Saturday, May 07, 2011

Singapore Election 2011: Something light, something for thought and something serious

Here is something light ...

Something for thought ...
Are Singaporeans capable of a political tsunami?

Singaporeans go to the poll come Saturday. My answer to the question above is an emphatic 'YES'.

But here is the catch: When? I believe in the capacity of human society to correct itself. We had it in Malaysia in 2008.

Just this year, we witnessed the most surprising ones in 'Arab Spring'. No matter how hopeless the situation, people will always rise; it's only a matter of time.

To Singaporeans, the term 'political tsunami' needs further elaboration. When Malaysians did it on March 8, 2008, Malaysia did not have a new government.

Nor were there racial riots or economic collapse as some scaremongering people would like us to believe.

But after the BN lost its coveted two-third majority and power in five states for the first time in so many years, the political and governance situation in Malaysia has changed beyond recognition.

Competition in politics and policies becomes real, only to the benefit of the people. Not only has the federal government under Najib innovated itself on new economic initiatives, it has also gone out to reach all segments of the society.
Every vote now really counts. The opposition is also given the chance, albeit in limited way, to prove itself in governing through the five opposition states.

Competition of ideas in a healthy democracy has seeded in Malaysia. The growing-up process is surprisingly less painful than previously thought.

Singapore has been governed by a single party, People's Action Party (PAP), under the heavy hands of Lee Kuan Yew for over 51 years.

While he has stepped down from the prime minister position in 1990, Singapore today is still very much an LKY's Singapore.

Through two successive prime ministers, the only change is his job title, from senior minister to minister mentor today, with his son Lee Hsien Loong helming the post of prime minister.

Politics remains backward, in stark contrast to other areas of the city state. Its Parliament is a record 82-2, two opposition members versus 82 of PAP.

The Singapore economy has been charging ahead, even surpassing itsneighbour Malaysia, which is a much larger country and resource rich, in GDP size. However, its economy is one that relies heavily on foreign labour.

Some people even call it exploitation of cheap foreign labour. Such a formula of economic success means a more volatile society and widening of income gap between the poor and the rich.

Rising costs of living, especially in the heavily government-controlled public housing, causes much dissatisfaction on the ground.

I have been living in Singapore for more than 16 years. Last week during the lunch in a public sector forum attended by many senior Singapore civil servants, I was surprised to hear the comment of a senior officer of the CPF Board.

He did not mince his words: "If Singaporeans fail to vote in the opposition this round, they are doing a disservice to themselves and Singapore."

His point was, Singapore other than its GDP, is in bad shape and the opposition has put up a united front this time around with the most credible candidates.

To me, that's a shocking comment. The truth is, fear is still prevalent among Singaporeans despite the thickening dissatisfaction.

Fear in two ways: fear of the government for those who want to vote the opposition, and fear of an uncertain future for Singapore should the PAP's wings be clipped, or even a change of government.

For someone in his position sharing his political view to his new acquaintances is very telling. I started to feel the fermentation of a political tsunami in Singapore, although admittedly a rather wishful one at this stage.

Weeks before March 8, 2008, I was driving up and down the North-South Expressway to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore, involving myself in my desperate effort to help the opposition.

I would even stop by the rest stations to distribute campaign leaflets I had printed myself.

Like many other fellow volunteers, we were driven by self-conviction of what's right to do, without holding out hope of a positive outcome.

In fact, I had fear when I did my rounds at those rest stations, scared of being confronted by the police or Umno hooligans. Many other volunteers went the extra mile under even more fearful situations.

But on hindsight, we now realise that it was such collective conviction overcoming fear that has helped to bring about the political tsunami.

Singaporeans can learn from the experience of Malaysia's political tsunami. Change can be positive, especially if the society is determined to have it.

And change should not be equated to pessimism, although the establishment wants us to believe it so.

On the contrary, the long rule of PAP has created a Singapore that has deprived its society of a healthy debate of ideas, openness and independent thinking.

One doesn't have to search hard to understand why it has been struggling in the global knowledge-based economy, which competes not on efficiency but on innovation and creativity.

On the other hand, every day Singapore goes on a system without checks and balances under the absolute rule of PAP is simply growing its risk of a fatal national mistake in the hands of a few ruling elites.

The smaller the collective decision making body, the higher the risk of a fatal mistake. In other words,

Singapore has been living on luck for far too long. The recent massive losses from its state investment arm Temasek is already an early warning.

It is ironic but logical to argue that only a political tsunami will ensure Singapore a certainty in its future, one that's less risky but competitive in ideas.

Free Malaysiakini

Something serious ...

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