Left: Khush Chopra, Right: One of Singapore's polling centre in General Election

Khush Chopra: Singaporeans apparently fear a non-PAP govt, according to a SCMP article

by Khush Chopra

I certainly do not think that Singapore fears a non-People’s Action Party (PAP) Government and we are more than ready for a change in Government.

The article from South China Morning Post (SCMP), “Singapore election: why lots of parties will make little difference” that was written by a former Straits Times Editor, warns the opposition that:

“When calls to topple the PAP get too loud, Singaporean voters tend to retreat into the safety of the ruling party’s embrace.“

The article has also essentially written off Singapore’s opposition movement as one that is in disarray, disjointed and incoherent with little chance of achieving any meaningful electoral result at the upcoming General Elections essentially because “uniting the opposition is mission impossible” and without a “by-election” strategy voters fearing a freak election result would flock to the safety of voting for the PAP.

In a scathing indictment of the chances of the alternative political parties at the ballot box, it is the view of that writer that there is no strength in numbers but rather incoherence and confusion instead.

His central argument is essentially that too many cooks spoil the broth and that opposition disunity creates a dilution of the opposition vote.

The article states:

“Ten possible challengers for the PAP may seem like a genuine threat to the ruling party. But unlike a soccer match, higher numbers do not translate into a winning score in Singapore’s opposition politics. Instead, the crowded field has seen these parties score two own goals.

First, the more opposition parties contesting, the higher the likelihood of multi-cornered fights during the election. These fights rarely weigh in favour of the opposition when they are up against the PAP.

Second, more parties mean more mixed messaging and a lack of a coherent and centralised strategy from the opposition camp.”

Several questions arise from the points raised in the article under review:

  • Do more Singaporeans fear a change in Government than those who think Singapore needs a change in Government?
  • Do Singaporeans think that the opposition can form a credible alternative to the PAP Government?
  • Is opposition unity a guarantee for success at the polls for the alternative parties?
  • Is it impossible for most of the alternative political parties to cooperate to prevent three-cornered fights and otherwise maintain coherent messaging and a unity of purpose?
  • Is the opposition as incoherent and disjointed as the writer suggests?
  • Will many Singaporeans still vote for the PAP no matter how badly the PAP Government treats them?

While I do not have access to data to answer these questions adequately, I can certainly take issue with the views expressed in the SCMP article.

To be fair, the writer of the article linked below most certainly makes several valid and interesting observations but equally makes several unnecessary assumptions and an important omission in making his unduly pessimistic prediction.

The main assumption I would find fault with being that the possibility of a change from the PAP Government freaks Singaporeans out into voting for the PAP.

Really?

This is very old school thinking especially convenient in opposition bashing without any real evidence or research to support such a conclusion.

The references to certain election wins on the basis of a “by-election” strategy is sheer conjecture. Each opposition electoral success can be attributed to several other factors including sheer hard work on the ground.

He also assumes that the alternative parties will not co-operate to prevent three-cornered fights or maintain common messaging.

Again this is something that can be managed and is indeed largely managed though admittedly three-cornered fights do appear to dilute the opposition vote.

One glaring omission in his argument that must be considered in any discussion of GE voting patterns in Singapore is that with respect to pull factors. The writer essentially only talks about push factors that dilute the opposition vote base.

It is my view that this is largely the case. In fact, there are at least three pull factors that operate on voters in favour of the PAP that have nothing to do with the opposition per se which the writer does not address as briefly sketched out as follows:

Brand adhesion – Loyalty and otherwise misguided loyalty (mass delusion and false consciousness through years of brain washing and a lack of critical enlightenment).

Fear – The politics of fear through years of PAP fear mongering (including therefore the operation of a “Political Stockholm Syndrome” within our kidnaped democracy where fear prevents people from seeing the obvious truth to deny reality as part of a perverse dependency within a survival strategy).

Habit – Apathethic voters who do not think critically and do not see any valid reason for change by virtue of sheer inertia.

It is important to note that the political processes across Southeast Asia including Singapore are centred on personalities and families rather than on ideologies or competing policies.

Our last GE 2015 is a good example as the Lee Kuan Yew factor, following his death dominated the emotions of that election. The fact is that this overwhelming emotion that overcame the nation has largely become less prominent and in fact, has instead been overtaken by the emotion of disgust people feel over allegations of abuse of power by the Prime Minister against his siblings with respect to Lee Kuan Yew’s estate. The significance of emotional factors was wholly omitted in the assessment under review.

Finally, the writer fails to mention that there may be a very high probability that the ground is particularly sour against the PAP and perhaps to an extent that is unprecedented in our political history; that will surely impact the polls.

For all these reasons it is my view that the writer has overstated his case somewhat and is otherwise unduly pessimistic.

The proliferation of alternative party’s and a failure to adopt a by-election strategy is not the only reason why the opposition movement has not found favour with the Singapore voter yet.

In fact, it is my view that there are several pull factors that account for the sorry state of opposition voices in Parliament and it is vital that these factors be addressed in any campaign to unseat the PAP Government.

On the other hand, there may indeed be reasons to be optimistic as the balance in pull factors in the PAP’s favour to date can easily tilt into push factors against them and hopefully may already have.

Vote Them Out. #VTO.

This was first published on Mr Chopra’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission