How Can We Guard Against Populist Politics in Singapore?

Date September 29, 2016

How can we guard against populist politics in Singapore?

Devadas told CNA’s Singapore Tonight one of the most important things is to be aware of our own biases.  When interviewed about his latest book, ‘Seduction of the Simple: Insights on Singapore’s Future Directions’, he said,  “One of the most profound and dangerous biases we have to guard against is biases along ethnic and racial lines where scapegoating of particular communities or constituencies is a very historically revealing way in which demagogues magic carpet themselves into power. I think we need to be careful of that given our heterogeneous culture and society”.

During the “live” interview, he was also asked how governments can navigate around the prevalence of social media.  He told CNA’s Singapore Tonight, “It is the condition of our times and the price of modernity that information is very easily distributed.  Everyone can participate.  The barrier to entry to access to a wide audience is very low.  That audience gravitates towards extreme views and excitement and it is very easy to antagonize and catalyse without contributing in terms of content. 

What is important for the electorate (the voting public), is to understand that social media makes everything consumable in small bites, but it doesn’t mean that what you are taking a bite of, gets smaller.  It does mean that you run the risk of severely under-estimating the challenges and therefore misjudging how you select your leaders because your interpretation of the problem is too superficial.  Unfortunately, in democracy, you get the governments you deserve.  And so if we find ourselves in a situation where the playing field is purely social media rather than a deeper understanding, then over time, you get politicians who will descend despite their own best instincts towards that level because that is where they are going to find the voters.”

Therefore he said the way forward is,“The voters have to rise up to the challenges and politicians have to resist to going down to the lowest denominator.”

Devadas shared during the interview that he wrote this compilation of commentaries because of the seduction of simple solutions especially when people are confronted with complex challenges.  He said, “We’ve got to get back to understanding that complex challenges generally requires complex solutions and that needs a lot of time, takes a lot of understanding and I think it also requires a lot of managed expectation of what can be accomplished with public policy on any given dimension, whether it is economic, social or political.”

Click here to watch the full interview from 25:51 – 30:51.

More thoughtful analyses can be found in this latest book, now available in all good bookstores.

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