It is heartening to finally read that a senior member of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP), Tharman Shanmugaratnam has admitted that the General Election results were good for both the PAP and the alternative political parties as he expressed his hope to see Singapore politics evolve.
By any yardstick, the PAP have had a resounding victory and a decisive mandate from Singaporeans. This was always expected which made the the various remarks ( in the run up to polling day) by Lee Hsien Loong and other PAP stalwarts implying that opposition parties could somehow divide Singapore seem like baseless fear mongering.
While the opposition parties have made inroads, it remains an uphill task to unseat the PAP. Comments about how well the opposition parties have done in this general election must be looked at in perspective. Looking at the numbers (10 seats to the Workers’ Party (WP) and 83 seats to the PAP), this would not look like a good result for the WP if it was any other country in the democratic world. It is only a good result in Singapore because of how hard the opposition parties have had to fight, at times against seemingly insurmountable obstacles caused by an uneven playing field.
With this in mind, if Singaporeans truly want more diverse voices in Parliament and a greater system of checks and balances to power, they will have to vote in a lot more alternative politicians than they have done so. While the WP has done amazingly well, we have to remember that 10 out of 93 will not really translate into meaningful power to hold the dominant PAP to account adequately.
Shanmugaratnam further said:
“Our aim, in both the government of the day and the opposition, must be to serve Singaporeans’ interests through policies that can stand the test of time — rather than gain popularity today by telling people what they would like to hear, or promising benefits without revealing the costs and making clear who will bear them.”
In isolation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what Shanmugaratnam has said. However, what he has not addressed is how little resources alternative parties have to make things clear to the people.
Let’s take the live debate hosted by Mediacorp between the PAP, the WP, the Singapore Democratic Party and the Progress Singapore Party as an example. The PAP was given 4.5 minutes while the rest of the parties were given 1.5 minutes each. The PAP have all the resources available at its finger tips to reach the people while the alternative parties have precious little. It does seem ironical for Shanmugaratnam to imply that alternative parties have not been clear when their platform to do so is so much less than the PAP’s.
This is also why people may hold the PAP to a different standard. The PAP have so much more available to them! Of course the standards expected should be higher!
Shanmugaratnam expressed his hope that Singapore would evolve in three ways:
- To be a democracy with a “strong centre”, even as politics gets more contested — avoiding the polarised politics that many other democracies have drifted into.
- To be a democracy that keeps working to promote multiracialism in society.
- To be a more tolerant democracy, with greater space for divergent views and a more active civil society, without the public discourse becoming divisive or unsettling the majority.
While his hopes are objectively reasonable, we have to bear in mind that the PAP will need to play a key role in avoiding polarisation. As the dominant party in Parliament, the PAP needs to show that it is not using its strength to bully others or force its views on the public.
Let’s take the appearance of ex PAP candidate for Jurong GRC, Ivan Lim as an example. Lim spoke at the press conference where newly elected members of parliament (MP) for Jurong GRC were expressing their gratitude to constituents. Why was Lim speaking publicly at an event meant for elected MPs? He was no longer part of the team. Lim is arguably unpopular. So, why rub his presence in the face of constituents? They voted for the current PAP team. Not Lim. Letting him address the public in that manner was inappropriate and could seem like a complete disregard for the wishes of the people. Blatant disregard such as this could very well cause polarisation in politics.
With regards to multiracialism in Singapore, why has Heng Swee Keat, the man touted to be the next prime minister of Singapore, not apologised to Singaporeans for effectively saying that minorities in Singapore cannot aspire to the highest office of the land? Yet again, as the dominant party in power, the PAP bears responsibility for driving this process forward. Why is it that the Attorney General’s Chambers has dismissed the police report made against Heng for what will be perceived by most in the first world to be racist views so promptly while those made against a 26 year old minority fighting against inequality are still standing?
As for tolerance, it is the incumbent PAP that needs to take the lead. As of now, the PAP has the reputation of being intolerant of critics. If Shanmugaratnam is serious about tolerance, perhaps he needs to persuade his government to abolish POFMA? Perhaps various senior members of the PAP need to drop their various law suits against bloggers like Leong Sze Hian and journalists like Terry Xu?
After all, it might be fair to say that the intolerance is coming from the PAP and not anyone else?
So, while Shanmugaratnam’s aspirations are laudable, it needs to translate into tangible actions on the part of the PAP to come into fruition.