We bid goodbye to 2011.
2011 has been an eventful year. It was a bad year for despots. The world saw the deaths of the Al Qaeda terror network leader Osama Bin Laden, Libya’s long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi and North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. It also saw many other strongmen dethroned. The Arab Spring that began in December 2010 saw a succession of powerful rulers deposed, such as Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Gaddafi. Arab Spring is not over yet. Bahrain may have quelled street protests for the moment, but protests and violence continue in Yemen and Syria, threatening to blow over anytime. Hosni Mubarak is facing trial for killing protesters, which carries the death penalty. I visited Kuwait in March and sensed unhappiness on the ground too, though it was not in danger of boiling over.
The democratic world too experienced change of governments due to the Euro crisis. Powerful and long standing heads of government were forced to step down or were voted out. The now infamous PIGS countries, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain had new Prime Ministers and new teams in 2011.
The world saw the Occupy Wall Street movement in protest against excessive greed and social inequality. It was a leaderless movement that spread quickly across the world, fuelled by the perceived failures of the financial and market systems. It showed the anger of the people at the injustice, as well as the power for the masses to be mobilised through easy and rapid transmission of information.
The world had no shortage of disasters. The floods in Queensland, Pakistan and Thailand; the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan and other major earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand and Turkey; major storms in USA and the Philippines; famine in Somalia; major volcano erruptions in Iceland, Chile and Indonesia; and man-made disasters such as train disaster in China and plane crashes in various places. We had random killing incidents such as that in Norway, Italy, Belgium, Mexico and USA and suicide bombings in Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
Back home, we had for the first time held two major elections in a year in a country where many adults had never voted before due to walkovers. All seats but the Tanjong Pagar GRC were contested in GE2011, which resulted in the largest number of opposition MPs in parliament since independence. In the presidential election, the first since 1991, the supposedly sure-bet and preferred candidate of the PAP, former Deputy PM Dr Tony Tan won by a razor thin margin. The GE and PE outcomes were something highly unimaginable a year ago.
The world appears to be on course for change. The merriam-webster definition of “Change” states:
… 1 b : to make radically different : transform; c : to give a different position, course, or direction to, …
2 a : to replace with another; b : to make a shift from one to another : switch
In some instances, like in some of the Arab countries and for the ‘PIGS’ countries, changes have happened rather dramatically. Governments were replaced. For some other countries, the change process was more gradual and has just begun. A new course of direction has started, the effects of which may be realised later. Transformation is a process that will take time.
In Singapore, the change has not been very dramatic compared to some other countries. 60.1% share of the popular vote for the ruling party is still considered a landslide victory by the yardsticks of other democracies. In Singapore, it represents the beginning of a transformation. We had set many records in 2011: the first GRC won by an opposition, the highest vote share for the opposition and the largest number of contested seats since independence, the first Malay opposition MP, and the first president elected with less than majority of the votes. These, as well as the stepping down of our founding Prime Minister and the second Prime Minister from the cabinet represent our transition to a new political order.
We see online media more active than ever before. Videos, photos, information snippets, vocal opinion pieces are quickly transmitted to thousands. Such rapid information dissemination is beginning to influence the mainstream media. What used to be just arguments limited to coffeeshops and private chatter have now found channels to spread rapidly, at times forcing politicians and governments to respond.
Whenever there is change, there is the opportunity to redefine norms. Change can lead to a better world; it can also lead to a more dangerous world. With change, the old and familiar are displaced. The new will take time to settle in. There will be challenges from various forces to set the new norms. We are all players in the changes happening around us. We have the responsibilities to help set about changes to reach to a better destination.
2011 has been an eventful year for me too. I found courage to step into the hitherto unknown to me world of politics. I have made many new friends. I have experienced many offering their time and resources to help with little for them to gain personally. I am enormously grateful to those who have helped me in my journey. I entered this new world because I feel change happening around us. The politics of accepting that government-knows-best is changing. Alternative voices will challenge the government, whether in parliament or in the social media. We all play a role to help define what Singapore will be like as it goes through its change process.
2011 can be said to be a year of change, for Singapore and for the world. These changes mark the beginning. 2012 will be a continuation of these changes. 2012 will likely to be just as eventful for the world, if not more. We may not know what new events will come, but we should have confidence in ourselves to overcome them.
I wish everyone happiness, peace and strength as we journey through 2012.