'Young and upset? Offer solutions'

'Young and upset? Offer solutions'

In five lectures over the past six months, the Institute of Policy Studies' first S R Nathan Fellow, Mr Ho Kwon Ping, stirred up debate about Singapore's trajectory over the next 50 years.

The executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings and one-time political detainee tells Charissa Yong about the polarised responses to his ideas and the political implications of the outpouring of grief for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Which of your ideas provoked the most response?

The two that got the most response included the first one, (which) broke the ice about being able to talk about scenarios for a possible loss of power by the People's Action Party (PAP). That got quite a lot of responses, comments, discussions.

The second one was the idea of national service for women.

I'm not sure they're positive responses, but they're the most responses.

What was the response regarding the possible loss of PAP power?

I got all kinds of responses, because anything to do with the PAP elicits both the very positive and the very negative. I think the response was generally one of "this issue is now in the open, we can discuss it without feeling that we are anti-PAP, this is something that we need to discuss".

My understanding from other sources is that nobody in the PAP was particularly upset either. In fact, some asked their own friends to read it.

It's not bad for a ruling party to understand how it might lose power, in the same way that I welcome people telling me how Banyan Tree could collapse. You have to know what could be the source of your demise in order to ensure that it does not happen.

What about the response to national service (NS) for women?

The knee-jerk reaction from women was, "Oh no, no way am I going to do that for two years."

But once there was a greater realisation of what I was actually suggesting - NS for women during a short period between schooling - the responses were actually quite positive.

Particularly the notion that a) women nowadays don't want to be seen as pretty little things that are quite useless, and that should there be an emergency, women knowing how to do CPR is useful; and b) within the context of the rapidly ageing society, caregiving has to be undertaken by a lot of people in the future.

These notions of NS - in a broader context of what Singapore as a society needs in the future, not just defence - drew more positive responses.

Were you trying to be controversial or do you really believe in these ideas?

Oh, yes. I'm not trying to be provocative for provocation's sake. Part of my intention was to give ideas I think are workable. But the overarching intention was to try to promote some degree of discussion within Singapore.

I wanted to make other people feel that if you are willing to look at an issue, and to give a well-intended critique and solution, you should not be embarrassed to do so.

The PAP losing power is actually not a new idea. It's an elephant in the room because it's so obvious, but nobody's alluded to it. So that was not provocative, I was just trying to say this is the elephant in the room and we need to recognise it.

What was the one message that you wanted to bring across in your lectures?

If you're young today, and you're not happy with everything that's happening in Singapore, go out there and do something about it. Don't just sit and complain and write comments. Writing blogs is okay, because then you have to spend several hours thinking through what you have to say, and then you are actually quite humbled by recognising that, hey, there's a lot I don't know. You realise that it's so easy to criticise.

But a lot of people go and post things and put one, two liners on social media, and they're quite thoughtless. The energy that goes into this could be so better channelled into saying okay, I'm not happy with this, but what do we really want to do about it? What are the ideas that we have?

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