By Dr Wong Wee Nam -
The voters of Hougang have spoken, and they have spoken not only for themselves but for the whole of Singapore. However the PAP would like to position the by-election, they cannot escape the fact that a large percentage of Singaporeans shares in the joy of the Hougang electorate.
The PAP is the ruling party and it fielded an experienced candidate. Desmond Choo has contested Hougang in May 2011 and his face is better known to the voters of Hougang. He is also the grassroots’ adviser. Yet, the PAP lost.
We must also note that the PAP was fighting a party that had been handicapped by the Yaw Shin Leong affair and his subsequent sacking, prominent resignations by other key members, and also the inexplicable sideshow by Dr Poh Lee Guan. Yet, the Worker’s Party still won.
As if this was not enough, the cannons came out and there was an attempt to demolish and discredit the WP candidate, Mr Png Eng Huat, but to no avail.
The by-election had started on a promising note, with both candidates promising a “gentlemanly” contest. However, as the campaign progressed, we heard little about local issues but more about the supposedly questionable character of Png Eng Huat. For a technical error, through no fault of his own, he was accused of dishonesty and having a lack of integrity.
Obviously, the voters do not doubt Png’s integrity, otherwise how would he have been able to get 60% of the votes and romp home with more than 5000 votes to spare?
Focusing attacks on personalities appears to be the PAP’s way of fighting elections. In previous elections, Francis Seow, Tang Liang Hong, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Dr James Gomes had come under attack. This time, however, many voters were turned off by such tactics, and this might have cost the PAP some votes.
I would defend any party that tries to bring out the real character of its opponent, if that person happens to be a real scoundrel and is genuinely unfit to hold public office. For such characters, the voters should have the right to know their background. In the case of Mr Png, what happened was a mere technical error. Certainly, having his name on or off his party’s internal election should not make him unfit to be a Member of Parliament should he be elected, would it? Is this an act of such immensity as to cast a shadow over a person’s character and his integrity? It is as if a person had made a typographical error, only to be condemned for life.
In the aftermath of the by-election, it is sad to hear Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean say that Mr Low Thia Khiang is free “to take it up further, through legal actions if he feels it necessary”. It is not likely that the Worker’s Party or Mr Png would take any legal action. The election is over, the voters of Hougang have given their verdict, so why is there any need for legal action?
Let us learn to be a mature democracy and not carry an electoral battle beyond the vote.
In the morning after the election, the PAP and a commentator tried to attribute the defeat to the Hougang voters’ loyalty to Low Thia Khiang. It does not represent national sentiments, they say.
Much as they would like to think so, how can the results not be partly the result of national sentiments? With the PAP promising the voters many programmes that are likely to be fulfilled by the resources at their disposal, purely local considerations could have given the PAP a resounding victory.
The PAP would be seriously mistaken if they believe that the result of the Hougang by-election does not reflect the unhappiness of Singaporeans in general.
Every Houganger has relatives or friends living outside Hougang. The problems these people face in their daily lives are the same. With the thousands of Singaporeans thronging the opposition’s rallies, the collective support must have had some strong influence on the minds of Hougang voters.
This election is, therefore, also a referendum on the PAP’s policies and its style of management. The PAP must take the bitter pill and change if they are going to make any future headway. The message from the result is clear. In the eyes of the voters, the PAP has not changed much since the last general election as reflected by the vote.
Indeed they have not. When Professor Lim Chong Yah recently called for a decent pay to be given to the lowest income workers, a number of PAP ministers came out to refute him. As usual, they painted the picture of economic doom if we give out more money to our lowest wage earners. This is as good as saying: “we must keep the wages low so that the businesses can profit”. Professor Lim is an eminent economist; he should know what he is talking about. Yet his suggestion was pushed aside as if it was made by an engineering graduate with no idea what economics is.
This is the trouble with the PAP. Instead of considering other viewpoints, they often choose to push them aside and come out to defend the status quo with vigour. This style is what makes them appear so domineering.
When Singaporeans complained about being crowded out by too many immigrants and foreign workers, they keep on defending the need for foreign workers and immigrants instead of trying to work with Singaporeans to explore possible solutions.
When committees are formed to address problems, they often seemed to come out with more reasons to support the status quo than suggest innovative solutions.
For example, what sense does it make to import adults into Singapore to try and make up for the shortfall in population when the problem will only happen in 20 years time? The adults we import now may not truly have the heart to be Singaporeans and they may not even stay here for long. Even if they do, they will grow old in 20 years time. They would also have to take care of their aged parents like all other Singaporeans. Would we not be back to square one?
I did a bit of brainstorming with a friend, Seong (a retired scholar), and we thought it would be a better idea for Singapore to build residential childcare centres and import a few thousand (numbers determined by shortfall) orphans a year and give them a life in Singapore. This is a humanitarian act. It would not only relieve the donor countries of a problem, it would also provide a pool of children for our childless couples to adopt, and also offer employment for our retired citizens who want to be child-minders. More importantly, these children will grow up to be truly young Singaporeans in 20 years time, when the problem is more acute, and solve our greying problem. Would any committee want to think like this?
Victory and defeat are part and parcel of elections. This is the bitter morning-after pill that the PAP must swallow.
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have enough. It is whether we provide enough for those who have little." Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945) United States, 32nd president
"A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." JFK