Photo of Seelan Palay holding his artpiece in front of the Parliament House.

Have we got the good life that we have been promised which civil rights were forsaken for? If not, are we getting it back?

The rumour mill has been churning for awhile now as speculation abounds about when the next general elections in Singapore will be. There is talk that the elections will likely be in 2019. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) has seemingly added fodder to this possibility when he suggested earlier last year that the general elections could be as soon as 2019. Street gossip aside, there would appear to be some unanswered questions in and around when elections will be held and the process in which the election procedure is triggered.

When asked by Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait if the commemoration of the 200th year of Singapore’s modern founding (2019) would be reason enough to bring forward the next general elections, LHL had said: “It’s always possible. There are many reasons to bring elections forward or not, so we’ll see.” What are these reasons and given that the general elections are the only time citizens have a right to express their views on the government, shouldn’t these reasons be more transparent and less cryptic?

Further, LHL’s answer points to the probability that there are no objective factors governing when and how elections are to be convened and that the government has far reaching discretion on this process. Does this work from a Singaporean perspective where we have one dominant party calling all the shots? What is there to stop the incumbent People Actions’ Party (PAP) government from calling elections at a time that would suit them best without due regard as to what would be in the best interests of the country and Singaporeans in general?

Before a general election can be called, Parliament has to be dissolved by the President. This means that while the term of Singapore’s current Parliament will expire on 15 January 2021, it may be dissolved at any time before the expiry of its five-year term by Halimah Yacob on the advice of the Prime Minister. What does “on the advice of the Prime Minister” mean? Does it mean that Madam Halimah has a say or is she just a rubber stamp for LHL’s instructions? If it is the latter, what is the point of giving the President the right to dissolve Parliament? Isn’t it a pointless exercise of useless bureaucracy?

On paper, Singapore is doing well. The economy is growing. That said, there has been growing discontent in relation to the apparently increasing costs of living and growing inequality between the rich and poor in our city state. Rows with Malaysia are also grabbing headlines. With all these in mind, it is difficult to tell how the PAP will fare if the general elections are called imminently. Is that why the government is not committing to a timeline?

As former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh has observed, it is more important to look at the level of purchasing power, rather than just income growth because while wages have gone up, costs have increased at a faster rate, resulting in lower purchasing power. That could potentially decrease even further with a Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike on the horizon. In other words, looking at economic growth on paper is not an accurate representation of the good life. Rather, it is the quality of life that the average citizen actually has that counts.

Singh has also eruditely pointed out that Singaporeans have every right to expect good standards of living. It isn’t that Singaporeans are spoilt. It is that this is what the government has always been promising and selling. Arguably, Singaporeans have exchanged civil liberties for the stable “good” life. If that stable “good” life has declined, should we not then also get corresponding civil liberties back? Instead, it appears that the government is clamping down further on civil liberties with LHL’s lawsuit against Leong Sze Hian, Edwin Tong’s charge for online regulation and the charging of The Online Citizen’s editor Terry Xu.

Have we got what we have been promised? Failing which, are we getting more of our rights which we had forsaken in exchange for economical progress?