Thursday, April 07, 2011

Facts of Sport

You know that an election is imminent when the press can't talk about anything else other than the prospects of an election. Elections in Singapore are particularly interesting because....well you know the result and you get a glimpse into the way that the powers that be think.

It was particularly interesting to note that the front page lead of the Straits Times (National Newspaper) was the Prime Minister declaring,"The Two Party System Won't Work in Singapore." This actually perked my interest. Why does a Prime Minister of a supposedly democratic country feel the need to make such a statement - particularly when a "two party" system is the supposed norm for any democratic country.

I suppose you could say that the man has read the ground well enough. We, the normally placid citizens, are grumbling and wondering if there's an alternative. So, on one level you could say that this is the Prime Minister's way of saying - "Stick with what you know works." This is also what usually happens. As much as we grumble, we actually keep the PAP in power because, well on the balance of things, they've done a good job.

You also have to look at the fact that the Prime Minister has a point. The PAP has a formidable grassroots mashinary and they've held onto the levers of power for so long that it's second nature to them.

Furthermore, the only kind word one could say for the opposition is that they're in shambles. Despite the fact that they've managed to maintain two seats in our 84 seat parliament for the last two decades, the opposition is a mish-mash of egos who can't work together.

In natures eco-system, small insects always work as a hive whenever they confront bigger creatures like bears. However, in the case of our political eco-system, the ants in the opposition can't seem to get along and so guess what - the elephant called the ruling party squishes them. As long as the opposition continue to behave like ants at a "frat" party, you can expect the ruling party to continue ruling for years to come.

Like it or not - the ruling party actually deserves to win the elections and the opposition in Singapore deserves to be where it is - somewhere stuck in the sewer pipes of the toilet of a successful curry restaurant.

However, the Prime Minister has a simple flaw to his logic - namely the fact that the PAP's right to rule is an entitlement. He argues that there is simply not enough talent in Singapore to field two "A" teams and so we the electorate need to support the only team on the field - his team.

As every sports fan will tell you - this logic does not work. There is no match if you only one team on the field. Then there's the fact that if a single team with the best players in the world never actually plays any matches - it tends to lose the ability to play. Talented sports people only remain talented when they're constantly competing. Look at the late Ayrton Senna in Formula 1, who is often regarded as one of the best drivers of all time. Not only did Mr Senna win just about everything, he did so against other great drivers like Alain Prost and Nigel Mansel - and he often did it in inferior cars. Sportsmen and sports people who are isolated from competition suffer. Look at the Springbok's entering international rugby just after South Africa rejoined the global sporting community in the early 1990s - they were rusty against World Champions Australia and also teams like England and the All Blacks. However, once they got back into competing with other talented teams - they bounced back to become World Champions in 1995.

Since the Prime Minister is so fond of sporing analogies, he might do well to study sports history more carefully. Teams that "own" the league and have no competition usually rust and implode. As such, sports officials go out of their way to ensure that competition is always viable. The two examples are Europe where the Champions League was designed for the top national clubs to compete against each other since they were overly dominant in their domestic markets and then there's the NFL, which ensures that lowest ranked team of the season gets the first pick of talented players entering the market.

I think the Prime Minister should do well to look at these examples. Instead of trying to be the only team on the field - he should look at trying to be the best team on the field. Sports has proven that competition is good for everyone and makes teams better. Why do we love to watch Manchester United versus Chelsea? Well it could be because we know that these are two great and talented teams duking it out to be the best on the day. It's entertaining.By contrast, Manchester United versus Manchester Grammar School team is not a competition and so nobody bothers with it.

Yes, the PAP has a certain grip on talent in Singapore. However, what's the point of having all the talent if that talent is not tested and developed? Then there's the assumption that talent will only want to join the PAP. In business as in sport, there are people who are motivated by more than just material gain. I know of people who make the point that being top management in a small company is better than being middle management in a big company. The same can be true in politics. What happens when you get good people who say that there's no challenge being in the team that always wins and join the teams that have the shit kicked out of them all the time and try to turn things around?

So what does the Prime Minister intend to do? At the moment it looks like he's trying to pull a fast one and convince the public that a match with only one team is good for them. Can you imagine turning up to a football match and being told that having one team on the field is actually good for football and you the fan should accept that as a given fact?

What the Prime Minister should be doing is to look for ways to make sure that there's a good match and his team wins as the best team. Now, this does not mean giving the opposition a free hand to get things done. Opposition needs to find a way of fighting back and getting itself heard. If the opposition ever comes to power, it will have shown it's mettle by winning against the odds. However, if the opposition wins because the PAP gives it a set number of seats to begin with, its not called competition. Is it competition if you make every player in Manchester United tie their left leg to their hips before they play?

What he should look at is giving Singapore alternative centres of thought and to create more debate in the existing media spaces. In Malaysia there is a dominant UMNO party but UMNO has to share space for the people's hearts and minds with the force of Islam.

However, Singapore has no alternatives to the PAP. Our Think Thanks for example, don't much thinking or at least thinking that provides an alternative voice to the existing PAP thought. Are there any other alternatives? So far you have a mainstream media which is to all effects a tool of the establishment. Then you have online sites like the Online Citizen and the Temasek Review that says that everything that the government does is wrong.

Where exactly is the "intelligent" middle ground that examines the pros and cons of every decision by the establishment? The Prime Minister should actually look to develop this space and look at developing the talent. If he does this, it will be good for Singapore and not just the PAP. It will make his a true statesman in the example of Ernesto Zedillo, the Mexican President who saw that his own party, the PRI did not win the next election - which was won by the man chosen by the people - Vincente Fox of the Opposition PAN party.

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