Is the magic of PAP pragmatism as effective as before?
Has the social divide become deficit public trust?
To answer these questions, we will have to look at the history of time. Comparing 20 or 30 years ago, how do we see pragmatism in Singapore and how trustworthy do Singaporeans see the PAP government?
The 50-year never change People's Action Party will certainly claim that Singaporeans are very pragmatic and once the PAP calls or reminds Singaporeans to be pragmatic or face the consequence of voting out the PAP, majority of voters will continue to give the governmentship to the PAP. So, the magic of pragmaticism is as effective as before.
Similarly, the public trust between people and government even though there is a gap, like the rich-poor gap, it will still be manageable and will never turn into a deficit, a crisis. Singaporeans still obey the law, continue to pay tax and do National Service and furthermore, parents still fight very hard for Primary one registration. How can public trust be an issue when things are functioning like before.
Only when we do a comparison between 1980s, 1990s and 2010s, we then realise how different it could be:
Pragmaticism Public Trust 1980s, 1990s Effective High 2010s Ineffective Low
20, 30 years ago, there was no social media. Main-stream media is controlled by the government. When the MSM says pragmaticism is effective, no one can argue and gives alternative views. When Goh Chok Tong gives a promise of Swiss standard of living, Singaporeans also pragmatically think there is a hope and vote for the PAP. When Mah Bow Tan promises a hope of World Cup, Singaporeans also cheer pragmatically for such a dream. We know casinos are bad but pragmatically we also accept without a referendum. Almost all major decisions are passed pragmatically without full debates.
Now all these dreams and promises are broken. Can the call for pragmaticism still attract people and can it continues to be as effective as before?
PAP says we must be pragmatic so that our income can grow and jobs will be secured. No doubt, our income per capita has increased but so do the income gap. The PAP pragmatic approach can only benefit some people, not all people. PM Lee goes even further to suggest the dangers of 'please-all economics'#1. PAP's pragmatic approach is to please some people, either local or foreign. 'Please-all' in fact in the PAP's definition is equal to welfarism where no one wants to work hard as there are generous social benefits. Do Singaporeans pragmatically think in this way? Do people buy this analogy?
The result of PAP pragmaticism is what we see today: no retirement for senior citizens, no wage increase for low income workers for years, no university placing for eligible students, etc.....
The discussion of pragmatism and public trust in the past was a total reflection of the PAP version. There were either under reported or no reporting of ineffective PAP pragmatism in the MSM. So it created a false impression that PAP pragmatism was good, was effective for country's building and we all pretended and assumed that there was no issue of public trust. We trusted the press, we believed in PAP version of pragmaticism and we even protected the pragmatism and public trust by denouncing all those opposed the pragmatism and people questioned about the social divide and public trust.
Today, we see more discussions, criticism and attacks on the PAP pragmatism and public trust. The PAP defends it by saying discussions, criticisms and even attacks are not indications of ineffective PAP pragmaticism or deficit public trust. The PAP is now more open to discussions, we have SG Conversation, we have MediShield for all, and the PAP even turns to democratic socialism. The PAP is changing and is pragmatic as before and there is no problem of gaining people's supports and trust.
If you buy this argument, then you may draw your conclusion below:
[In his article, Mr Mukherjee also expressed confidence that "for all the grumbling, the majority of Singaporeans are too pragmatic to opt for unbridled welfarism at the next elections".
The Prime Minister, in his post, concluded: "We must make sure that he is right."]#1
However, pragmatism and public trust really go beyond welfarism and PM Lee's right way. It is so complicated and it involves social justice, transparency, accountability, press freedom, and many unexpected things. We will have to look at the peer effect, the threshold (not tradeoff) and many other uncertainties.
Pragmaticism or pragmatism, here we refer to PAP version of pragmatic approach or thinking.