This is part 4 of 4. To read part 3, click here.
Conclusion: GE 2015
Over time, the PAP has become a party more for the rich and for the elite. Yes, it will do things for the lower- and middle-income citizens. But more because it wants our votes to stay in power. I’m not convinced it genuinely, compassionately considers every Singaporean as an equal human being. Maybe a long time ago it did; but not anymore.
Some government critics think the party is corrupt and is enriching itself at our expense. Again, I don’t buy that argument at all.
I just think the PAP has become so fixed in its ways, in its belief in a natural aristocracy, that the best way for society to progress is by nurturing the elites.
Which many of us don’t agree with. So, in 2011, I thought, OK, if the PAP loses one GRC, it’s going to reform.
Sadly, no. A few tweaks here and there, but it’s the same old party with the same archaic beliefs. Does the PAP have the ideological adaptability to lead Singapore in our next phase of growth?
I have serious doubts. The demands of the next fifty years are immeasurably different from the last. The PAP’s perennial, indefatigable, prioritisation of growth over distribution, and its aversion to welfare, are ill-suited for an ageing population, slower growth, rising income inequality and wage stagnation.
On a related note, one of the many problems governments around the world are grappling with today is striking the right balance between national priorities and the demands of transnational corporations/the global elite. The PAP has always been far too accommodating of both constituencies. (And, as mentioned, all its leaders probably belong to that global 0.1%.)
How I think about my vote
So this is how I look at politics in Singapore today: first, the quality of talent between the PAP and opposition is almost even. I know MPs in both parties; I know candidates in both parties. There’s very little difference. They are competent, and they have a good heart. Both the PAP and the opposition.
For me as a voter it becomes a human resource allocation issue. As a country, what kind of a parliament will produce the greatest diversity of ideas and keep the government honest yet also still have the kind of efficiency that Singapore is famous for?
I believe it is a parliament where the PAP has 50-65% of the seats. That is my ideal parliament. With 50%, the PAP can still continue to pass laws and govern Singapore. The opposition cannot block legislation. But with less than 65%, the PAP cannot suka suka change the constitution, which requires two-thirds.
50-65% of the seats. What does that mean in terms of numbers?
In my ideal parliament, of the total 89 seats, the PAP will have 50-odd seats, while the opposition will have more than 31 seats. Very unlikely to happen at this election, but maybe the next one. I will keep voting opposition until we get that (or something significant happens to make me change my views).
In any other country, I would be considered a hardcore fan of the ruling party. But in Singapore, because we have conflated the idea of country and party, many people say I’m an opposition supporter and, worse, anti-Singapore. We need to destroy this idea. Singapore is much, much bigger than the PAP.
Candidates matter, of course. I am lucky that in my district I have two of the best opposition figures: Chee Soon Juan and Paul Tambyah. For those who think the opposition has nothing new to contribute to the debate, please read Paul Tambyah’s suggestions for improving our healthcare system.
On a related note, the SDP first came up with its alternative healthcare proposal—for a single-payer system like in countries such as Taiwan—in 2012. However, since the SDP was not elected, the PAP refused to even discuss it. Proof, if any were needed, that the only way to get new, fresh ideas on the national agenda, is to have new, fresh candidates in parliament.
But what if???
One frequent response I get from PAP friends is “OK lah. So if you vote like that, what happens if we get a freak election. What if the opposition wins power?”
Well, so what? I would much rather have the opposition in power than to give the PAP a bigger mandate. That is the worst possible thing that could happen to Singapore now.
Can you imagine if the PAP got a bigger mandate? It would take it as reaffirmation of all its policies. Growth at all costs. More destruction like Bukit Brown. Super-high immigration once again. The continued dominance of the rich and the elites. The discrimination against minority constituencies such as single mums. That is the surest road to social instability in this country.
So what if the oppositions wins? What, exactly, is the problem? Singapore is not suddenly going to collapse. If the PAP loses, do you think our Black Knights will forget how to fly? Do you think our civil servants will forget how to govern? Do you think Darryl David will learn how to speak Tamil?
Some things don’t change. Lee Kuan Yew’s greatest legacies are the institutions, structures, systems and processes that we have. These are not going to disappear overnight.
Maybe the best thing for Singapore and the PAP is for the party to lose one election, improve, reform, and then win back power at the next election. This is exactly what happened in Japan over the past ten years.
As a cautionary tale, what can Singaporean voters learn from the Malaysian crisis?
Many things have led Malaysia to where it is today, but let me touch on three.
First, cronyism and nepotism. In the awarding of government contracts, in civil service appointments, close networks of family and friends have come to dominate, shutting out others. Over time institutions are eroded; accountability and transparency suffers; governance, performance affected; trust and confidence in the government evaporates.
Second, and this is more relevant to the madness going on right now, is a crisis of leadership. There is a power vacuum in Malaysia. When the ruling party loses the confidence of the country, you need an opposition people believe in.
But the opposition in Malaysia is in tatters. Why? Because every time the opposition has tried to rise up fairly and legitimately, the ruling party has unleashed its entire arsenal on them.
Poor Anwar Ibrahim, for almost twenty years accused of sodomy, and now in jail because of it.
So how might I sum up Malaysia? First, close networks of families and friend dominating business and political life.
Second, an opposition leader hammered for almost twenty years; hence an immature opposition unable to take the reins of power when a crisis hits.
And third, in the background, government-controlled media channels that do the biding of the ruling party.
Does this remind you of any country you know?
Now, let’s be fair. The PAP is a far, far more competent and honest party than Barisan Nasional.
But the point here is: we must never allow Singapore to reach the crisis point where Malaysia finds itself today.
Think of all the shenanigans with the Brompton Bicyle saga, with the multi-million dollar public tenders at Gardens by the Bay, with the MINDEF lapses (all described in Part 2). These are all unfortunately reminiscent of Malaysia over the past few decades.
In my opinion, the best way to boost Singapore’s political resilience and hence guarantee its continued stability, is to cut the PAP down to size, to make sure Singapore has a viable opposition that can take over if need be.
Post-script: To read the more common critiques to my arguments in this series, please see GE2015 postmortem: the beauty of democracy.