I’m sorry. There’s a typo in the title. It’s supposed to be “PM Lee’s Sorry, Track Record” and not “PM Lee’s Sorry Track Record.” The “sorry” in the title is not supposed to be an adjective. I will try to get it right in future.
By his own admission, Lee Hsien Loong’s “sorry” on Tuesday is meant to establish an “emotional connection” with the people. He reveals, too that he had “considered carefully” before saying it and found it “a suitable message to Singaporeans at this stage of the campaign.”
If we think about what it means to say sorry, we might realize that saying sorry is to express remorse and perhaps a suggest a resolve to repent. We might add that a genuine apology does not come with the expectation of forgiveness because people cannot choose whether to feel remorseful or not when they truly see that they have done wrong. When I realize that I have done something wrong, I will feel remorseful and may decide to apologize or to keep quiet in shame. If I do decide to apologize when I am remorseful, it will be an act of humility. It will indicate a readiness to bear the consequences or even to be punished. If I am truly remorseful, it will be impossible to decide to apologize so as to establish an emotional connection and to calculate the potential benefits I might reap from the apology and time the apology such that it will be to be my benefit. Such an apology would not be an apology, but another wrongdoing. In fact, it would be an act of devious self-righteousness rather than one of humility. This apology by an apologist would seem to be the sort of apology that is made to build “emotional connection” and that is timed perfectly to win votes in an election campaign.
Of course, between doing something wrong and making an apology, the critical step of feeling remorseful can always be skipped. To skilful mathematicians who make calculated moves, an apology is a commodity that is sometimes worth investing in. So what if you have to take a bite of the humble pie and chew it when you can immediately turn aside to spit it out? There is, of course, no way to stop anyone from accepting a calculated apology from Lee, though an unapologetic apology could meet its match in an unaccepting acceptance. Accept the apology to benefit from the admission of wrongdoing. Accept the apology, reject the apologist.
If we were to simply ignore the need for that critical step and to assume that sincerity is present where there is none, we could also end up with a few interesting question. Regardless of the sincerity of Lee’s apology, we may take the apology as an admission of wrongdoing—or, in his words, not getting things right. And we should remember that this is an admission coming from someone who represents a political party that often boasts of having sustained an excellent track record and whose key edge against other parties in the coming General Election is its supposed track record. But what track record now if the party has screwed up so badly that one of its key members has to apologize. In other words, it is possible to let the apologist destroy his line of defense if we would just open our eyes wider.
Singaporeans may have started to sell their alle(e)giance for an apology that loses all value the moment it is accepted without reservation. But it is not too late to remind ourselves that the admission of a mistake should not, in this case, come with an absolution from punishment. To use a religious analogy, if the PAP has made a mistake and is apologizing for it (which is perhaps not quite what its doing), it is important to send the party to the purgatory for at least five years instead. In the next five years, if it proves to be a false repenter, it shall never go to heaven. And we will not have this political purgatory for the PAP if we do no’t vote for the opposition, if too few of us vote for the opposition. We do not want to be condemned to a living hell by the very people we hesitate to send to the purgatory. We will not even be able to feel sorry for ourselves by then.