(Originally posted on 12 May 2011)
With a win of 81 out of 87 parliamentary seats, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the People’s Action Party won a resounding mandate from voters in the 2011 General Elections.
But when we look at the details of the election results, the win came with only about 60% of the popular votes.
Can we truly say that the people have spoken and said that they want a PAP government to chart the next five years for us?
Does that not ignore the 40%, which is a substantial proportion of the voters, who have indicated their wish for a change?
Some people have asked how is it that the party that had garnered only 60% of the votes occupies 93% of the seats in Parliament.
Blame it on our first-past-the-post system, which is practiced in most modern democracies, where the winner takes all. A simple majority, even the smallest of margins of a single vote, is all it takes for someone to be declared the winner.
However, unlike elections of the past, the 2011 hustings has left the PAP metaphorically bloodied and bruised, despite its victory.
The next five years will be a crucial time for the PAP given the sea change in political awareness and participation by the younger and better educated polity.
The past two elections have seen support for the PAP slipping by 15% and if the party does not change, it would come as no surprise if this downward trend continues.
Adapt, Tansform or ….
The PAP, through its Secretary-General, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has already indicated that it would do some intense soul-searching and find better ways to reach out and connect with voters.
A promise of reform within the party had also been made, albeit by one of the biggest casualties of the election, former Foreign Minister George Yeo, and it is hoped that the PAP will see the promise through.
For now, these are but words that have been articulated, somewhat like extending an olive branch to assuage the masses. But they must go beyond mere articulations and posturings.
There must be real and measureable change in the party and not just a return to business as usual.
The cost to the PAP for failing to follow through on what it has said and promised would be very high, especially with an electorate that wants to see words matched with deeds.
Already, there are doubts whether the promised reform would come about, given the loss of the key driver for such a reform.
It is hoped that the PAP would not think that the electorate would soon lose interest as they grapple with their own day-to-day challenges.
However, it is said that a leopard never changes its spots and old habits die hard. I guess only time will tell as will the voters come 2016.
Quality of Life
Despite the call to close ranks now that the elections are over, the real issues affecting Singaporeans are still there and just as real. The government must therefore make good its promise that its overriding priority is to improve the lives of its citizens.
Affordable housing, availability of jobs for Singaporeans and cost of living issues coupled with the growing disquiet over the continued influx of foreigners who compete with Singaporeans for jobs, housing, and places in school, just to name a few, are the bread-and-butter issues that need to be addressed over the course of the next five years.
These issues will not go away overnight but they need to be addressed with a clear Singaporean first approach, something that will probably resonate well with every Singaporean who has invested his life and future in this little red dot.
If these issues are addressed well and lead to a better quality of life for Singaporeans, the prize for the PAP is the possibility of winning over some of the 40% who did not vote for them in 2011.
It would show that the PAP was living up to the reminder that Members of Parliament “are servants of the people not their masters.”
It would show that the PAP was truly and sincerely listening to the people it is elected to serve.
At the end of the day, what the people want is “good government – a government that listens, a government that cares for us the people.”
If it is not going to be delivered by the PAP government, then the people will make their choice clear at the ballot box.
Coming of Age of the Younger Generation
It is hoped that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s indirect assessment of the election results that the younger generation “does not remember from whence we came” is not reflective of the majority view within the party. If such a view prevails, it would only be much to the detriment of the party.
No one would deny the gratitude we owe to the first generation of leaders who built Singapore into what it is today but as we had been reminded in this recent election, gratitude is not servitude.
To suggest, therefore, that Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, have forgotten their past simply because they voted for the other party, is doing them a disservice.
The younger generation is not only better educated, they are better informed too, able to harness the power of the Internet to access the wealth of knowledge and information out there.
Coupled with the use of new media tools, the younger generation is at the forefront of leading the democratization of knowledge and information.
For them, the past, present and possible futures are but a click away now.
Armed with such knowledge and information, they and the growing legions of the Internet-savvy electorate find themselves able to make informed decisions about their future.
No longer are they affected by the fear-mongering that used to characterize the political landscape of the past.
It’s Up To You
One of the remarkable things that happened during the 2011 election was the confluence of ideas that ultimately made clear what the election was all about – You.
While the PAP had launched it campaign on a platform of leadership renewal, the opposition parties made an immediate connection with voters by making the election very personal for each and every Singaporean.
Both sought to be your voice, argue your cause and pursue your interest in Parliament, but the opposition made for a more convincing case by making you the focus of their campaign.
The election was after all a battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate – something that the PAP had to admit to in the end.
Although in the end the opposition only won six seats, the much improved margins between the votes that went to the PAP and the opposition parties send a clear signal that the opposition’s case had gained ground.
So, as we go forward into the next five years, let us not forget that this election had brought to bear the very purpose of the democratic process we subscribe to, which is to put into office those we think would best serve our interests.
It is ultimately up to you!