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Countering the politics of alienation

The recent election of Mr Donald Trump as president of the United States has sparked extensive political discussion and soul-searching the world over ("4 takeaways for S'pore from Trump win"; Nov 13).

Based on my observations of ground sentiment, I fear that the same politics of alienation that brought Mr Trump to power may take root in Singapore, should our leaders fail to exercise due diligence.

Arguably, the main driving factor behind the Trump phenomenon was widespread disillusionment with the political establishment.

His rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, was characterised by the Trump campaign as a "career politician" out of touch with the struggles of Middle America.

Indeed, her claims of economic recovery, while backed by statistical evidence, did not tally with rural voters' own experiences of post-industrial blight, and of being left behind by globalisation.

Likewise, some Singaporeans have labelled our Government a plutocracy, with a growing disconnect between the trajectory of public policy dictated by scholarship recipients and the aspirations of the masses.

An electorate comprised of disaffected voters naturally plays to the advantage of populist and radical movements.

To bridge this growing gulf, the Government needs to do two things.

The first is to communicate more clearly with the people. This includes explaining how policies are intended to function, especially those that appear to be counter-intuitive.

A natural extension of this is more active public debate concerning major political decisions, which would project an image of openness.

On this front, the Government has already made significant strides forward - for instance, the engagement sessions concerning the elected presidency - but there remains room for improvement.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, there should be a conscious shift in political priorities away from a "growth at all costs" mentality, and towards a more sustainable, people-centric model that takes into account the quality of life for everyday Singaporeans.

Both of these measures will help dispel the idea that our politicians inhabit ivory towers, and restore much-needed trust in state institutions.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Countering the politics of alienation'. Print Edition | Subscribe