Were voters misled by fears of a new government?

By Ghui

Image - Wikipedia
Image – Wikipedia

While surprise is not the adjective I would use, I am certainly disappointed with the recent election results.

At the end of the day, I firmly believe that democracy empowers people; and despite its pitfalls, it is still the best system the world has to ensure that power is not abused by those who wield it.

I respect the result of the election and congratulate all elected MPs on their success, and all candidates for their hard work regardless of the results.

Of course, the celebrations of SG50 and the passing of Lee Kuan Yew all played a vital part in reminding Singaporeans of how much the PAP is part of our national landscape. The timing of the election almost a year before it is due cannot but be seen as cashing in on these events.

That said, I cannot fault the PAP for using every advantage it has in this regard. That is, as they say, politics. It is perfectly legal and if we have any grouse with it, it would be the law surrounding the timeliness of when elections must be called that needs to be debated as opposed to lambasting the PAP for using the situational advantage.

Some have speculated that there was never that much opposition support anyway, only that opposition supporters were much more vocal than those of the establishment.

Chee Soon JuanPerhaps, but to attribute the election results to this would be over-simplifying the matter.

Based on the spike of online activity, the substantial interest in blogs such as Roy Ngerng’s “The Heart Truths” and the numbers that have showed up for the various opposition rallies, it would be fair to assess that the number of supporters of alternative parties is sizeable, if not increasing. I believe that many Singaporeans are open to the alternative parties. The question is whether this support translates into sufficient votes for the alternative parties to play a more significant role in Parliament.

I believe that many voters have blurred the lines between a few additional MPs and a non-PAP party forming the government.

While all seats were being contested, I do not think that there were any realistic reasons for anyone to have feared that the PAP would be toppled at this election – not even remotely.

The upsurge of opposition political activity is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Parties such as the Reform Party are relatively new and SingFirst was only set up post GE 2011. Given that most political parties take time to consolidate support and recruit members, it is fair to assume that the alternative parties were not realistically running to win the majority of seats at this election.

It is important to note that no single opposition party contested all the seats. All 89 seats were only contested by virtue of competition being split out among all the contested seats. Given that every political party needs to build on experience, it is again fair to assume that they were only running to gain traction, experience and a few more seats as opposed to forming a new non-PAP government.

The PAP, however, played up the threat of the opposition ruining Singapore, feeding fears that the entire governmental system would collapse, inexperienced politicians would charge into Parliament and the country would be run to the ground.

People I have spoken to unanimously agreed that they wanted more opposition MPs in Parliament. Most were also in agreement that seven elected MPs were insufficient to be an effective check in Parliament. Yet, many were also fearful that if everyone voted that way, the PAP may end up losing power.

This, I believe, is how we ended up with the result that we did – one that does not represent what the country wants.

PAP Nomination Day 2015There will always be die-hard opposition supporters and there will always be those who will support the PAP. However, what lies between them is a large percentage of people who believe in having more checks and balances without wanting the PAP to lose the majority. This group engages in tactical voting leading to results that may not be reflective of what they actually wanted.

Tactical voting is always a gamble. Throw in the flippant nature of social media and how emotive it can be, the new voter can easily be misled into fearing for consequences that they need not rationally fear.

As a nation, we are mostly new voters. While we have had elections in the past, many constituencies were “walk over” in  past elections and for many voters, this may well be the first time that they are voting in a general election. It was therefore easy to get confused between reality and fear mongering. Being new to the voting game, our emotions are also easily swayed which affect our ability to make a choice not based on emotion.

In any other democracy, it is entirely normal for all seats to be contested. Voters do not go into meltdown mode just because seats are being contested. Instead, such voters focus on policy issues and vote the candidate that they feel has the best policy suggestions. Given that we already have such a  well oiled civil service, the country will not fall apart just because some new MPs are elected. Besides, in view of the overwhelming wealth of the PAP’s resources, it is not probable that they would not win the majority anyway.

This is an organic process and Singaporeans should therefore rest easy. Perhaps, with experience, Singaporean voters will mature and accept that in a functioning democracy, it is entirely normal for all seats to be contested.

Hence, I put this result largely down to voter inexperience and confusion. I cannot blame the PAP for taking the tactical advantage. Any political party would. If anything is unfair, it is the law with regards to the timelines for the calling of an election that needs to change and for that to happen, more opposition MPs are needed.

Over time, I believe the voters will catch up with the process of voting and be less emotional and less easily swayed by propaganda. For the voters to learn, the alternative parties have to continue to play their part and not be discouraged by the results of GE2015. The alternative parties have played a vital role in awakening Singaporeans’ political consciousness and much has to be done to bring the voters up to speed.