The momentum in Singapore’s political scene has been hotting up for some time now. From the WP’s quantum leap into Parliament to the presidential elections to the by-elections, it is perhaps fair to say that the political landscape has irrevocably changed. The Internet has certainly contributed to this seismic shift but more than that, the mindset of Singaporeans have also changed. More and more, Singaporeans have realised that it is okay to speak up and politicians on both sides of the electoral divide have also thrown down the gauntlet.
Immediately post GE 2011, the PAP had appeared shocked and ill equipped to deal with the new challenges raised by the newly politicised Singapore. The bureaucratic machine seemed unwieldy and unable to effectively deal with questions and criticisms. Ministers and MPs alike, not having had prior experience, reacted unsatisfactorily, veering between childish or naïve and displayed a lack of grasp for the issues that were frustrating the very people they were governing.
After a few hiccups however, they seem to be slowly back on track. The latest test comes in the form of certain cleaning contracts in relation to various hawker centres (link). While the point of contention is, to put bluntly, rather tedious, the PAP seems more prepared to address these concerns than they have done likewise before. Instead of heaping cringe-worthy low blows as they have done so often in the past, Balakrishnan seems to display a new savvy. He was to the point and appeared to have done his research – notwithstanding that some might dispute the content of his research. This approach signifies a departure from the old and tired top heavy imperious approach that has become a hallmark of the PAP’s style over the years. Balakrishnan was trying to persuade his fellow MPs through analysis and evidence as opposed to employing the “because I say so” approach. While I would withhold judgement until I see further examples of a genuine change, this new methodology is refreshing (link).
WP deserves some slack too. For as long as most young to middle aged people remember, the WP has always been the underdog that we quietly championed. Even if we weren’t WP supporters, we wanted them to take on the PAP if only to give them a run for their money and force more accountability. Now that they have entered Parliament with much fanfare, the drudgery of running the state has begun. Being new to power, it is of course expected that there would be some teething problems. The PAP needed to adjust to sharing power and the WP needed to make its presence known and felt within the hallowed walls of power. That equilibrium needed to be reached and while getting there, both parties have made their share of boo boos – i.e. Michael Palmer and Yaw Shing Leong.
Overall, I would still say that the WP has discharged its duties far better. Being smaller, having less funds and general administration support, they still rose to each obstacle with great courage. In particular, Sylvia Lim who has by all accounts remained indefatigable and unruffled. In our local David versus Goliath struggle, David has triumphed. But, in our example, Goliath isn’t dead and Goliath seems to be learning.
David on his part will also need to chalk up more experiences under his belt. As he prepares himself for the marathon journey ahead, he will need far more than a small smooth stone to take on Goliath’s might.
The WP will learn over time and I sincerely hope they go from strength to strength and become a source of inspiration to other political parties. As for the PAP, I think they are finally accepting that their modus operandi from the past is no longer working. They need to put that acceptance into practice and seek consensus through vigorous debate as opposed to censure. They need to understand that Singaporeans are increasingly more critical, and simple dismissals of valid concerns will no longer work. To that end, eradicating the new MDA reforms for online media would be more constructive in encouraging such open conversations.
For Singaporeans, the lessons that both parties learnt is surely a boon. By becoming more vocal, we are finally seeing some results. The PAP needs to work harder and seem to be starting to finally accept that the longevity of their political might is not an entitlement. The WP is now given the well earned chance to learn and experience governmental power. As our political parties shape up and hone their skills, Singaporeans will get a far better quality of choice come GE 2016. This is a good result for Singaporeans but we must never take it for granted. A functioning democracy is a journey and in that voyage, we must always evaluate and analyse.