Friday, May 6, 2011

Reflections before a date with destiny . . .

As of 10 pm last night, the curtains came down on the election rallies. The opportunity for the contesting political parties and their candidates to put themselves before the voters to be seen, heard and judged has passed.
Today is meant to be a day for quiet reflection, for us to review all that we have heard and seen, before we head to the polling booths tomorrow to pass our judgement with our votes.
For many, it will be the first time that we are voting and taking part in the parliamentary democracy process of giving the privilege to those amongst us who have come forward to serve the people. Is that not after all the basic and fundamental role of the elected members of parliament?
Unlike past general elections, this election has been different from the very start. Even before Parliament was dissolved, the opposition parties came together and worked out a concerted strategy to take the battle for the hearts and minds of the voters to the ruling party.
By Nomination Day, it was clear that despite wearing different colours, the opposition were single-minded in ensuring that it would be a straight fight between the incumbents and the challengers in all but one constituency. In the end, 82 seats are being contested by 165 candidates. The ruling party was returned unopposed in 5 seats due to a technicality.
That, in itself, had been a victory for the voters. It meant that for the first time since 1972, almost all of us would get to vote, to decide our future, our destiny.
As the election campaign swung into motion, it became clear that this would be a keenly contested election given the candidates the opposition had been able to put on their slate.
What was probably unexpected, especially by the PAP, was the determination and sophistication with which the Opposition seized the initiative. They took up the issues of the day, issues that were close to the hearts of voters, and quickly gained ground.
In contrast, the PAP found themselves having to answer and/or fend off question after question that put on display their track record and sought to hold them accountable. Even the “carrots” presented to voters seemed to gain little traction with masses who had had enough of ‘more of the same’.
If attendance at election rallies were a benchmark of support for the challengers, it was clear who was ahead in the hustings. It helped that voters were eager to hear alternative views instead of the same scripted lines.
By mid-campaign, the challengers had not only seized the initiative but also the agenda as the PAP found itself forced to make a number of adjustments to its battle plans.
From dangling multi-million dollar upgrading carrots in front of the voters (along with the veiled threat of withholding the upgrading if voters did not vote for PAP) and casting doubts about the character, quality and capability of the Opposition candidates, as had been the case in past elections, the PAP found itself having to change tack and make overnight promises of policy reviews in housing and education in response to the ever growing number of voices that identified with the Opposition’s cause.
In what was probably a surprise to many, was the PAP’s apology and admission that it had made mistakes towards the close of the election campaign.
Never before had this happened. As far as I can remember, the PAP had never admitted to being fallible, especially in the course of an election campaign. Cracks were beginning to emerge, and the PAP had to switch from its logical-rational approach to trying to make an emotional connection with the voters.
But many found this to be unfamiliar territory for the PAP and questioned the sincerity of the apology and wondered if it was merely a campaign ploy, especially since it was followed by one of the party’s candidates shedding tears at a rally and the posting of an emotive video on the Internet.
And finally, at the close of the election campaign, it was especially notable that the PAP was beginning to borrow lines from the Opposition. From its original positioning of the election as a leadership renewal process, the party now found itself mirroring what the Opposition had all along been saying, that the elections was about us, the voters and our families.
In contrast, the Opposition had been steadfast in its approach and strategy, it stuck to the issues, it reached out and struck the right emotional notes that resonated with the masses. No longer just speaking in rhetoric, the Opposition offered concrete plans for voters to consider as they ponder their future.
The Opposition reminded voters that they seek the privilege to serve, not rule, the people, the constituents. They seek to establish a social contract with the voters, and through such a contract, be their voice in Parliament.
With the campaigning over, it really is up to us, the voters, to make the right choice. Do we simply stay with the familiar and hope that the change we want will come about, or do we take that leap of faith and take charge of the change we want to see?
Gandhi is reported to have said: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
Change starts with you… and me!

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