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Mandarin Announcement and the PAP’s Dilemma

The trial run of Mandarin announcement at SMRT trains has stopped. Is this a controversy or a dilemma of the PAP?

SMRT is a listed company, a public company responsible to shareholders for profit making and dividends.  It wants to please certain groups of customers, to make them happy, so that their sales and profits can go up. Why not? Unfortunately, the public and the commuters at large do not see in this way. In a ‘Singlish’ and English speaking society, people are more comfortable with just one lingua for more efficiency, better communication and understanding.

Then, why does the PAP want to take the risk to anger Singaporeans in the first place?  Who has the power to impose political agenda on a public listed company? Is this just a trial run only, so simple?

Receiving end

Cheong Yip Seng in his book OB Markers: The Straits Times Story acknowledges that he is at the receiving end. 
"I have seen newspapers closed when they fell foul of the government, and friends lose their jobs. Journalists have been detained. I did not suffer their fate, but many were the times when I was at the receiving end of Lee Kuan Yew's fury," he writes.

So, SPH is at the receiving end. SMRT, ComfortDelgro (SBSTransit), DBS, Keppel, Sembcorp, CapitaLand, and many more listed companies are all at the receiving end. Not to mention those not listed organizations like PA, NTUC, election department etc., all are directly at the receiving end.    

One will wonder how many big companies and big organizations in Singapore are excluded from the list of receiving end companies.
Is Mandarin announcement just to please the Chinese?

SMRT at the receiving end has no power to change the policy of Mandarin announcement.  They just take the instruction from the government.  To have a test run and then cancel the trial run, SMRT is using the listed company’s money to please the mainland Chinese?

Many Singaporeans have criticized SMRT for failing to understand the reality of Singapore and there is no need to have Mandarin announcement. Even the Straits Times in its editorial of 16 December loudly declared that “Just English will do”.  Is this another receiving end instruction from the government?

Let go back and try to examine the reasons why the government wants to have Mandarin announcement at the first place.  SMRT has already enough problems and there is no reason they want to create one more trouble for themselves.  But being at the receiving end, they have no choice.

Let look at it from the view point of a Chinese speaking Singaporean.  We all know that the PAP came to power because of the strong support of Chinese educated and Chinese (dialect) speaking people in 1950s and 1960s.  This continued in the 1970s. 

But with the closing of Nantah in 1980 and the complete phasing out of Chinese schools in the 1980s, the support from them has declined.  However, they also became minority as English and ‘Singlish’ speaking voters become the majority in Singapore. This, in the PAP’s planning, can offset the balance.

Losing ground since 1980s

In fact, the PAP has been losing ground as early as in the 1980s. The loss of Anson by-election in 1981 is due to the lack of grassroots support.  In 1984 there was another loss in Potong Pasir due to weak heartlands support.

One of the biggest miscalculations of the PAP is they fail to anticipate that one day, they will lose their support from English and ‘Singlish’ speakers.  The system of ‘English First’ does not convince the English speaking Singaporeans that they can benefit from the economic growth.

Margin player

To remain in power and control the parliament, the PAP has to act like a margin player in the stock market. With regulatory and parliament changes (GRC, NCMP, NMP, EP and Marxist Conspiracy), the PAP started to add ‘margin’ power to themselves in the 1980s.

From the 1990s onwards, they also used lawsuits, avoid by elections, continued fear tactics and media control etc. to control the parliament.    

However, the loss of support from Chinese, English and Singlish speaking Singaporeans continued. This means the PAP cannot play margin like before or the people of Singapore refuse to extend ‘margin’ facility to them.

The ‘middle ground’, that PM Lee keeps stressing, is referring to the support from Chinese speaking (1960s-1970s), English and Singlish speaking (1980s-2000s) Singaporeans. These supports have all declined since 1980s.

So, they have to depend on the support of foreign born Singaporeans, especially the mainland Chinese? And so we see the introduction of Mandarin MRT announcement and National Conversation?


In economic efficiency, one language for all Singaporeans is the best solution. But the outcome is a surprise to the PAP. They thought the losing support from Chinese speaking Singaporeans could be replaced by the majority English and Singlish speaking Singaporeans. They thought the building of one-language nationhood would give them the advantage and more ‘margin’ limit.    

And now with the losing support of Chinese, English and Singlish speaking Singaporeans, they hope to gain the support of foreign born Singaporeans.  Can the PAP continue to play the ‘margin’ as they wish? 

This may give the right explanation for the trial run of Mandarin announcement (to please the mainland Chinese).  However, without the support of local born Singaporeans, can the PAP still play their ‘margin’ effectively?

So, they have to turn back to the Chinese speaking, perhaps Singlish speaking Singaporeans.  They have no option to the Mandarin announcement. 
To many Chinese educated Singaporeans, the bilingualism is a failure.  In fact, it is true too otherwise we will not see “Just English will do” in the Straits Times.  This is a failed psychology in not recognizing that there are non-English speaking Singaporeans in Singapore. Mainland Chinese is an easy target but it also hurts the hearts of Chinese speaking Singaporeans.
This is the dilemma of Singapore and the dilemma of the PAP.  The PAP knows they urgently need Mandarin speaking (even better with Chinese culture) Singaporeans for business and exchange with China. But there is no better environment for Chinese learning in today’s Singapore.  Mandarin announcement is just a simple step to encourage the learning but it failed again.

In the past, the PAP played their cards well, played the ‘margin’ well. The English first or “Just English will do” policy is so successful that it has transformed Singapore into a monolingual new Singapore. And the uniquely Singaporeans seem to refuse to accept our past, our multi-language multi-culture past.

Who is now at the receiving end? The PAP, Chinese speaking, English speaking or Singlish speaking Singaporeans?

20 years later, by 2030, we are all at the receiving end except those foreigners.
 EDITORIALJust English will doTransport operator SMRT said that its trial run of having Mandarin announcements of station names on some trains, which was supposed to end next month, had been stopped on Dec 5. It was not a moment too soon. The wisdom of such a trial is doubtful, given the social unease it has aroused in some quarters. English has been used to announce the names of train stations all along. So, many wondered, why the sudden need to add Mandarin? SMRT explained that it had started the trial after receiving "considerable public feedback" that Mandarin be used as well to assist passengers, especially older citizens, who rely on announcements during their journeys.But, rightly or wrongly, many came to see the scheme as directed at the growing number of Chinese immigrants who cannot understand English. Society needs to give immigrants a helping hand, of course, but immigrants must make an effort to integrate into Singapore society by learning some basic English.Singapore has come a long way in fostering racial harmony because its founding fathers had decided from the outset that although there would be four official languages, English would be the neutral language to be used by all. No one race should be privileged over the others. It will only stir resentment. As a blogger said, his non-Chinese friends found the Mandarin announcements "deeply alienating".SMRT said it did consider announcements in all four languages, but found that Malay and Tamil pronunciations were similar to English. However, some station names in Mandarin sound very different, said its spokesman. Yet, what language to use in public services has much wider ramifications, not to be trifled with. So apart from ensuring that the trains run, providers of such essential services will have to bear in mind community sensitivities. (ST, 16 Dec 2012)


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