Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Mandate to Stay the Same

Singapore has just finished a General Election and as expected the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has been returned to power. What was nobody expected was the way in which they won it. Despite having smaller crowds at rallies than the opposition and the talk about how many seats they’d concede, the ruling party managed to increase their share of the popular vote by nearly 10 percent and they retook a seat from the Worker’s Party (WP), the main opposition party. Our finance minister even went as far as claiming some 70 plus percent in his constituency.

In a way, this shouldn’t have been unexpected. The truism in politics is that elections are not won by opposition parties but by lost by governments. Despite the opposition putting up a somewhat credible fight with the help of social media, the government simply had not done enough to lose the election.
The facts are as simple as this, in the Westminster System, the government has every advantage. The ruling party can call an election at any time within a 5-year period. The ruling party has every right to redraw electoral boundaries and most importantly, it’s always the ruling party that has the power of patronage. Singapore’s government has shown that it is willing and able to use every advantage it has just to stay in power. The Prime Minister timed it perfectly – we had an election after one month of our biggest birthday bash and several months after the nation had finished lionizing his departed father.

The government was helped by the fact that the opposition has yet to get its act together and some of the more colourful characters decided to remain just that. One of them started by starting that his opponent from the ruling party would be hampered by being a mother thus ensuring that a nation filled with working mothers would be turned against him. Then there was Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the Secretary General of the Reform Party who promptly chided the electorate for not voting him in – not exactly a smart move from a man who is smart enough to get a double first from Cambridge University and has ambitions to sit in parliament.

So where does this leave Singapore? The answer is pretty much where it was prior to the election. The ruling party will continue as it has. The main danger it faces is complacency – hence the electorate has kept the WP where it was before the election (With 6 seats out of 89). The other danger facing the ruling party is that it has learnt the wrong lessons from its resounding victory. Yes, it was right to “listen” to the people but it also needs to push through necessary reforms that will hurt the general population in the short run but are important. One of the key issues remains the questions of labour. Singapore needs labour and given that we have an influx of Ka-Ni-Na’s and Pundeks who would rather beg than work, we need to get our labour from elsewhere. The need for darkies from the rest of Asia is greater than ever – they should be allowed in and be given the chance to better themselves.

For the opposition, in particular the WP, the lesson remains this – prove yourself with what you have and build up slowly. The WP had the right strategy in winning it one seat at a time and proving that they would run something. Low Thia Kiang was MP for Hougang for nearly two-decades before the party took the Group Representative Constituency (GRC) of Aljunied in the 2011 Election. 

Unfortunately, they made the mistake of allowing the ruling party to attack their accounting practices. While no serious charges were brought against them in court, the electorate questioned their basic competence and integrity. Fact remains, the WP held onto Aljunied GRC by the skin of their teeth.
The second lesson for the opposition is that, it needs to consolidate, preferably under the umbrella of the WP, which at the time of writing, seems to be the only opposition party that recognizes that good speeches are pointless unless you have seats in parliament. It’s hard to see the Old Carthusian (I must confess that Charterhouse where my rivals in schools karate championship) and Cambridge Educated Mr. Jeyaretanam subordinating himself to Mr. Low, but this is what he and others like him need to do if they hope to smell a seat in parliament. Mr. Jeyaretnam risk becoming the Singapore version of the Monster Raving Loony Party chaired by the late Screaming Lord Sutch.

Opposition politics in Singapore is a thankless task but someone has to do it and eventually, the ruling party will slip. When it does, the nation will need another party to take up the mantle of government. Patience and consolidation are the two virtues that the opposition parties need to work on.