I took part in a political forum at NUS on 19 March 2012. The topic is:
GE + 1: Has Anything Really Changed
The 2011 General Elections have often been described as “watershed”. Political observers have suggested that a “new normal” has emerged in Singapore politics, with a more politically aware citizenry and greater opposition party presence in Parliament. But as the dust settles from the whirlwind of the elections, and we can see the state of the Singapore polity more clearly one year after the elections, the question is has anything really changed? Has party political strategy become different? Have government policies shifted or do only have the appearance of a shift?The panel discussion, with representatives from the major political parties, an NMP and a member of academia will unpack the realities of this “new normal”.
My Opening Comments:
(note: The actual delivered speech differ as I spoke mostly off-the-cuff, but with the same points)
The question posed today is whether the political situation has changed a year after GE2011.
I will describe the political transition with a glass of water (hold cup with some water). This glass was initially quite empty, though there are some water in it. A good amount of water has recently been added, but from time to time, some water may be evaporated or consumed, but more can be added again (pour some more water in and sip).
Political change here is a continuum. We did not get a major revolutionary change that brings us from an empty state to a full state due to the last general election, and I don’t think it is reasonable to have such a drastic change too. However changes had surely taken place in a few ways:
- There were 6 elected MPs from opposition, up from 2 previously. Of course we are now awaiting the calling of by-election for Hougang; soon, I hope. Coupled with 3 NCMPs, there are now more opposition voices in parliament. The increased number of seats also mean more constituency and town council work that the WP is now doing. Winning the Aljunied GRC was a major breakthrough for the opposition.
- We see more vocal voices by Singaporeans through the ever growing presence of online media.
- PE2011 saw the unprecedented challenge by three others on the favoured candidate of the establishment, something that may happen again in future. The willingness to challenge the incumbent has increased.
- We saw an unprecedented reshuffle of cabinet positions and the dropping of many ministers.
- Budget 2012 presented some surprises in the huge focus on social programmes as opposed to the heavy emphasis on economic growth in previous budgets.
I see political change here as a gradual but positive move towards one where there will be increasingly more credible alternatives to the ruling party. Some breakthroughs were achieved in GE2011 but more can still happen. The glass still has a lot more capacity to fill. As a business person, I always believe monopoly of anything is bad for the general public. There has to be some level of competition to force the level of the incumbent’s game to go up.
Other Comments Made:
The 1.5 hour discussions had various questions that ranged from the role of social media, whether we will have 2-party/multi-party system in future, response of PAP to GE results (if PAP was turning populist), analysis of GE results, etc.