GE 2011 has been described as a watershed event, the dawn of a new age in Singapore politics. In light of the dramatic fall in PAP vote share and the WP winning a GRC, this is a fair statement to make. In recent months, the PAP has been scrambling to show that they are now committed to change and are finally listening to the people. Some of these moves to signify change, such as the cabinet reshuffle, have been structured while others, such as certain MPs requesting not to be labelled "VIPs", have been more ad hoc. What is clear through this, is that there is definitely a drive for change to not only be implemented but to be seen to be effected in a public way. Whether these changes are substance over form of course remain to be seen.
Many people (and quite justifiably so) have labelled these changes as too little too late. After 50 years of high handedness, the PAP has a long way to go in demonstrating its dedication to carry out the reforms it has promised. Despite this, we have to be mindful not to criticise well meaning gestures just for the sake of it. To be respected as a mature democracy, we, the voters have to ask ourselves a few solid questions before jumping on the bandwagon of disdain for anything related to the PAP.
1. What do we want from our MPs?
Apart from certain specific requirements which may change from constituency to constituency, it is safe to assume that we all want MPs who genuinely care for their constituents, who would sacrifice their time to listen to our problems, who empathise with our needs and who would have the strength of character and the political mettle to fight for his or her constituents' rights in parliament.
While we may disagree with many of the PAP's past party policies, we must learn to distinguish between the party and the person. While there are certainly some PAP MPs who do not deserve their seats, there are definitely some who despite being part of the PAP have worked tirelessly for their constituents and who have made a difference.
Certain MPs have requested not to be called "VIPs" while others have requested for grassroots leaders to discontinue the practice of asking residents to stand up to welcome their MPs. While these can be viewed cynically as too little too late, it can also be viewed as a first step for change. I do not, at this point, know which it is and only time will tell.
Perhaps it is merely a cosmetic cover up to pacify the people or perhaps it is the beginning of something deeper. Whatever the case, let us remember that every change begins with a first step. If MPs are taking their own initiative to manifest their dedication to change, let us give them a chance and not immediately jump to the conclusion that they are being hypocritical. Whether we like it or not, they are going to be there for the next 5 years so we owe it to ourselves to give them a chance. Some will prove themselves and be re voted while others will invariably disappoint.
However, this is the advent of a new political landscape in Singapore. As a result of GE 2011, more able candidates will join opposition parties with the taboo of being opposition politicians gradually fading. In this transformation of the political scene, we can look in hope towards a system which would weed out less effective candidates.
2. Do we want good MPs in parliament irrespective of party or do we simply want the PAP out?
The PAP has had many shortcomings and especially so in the last 20 years. Be that as it may, it has also made its share of contributions. It is easy to blame everything that has gone wrong on the government but blame must be apportioned accordingly. The PAP has made misjudgements and errors. It has been arrogant and complacent but is it fair to say that everything that has gone wrong has been their fault alone? That would be a hard stance to logically justify.
To build a better future for Singapore, we therefore have to rise above finger pointing and be pragmatic. What we should be aspiring towards is, in the words of the WP, a first world parliament. To achieve this, what we need are able people with a heart for service. Such individuals can come from all walks of life and all parties, be it (including but not limited to) the PAP, the WP, the NSP, the Reform Party, the SDA or the SDP.
In our anger against the PAP, there is the danger that we may strangle a PAP MP's genuine intentions for change. If such authentic drives for transformation are smothered, it would only work against us who could have been the beneficiaries of real and sincere change. At the end of the day, these MPs are here to stay till at least 2016 so we might as well give them a chance and see what we can get out of them! We ought not be ever ready to criticise PAP MPs who are seemingly taking the initiative to display their readiness to play ball at change. Let's give them a proper chance first and if they fail us, then we can exercise our right to vote them out!
3. Should we be emotional or realistic?
While I agree that the PAP's attempts at a public relations overhaul can come across as too little too late, we should also be practical about the nature of politics. Everyone needs a wake up call and a nudge in the right direction. The key is whether the people in power heed such callings. The PAP has been paternalistic in the past. There has been evidence that they have suppressed opposition politics and most of all, they have never been hitherto, held to account for the mistakes they have made. They have now been given a rough shaking at the ballot box and they appear to be heeding the voice of the people. Let us therefore be pragmatic about this and move forward. Give them a chance to change but at the same time, make it continuously known to them that if they do not meet our expectations, they will be voted out! It is only too little too late if the PAP change in form but not in substance and in this regard, only time will tell. They currently have a five year mandate to prove their commitment. As a reasonable people moving towards a full fledged and mature democracy, let us at least give them a proper chance to prove that they can and have indeed changed.
This article was written in response to TOC's earlier article 'A case of too little too late?'.