"to rescue truth from beauty and meaning from belief"

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Minority President: The Truth Behind The Beauty of Symbolism

Let’s try to ‘rescue truth from beauty’….

Truth vs Beauty

“It is a very necessary symbolism of what we are as a multiracial society – what Singapore means, stands for and what we aspire to be.” PM Lee Hsien Loong

The beauty of a symbolic minority-race Singapore President, albeit an elected one, is that those of the majority race can say with a straight face that the tyranny of the ethnic majority does not exist in Singapore.

But the truth is that the Malays, in particular, continue to be discriminated against in the military, the civil service and select cabinet portfolios – after half a century as an independent Singapore.

Likewise, and perhaps sadder still, the truth is that the Singapore female, at a 1.036 ratio higher than male, continues to be overwhelmingly under-represented in the top echelons of the cabinet, among MPs and the civil service – after half a century of universal education for all regardless of sex.

Do the above racial and gender (factual) situations not deserve the same ‘very necessary symbolism of what we are as a multiracial society’, Mr Prime Minister?

Symbolism With Substance
Symbolism taken to its progressive, logical end can only mean proportional representation across racial and gender lines and across all offices. That, however, is neither a realistic nor a wise approach given the self-evident differences in human beings, as much as the similarities we all share. Whilst proportionality ensures all categories of people have a seat at the table, society may not be prepared to pay the price of a slower and, probably, lower average rate of material progress.

PM himself admits ‘the head of state represents all Singaporeans‘ – more a figurehead than an elected office bearer – with nothing much needed to show for. Hence, would not the ‘very necessary symbolism’ that the PM so believes in be truly better served with symbolism in offices of true substance – where the office bearer or appointee gets the opportunity to show her/his leadership competence in the military, civil service and cabinet?

What’s more, what does it mean to claim, ‘yes, this is my country. Someone like me can become the head of state, can represent the country‘ when only the daft ones will not know that that Malay, Indian or Eurasian President is only there because it is her/his turn to occupy the Istana as a mere symbol of multi-racialism?

Symbolism vs Tokenism vs…Puppetism
To get a clearer understanding, we look up any reputable dictionary to understand what ‘symbolism’ and, its very close synonym, ‘tokenism’ mean.


n.1. The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships.


n.1. The policy of making only a perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture toward the accomplishment of a goal, such as racial integration.

As can be seen, what PM Lee tries to sell to us is for the minority-race President to ‘attribute symbolic meanings or significance’ to our belief in multi-racialism. But, isn’t it clearer still that, since he is not interested whatsoever in addressing the as-very-necessary racial and gender symbolism in the military, civil service and cabinet, what Singaporeans, especially the aggrieved minorities are being shortchanged with ‘tokenism’ i.e. ‘making only perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture’ towards multi-racialism?

The analysis leads us inevitably to the truth of tokenism devised and disguised as the beauty of ‘a very necessary symbolism‘. One designed to advance the PAP imperative for puppetism in order to serve its party dominance in Singapore. in order that they, the natural aristocrats, can ‘decide what is right. Never mind what the people think‘. Never mind what the elected President thinks.

The ultimate survival of Singapore is secondary to that imperative of PAP dominance. Thus, expect a superficial, wayang-like parliamentary debate where PM Lee will ‘persuade you that it is something that we should do and which is good for Singapore’.

If he truly believes in the strength of his argument, he’d put the proposed amendments to a referendum. Tetapi Perdana Menteri tidak mempunyai bola, methinks.




Political elite – Politically inept

Here’s an interesting perspective from Chris K who has lived some years in UK, Germany to appreciate the finer workings of a functioning democracy.

“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond first contact with the main hostile force” sagely said the famous Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. Or commonly paraphrased; “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.

Potential future PM Chan Chun Sing, despite a former Major-General, seems to have forgotten this most important aspect of general-ship when he launched an offensive at the SDP’s Chee Soon Juan, not planning on receiving the social media blowback. That the minister, given to warlike Churchill copycat exhortations of “doing battle everywhere necessary”  felt the need to argue and rebut a “political failure” which not only gave prominence to that “political failure” but also pointed to his own less than solid electoral credentials underlined von Moltke’s dictum.

But there was more. National Development Minister of State Desmond Lee fired a broadside at AHPETC, only to be found to be a pot calling the kettle black when it is not even certain the kettle is even black. Let’s not mention the rats.

What is political talent?

A military scholar bureau-technocrat (the writer finds himself unable to call him military leader) and a legal professional. First term MPs riding the bandwagon of an ex PM and a DPM. Yet both immediately propelled to full minister and minister of state. No private sector company bet that much money on the unproven but not the PAP betting taxpayers’ money their technocratic talent automatically becomes political talent, even PM one day.

Political talent is the ability to understand the motivations, aspirations and concerns of voters. Then to craft the right policies which meet expectations and lessen disappointments. That talent needs to stand firm and yet adapt to criticism and be able to persuade voters.  No easy task but it gets harder. Financial resources need to be found and allocated among competing demands to fund those policies and yet be prudent. It requires real political talent for such a delicate balancing act. By comparison, the technocratic stuff about policy optimal feasibility, KPIs and the likes are a walk in the park. One can even learn it in university.

Policy-making in cognitive delusions

Political talent cannot really be tested and proven when the GRC fast tracked would-be ministerial talents with convenience of a lopsided democratic process and without the inconvenience of having to develop and burnish their political credentials.

There lies the rub. There can be no connection with the masses without competition whether that is from the opposition, the media, an active citizenry or simply fighting for one’s very own seat. There can be no political talent without connection to the masses. There can only be the easily acquired taste for entitlement.

Formulating strategies and policies among the like-minded, in the comfort of a super-majority and without necessary checks and balances is a self-perpetuating cognitive delusion, not least when assumptions are self-validated by an ever-helpful MSM, a lack of vigorous Parliamentary debate and a penchant to hear only what they wish to hear. It is then not such a surprise that policies and solutions to social conundrums are no Hard Truths but Easy Ways Out with citizens having to pay up for one thing or another, or throwing more bodies at the economy.


50 years of political dominance may have entrenched the PAP in power but the citizens increasingly recognise they are ruled by disconnected politicians.

PMO Minister Grace Fu bemoaning a reduction of her fabulous salary with nary a thought she sounded ridiculous to the toiling masses. Minister of State and MP for Sengkang Dr Lam Pin Min found waffling in front of resident-voters. Social media leak stories of MPs who were neither able to defend nor articulate government policies. First term MP-ministers’ unseemly haste to score brownie points smacks more of political ineptitude and naivety than future Prime Ministerial potential.

Stick those spurs

Von Moltke’s famous dictum may refer to the uncertainty of the enemy’s reaction but it warns us that the best laid plans may not survive the test of reality. In politics, that reality is the everyday life of the voter and a hardening of attitudes against disconnected governance.

A prime minister unused to that hardening of attitudes may delude himself with the need to fix the opposition so that he need not “solve the problem of this week and forget the challenges of next year”. But in that separated sphere of wealth and technocratic excellence without the need for the political talent of connecting with the masses, he and his colleagues are overly comfortable in their old ways. In sheer irony, it is they who need those spurs stuck in their hides.

One-party political dominance is a bad idea even for the PAP.

Chris K

* Chris is a retired executive director in the financial industry who had worked mostly in London and Tokyo. He writes opinions and commentaries on economic and financial matters.