kingmaker or king?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog-post on my initial impressions coming back, and I got some interesting responses to it. Like I mentioned , it was more of a thought in progress than anything conclusive. My summer break is divided into three main trips – my time in Singapore where I’ve built a home and to rekindle the friendships I’ve made here, my rediscovery journey to India where I hope to identify more with my roots and learn more about my supposed culture, and finally my discomfort journey to China and the Orient where I hope to put myself in probably one of the more foreign environments I could be in. Three very different kind of experiences, but distinctly important for me to develop my own sense of self and understanding of society.

I’ve had the benefit of having a few experiences in Singapore these past few weeks. I was able to host friends of mine from the Czech Republic and therefore be a tour guide. I was able to integrate my understanding of systems and societies from overseas to deepen my analysis of Singaporean society, and have rich , developed discussions with some of my friends about the future of Singapore. Perhaps most importantly, I was able to spend quality time with old pals and mentors and I guess express my value for their presence in my life.

The time I’ve had here therefore allowed me to think about three distinct points about Singapore. The three points exist on a continuum of sorts – I begin by appreciating what we have, and then end with wondering about our future.

  1. We’re able to squeeze a nation onto an Island

We’re a small country. That’s probably the most important face about Singapore, and the starting point for a lot of the conversations we have about national policy and culture here. Yet, we’ve been able to have squeeze so magically, both old and new Singapore into an island. We have the tropical jungles of Ubin, and the urban jungle of the Marina Bay area.

I’ve been travelling so much in the past year and while I’ve been able to see the same kind of city planning elsewhere, I’m impressed by how we’re able to maintain that dynamism here. Trees are bountiful on the streets, and while we were taught on how uncommon that is in other cities, I only appreciated it after coming back. We have such a diversity here, that you’re able to find most of the world in this country.

It’s beauty then arises from it’s ability to find points where you can bring together those worlds – like the Henderson waves, where the busy roads of Alexandra are connected to the forests flanking them by the modern architecture of the bridge which in itself is naturalistic.

The best part about all this is then that because we’ve squeezed all of this into our country, no trip is ever too long to truly complain that it’s impossible to do whatever you want. I haven’t had to travel too far to see something completely different. I’ve been able to have visit the country’s biggest Starbucks and go fishing in the jungles all in the same day.

Singapore definitely doesn’t let down with lifestyle options. Or maybe I just know the ins and outs of this country well.

2. We’re definitely in a transition moment

Picture by Jerome Lim

It’s obvious that as we turn 50, there’s a lot at stake. We’ve built a nation, but at what costs? As some countries let themselves stumble into the state where they’re at , they faced adversities at every possible turn.  Yet these adversities were opportunities for the country to decide its values and priorities. The people had to come together as one.

Perhaps it’s interesting then, that when we talk about Singapore which was perhaps engineered from the Merger forth, that we realise we’ve had considerably less adversity. Am I hoping we had more problems? Far from it, but it’s a worthy consideration that we’re 50 years in with a very large spectrum of personal values that don’t necessarily resonate with national values ‘prescribed’ by the government.

We’re at crossroads now, where we’re thinking about issues like population and identity. Yet, what’s interesting to observe for me is the conversations that we’re having. There’s no one leading these conversations , they all seem disparate and inconclusive. We’re supposedly an educated population but the conversations degrade because of anger and frustration. I take back what I said before in my previous post – we do care about issues, and yes that concern is seen through the vehement and activism of groups both online and offline. But there’s no solution being proposed.

Suppose a special interest group (SIG) wants to propose a repeal of a certain law in order to achieve its progressive goal (in its own view of bettering society). Perhaps instead of protesting which granted is also a valid way of garnering attention, it should recognise its ultimate goal is to solve the ‘problem’  the law tries to ‘address’. Does it involve starting discussions, does it involve having open forums? There’s a problem solving strategy that definitely would work more effectively.

I’ll continue to insist that solutions to today’s problems need to come from an intersection of the government’s overview and the community’s crowdsourced proposal. If the community wants to be more participative in politics, then we have to be smarter. In all aspects , all causes and all needs. That’s where we’re moving as we transition, and works need to be done on both sides to garner this new model of governance.

3.  Do we still have talent?

This part of my post could possibly rub people the wrong way, so let me premise by saying I’m focusing on a future regardless of the present.

Elections are coming up , all the signs are in the air. Perhaps it’s ideal that SG50 aligns so well with the four year cycle, but the rest of the political signs are there. Quality of life measures are settling in (road blocks , anti-vice runs etc.) , GST vouchers are being issued and talks are getting louder.

I started thinking about the quality of leadership and started becoming slightly worried. Not for the immediate future, but about the future ahead. See, Singapore’s biggest boast was it’s human talent. We had limited land, limited resources but we could always bank on our human capital to leverage us. That assumption held strongly in the forming years, and the Pioneer Generation deserve everything they get these few years, but I’m not too sure about the kind of talent we’re prioritising in the future.

See, Singapore was built on the back of politicians, economists, justices and businessmen who knew how to adapt and innovate. They had a strong mandate – bring this country from third world to first. Goh Keng Swee did a fantastic job, stripping away the assumptions of pundits and innovating how Singapore should develop. Yet, as we continue to grow, I notice less innovations in how we develop. We’re becoming more conservative,  because there’s a lot more at stake, and the population is a lot quicker to point its fingers. But courageous leadership requires a strong mix of technocratic intelligence and political charisma to communicate those plans.

We’ve become pretty comfortable in trusting our leadership, but we should be holding them accountable in every aspect. Not in the sense where we stifle their ability to govern by keeping them restricted, but by encouraging them to do their job – to build a society, strong in identity, stable in growth and protected from harm. But all those things require movement, not stagnation . How about our judicial system? How many of us actually know our Constitution? There should be more feverous , fact based discussions on what the law means to us online , rather than hypothetical blabber on what the law should look like. We’ve built this country on our constitution, and no matter what, the constitution is what should uphold the rights of the people.

Our leadership needs to evolve. We need to go back to innovating, thinking from Singapore outwards, not from the world inwards. Yes, we’re a lot more globally connected, but we’re also proven more than once, that we prescribe our own policies based on our own situation. The world cannot limit us.

Courageous leadership. It’s a loaded term. Will we allow it, is the more important question.


I’m starting to travel again next week, and I’ll be posting more thoughts as I go on. Again, I don’t claim to be a political pundit, just a youth passionate about his country and societies. Singapore has so much in it, it’s definitely a place to be. But to fully appreciate being a citizen, we have to carry its burdens with us. That’s what I’m keeping in mind as I vote this year. We make or break this country.




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