I’m not Singaporean, but I felt I was more excited about the recent election than many of my Singaporean friends. The result was never in doubt in my mind, PAP would win, leaving it to be a question of whether the opposition parties managed to get more than the one GRC the Workers Party (WP) was targeting. After all the votes were counted only the Aljunied GRC was won by the opposition, resulting in six WP representatives entering the parliament.
While many enthusiastic supporters of the opposition were looking for a huge success against the incumbent PAP, the majority (~60%) of Singaporeans still feel the PAP is the party to lead them into the future. Although I’m sure that many Singaporeans who did vote for the PAP also hoped that the opposition would win the Aljunied GRC.
This strange reasoning of voting for the PAP, but hoping for the opposition to win some seats is because many Singaporeans will tell you that this election was about sending a message of dissatisfaction about current PAP policies, an increasing level of arrogance and a disconnection from the lives of average Singaporeans. They wanted opposition members to win some seats to make sure that their voice was heard at the ballot box and during the next 5 years in parliament.
However, from an outsider’s perspective I feel that this election was about far more than that. This was an election about the awakening of Singaporeans to decide what type of Singapore they want for themselves and more importantly their children or grandchildren. It was a vote for a more transparent and open government, one that listens to its citizens and cares more for them, an end to dirty political tricks and a more balanced media. Essentially a freer, more open and democratic society that is inclusive of all citizens rather than being dominated by the elite few.
Apart from the obvious anger about the PAP’s performance this change was largely brought about with the engagement of the internet generation through the use of Youtube videos, Facebook, alternative news sites and personal blogs. This has turned many an apathetic Singaporean into a politically aware individual. I saw my Facebook news feed flooded with different points of view, mostly in favour of the opposition. There were also some amazing comments from people who were having a “hallelujah” moment as the censorship machine was thwarted by the internet and my friends finally saw the bias of the government controlled media. I personally can’t read the Straits Times because I find that I want to start yelling at the reporters for not doing their jobs!
The PAP now knows that Singaporeans will vote against them in large numbers, especially the internet generation, of which there will be many more at the next election. Whereas most SMCs and GRCs had a large majority in the past, requiring a massive swing to the opposition to ever be in doubt, quite a few seats would be in the opposition’s hands with less than a 10% swing in the next election.
What happens over the next 5 years will ultimately determine the pace of change in Singapore in the near future. I see a few scenarios:
- Lee Kuan Yew passes away and the PAP suffers a power struggle resulting in a split into two parties, creating the strongest opposition party in Singapore and possibly an immediate election.
- The PAP listens to the message that Singaporeans sent during the last general election and adopts appropriate policies to placate the anger. This will make it much harder for the opposition to make inroads in 2016, irrespective of their performance in Aljunied. Singaporeans do not like to rock the boat!
- The WP manages the Aljunied GRC effectively and gains respect of not only the local residents, but other Singaporeans who see that an opposition party can run a GRC well, giving them confidence to vote for the opposition. The opposition members of parliament perform well, attacking poor policies and providing the voice in parliament that Singaporeans want. The WP also manages to attract star talent and creates strong grassroots programs to build awareness and support across Singapore. Meanwhile the PAP does not address the concerns raised in 2011 and Singaporeans are even angrier in 2016. This results in a huge change in the parliament with a loss of the majority needed to pass legislation freely, or even a loss of power for the PAP.
Many people outside of Singapore would consider an election result that gave 81 of the 87 available seats to the incumbent party a huge defeat to the opposition. However, I believe that the 2011 general election will be remembered by many as the turning point in Singaporean politics, where the foundation of a strong opposition movement was laid. Thus defining a move towards a freer and more open society, together with the building of a modern Singaporean identity!