Elaine Ong /
The voice of the electorate at the recent General Election resounded loud and clear to the ruling party and indeed, some observers claim that politically, the population has come of age. I beg to differ. The political maturity of the electorate is still in its infancy with a large majority of the population still left unclear and uncertain that the ruling party and the state are by right separate identities.
Years of identifying the People’s Action Party (PAP) with the state have left many Singaporeans with what I would call a serious national identity crisis. Mr.Lee Kuan Yew was quoted in 1982 as having said, “I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP.”(Petir, 1982). Singaporeans have taken this to mean that the PAP is Singapore and Singapore is the PAP. While policies of the ruling party inevitably shape the identity of our nation, it is NOT the nation per se. To confuse the two is a very serious mistake.
Recently, since voting for the Worker’s Party as a resident of Aljunied GRC, I have been accused by several friends and family members as having been unpatriotic. Worse still, there are those who rant at me about how I have forgotten the great things Lee Kuan Yew has done for this country and taken it to where it is today. Trawl the Internet and you will see that these accusations surface time and again, and those who do not vote the ruling party are seen as being ungrateful renegades. A letter in The Straits Times Forum page was published not too long ago in which the writer said she was disappointed by the attitude of government scholars who have returned to join the ranks of the opposition. Once again, the term ‘ungrateful’ was used. The fact that we use the term ‘opposition’ itself carries a negative connotation and a naïve, immature black and white view that ‘if you are not for us, than you are against us’.
Then, there is the confusion even among those who work in the civil service. Some wrongly fear that it would cost them their jobs if they voted against the ruling party. There are even civil servants who mistakenly think that a vote against the ruling party is a signal of disloyalty to the state which employs them. The involvement of the ruling party in almost every state institution has perpetuated this myth and blurred the lines between party and state. This is unhealthy and should be set right. The truth is the public administration and its civil servants work for the state and not the political party that is in power.
One cannot blame the average Singaporean for confusing the state with the party. Years of fear mongering by the ruling elite has perpetuated the myth of the party being the state. I admit that for year I too was a politically apathetic citizen with the ‘PAP knows best’ attitude. I believed the line that partisan politics would cause the downfall of this country and cause it to be divided. How true this may be remains a conjecture.
It is incorrect to look at only the failings of a two party or multi-party system in other countries and project it onto what could possibly happen to us (and so far our smallness as a country has always made us somewhat different and unique in that sense), without examining the merits of such systems. I was very disappointed that when the concept of a ‘First World Parliament’ was peddled to the public, SM Goh Chok Tong immediately chose to narrow-mindedly link that idea with politics in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries. I was even more disappointed when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong publicly announced during the forum broadcast on national television that indeed ‘PAP wards would be looked after first’ in what he terms as prioritizing (with public not party money).
Truth be told, in spite of voting the opposition, I am a patriot of this country. While others have voted with their feet (and chose to emigrate), I have not done so even though I have been given an opportunity to do so. As a citizen with stakes in this country, it is my hope that Singapore will move politically away from its narrow-mindedness, to embrace greater plurality and respect for views outside the boundaries of the ruling party.
It is time we stopped accepting the view passively that we Singaporeans are subservient sheep and reject the idea that one’s patriotism is measured by how one votes. Let us stop whining about the PAP the way a child whines about his dad and start taking ownership of our choices. Taking ownership of one’s choices results in a greater sense of belonging to the country and a stronger sense of national identity in the long run. One can only truly love one’s country out of love and a sense of belonging, not fear. If we think our views align with those of the ruling party, then vote the ruling party. If we think our views and vision aligns with what other parties propose, take ownership and vote accordingly. It would be pathetic if we voted a particular way just in order to show our gratitude or for fear of looking disloyal or unpatriotic.
I look forward to the day when my patriotism and love for this country is no longer measured by the way I voted by my fellow citizens of this country, the way a democrat or republican in the United States is not questioned about his loyalty to the state.