By Tan Bah Bah
For the umpteenth time, a deadhorse has been dragged out and flogged in public to make a dubious point.
The Law Ministry’s permanent secretary Dr Beh Swan Jin said it was vital for the Civil Service to find out the views of the “silent majority” beyond the loud and noisy minority. A change in the death penalty law allowing judges more discretion in imposing a life sentence instead of death in certain circumstances of drug trafficking and murder caused some concern among the silent conservative majority. Feedback showed this group felt that the move signalled a reduced commitment to law and order.
Yes, public views must be sought in framing or re-framing our legislation. That is standard procedure. As societal norms evolve, the law
must keep up so as not to become fossilised and even irrelevant. And yet we must also take into account what has worked and what the population is comfortable with.
Dr Beh, however, somehow undermined his views by resorting to the lazy shorthand phrase of “silent majority” to show his alignment with the bedrock section of society standing heroically against the onslaught of minority interests.
Singapore today – more than halfway between the last general elections in 2011 and the next in 2016 – is not so easy to compartmentalize into the silent majority and noisy minority.
Who are the noisy minority? The seven elected Workers’ Party MPs? The indirectly elected People Action Party GRC MPs in the other wards? The fifties of thousands who turned up for the WP rallies in 2011?
And who are the silent majority?
The vast majority who rejected the PAP in its stronghold ward of Punggol East in 2013 and gave WP’s Lee Li Lian a thumping 54.54 per cent victory? The 35 per cent (Dr Tan Cheng Bock) plus the other 30 per cent who voted for Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian, making Dr Tony Tan, the PAP endorsed candidate, a minority President in – in 2011?
Indeed, if we want to talk about the silent – and even not so silent – majority, there are voices and eminent noise makers within the establishment who are crying out to be heard. Among them are Dr Lim Chong Yah and Ngiam Tong Dow. These are the noisy minority with a silent majority?
Why should the Civil Service be wasting its time giving Singaporeans labels? Its function is to servce all. We are all Singaporeans, silent or noisy, minority or majority.
There is a lot that the Service can do at this stage of the country’s development. It can help Singaporeans adjust to the changing political environment by institutionalising the need for more diverse voices and creative tensions within the establishment.
By the way, it was US President Richard Nixon who popularised the phrase “silent majority”. He was appealing for support from what he saw as a large group of conservative Middle Americans for his Vietnam War policies. There are many American leaders worthy of quoting or emulating. Tricky Dick is not one of them.