Citizens must do their part to resist populism

Dr Parag Khanna advocated that Singapore's leaders pursue governance strategies to resist and navigate the populist wave ("To beat populism, blend democracy and technocracy, S'pore style"; Jan 21).

While our Government has a responsibility to ensure that any elements of populism inimical to our growth do not take root here, citizens have an equal responsibility to do so too.

The advance of populism can be arrested if we adopt some strategies of our own.

First, we should take a more critical view of politics and reject that which can cause harm, in particular, politics founded on sectarianism that can fracture our society.

In today's information age, it is easy for politicians to access the polity and stoke latent anxieties - using them to fuel their rhetoric and influence their policymaking.

Such divisive sentiments would surely threaten the advances we have made as a country.

In today's information age, it is easy for politicians to access the polity and stoke latent anxieties - using them to fuel their rhetoric and influence their policymaking. Such divisive sentiments would surely threaten the advances we have made as a country.

Second, we should continue to uphold the principles of inclusiveness, equality and non-discrimination that Singapore society has been built on.

The marginalising of any group along ethnic or even socio-economic lines can lead to tremendous discontent.

Communities that harbour such resentment become targets for populist ideologues, who will leverage on the sentiments to advance their own interests.

Lastly, we should endeavour to continually upgrade our knowledge and skills to ensure we are always able to create value in our economy.

The rise of populism in many Western societies is partly a consequence of disgruntled groups of people who have lost their jobs due to the influx of foreigners, offshoring or automation, backing a trend of "reverse globalisation".

However, Singapore's prosperity will likely continue to hinge on globalisation.

Therefore, while we can always expect our Government to create jobs, we cannot expect it to foster a non-competitive labour market.

Instead, we should ensure we remain relevant and employable.

The new global order will be a difficult one for countries like Singapore, that rely on democratic institutions and free market capitalism.

While these systems are not perfect, an alternative populist reality would surely be detrimental to our growth, and it ill behoves citizens to support it.

Akaash Ganesh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline 'Citizens must do their part to resist populism'. Print Edition | Subscribe