Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Election watch 2011: National Service
With the General Elections due in Singapore on 7 May 2011, Singaporean voters must be discerning enough to tell fact from fiction. This is not easy with political candidates of all stripes making persuasive noises to woo voters to their camp using every mass communications tool at their disposal.
The example cited in this post has been picked as many of you are interested in Singaporean defence matters. It centres on the debate on National Service (NS) – an evergreen topic that has seldom failed to stir emotions since the city state introduced universal conscription in 1967.
In March 1987, the call by Opposition Member of Parliament Chiam See Tong to slash full-time NS from the maximum of 30 months to 19 weeks was stoutly dismissed by parliamentarians from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). To say the PAP had a majority in Parliament would be a gross understatement. At the time, Mr Chiam was the sole Opposition MP in the House.
Compare and contrast how the ruling PAP painted the cut in NS when it was announced in Parliament in June 2004. The cut was indeed less severe - 30 months down to 24 months. But the political posturing, massaging of hearts and minds and public relations messages that reversed the PAP's foot-dragging and reluctance to cut NS 17 years earlier is interesting.
It may be gratuitous to credit Mr Chiam for the eventual reduction in NS liability. But to dismiss the veteran politician’s intent, reasoning and arguments out of hand because of his personal political convictions weakens Singapore’s parliamentary process.
Such condescending attitudes will breed an unhealthy environment beloved by the obsequious and self-serving. Low or no tolerance to alternative views will place our fragile city state in an even more precarious position as national issues are either not rigorously debated or the "debate" degenerates into mere formality (a good example being the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Defence).
If a policy is sound, has merit and the well-being of Singaporeans at heart, parliamentarians have little to fear from voters.
Singaporeans are afterall a reasonable lot. If people in Singapore can be persuaded to drink treated sewage (NEWater), accept atrocious noise levels from Harley Davidson bikes as a “trademark” and not bat an eyelid when cigarette sales are allowed but chewing gum is banned, then Singaporeans can be persuaded, coaxed and yes, even frightened, to accept unpopular measures.
As the NS example cited here shows, politicians in power should hold their guns when debunking alternative views as they may find themselves walking down the same road years later.
No one and no one party has a monopoly on ideas.
Posted by David Boey at 8:01 PM