In an op-ed for the East Asia Forum published on Tuesday (25 August), academic, Dr. Lily Zubaidah Rahim, noted that the results for the 2020 general election in Singapore indicated that Singaporeans want the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP)’s democratisation.
Most people still see the political landscape in Singapore in a fairly binary manner. You are either an opposition supporter or a PAP one. Truth, however is far more nuanced. Instead of the black or white way, perhaps we need to embrace a more layered approach. This type of you are either for or against us attitude is something that the current PAP government seemingly practices.
It refuses to see critics as teachers or reflection points of its performance. Rather, it chooses to see them as enemies of the state (thereby confusing statehood with partyhood) and seems to go against them with everything in its arsenal with methods ranging from character assassination to law suits.
Dr. Lily’s observations on the Government’s divisions are insightful. She cites the example of the PAP’s “sidelining” of Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam as a reflection of the “racialist orientation of the PAP leadership”. She also uses the example of Tan Cheng Bock’s inability to run for presidential office as a result of the Malay-reserved election in 2017 and his subsequent formation of the Progress Singapore Party to bring back the ideals PAP used to espouse as an example of “intra-elite divisions”. These, she contends, “often foreshadow the unravelling of authoritarian regimes”.
Is this the harbinger of the unravelling of the PAP?
To be fair, it isn’t accurate to attribute all manner of ills to PAP governance. The PAP government has provided a stable and efficient government for Singapore and there is no reason why it cannot continue to do so if it does make a genuine effort to listen to what its electorate is telling them.
Let’s take Tharman’s example. It is clear that he is popular. Why is the Government resolutely refusing to acknowledge this? Why has Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat not apologised for his racist comment? What about Manpower Minister Josephine Teo’s comment that she has not heard any calls for apology for the abyssal performance of her ministry is preventing the outbreak of COVID-19 in dormitories? Or the foreign labour policies that the government has vigorously defended.
If you continuously fail to listen to your electorate, you will leave them with no choice but to eventually vote you out. There comes a time where ruling pride should come second place to the greater good.
In perspective, the people of Singapore are very clearly still pro-PAP. Yet, looking at the vote share (bar the year Lee Kuan Yew died), the PAP’s popularity as been slowly declining in recent years. What will the long term future bring?