GE + 1: Has Anything Really Changed: Political Forum at NUS

 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:

  1. 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.
  2. We see more vocal voices by Singaporeans through the ever growing presence of online media.
  3. 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.
  4. We saw an unprecedented reshuffle of cabinet positions and the dropping of many ministers.
  5. 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.

Here are some comments I made which I can recall:
a. Role of social media:
It is a useful tool and I relied a lot on it in GE2011 as I figured mainstream media would not give me much coverage as a newcomer. It helped bring my messages to the Joo Chiat SMC voters which I was then targeting. However, the responses tend to be amplified. A large silent majority will determine the outcome of the voting. Social media does put pressure on mainstream media to cover issues that it may not otherwise cover if not for the profile of the issue being raised once it get viral on the social media.
(Note: there were varied views from panel and audience as to how much voting was swayed by social media. My view is that it forces issues to be put out in the open but as to whether it does sway voting decision significantly is not conclusive.)
b. If Singapore will get to a 2-party / mulit-party system:
We are still quite a long way from there and we are in an early phase of Singapore’s political development towards being mult-party. As a party, WP will focus on growing ourselves and draw in good people. I disagree Singapore does not have enough talents for 2 parties. People need to come out of their shell and be part of the change. Whether we get to 2-party system eventually or not and how soon will depend on voters and how political parties develop.
c. That PAP is trying to be populist and if WP is worried about that.
It’s good that PAP is making policies to cater to the needs of people. We are not in race with them to be more populist. We focus on drawing in talent to our party and developing our alternative ideas and let people decide. 
d. That the quality of debate in parliament can improve and some PAP backbenchers are sometimes as or more vocal than the opposition:
In the past, some PAP backbenchers were even more vocal than the current lot. Yes, we do sometimes raise the same issues as some PAP backbenchers. Problem is whether the ministers will listen. Sometimes you get the feeling they are not listening. It is only when enough voters are unhappy then they will listen. We just have to continue raising up issues until they get the desired attention.
e. Importance of generational change factor in GE and its future implications:
Generational change is happening, like it or not. It has influenced GE results somewhat and will continue to be important. Political parties will have to learn to deal with that. Nothing lasts forever. We have seen political change in places such as Japan and Taiwan where a party used to dominate for decades. We do not have dynasties for hundreds of years now. Change will happen more rapidly with each new generation.

One comment on “GE + 1: Has Anything Really Changed: Political Forum at NUS

  1. We really need some great changes. Our government is sleeping on the job, lots of things are not working. Frequent flooding, quite-frequent breakdown in the SMRT, lack of sufficient and affordable healthcare and facilities – not enough of hospital beds, not enough doctors and nurses, yet everyone knows well that Singapore is going to become a big old folks home. With this glaring reality staring on us, yet the government had restricted medical student intake and now Singapore has to use some foreign doctors that cannot communicate with our aged patients.

    We Pay Them World-Record Salaries, How Can We Get Mediocre Results?! Is This What 60% of People Voted For?

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