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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The GRC System Hurts the PAP's Future the Most

I've been mulling over the hue and cry over the GRC electoral system since Singapore's latest General Elections a while back. Previously, I cared not a whit about GRC or no GRC. The PAP was in power and that seemed quite alright to me. One never really thought about the possibility that the PAP would NOT return to power. It seemed like something of an undesirable impossibility.

Of course, there was much anti-PAP invective on the internet. Outrageous rumours and unbelievable accusations, and much of the time, one treats it as just so much noise. But the 2011 General Election made me sit up and realise one thing. If the PAP does not do away with the GRC system, popular support for the PAP will slowly erode. For whatever reason the GRC was put in, its long term effects are most harmful to the PAP.

With the GRC system, new MPs are screened by party elders and parachuted into GRCs anchored by seasoned party elders. To get voted in, there is no need for these new MPs to build relationships with the people they will be serving. Apart from the Minister standing in my ward, I knew none of the other MPs. I wouldn't recognise many of my MPs if I passed them in a restaurant because I don't know what they look like.

This said, in this day and age of social media, not knowing what they look like is less important than not knowing how they think, what they value and what they stand for. After all, the blogger Petunialee tries her best to keep her image off the internet but many blog readers know what she likes (Milo), values (frugal living) and believes in (God). At least, to some extent, they do. Petunialee has no face recognition value but at least some people have resonated enough with her thoughts and values to become fast friends with her only because of her blog.

I don't need to know what my MP looks like but I do need to know what kind of person he/she is... and what his/her values are... and what his/her motivations are... and how much courage he/she has... Gee... I know Gerald Giam better than I know 95% of the PAP MPs. Gerald wrote a book. I know how he thinks and what his motivations are. If he had stood in my ward, I would have given him my vote simply because I know him better than my PAP MPs.

What kind of people ARE my PAP MPs? Gosh, save for one Minister... I don't know. Only the PAP party elders know. The PAP party elders are themselves convinced of the moral calibre and rock solid values of their newbies because they did all the interviewing. The PAP interviewer has built a relationship with his/her candidate, not me. To me, my PAP MPs are strangers.

I voted strangers into my ward, and then when they make a boo-boo, I am wont to judge them harshly. They have had no emotional bank account with me to draw upon. Imagine if EVERY single PAP MP had face recognition, thought familiarity and values resonance with the people? This forms a considerable mass of social capital that would buffer the PAP against criticism. If we didn't know who our MPs were before we voted them, it is far easier to judge them harshly for phone texting during the national anthem, or for insulting the vast majority of the population by intimating that we "do not have dignity" because we don't earn as much as a some other people.

We did not really choose these strange PAP MPs for who they are. We picked them because they came with the PAP set lunch. Hence, we have no qualms in shooting them down. Conversely if we had known them (face recognition, thought familiarity and values resonance) and we had really chosen them for themselves, then we would be more willing to make excuses for them, if only because the human psyche hates to admit that it had made a wrong choice.

There will be detractors, but there would also be more supporters to speak up against the detractors IF we had known our MPs better before we voted them in.

Right now, only the bigwig MP in my ward has face recognition, thought familiarity and values resonance with me. If all the other 5 people on the same poster had the same face recognition, thought familiarity and values resonance as Mr BigWig PAP MP, then the PAP's collective social capital in my ward would be multiplied by 6 in my ward alone. If every PAP unknown in every ward were forced to earn face recognition, thought familiarity and values resonance with the people, PAP's collective social capital would be multiplied by as many PAP MPs as there are now unknowns. Right now, the electorate has tenuous ties to the PAP via one or two bigwig PAP MPs in each ward only. This is pauper's social capital.

The PAP deserves better.

Of course, the electorate may well think and decide that the fellow who thinks poor people lack dignity, should not be voted in because he lacks "values resonance" with the populace. But is that wrong? The way I see it, the GRC system functions like overprotective parenting. We're so afraid to let our kids/MPs take the hard knocks that we shield them so much that they never learn (political) wisdom.

If PAP MPs have the calibre, they will learn through their baptism of fire. If they perish in the fire then we know that weak links have been removed from the country's leadership. And since our country is of primary importance, removing the weak links may seem cruel but is necessary. But if politically shielded and politically sheltered and politically pampered, even the PAP MPs with the best calibre will be denied the opportunity to learn and grow strong. I love my children and because I love them, I allow them to face the music and grow through life's lessons. If the PAP really cares for its MPs' calibre then it should allow its MPs the chance to face the music and grow through political lessons.

PAP MPs deserve better.

Umpteen years ago, when TV was the all new media, Richard Nixon debated with John F. Kennedy on TV. Nixon did not master the media. On TV, he appeared belligerent and thuggish. So Kennedy carried the day. Since then, it has become accepted that politicians must know how to speak well. Speak well = politician's core competency, because speaking well = communicating well.

The social media is all about writing however. I love Khaw Boon Wan. I read his writings. I respect him enough to mentally cheer him for once saying "Hey! I am trying my best here to calm the housing market. The media should get its facts right." In my heart, I said "Yeah!! You silly newspaper! If you can't help that poor man lead, at least don't make it difficult for him!!" I read him so I felt for him.

Khaw Boon Wan is not frivolous and he writes to influence. Leaders like Lee Kuan Yew spoke to influence. Leaders of today, like Khaw Boon Wan, need to know how to WRITE I do believe that PAP MPs can do more if they mastered the skills of influencing through writing personally, personably, seriously and sincerely (and sometimes, humorously).

In effect, with the advent of the social media, a deaf-mute with ideas and his/her heart in the right place would gain a following.


sleepy said...

excellent piece. totally agree. we're from the 30-something, 40-something generation. we can read, think and discern. if my MP reaches out to me, i would be more likely to support him through the think-and-thin of nation-building. you should broadcast your piece thru ST or TRE. deserves to be read. :-)

petunialee said...

sleepy - Gee... thanks!! This post was meant to help the PAP, so I sent it to PAP instead.

Wen-ai said...

Yah, a very good read. I have previously sent an email regarding to the fare increase of public transport to the 5 MPs in my ward. Only ONE returned my email and wrote sincerely from his heart. Another one had his Personal Asst replied a "standard" reply. And the remaining 3 ignored my email. I understand that MPs are busy people... but it has been months since that email, Im sure an acknowledgement is not too much to ask for.

Open Kitchen Concept said...

I think that a lot of MPs feel so safe where they are that the don't care anymore. It's the ones who from outside of PAP that are kept on their toes... and hence end up being the better MP

My SINFONIA said...

PAP has shot themselves in the foot for being so protective. MPs who don't go through the fire, how to become steel worthy to lead?

petunialee said...

sinfonia - Yeah... and it is a pity because if well tempered our PAP MPs will be formidable with or without the party. They have that calibre.