In the 60s and 70s, we believed wholeheartedly in the PAP. They fought for our best interests and we supported them with unstinting devotion. The PAP led us through our separation from Malaysia and saw us through our turbulent years of nation building. We had unwavering faith in the PAP and believed that they brought our little island state to greatness. Any opposition was ruthlessly suppressed but it was for the greater good, we believed.
Fast forward forty years, Singapore is certainly a beacon of success, especially when compared to our neighbouring countries. It’s cleanliness and high rise buildings testament to a developed country. If this is the vision the PAP had for Singapore, it has certainly achieved it and credit must be duly accorded. Why is it then that the PAP is losing its support and unable to grasp why?
In developing Singapore, the PAP ensured that an English education was given to its young. Along with this English education came exposure to the world at large. Singaporeans qualified for foreign universities and travelled. Our eyes were opened to the rest of the world and we began to see the things that were lacking in Singapore. This was of course a gradual process and not at all apparent in the glory days of the 60s, 70s and early 80s.
Exposure was good for the country for it was through the exchange of ideas that the country grew. Singapore prospered and the economy surged. On the surface, everyone was happy. The government ruled and we obeyed. It was a seamless system and everyone was content.
However by the mid 80s, dissent was simmering once more. A generation of Singaporeans who were children when the PAP first came to power had grown up. They were the first products of Singapore’s streamlined English education. Compared to the generation before, they were independent thinkers. They started to question policies and voice opinions. This led to unease as the government was used to a pliant population who gave their ruling party unconditional support. Operation Spectrum was launched and dissent was seemingly quelled, pushed below the surface but always lingering just beneath the radar.
Come the late 80s and early 90s, Singapore was ready to take on the world and complete its metamorphosis from South East Asian backwater to international city. Singapore was more open than it had ever been before. Foreigners were welcomed and Singaporeans travelled on an unprecedented scale. All manner of foreign imports flooded our shops and the country was inundated by building works as condos after condos and shopping centres after shopping centres were erected. Along with this progress came an international outlook. Singaporeans could no longer be shielded from developments in the rest of the world. So, while the PAP created a modern city, they also created a modern population. One that was increasingly unable to condone a paternalistic approach.
The late 90s saw the advent of the internet whose proliferation continues today, seemingly unstoppable. It is almost as if the government no longer knows how to deal with it. The internet has become synonymous with how we work today. Without it, Singapore would not be able to function, much less be the financial hub that the government wants it to be. The internet is therefore here to stay. However, along with the internet comes the problem unregulated information. Singaporeans can now access the world at the touch of a fingertip. They no longer have to rely on the state run media for information. With that, comes disenfranchisement as Singaporeans realise that what is told to them may not always be the entire truth.
And so, the PAP is a victim of its own success. With Singapore’s development, freedom of thought and behaviour come hand in hand. The PAP therefore cannot embrace one but eschew the other. Surely, they should have seen that this was written on the cards from the very beginning?
Overall, Singapore is a glittering success. The PAP did do a wonderful job but is this showcase city the sole achievement of the PAP? I would say not. The government may have laid down the groundwork for development but they could not have done it without the people. It is therefore inaccurate to assert otherwise. It was a partnership from the very start.
Now it is time for the PAP to re evaluate and embrace the transition that it created. Singaporeans have matured and need to be engaged in a different way. It is after all the PAP’s success that has created this new breed of educated citizens anyway.