PMs Lee & Najib didn’t read Tocqueville?

In Malaysia, Political governance on 08/04/2013 at 7:18 am

Well Najib certainly didn’t because he said recently, “We have in the last four years proven that whenever we make pledges, we have fulfilled our pledge”, and “unveiled a manifesto on Saturday pledging bigger cash handouts, millions of new jobs and lower taxes and crime, as he seeks his first mandate in looming national polls.”

If he had, he would not have said these things because of the dangers of rising expectations: people simply expect more.

Alexis De Tocqueville is famous particularly in the US for Democracy in America. But he also published The Old Regime and the Revolution in1856. In it he talked of the dangers of rising expectations.He argued that revolutions often took place not in times of despair but under improving conditions:

experience teaches us that, generally speaking, the most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mend its ways….Patiently endured for so long as it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men’s minds.*

As for our PM, I doubt if he read Tocqueville**. Because if he had, he wouldn’t have said on Saturday, the Singapore society is in a different phase now, no longer a teenager but more of a young adult — with a different growth rate, anxieties and issues. “What changes do we need to make? Not just policy changes, but changes in our philosophy, in our approach, in the way we define the compact, the balance between the individual and the society, between what the person does, and what is the State’s responsibility.

“I think we need to consider this carefully and think about how we will move (forward), so that we can meet the challenges of this new phase.”

He is setting us up for expectations that he and the PAP can never ever fulfill. One reason he can never ever fulfill our expectations is the attitude that he and the other PAP leaders know best (witness the Population White Paper). They know that only they can plan ahead (Mah Bow Tan planning the supply of HDB flats, and Raymond Lim planning tpt infrastructure to cope with immigrants by the cattle-truck load) , that they are infallible in policymaking (“Stop at two” and limiting the supply of home-grown doctors), and only they are able to ignore pressure groups and populism.

Another reason is that there are critics like Dr Chee, E-Jay, Gilbert Goh and Ravi who will never ever be satisfied. And nowadays they have the social media and internet to publicise their unhappiness and dissatisfaction.


*When I first came across this many yrs ago, it struck a chord. I did “History” for O and A levels, and it had struck me that the colonial powers could never ever satisfy the aspirations of the local elites in Indonesia and Malaya. Whenever, they conceded anything, the response was always, “More”. The best way of maintaining power it seemed was to “shoot the trouble-makers”, something the British, Dutch and other colonial powers did in the 19th century. In the 20th, they became more squeamish (lost their empires), and left the shooting to the USSR (Hungary 1956) and China (1989 and in Tibet).

**This is sad as I’m sure LKY had read Tocqueville because he was always trying to ensure that S’poreans didn’t have rising expectations of anything. He always wanted us to be aware of the fragility of life. He admitted, a few yrs ago, that the reason why the size of the reserves and the returns on the reserves had to kept a secret from S’poreans was his fear that we would expect more to be spent on ourselves, if we knew how wealthy S’pore was. At the peak of his mental powers, he would never have said this because by saying it he was saying that there was plenty of money that could be spent.

Thinking about it, he and the PAP must love s/o JBJ, Chris Balding, and the many readers of TRE would are forever bitching that the reserves have been squandered: they are doing LEE’s work in trying to keep expectations low. And hate Tan Jee Say for saying that S$60bn of the reserves is “small change”. No wonder, he hasn’t been rewarded for helping ensure that Tony Tan became president.

  1. CI

    Your comments are very apt and astute.

  2. All that I know is that Mr Anwar will be the new PM of Malaysia,as for PAP,I think thay will lose in 2016 but it is still early,PM Lee will wait to see what happens to his good buddy Najib.

  3. I will only comment on the LKY part. LKY stayed in power not because he lowered people’s expectation. He stayed in power because he used extreme anti-democratic measures. In the case of the nation’s reserves, he simply suppressed the information and called them “state secrets.”

  4. So Lee Hsien Loong is admitting that he and his gang were not even Aware that they needed to change tack in how they rule and run this country, until now. That this has Just dawned on them is totally pathetic and underlines – again – the lack of quality in the govt.

    Why then do we need to have in charge a party which has had 50 years of running a country? Any old party would do. At least they have the excuse of inexperience and the failures of their predecessors to learn from.

    Those who have their hopes and expectations raised that there will actually be improvements here, just because the PAP is promising it, are living in cuckoo land, and deserve to be cheated and disappointed.

  5. The PAP is finished. From this point onwards, it’s well and truly downhill all the way. If I had to point to only one reason why that is because they have more or less alienated the thinking classes. They will have to go. If not the thinking classes will use their influence, wealth and connections to just make sure they stay anemic and ineffectual by further undermining whatever cracked brained policies they have in place to further destroy Singapore.

    As for Najib all is not lost. Everyone in the business community knows the BN is riven with corruption, nepotism and what I can only describe as cosy insiderism that just benefits a few. But the opposition arent angels either – dont think if they come into power, they would not be as greedy and crafty as those they oust. This is what worries the business community first – so it is fair to say, Najib will win – but he will only be allowed to win by the skin of his teeth.

    The moral of the story is governments should NEVER be allowed to win a solid mandate. They should always be kept in check by the business community.

    Darkness 2013

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