Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong feels that people are less upset now about things which they were frustrated about in the past.
In a radio call-in programme last weekend, Mr Lee was asked if he felt the public was more satisfied over the past two years.
“I believe people feel that the things that have caused them frustration in the past have reduced,” Mr Lee said in reply. “Of course, I hope people are much happier than before.” (TODAY)
You notice that Mr Lee seemed rather cautious with the words he chose to express his views. Instead of saying outright that he feels perhaps people are indeed happy or happier now, he chose to say instead that he hopes people are in fact happy.
But are people happy?
Here, one would tend to be, as Mr Lee seems to be, hesitant in declaring happiness is ruling the day. This is especially so given that social indicators aren’t as rosy as one would hope.
Public transport overcrowding and breakdowns, one of the major issues experienced by the average Singaporean on a rather regular, is still a bugbear, even though the Government has introduced major changes to the transport system in recent months.
Population, immigration and job security are also major issues which aren’t entirely resolved.
Singaporeans still fret over the potential increase of the population to 6.9m, or even more, as some observers have indicated. Immigration, new citizens, and foreign employees in the workforce are issues still of concern which the Government has tried but does not seem able to address convincingly.
While the Government has indeed addressed some other major issues, especially in the areas of retirement, healthcare, and the Central Provident Fund, these will not be enough to turn the tide against it which had gained momentum in the last two general elections.
The real problem is manifold and is not just an economic or practical one. It is also an emotional one.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) Government will have to rebuild the bridges it had burned, whether wittingly or not, in the years preceding the general elections of 2011.
Credit to the PAP, it has and is trying to do just that.
In fact, Mr Lee himself has often spoken about this – even as far back as 1984 when he first entered politics, in 2004 when he took office as Prime Minister, and post-GE 2011 when his party lost an unprecedented 7 seats to the Workers’ Party, and a further 6 per cent of the popular vote.
Mr Lee, who led the post-mortem into the 1984 election results where the PAP’s vote share slid a further 13 per cent that year, concluded that “people had come to see [the PAP] as arrogant and unfeeling.”
Mr Lee said then that “people needed to be engaged emotionally.”
And the party has been trying to do just that – for 30 years, it would seem.
Is it succeeding finally?
The jury is still out, even as Mr Lee seems to have taken it upon himself to repair the substantial damage his party suffered in the last elections, and the downward spiral of negative public perception of the party since he took over in 2004.
Mr Lee is seen virtually every other day in the media nowadays, and even in doing ordinary things such as queuing up with the common folk to buy chicken wings at hawker centres, visiting patients in hospitals, mingling with elderly folks and dishing out special pioneer generation cards to them.
These of course have political and public relations purposes. However, this is not to say that the acts are not sincere.
It is clear that the results of the general elections of 2011 were a wake-up call for the PAP, and it seems that it is heeding the alarm, and addressing some of the unhappiness, even at the risk of being accused of populism.
But will this be enough for the party to win back the votes it has lost?
It is unlikely, although it might stem the tide, until Mr Lee’s successor takes over.
In the radio programme, Mr Lee also tried to tame expectations and how much his Government can do to ensure satisfaction or happiness for people.
“But while we can satisfy people’s basic needs,” Mr Lee said, “one’s own personal happiness or worries are not entirely up to the Government’s control.”
That’s true, but in a country where the ruling party has boasted “without the slightest remorse” for intervening in the personal lives of its people, the people have come to expect that their happiness is indeed tied to and under the ruling party’s control – and will express this accordingly at the ballot box.
Only then, will we know if Mr Lee is right about people’s frustrations having reduced.