In the article entitled “Silent Majority is truly disturbing” (Yahoo! News, 19 Jan 2012), the differences between the supporters of opposition parties and PAP supporters were pointed out. While the supporters of opposition parties were prepared to make their voices heard, the PAP supporters were dubbed “the silent majority”. Indeed, the article cautioned the PAP to take heed of this deafening silence and to reflect accordingly.
The prescient question however is whether it is the PAP supporters who have fallen/remained silent or if it is the opposition supporters who have gained momentum? Same difference some might say but I beg to differ for it is in that fine line of difference that votes are lost or gained.
Apart from its heyday in the 60s and 70s, have PAP supporters ever been vocal in their support? As far as I can remember, PAP events were always straight laced and orderly ones. Certainly, they are not events where you can go beyond a polite nod, clap or handshake. While PAP supporters were always outwardly respectful and even reverential, they were never spontaneous. Was this so called “Asian conservativeness” or fear? Perhaps a little bit of both.
By painstakingly ensuring structure and order at all costs, the PAP has managed to suppress dissent. But in so doing, there was a price to pay. In return for a well-behaved society, the PAP also eroded any form of outspoken, all guns blazing support.
The people who support the various opposition parties have always supported them, albeit quietly. The advent of the Internet and the proliferation of social media websites coaxed them out of their shells. As the various opposition supporters banded together on the Internet, people found strength in numbers and the movement gained momentum.
In any democratic election, the supporters hold as much sway as the candidates themselves. While the candidates and their respective parties stand for certain causes or policies, it is the supporters who promote these policies to the masses. Glossy posters and well-edited videos can only do so much. It is the word on the street and coffee shop chats that truly count! What is the point of a low-key political rally where supporters remain controlled and wooden? It is when attendees chant and cheer that opinions are shifted and views are converted.
Opposition rallies are seldom quiet affairs. The police presence only stokes the crowd’s curiosity and as numbers swell, people gain confidence. So instead of quelling support for the opposition parties, the extra policing serves only to enhance such support. With no other viable outlet for expressing dissent, opposition supporters therefore go all out at such rallies. As emotions run high, political opinions are formed and votes are earned.
While the results of GE 2011 were deemed “watershed”, its makings began a long time ago and with each election, the opposition parties and its supporters, gained foothold.
The opposition supporters were always there. They have simply been “switched on”. As for the PAP supporters, they were always silent. The silence is simply glaringly obvious now in comparison to the more opinionated opposition supporters.
The PAP’s strict control is therefore a double-edged sword. While it ensured stability and “support” in the short run, it lost the hearts and minds of its citizens in the long run. When it most needed an outpouring show of strength, its supporters were lukewarm. The tepid reception of PAP’s candidates was contrasted with the sheer fervor that was lavished upon the Worker’s Party in GE 2011. This atmosphere was contagious.
For undecided voters who have grown up indoctrinated by PAP’s superiority but yet not lived through the euphoric 60s and 70s, the PAP’s Midas touch was but an unproven myth. This voter demographic is a growing one and one that is influenced by that “human touch” that PAP politicians are now lacking.
To win back the young voters, the PAP will have to relinquish its perceived insatiable need for control. To gain support, you first need to allow people to support you in an unscripted manner. Some laxity would be a good way to start.