Our Democracy in Crisis? – Legitimacy of a Good Hougang Wife who can cook

The current political game in Singapore is not exactly rocket science. When Worker’s Party sacked MP Yaw Shin Leong following news of his love affairs, in a move to demonstrate that the party takes transparency and accountability seriously, PM Lee Hsien Loong of PAP made a speech saying that WP had let the voters of Hougang down. Well, when the father of a friend of mine heard this over the news, he retorted: And the PAP has let the voters in the rest of Singapore down!

See, anybody can bitch, just like the roles in a game of Police Catch Thieves can always be switched (by the way, investigation on the scandals of top CNB and SCDF officers has taken a really long time). The question is who may be influencing the mainstream media pertaining to such stories (there should be no need here to repeat the story about Law Minister K. Shanmugam who sent a lawyer’s letter to blogger Alex Au for citing rumours propagated on the net by a certain mysterious Scroobal).

While others may be busy analysing now as to whether WP is facing a crisis of credibility, I think more importantly, we should discuss whether democracy in the minds of the people of Singapore is now in a crisis. Maybe some would say Singapore is in a constant state of emergency in that sense, but what lesson should we draw from this incident? Now that the government has announced some goodies in its Budget in perfect timing, do we banish from our minds any idea of a First Class Parliament as representative of the people? Or do we resign to the idea of Desmond Choo, Yaw’s opponent during GE, who said that all we need is a wife who can cook?

This analogy of a ‘good wife’ and ‘good cook’ may be used to great advantage of the PAP especially in light of the Yaw incident now, for it appeals to a vague idea in our society that a good government should be made up of men of good ‘moral’ character and therefore will act in the national interest for all. It also appeals to a pragmatic attitude that a good wife knows how to cook and will place food on your table. Hence our ‘wife’ now should be considered a good conservative choice, even though we may say it is not a case of love marriage but more like a kind of arranged marriage, given the system of GRC and the gerrymandering which more or less predetermine everything – here, we may have a question of legitimacy if you argue on procedures of democratic elections.

Now this ‘good wife’ does not come cheap either, she is really the high maintenance kind (consider the ministers’ salaries), her selling point is that she comes from an elite family background and has high qualifications, if you didn’t choose her (actually, 40% of us didn’t, but nonetheless), she could have sold herself to the private sector. Anyway now that she is your homemaker and is keeping your house in order, you need to hand a fraction of your pay to her, and as long as you have your meals on the table, you should just be happy and keep quiet, not question her as to whether she is gambling with your money outside and busy flirting with men from foreign companies, even forgetting about the welfare of your aged parents or the education of the children – here, we may have a question of legitimacy with regards to our belief in moral obligations towards the nation as home.

Considering these questions of legitimacy, it is clearly to the necessary political advantage of the ruling party that the Yaw incident be blown up in the media. It is not as if the people of Hougang or any constituency elected an MP based on the consensus that he should be an ideal family man, as an overriding factor of legitimising his appointment as MP. But one fears that whereas the legitimacy of a government is too abstract as an issue to most people, the legitimacy of a politician’s love affairs is something that touches on the raw nerves of many logical or illogical minds in a traditional Asian society. WP clearly sees the need of extending its principle of transparency and accountability to such personal affairs, in order to win trust of the people.

Now what the opposition parties must also be mindful of is that most people may still have a naïve attitude, that whoever hands out money should therefore be respected like a father or a sugardaddy. Most people would interpret a more favourable Budget simply as a kind gesture from the ruling party, rather than as a result of competition from opposition parties. But it would only be the way backwards if people despair the very moment the image of the opposition seems less than perfect, and give up on any progress towards democracy just like that.

In fact it is high time that we stop thinking of democracy as a beauty pageant to choose a wife as a cook, and try to think of democracy instead as a system of active participation in matters of public policy, whereby every man should express a little say on what is going on in the kitchen, not just sit in front of the television and leave everything to the wife. Some say too many cooks would spoil the soup, but we are far from there, our issue now is a cook who faces no criticism or competition will never improve. Real men should not be hen-pecked, and should not be afraid of stepping into the kitchen either.

(First published in Facebook on 19 Feb 2012)


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