Tuesday, 2 January 2018

NDR 2017 - The Unbearable Lightness of Themes

[Some thoughts on 2017's NDR that I have been sitting on. ]

I still miss LKY's National Day Rallies.

Those covered matters of import.

Unlike the recent NDRs.

This year's (2017) was particularly pathetic, IMHO.
I for one, am underwhelmed by this year's NDR. So apparently mosquitoes were a big enough problem that they deserved to be featured at the NDP. And Diabetes is a big enough problem that it needed to be featured at NDR. And three years ago, MOM and the CPF board were so bad at their communication that the PM had to use the NDR to explain how CPF Life worked. Just as this year, he had so little faith in the HPB that he had to use the NDR to explain why we need a war on Diabetes. Right. What does it say about the PM's confidence in the MOH and the HPB that NDR was co-opted for their public education programme?

To be fair, I did not find a way to watch the NDR this year. I had been underwhelmed since 2014. So my comments are to the topics mentioned and reported in the news. So if PM Lee had been a veritable showman and dazzled the audience with his performance and swept them along with his enthusiasm, I did not catch his showmanship and was simply underwhelm by the content of his speech, rather than the character of his performance.

I have been lamenting this for some years now. What would LKY talk about if he had the NDR this year?

Would he talk about Trump and DPRK? Would he talk about the challenges or opportunities of China's One Belt One Road? Would he talk about the standoff between China and India at the Doklam Plateau? Or is that a mere hiccup in the ongoing feud between China and India and unlikely to be a flashpoint?

Would Philippines and Duterte warrant a mention? Would HK's ill-advised (from LKY's opinion) pursuit of "more democracy" be criticised? Would Climate Change be a concern? Is it inevitable or can we at least ameliorate it? What does it mean for the US to abdicate (or appear to abdicate) their role as a world leader?
I cannot help but think that there are people set on setting the world ablaze, and we have set our minds on our blood sugar levels. It is not unimportant. But is it the right forum?
The Dumbing Down of the NDR

This is manifest populism, in spirit, if not in fact.

Instead of talking about what is important, the content is reduced to what is of interest to the people, what is understandable to the populace, what is being argued about in kopi tiams and hawker centres.

Or maybe not even that.

Instead of hard analysis of events and a discernment of intent, we have spectacles and eye candy.

The Politics of the NDR

LKY never shied from controversy. In 1984, he saw potential problems, and tried to introduce controversial and unpopular policies to address them - the graduate mothers scheme, changes to the CPF, the NCMP scheme, and the Elected Presidency.
'Harsh and unpopular policies introduced in the context of immediate threats to economic survival, such as measures deemed necessary after separation from Malaysia and the withdrawal of British troops, were better understood and borne with. The population as a whole has been much less swayed by the necessity of controversial measures to ensure the continued development, prosperity and stability of Singapore in the 21st century.'
- Chan Heng Chee, NUS

The NDRs these days are, as I have said, underwhelming.

The issues and topics are pedestrian, and should have been dealt with in other lesser forums or platforms. That it needs the NDR to cover it either demeans the NDR, or elevates such pedestrian concerns to a national stage.

Or are our problems really so mundane?

Or are we only capable of dealing or understanding the mundane, and not larger issues?

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