Soul Searching Singapore’s 2011 General Election

To understand Singapore’s new politics is to appreciate the deep commitment of Singaporeans for a better future for their country. This bond united PAP and opposition supporters alike. The election served to build national solidarity, while simultaneously sending a clear signal to the PAP that its mold of politics is outdated. The PAP is being called to move out of its narrow focus on economic growth and adopt more inclusive social policies, to incorporate more soul and re-strengthen its moral legitimacy.

The other election driver was more support for checks and balances. Polling during the campaign reported that a majority of Singaporeans saw the main opposition party, the Workers’ Party, as credible, and the results showed that more voters were willing to put the opposition into parliament. What the six opposition parties lacked was name recognition, quality candidates and media exposure. Nevertheless, there is now greater openness to alternatives within Singaporean politics than ever before.

The question is why did Singaporeans move away from the trusted PAP incumbent? Many point to a growing divide between the PAP elite and its grassroots base. There is a sense of inflexibility, a lack of empathy for everyday challenges in a system where people are expected to follow and be talked at, rather than genuinely engaged. In an era where globally people are being heard like never before, it is not enough just to rely on an elite cadre with blind faith. With the opposition fielding highly qualified candidates, many seen as accessible, the argument that the PAP was the best slate was challenged. Analysts also point to the emergence of different sources of information, highlighting the social media and the internet as mediums for alternative discourse. There is also the role of the youth, Generation Y, as having a more liberal outlook supporting alternatives and demanding a more responsive PAP. Combined, these factors all influenced results.

There is more going on, however. The era of strong man politics in Singapore is ending; a phenomenon that has already affected other countries throughout Asia.

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