Mohanadas Harish Chandar /
I just read this article by Molly Meek: ["6 Dumb Singaporean Election Claims"][mm]. It provides responses to some election claims that are either unfair or fall apart when looked into in more detail. The article was good, and I felt an urge to expand more on no. 6. "The PAP has done a good job".
To this claim no. 6: In recent years, the PAP has continued to implement many of its past successful policies and a good job is clear in two major areas:
+ Crisis management (e.g. financial crisis, SARS)
+ Growing the GDP
These are critical strengths the PAP has, and it is good that since the PAP is the largest party, you can be sure that these strengths will continue to be present in years to come. However, these alone do not qualify the PAP to all the seats in parliament, because in moving on to other areas, the performance of the PAP starts to get debatable.
+ Education policy (the huge amount of students taking tuition classes after school; stress faced by both students and teachers; why we produce top students but subsequently not top talents)
+ Urban Planning policy (our urban planning is very organised, but probably too rigid; too many people work in the central area of Singapore, causing congestion, and many have to make long journeys to their workplaces; there is slow uptake of companies to regional centres such as Tampines, Jurong and Woodlands; large number of golf courses taking up land on a small island)
In some other areas, their performance is more debatable. PAP may not have done a good job in recent years in the following areas.
Those that are being given extensive coverage as "election issues" are:
* Housing policy
* Migration policy
* Transport policy
* Healthcare policy
* Rising income gap
* High costs of living
* Accountability of politicians
There is of course quite a bit of overlap between them.
There are others areas of equally debatable performance that are not really being covered at length during this general election. They are, nonetheless significant, and here's a limited list:
* Human Rights (treatment of foreign domestic workers and low-skilled migrant workers; arresting, locking up and bankrupting political opponents)
* Labour Rights (the Employment Act only covers blue-collared workers; wage restraint policy of the past still being continued today; non-implementation of living wage laws)
* Environmental policy (still no major initiatives for solar energy in tropical Singapore; large dependence on oil and gas industry; PM2.5---very fine particles that are more dangerous than PM10---not put into PSI reading)
* Military spending (do we really need to spend so much)
* Ministerial salaries (moral hazard; high rewards reduce effectiveness in solving the poorly defined problems of today---see [Dan Pink's TED Talk][dp])
* Productivity improvements (we are sorely lagging behind other developed nations, and productivity had negative growth during much of the 'roaring' 90s)
The PAP has also clearly done badly in some areas:
- Procreation (we are officially last in the world when comparing countries; 3rd last if you count territories as well)
- Freedom of expression (154th in the world in media freedom; questionable political defamation suits; climate of fear)
- Transparency (GIC and Temasek losses; continued lumping of Singaporeans and PR in statistics; refusal to give figures about reserves; continual redrawing of electoral boundaries; elections department under Prime Minister's office)
Putting all this together, it is not all too clear that the PAP has been doing a good job, overall, in recent years.
But what does this mean for Singapore?
As Singapore becomes more of a developed nation, GDP growth cannot continue at the previous high levels---it has to plateau off. The PAP obviously does not have a track record in handling such situations, as compared to its track record in growing the GDP and handling crises.
It is only in recent years that we have become more of a developed nation, and forcing GDP growth has already shown significant erosion of our past successes. A good deal of this is being dealt with as election issues.
Having said that, it also does not make sense to blame the PAP alone, for many of the above areas of debatable performance. In some areas, it is totally to blame. For instance, in the continued lack of freedom of expression, and in aspects of transparency. But in most other areas, it is a combination of several factors.
Likewise, it does not make sense to attribute all of the PAP's areas of good performances to the PAP alone. The role of healthcare professionals during SARS, and the Ministry's civil servants during the financial crisis should not be downplayed.
Yet, at the same time, one cannot forget that Singapore is different from other countries---we are small and largely dependent on trade.
Accepting our situation, we have to deal with it, but that still does not change PAP's debatable performance in several of the areas above.
This, I hope, is a clear-headed starting point in choosing whom to vote for in the coming general elections.
The PAP has done well in at least two areas---crisis management and growing the GDP. But Singapore is now more of a developed nation, and GDP growth cannot continue to grow at high rates. Forcing GDP growth has led to significant erosion of past successes. Also, the world of today is different, and the PAP does not have many of the answers.
Luckily, this comes at a time when the alternative parties have strengthened themselves considerably and put up several quality candidates. Former PSC scholars, former high profile civil servants, an international commercial lawyer, researchers, teachers, lawyers, business people and people who can connect with the ground. The lineup is diverse and exciting.
There is scope for synergy between both the ruling and the alternative parties. To the ordinary Singaporean, it is not a zero-sum game. Through the loss of some familiar faces, Singapore and the electorate as a whole may win more, much more. Neither is it a zero sum game for many of the candidates, as the experiences gained from this election will be of great use in their subsequent endeavours. It is thus an exciting, but important general election, for Singapore as a whole.
As a voter, you can be sure that at least 35% of the electorate will vote the PAP and at least 25% will vote the alternative. It is thus you, the remaining 40%, still sitting on the fence, still deciding on whom you want to vote for, who really matters over the next few days.
Last, but most importantly, Your Vote Is Secret! Let me repeat, Your Vote Is Secret! Please do check out the explanations about ballot secrecy from the [Elections Department][ed] (ok, I know it is under the Prime Minister's office) and the [Worker's Party][wp] (better?).
And civil servants, YOUR VOTE IS SECRET as well.
I hope this helps you in deciding how to vote, and on my part I urge you to vote for a brighter future ahead!
Visit TOC's General Election website for more GE news