SINGAPORE - Former president S R Nathan says he is concerned by an atmosphere of rising discontent in Singapore society, in a new book launched today.
Mr Nathan acknowledges that some of this dissatisfaction is amplified by social media. But he is also concerned that it has seen recent political debate marked by distrust and abuse.
“If this discontent gets out of hand, as a nation we risk stepping on to a slippery slope, a return to the uncertainties of the days before we joined Malaysia and then became independent,” he said.
“We could be in danger of losing the progress that we’ve made over the years. We must all be prepared to compromise,” he added in the book.
The 224-page book, titled S R Nathan in Conversation, was launched at Singapore Management University before some 300 guests.
It features transcripts, presented in a question-and-answer format, from about 20 interview sessions that Mr Nathan had with writer Timothy Auger.
The former president, who turned 90 last July, said in a 10-minute speech at the launch: “I have never been directly involved in politics as a politician, and I have no intention of straying into areas of policy that are properly the territory of the elected government.
“But I have allowed myself to ponder on some of the ways in which our society is evolving, for example with the growth of new media, and what this could mean for us in future.”
Mr Nathan feels new media has changed the tone of political debate.
“Reasoned political discourse and intelligent, constructive criticism are rare in this online world,” he said.
He noted there were responsible writers and those genuine about doing good online, but said: “For some, it’s a kind of sport. ‘He’s walloping so-and-so, I’m very happy, I’ll join in’.”
Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam was at the launch.
Commenting on Mr Nathan’s thoughts on the challenges facing Singapore, he said: “He shares these thoughts from the vantage point of someone who has not only been the Head of State for 12 years, but who has drawn on wisdom accumulated over decades of experience as a civil servant, diplomat, community worker, and fellow Singaporean.”
The book is published by Editions Didier Millet, which also put out Mr Nathan’s 2011 memoirs, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency. Mr Auger was its former editorial director.
The book covers a range of topics; from Mr Nathan’s early years to foreign policy, as well as anecdotes of his personal interactions with Singapore’s pioneer leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam. It also features Mr Nathan’s thoughts on Singapore’s future – as well as a brief chat with Mrs Nathan.
Mr Auger, 67, who also worked with Mr Nathan on his memoirs, told The Straits Times: “He wanted to share his thoughts more generally and in a less structured way, and suggested a series of very informal conversations that were fairly unplanned.”
The hardcover book costs $39.90 (including GST) and will be available at all major bookstores from Friday.
Mr Nathan will also be at a book-signing session for the public at Times bookstore at Tampines 1 mall this Saturday at 2pm.