One reviewer said Tom Hooper's film of the musical Les Miserables is an exceptional movie of a mediocre musical. Judging from last night's screening at Lido, more likely, it is the other way round. Just like the present cabinet is a mediocre version of the exceptional first generation of political leaders.
Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye and other Old Guard ministers may have been renowned for their domineering and authoritarian style, but they contributed much with their robust debate of policy and administrative issues. Not for them the group-think that Lim Boon Heng shared crocodile tears over when he was asked to step down before GE 2011. Even Lee Kuan Yew noted that the sameness of political and public sector executives is in itself a problem; they do not challenge one another and are guilty of "intellectual in-breeding" (ST 12 Nov 1994). One consequence is the inability of the middle class to achieve genuine political participation except through PAP co-option (Garry Rodan, "Singapore Changes Guard: Social, Political and Economic Directions in the 1990s", Longman Chesire, 1993). And we are told, even those invited to tea decided not to sign up.
All we see on stage is a string of strutting generals, lacking in vitality, force, or conviction; uninspired actors with no commanding performance. Witness ex-Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean's version of a town hall meeting, fending off every earnest question with a infuriating "What do you think?" The ex-Air Force Chief George "FM" Yeo had plenty pretty speeches to make, but when he had to man the barricades at Aljunied, he turned tail and blamed everybody else except himself for the "resentment against the government". The man who promised "I am not going anywhere. I am staying in Aljunied GRC." shifted loyalties to a Hong Kong employer instead of staying on for the fight.
One memorable scene in the Les Miz movie has Inspector Javert walking through pools of blood shed by the fallen. It brings to mind the words of Ong Pang Boon who bitterly objected to the creation of the elected presidency:
"In a parliamentary democracy, peaceful transfer of power, whether intra-party or inter-party, is fundamental to the system, and must be seen to be so. Once this possibility appears to be closed, then violent revolutionary means would loom large. I do not know if this is what we want." (Cited in "Singapore: The Ultimate Island", T.S Selvan, Freeway Books, 1991)