Sunday, August 20, 2006

Retreat from Power: Who will lead us?


Russell Heng has written an excellent article entitled “Retreat from Power: Why should Singapore's PAP oblige?” where he postulates that our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could possibly be the one to lead the People's Action Party (PAP) towards the politics of retreat. Heng’s hypothesis is a must-read for all serious Singapore-watchers. ( Also if you don’t, you won’t know what the h*ck I am talking about).

Are Russell Heng’s expectations rational?

Russell Heng may be overly optimistic if he is hoping that this government will retreat from power.

Although speeches delivered by our PM in the recent past seemed to suggest to some that he could conceivably be a “closet” reformer or maybe an “agent of change”, the words and actions of senior PAP leaders quickly brought all of us back to reality.

The re-affirmation of policies such as GRC and upgrading first for PAP wards dispelled any doubts that the political status quo will remain. To still believe that our PM is keen on significant liberalizations is to postulate that the leadership is fractured and the PAP not united.

Examples of “Retreat from Power”

In Asia’s past, the regimes that exercised retreat from power were coincidentally military dictatorships. The most significant ones that readily come to my mind include President Chiang Ching Kuo (Republic of China -Taiwan)

and President Chun Doo-Hwan (Republic of Korea ie South Korea)

1.President Chiang Ching Kuo

President Chiang Ching Kuo is the son of Chiang Kai Shek. In 1987 Chiang Ching Kuok ended martial law and his administration saw a gradual loosening of political controls. Opponents of the Nationalists were no longer forbidden to hold meetings or publish papers and Opposition political parties, though still illegal, were allowed to form.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind now that Taiwan’s democracy is fully entrenched and irreversible.

2. President Chun Doo-Hwan

President Chun Doo-Hwan’s role in opening up South Korea is a lot more controversial and mired with senseless bloodshed amidst national turmoil.He grabbed power in a coup d’etat in 1979( a not uncommon route to the top job those days). His power-grab was legitimised when Chun was elected president under a revised constitution, having resigned from the army after promoting himself to four-star general.

During the martial law regime under Chun, Kim Dae-jung, a dissident oppositionist was sentenced to death. This was later commuted due to foreign pressure.

When Kim Dae-jung was elected President of Korea in 1997, among Kim’s early acts as chief executive was the release from prison of his presidential predecessors (Chun and Roh Tae-woo, both convicted in 1996 for corruption, treason and mutiny) and their inclusion on his inaugural platform.

For his magnanimity towards his enemies, Kim has remained one of my heroes. He was also instrumental in the “Sunshine policy” towards North Korea when he attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to engage the xenophobic North.

3.President FW De Klerk
My other hero is Nelson Mandela the first President of a non-apartheid South Africa. He was just as forgiving towards his predecessor F W de Klerk. De Klerk is himself also an agent of change who brought about the demise of racist apartheid in his retreat from power.

My hopes and expectations

I will be the happiest person on this little red-dot if it turns out that I had been too harsh on the government and that there are plans afoot for real change.

However, the phrase,” The more they change, the more they remain the same,” has oft been used, ad nauseam, to describe the PAP and very few can argue about its "appropriate-ness" .

I do concede that if anyone can bring about long-term change (even via politics of retreat ), it would be our present PM. He has genuine support from a sizeable majority.

PM Lee’s ability to implement change is never in doubt, only his willingness to take a calculated risk by embarking on a different path is.

Our children’s generation may not be as trusting as our fathers’.

I await his National Day Rally speech with bated breath.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

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