realised in their lifetime. Me? Hopefully still ambulant in elderly-friendly spaces. I tell them about COE and property prices and say, they might be difficult for you to own. But then again, my generation lamented that it was more difficult for us as well when we compared ourselves to our parents’ generation. (The big houses were all taken…)   

My reasoning was faulty. The grey and the greying should take the bull by the horns and settle their own future. I think there is this idea that when you reach a certain age, your time has passed and the younger generation should step up to the plate, including thinking for you. This sort of thinking only adds to the perception that being old is to be a burden, whether on the family or the nation. We “consume’’ resources while the young people are to be “invested’’ in.

Older people are worth investing in too.

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Okay, I wasn’t too enamoured by what Minister Chan Chun Sing said about “communications’’ and exhorting the party members to do battle on all fronts. Too Churchillian, methinks, and where’s the war? It might be all right if this was a closed-door event; leaders will do what it takes to rally members. But an outsider looking in would be wondering what he meant by : “We must continuously and strenuously defend the common space for people to speak up.’’

“ If we do not stand up for what we believe, others will occupy that space and cast us into irrelevance. We must not concede the space – physical or cyber. We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers – to fight to get our message across at every corner – every street corner, cyberspace corner be it in the mass media, and social media. We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary.’’

Fighting words.

So is it a common space to be defended or a space for the party to occupy?  Who are the “others’’? Other political parties or ordinary voices which do not sing the PAP song? Is this intended to herald in the knuckle-duster era?

I suppose we should simply read it as a call for party members to stand up and say clearly that the PAP is delivering the right stuff in the right way for Singapore, for Singaporeans and with Singaporeans. Typical political party language.   

Mr Chan needs a better speech-writer.


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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