19November2019

Agenda Daily

Even mighity PAP not spare

ykadirxAlthough the ruling Peoples Action Party of Singapore won the recent election, it was its worst ever performance in the island-republics history as the Opposition made greater inroads into the Parliament. Other regional governments would do well to sit up and take notice.

NOBODY EXPECTED THE RULING PEOPLE’S ACTION

Party (PAP) of Singapore to lose the May 7 general polls, and when the results were announced, no one was shocked either that the mighty party had its worst outing in history.

The PAP might have conceded only six seats to the Opposition Worker’s Party (WP) in the 87-member Parliament, but its approval rating took a severe beating. In the 2006 parliamentary election, it won 82 out of 84 seats.

Its popular votes fell to an all-time low of 60% from 67% in 2006 and 75% in 2001, forcing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to admit that the results marked a distinct shift in the republic’s political landscape’.

It was brave for the junior Lee to also acknowledge that ‘many (Singaporeans) wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach. Many desire to see more Opposition voices in Parliament to check the PAP government.’

For the WP, the victory could not have been sweeter. It not only won upward of 47% of the popular votes in some seats, but also brought down two senior Cabinet members

— George Yeo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Lim Hwee Hua, Second Finance Minister. It also defeated the Malay Senior State Minister, Zainal Abidin Rasheed, who would have been made the Speaker of Parliament had he won.

As such, the party’s leader, Low Thia Khiang, cannot be accused of being arrogant when he told supporters that ‘you have made history tonight. This is a political landmark in modern Singapore.

‘Your votes tell us that Singapore is not just an economic success, Singapore is our home. Your votes tell us that you want Singapore to develop as a nation. Your votes tell the government you want a more responsive, inclusive, transparent and accountable government.’

As an AFP report put it, the win by the WP in six seats may appear modest, but it was the Opposition’s best performance since Singapore became independent from the Malaysian Federation in 1965.
The global political tsunami had breached the PAP’s ‘Fortress Singapore’, which could mark the beginning of the end of the party’s monopoly on power.

THE POWER OF CITIZEN JOURNALISM

THE outcome of the election can be a useful indicator to governments and ruling parties everywhere, especially in the way they manage the economy and respond to the changing media environment.

Four days before the election, Lee apologised publicly for the government’s shortcomings after the Opposition and voters berated the PAP over the rising cost of living, competition from immigrants and foreign workers and high salaries of Cabinet ministers.

If the better-off Singaporeans are feeling the burden of higher food and fuel prices, and showed their disgruntlement at the ballot box, then it will not be hard to imagine the response of their poorer cousins in neighbouring countries.

The Asian Development Bank said on April 26 that world food prices that surged 30% in the first two months of this year could translate into domestic food inflation of 10% on average in many Asian economies. This could drive as many as 64 million people into poverty.

The resentment of Singaporeans against immigrant workers and expatriates is even easier to understand. Not only that they have to compete more keenly with the newcomers, but they have also suffered repeated dressing downs by the PAP leaders.

But the republic’s supreme leader Lee Kuan Yew, who is the champion of immigration, argued as recently as January that Singapore needed young immigrants to save its economy from long-term decline as a result of a falling birth rate.

At these low birth rates, we will rapidly age and shrink. So we need young immigrants. Otherwise, our economy will slow down, like the Japanese economy. We will have a less dynamic and less thriving Singapore. This is not the future for our children and grandchildren,’ he added.

His defence of immigration came amidst increasingly strident criticism in web forums and local media directed at foreigners, who now make up more than 20% of the population of around five million. Most of them come from China, Southeast Asian countries and India.

As the economy becomes more uncertain and poverty increases, anti-immigration sentiments are bound to worsen.

Even in Chinese-dominated Singapore, the people are wary of immigration although the bulk of the newcomers are of the same ethnicity.

The playing field has also changed so as to give the Opposition a fighting chance. While the PAP and the, government continue to exert control on the mainstream; media, their monopoly of the information channels has been broken by the Internet.

The Opposition relied heavily on the Internet, particularly the social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, to reach voters. The outcome further strengthens the power of the Internet-based social media and citizen journalism.

This is not confined to developed Singapore. In fact, the use of the Internet by the Opposition is equally widespread and effective in the less-developed countries. In Malaysia, the use of the Internet as a political tool started as early as the late 1 990s following the sacking of Datuk Sen Anwar Ibrahim from the Cabinet and Umno.

But unlike in Malaysia and other ethnically divided countries, the power shift in Singapore is uncomplicated. It’s a shift from one Chinese- dominated party to another.

According to Wikipedia, while the Singapore Department of Statistics . reports overall population figures as a matter of policy, it only provides a detailed demographic breakdown for the approximately 80% of the population who are Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents. Of this, 75.2% are Chinese, 13.6% Malays, 8.8% Indians and 2.4% Eurasians and others.

So, issues of concern to Singaporeans are also simple and straightforward — employment, cost of living, immigrant workers and government transparency.

Ironically, in spite of the general acceptance that the Singapore government is generally free from corruption, and the high salaries of civil servants is said to discourage the evil act, the people still have a case against the generous perks enjoyed by Cabinet members.

But it is not so in Malaysia. In addition to socio-economic issues, there’s the spectre of race, ethnicity and regional differences as the 2008 general election and the recent Sarawak state election have shown.

The 2008 general election polarised Malaysians. The non- Bumiputeras, the Chinese in particular, had clearly moved away from the Barisan Nasional (BN) and sided with the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the Peninsular. They stayed on with the BN in Sarawak and Sabah.

But the outcome of the April 16 Sarawak election has clearly shown that racial polarisation in the political arena had spread to the Borneo state where the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party or DAP won all the Chinese-majority seats, doubling its strength from six to 12.

By all reckoning, the Malaysian Opposition parties have always been stronger than their counterparts in Singapore. In the 2008 general election, they successfully deprived the BN of its traditional two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat in addition to winning Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor while retaining Kelantan. They lost Perak to the BN in less~ than a year when three of its state assembly members left their respective parties, namely, the DAP and PKR.

Although the PR is not seen as strong and cohesive as in the months following the 2008 general election, it remains a credible fighting force. The DAP’s position among the Chinese remains unchallenged while Pas has generally retreated to its Malay heartland after a poor showing in a series of by-elections as well as in the Sarawak election.

The big question mark is with the PKR. Its over-dependence on its supreme leader, Anwar, who is also the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, could be its undoing.

Without a strong and credible PKR as middleman and peacemaker, the DAP and Pas will find it difficult to justify prolonging their problematic collaboration.

The two parties are too dissimilar and are unlikely to be able to moderate their opposing policies without the leadership of the PKR.

But the perceived weakness of the Opposition alone will not guarantee the revival of the BN. While Umno’s machinery may have recovered somewhat under the leadership of Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, the support of the Malays is less clear.

Many of its own members and general supporters, who boycotted the 2008 general election or defected to the Opposition for a variety of reasons — not least the disgruntlement with what was perceived as Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s cronyism and nepotism — are yet to be convinced to return to the fold.

There’s a sense that the party is too willing to overlook the interest of the Malays while going overboard to please the non-Malays in the hope that they will return to the BN.

So, other than the perceived weakness of its opponents, the BN must also consider its own strength in not only handling political issues, but more importantly, in managing issues that affect the people directly like unemployment, the rising cost of living and crime.-31/5/2011

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