National Day Rally 2012
I have been away for a very long time. It’s not my first break, and won’t be the last either.
Anyway. NDR 2012. One of the PM’s better ones, and certainly miles better than the yawn last year. For glitz, it doesn’t measure up to those of four or five years ago, but I believe that content-wise this is possibly the richest the PM has delivered. Seriously, for the first time I feel like I have a glimpse into what he is thinking, where he always wanted to pilot the direction and what endgame he had in mind. Clearly he’s had to calibrate it greatly, but it’s still a little fascinating to peek.
We have all known for a while now, somewhat intuitively, that Singapore’s future lies not in comparing itself to the neighbours in the region, but by placing in the same league as the other major world cities. The PM mentioned Shanghai, Mumbai, New York, London. This has become obvious to everyone.
Just somehow, when I heard him speak it, I have a deep hunch that he knew it would come to exactly this since his DPM days. LHL has often been – rightly – criticised for failing to articulate a vision for the nation to share, and it is possibly his most severe failing as a leader. I too have attacked his speeches before, always picking on that same fault year after year, but this time I think I have wronged him for the past six years. He had a vision of a future ruled and run by metropolitan cities that count Singapore as a member. He just really sucked at getting that message out. Or he was paranoid about jinxing it.
Like I said, this has been very obvious to everyone over the past eighteen months or so. Those with greater wisdom and foresight saw it coming about two or three years ago; I’d count myself amongst that happy lot if I could be bothered to check my archives. So what the PM says now no longer has any value. It simply exonerates him a little in my mind (even if no one else’s).
I profess disinterest in what the PM says about technology and productivity upgrading. He elaborated nothing new, and all he said is within the perception of the common ken. I heard only him crafting and shaping his speech to appeal to the post-65 generation, those passing their middle-age into seniority and missing the boat on the Internet. The ones perhaps most hurt by confidence failures in infrastructure and most worried about future bottlenecks. I heard him assuage the concerns of his own party’s traditional base – a defensive tactic rather than an offensive one.
His next targets are the workers in early adulthood, the time of further education and bearing children and balloting apartments. This most anxious of electorate blocs was given much airtime indeed. One thing I think no one will find anywhere in the NDR is something for the very young – the loud, vocal youth who make up the largest cyber-cacophony on this island. They will be boosted by the additional public grants being handed out to SIM and SIT, but I suspect that will take a rather long time to see any uptick in capacity, and as an undergraduate myself I freely admit no amount of assistance will ever be enough.
I do not know whether the PM has simply given up or perhaps he has a new-old strategy of pragmatism – the youth will cease their complaints the day they become adults and experience the benefits now seeded. It is in my view a poor stratagem - too long-term in its benefits and too immediate in its harms. But I have little reason to be sympathetic to the PM at the moment. I will speculate to say he is preparing the ground for handover, shoring up the party’s support and possibly even taking ownership of blames.
EDIT: The ‘hopes and dreams’ bit kind of slipped my mind for a bit. Anyway, I figure the PM’s not too serious about it – it’s somewhere fuzzy between lip service and sincere consultation. I have another hunch that he’s helping his as-yet-undecided successor fish for ideas. Or perhaps to ascertain a clear picture of what citizens want, and choose the heir accordingly to fit. Then it makes sense to use the NDR to call out the older voters and encourage their voices so the PAP doesn’t hear only the criers whenever they stick a ear out.
You can feel the years.