Lee Hsien Yang (right) leaves the Singapore Supreme Court on April 10, 2017. Photo: AFP / Roslan Rahman

The long-awaited general election in Singapore is turning out to be a nightmare for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has fired the first salvo by joining the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and openly reminding Singaporeans that they should be proud and patriotic, but should not vote for the PAP.

The Lee siblings can talk rather openly about many things pertaining to Prime Minister Lee, his wife Ho Ching, about Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), their late father, and to a certain extent, against the PAP and the establishment without fear of being sued.

This is a privilege that Lee Hsien Yang’s wife and children are not afforded, putting them in a similar position to that of any other ordinary Singaporeans. His son, Li Shengwu, was charged with sharing a private Facebook post in 2017 that alleges that Singapore has a “pliant court system” and that the government was “very litigious.”

Alternative agenda and purpose

Hsien Yang has taken the opportunity to remind Singaporeans openly about the many unresolved pertinent issues that are plaguing and dividing Singapore as a nation, thus helping to set the agenda for the election and giving it a sense of purpose that many Singaporeans, especially the working class and those living in public housing, can relate to.

The recitation of the National Pledge of Singapore has indeed become contradictory, as Singapore is no longer as cohesive as it once was to be considered as “one united people.”

Periodically, it has been the government and its policies that have undermined the significance of the pledge when it comes to “regardless of race, language or religion.”

The lingering discontent over Singapore’s elected presidency, or when Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was considered not to be suitable for the prime minister’s post simply because he was an ethnic Indian, are only some examples.

The current PAP is clearly “distinctively different” from the first generation PAP, as pointed out by Hsien Yang.

Loss of trust in PAP

To make matters worse, the arrogance and dismissive nature of PAP politicians, coupled with their glaring incompetency, make it hard for the PAP to regain trust or unite the country. This is a serious predicament that Singapore needs to overcome democratically.

However, while the quality of the current PAP politicians has declined tremendously, all is not lost for Singapore.

New generation of alternative politicians

Candidates from several alternative parties, with much more desirable attributes, experience and background, have stepped forward, making this year’s election a contest of character and the candidate’s dedication and sincerity in addressing the inequalities that the majority of Singaporeans are facing and can relate to.

Unfortunately, politics in Singapore is pervasively in favor of the PAP. Even the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) group recently reported that the “election in Singapore is neither free nor fair.”

Challenges and limitations

The challenges facing the many credible candidates from alternative parties, such as the PSP, Workers’ Party (WP) or Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), are many and include the powerful propaganda machinery of the PAP.

With a stranglehold over the media, candidates from alternative parties also face several limitations since the election has been scheduled right in the midst of a pandemic.

Without sufficient media exposure and mass rallies, it is going to be very challenging for many of the alternative candidates to connect emotionally with their voters.

Political cost

But if Hsien Yang stepping into the political arena is primarily out of real concern for his fellow Singaporeans and country, he can strategically help level the playing field for these alternative candidates by becoming a candidate himself and standing for election, but the political cost may be too high for him, his family and sister Lee Wei Ling to bear.

Besides being able to help to make explicit what ordinary Singaporeans cannot articulate openly, he can also help draw the attention of regional and international media, including new media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram into giving a greater focus to alternative candidates via their shared purpose and objectives in contesting the election.

But if they could accept the high political cost of going against the PAP, which is under the charge of Lee Hsien Loong, and be prepared for the expected backlashes from the hardcore PAP supporters and their sycophants, then it is easier for him to focus and strategize his move with the alternative candidates.

Challenging a sitting prime minister

Since helping the alternative candidates should be prioritized over winning an election, Hsien Yang should consider contesting his brother directly in his Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency.

By challenging the sitting prime minister, the media will go into frenzied overdrive covering the election, and almost every Singaporean and voter will be talking about the election.

The powerful PAP propaganda machinery will be badly rattled as every available resource will be redirected into defending the sitting prime minister, who simply cannot afford to lose.

Ending the Lee dynasty

But should Hsien Yang win, that will literally end all talk of a third-generation the Lee dynasty from coming into politics in Singapore.

For Hsien Yang, he can pre-sign an agreement to assure Singaporeans that he and his children will have no interest in the politics of Singapore and step down when his term ends.

Filial piety, sacrifices and redemption

To many of LKY’s supporters, grassroots leaders and activists, they still see Hsien Yang and his sister as the filial children of LKY who just do not want their father’s legacy to be exploited, or be personified and worshipped like a demigod, or worse, to see Singapore degenerate from First World to Third World.

As such, the patriotic ones among them will likely understand his predicament and may respect and support his decision.

The fall of the PAP, if it is to happen in this election, will be due largely to its arrogance and incompetence.

For critics and opponents of LKY, such selflessness by Hsien Yang can be seen as a penance or peace-offering and can go a long way to mitigate unresolved grievances.

Joseph Nathan has been the principal consultant with several consultancy agencies in Singapore for about three decades. For Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East, he undertakes consultancy via JN Advisory (M) Sdn Bhd. He is a Singaporean and holds an MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Australia.

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