Has the PAP government become 'decadent'? Yes, according to NUS Assoc Prof

Sep 21, 2020 | 🚀 Fathership AI

"The PAP (People's Action Party) government has become decadent...and the old theory of Singapore's survival and success seems to have run its course," said Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan from the National University of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).

Prof Tan was speaking in live Facebook webinar last week (Sept 11) titled, “Singapore’s GE2020: The real watershed election?” organised by the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre and co-hosted by the Malaysia and Singapore Society of Australia (MASSA).

The hour-long webinar focused mainly on Singapore's economic and political direction in the face of unprecendented economic challenges.

The PAP is "incapable of reforming itself today"

Prof Tan - who will leaving LKYSPP for a tenured professorship with the Hongkong Baptist University in January 2021 - said that the results of the past general election have shown that the party "is in many respects incapable of reforming itself today".

“Being incumbent for as long as it has, the original paternalist or authoritarianism of the post-colonial founding leaders, which was forged in heroic times has become entrenched today in a much less heroic, less transformative and certainly less inspiring technocracy,” he added.

“The PAP government has become decadent,” he concluded.

Decadence - a term used promiscuously but rarely precisely

Prof Tan conclusion was drawn from a particular grand narrative of Singapore's history which he sought to use to explain contemporary events.

In defining his usage of the word "decadent", Prof Tan explained that the PAP government "has reached the zenith of its achievements".

In his context, he suggested that the PAP government can no longer expand beyond its fixation on the old methods of governance as molded by the founding fathers.

He said, "...the PAP government seems instead to be self-referentially tethered to its own history and the success formulas that history narrates ad nauseam."

Where Prof Tan failed to recognise is the unprecedented threats that comes with economic and technological progress - threats which no leaders from the time of Lee Kuan Yew have had to to contend with.

He also failed to point out the marked progress made by Singapore in the past decade as a result of robust measures undertaken by new generations of PAP leaders to adapt to the evolving geopolitical landscape.

The government's financial prudence and steady monetary policies over the years have resulted in the country being able to respond efficiently and proactively to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The quality of life for Singaporeans have also improved and on any matrix, Singapore on the whole has progressed well in the past years.

Yes, there are still some faults in the system. It's not perfect. But the question to ask is not who's fault is it, but what are we going to do about it as a society.

Civilisational decadence sets in when societies or governments no longer run on the courage of its convictions. Instead, it is marked by defensiveness, frivolity, and a disinclination for abstract thinking - attributes that Prof Tan alluded to the PAP.

But a truly decadent government is when its leaders become prideful and fail to adequately address the next challenge they face; when its supporting systems and vision erodes for lack of action, and when the government jails its critics for daring to question its legitimacy.

The difference is the ability for a government to recognise such problems and to actively respond to the challenges posed by its physical, social, and political environment.

And also to ensure that academics like Prof Tan continues having his voice heard.

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