Singapore's Prime Minister and PAP Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong (C) and his team celebrate his victory with supporters in Singapore's Toa Payoh Stadium on Sept. 12, 2015. (Xinhua/Then Chih Wey)

What do Singaporeans mean when they say change is coming?

by Augustine Low

Change is overdue! Change is coming! Change by 2020!

There is the accelerated cry of change in the aftermath of the recent political tsunami in Malaysia, reinforced by festering unhappiness and resentment among a section of the population.

But we ought to then ask the question: Change for what? What is the alternative for Singaporeans?

In Malaysia, they had a former Prime Minister and a breakaway faction from the ruling party and a coalition, all of which combined to make change possible.

Do we entertain any thoughts of such an equivalency for Singapore? If not, we can throw this scenario out the window. Pointless to dream on.

Next, do we have an existing Opposition that all of a sudden is able to mount a serious and sustainable challenge?

The biggest Opposition party is the Workers’ Party (WP). It has taken one step forward and one step back, sometimes even two steps back. It ceded ground in General Election 2015, only retaining by a whisker the Aljunied GRC it spectacularly won four years earlier.

The hard truth is that the WP has been constantly put on the back foot, especially with the town council saga still unresolved. From time to time, the WP scores a political point or two. But it has not been daring, inventive and resourceful enough to break new ground.

There has to be a big question mark on whether the WP has the ambition to be anything more than a party that is satisfied with playing second fiddle to the People’s Action Party (PAP).

There are of course other smaller Opposition parties but their ability to mount a consequential challenge to upend the PAP is an even longer shot.

So unless the PAP self-destructs, the best hope (at least for now) is not for a change of government but a change in the ways it governs.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his recent CNN interview, the way that Singapore is governed changes only when the “electorate decides that this Government is not serving their interests.”

After GE 2011, when the PAP lost six seats, its worst performance since independence, George Yeo (loser in Aljunied GRC), concluded that the PAP needed to treat its citizens as “human beings.”

The PAP did make some changes.

Raymond Lim (Transport Minister), Mah Bow Tan (National Development Minister) and Wong Kan Seng (Home Affairs Minister) were retired from the cabinet, along with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

The PAP tightened immigration, ramped up the construction of HDB flats and added more buses to the public transport network. It also upped the ante on social spending and came up with measures like MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package.

Ministerial salaries were cut. Also drastically cut was the prevailing PAP attitude of we-know-it-all arrogance and smugness.

PM Lee apologised to Singaporeans twice. These were his exact words: “If we didn’t get it right, I’m sorry. But we will try better the next time.”

But that was back in 2011.

For those who think that the PAP is in dire need of another slap in the face, and another reminder to treat its citizens as “human beings,” the more realistic and achievable 2020 goal is:

Get PM Lee to once again say sorry, get him to promise to try better and try harder.