The Singapore 2011 General Elections are over and the PAP has been voted back into government with 60.14% of the votes, down from 66.6% in 2006. The PAP captured 81 seats out of the 87 seats, with the remaining 6 seats going to Worker’s Party.
This GE has certainly been a watershed event. It marks the first time an Opposition party captured a GRC (Group Representative Constituency) since the system’s inception in 1988.
Even though I was in Sydney, I stayed up till 4:30am (Sydney Time) watching the live broadcast of the election results through the Internet. I managed to convince my housemate to watch the elections and while we were waiting for the results, we were debating about which constituency would go to PAP or the Opposition. So it was much more fun instead of watching it alone.
But now that the Singapore GE is over, I have a few things I would like to reflect on.
I had a discussion with this a guy on reddit about the 2011 GE. Below is our entire discussion word for word. However for easier reading, I’ve arranged it according important themes and questions. I’ve also corrected some minor grammatical and spelling mistakes.
It’s going to be an extremely long post. My response is in black while my friend’s response is in red.
**I realized I left out an entire section of our discussion. I have added it back in. The missing section is in italics (and the most important one too)**
On the 2011 GE results
Zareth: Frankly speaking, I was disappointed with the results. I wanted WP to win East Coast GRC and when I saw that Linda Chiam lost Potong Pasir, I was very upset. I also hoped that SDP would have won Holland-Bukit Timah. But we can’t ask for everything. At least WP gained ground by winning Aljunied GRC.
DR: VERY disappointing results, but VERY proud of the Aljunied & Hougang residents who stood up for what they thought was best. Especially disappointed with Potong Pasir for having no loyalty to the guy who served them for like 20 years!
Z: I agree, WP is now entering a new era! Hopefully they capitalize on that. I was very upset when SPP lost Potong Pasir. I don’t know why that happened, but I think Chiam’s mistake was to let his wife take over. No disrespect to Chiam or his wife, but when Chiam took the strategy on contesting Bishan-Toa Payoh (my constituency!), he made the mistake of not developing more nation wide polices.
Regardless, Chiam has left behind a strong legacy for parliamentary democracy.
Z: And screw TPL (Tin Pei Ling)
DR: Amen to that!
On establishing an alternative voice in the Parliament
DR: While the percentages surely reflect that the up-and-coming Opposition put up a good fight, (40+% in most constituencies is no joke), there is no denying that a clear majority would have been most encouraging. I was hoping to hit at least double digits of Opposition in Parliament.
The good thing they did, that I appreciate is the fact that they competed independently in most constituencies save one, thus avoiding competition among themselves.
However, this may have also hurt them. If every party was in some way fighting for the “co-driver” position, knowing for sure that alone they could not form the Parliament, they should have formed a temporary coalition at least this time around, to contest mega-party vs. mega-party. The paradox of choice, and the size of the individual parties, may not have won that much confidence. It allowed PAP to deftly play the “Disadvantages of coalition government” card too easily. The temporary coalition could have played the “Unity in Diversity” card to counter this. That it’s ok to have different viewpoints within the same party.
Z: I disagree with your first point on an Opposition coalition to challenge against the PAP. The problem is that many of the parties such like Reform Party and NSP are relatively new; they want to create a brand and name for themselves first. If they had join in a coalition, they would have been completely overshadowed by Worker’s Party and SDP. I feel that it is important for the newer parties to fight in this election and establish themselves. NSP has proved themselves although I felt that they depended too much on Nicole Seah. Reform Party was a bit of a disappointment to me though, but I guess that’s due to many people leaving the party.
Furthermore, the opposition themselves were advocating for a multi-party parliament where different parties can come together and help in the nation-building process. To form a coalition would only appear to the voters that there were two big mega parties and will probably work against the opposition. Sure, it will help the opposition to appear united and who knows, East Coast GRC, Joo Chiat and Pasir Potong might have went to the Opposition. But personally, I feel a coalition is not a good idea. Perhaps the opposition can form a coalition in 2016.
DR: I see your point. However, this watershed election wasn’t the time to worry about branding and popularity. It was too big a gamble. And now, the PAP will be better prepared to block their advances the next time round. I worry…
Z: True that. However, in order for the Opposition parties to come together, you always need a leader. Before 2011 GE, no party was strong enough to carry that weight, so it was every man for himself. Even during the 2011 GE, no one knew how well the Opposition parties would do.
But with WP retaining Hougang and gaining Aljunied, they have become the de facto Opposition leader. I hope that WP can capitalize on this and rally the other parties around them so we can have a true coalition.
I think this GE show Singaporeans that you have to be willing to fight and voice your opinions, no matter how small you may be. Call me idealistic but I hope that Singaporeans will take note of this.
On George Yeo’s defeat
Z: By the way, what do you think about George Yeo’s loss? He was a good Foreign Minister and it is a loss for Singapore. But there’s many PAP supporters blaming the residents of Aljunied that they have drag down the entire Singapore with them.
In my opinion, I think that’s too harsh. Yes, George Yeo was a formidable Foreign Minister but I don’t think the entire Singapore foreign policy will collapse without him. Also, PAP supporters said that the people at Aljunied should have choose responsibly and voted for the most reliable candidate: George Yeo. I have to disagree; they seem to forget that Worker’s Party has Chen Show Mao.
It was the GRC system that defeated George Yeo. Of course, the PAP supporters will have none of that. It’s all Aljunied’s fault because they voted based on emotions.
Overall, Aljunied took a brave step and I’m supporting them all the way.
DR: Truthfully, I’ve never even known most of these people’s names before these elections because previously it never mattered. Knowing their names wouldn’t have changed my perception of them, and even if it did, wouldn’t have changed whether they get a seat in the Parliament.
From hearsay though, and some viral FB video, George Yeo seems to be a crowd favourite and he seems like a nice person (definitely the elitist vibe that’s exuded by the rest of the cronies) but the loss of 1 good minister for 5 Opposition voices is a good deal if you ask me. Ministers are just people, they should remain replaceable. Even the illusion of irreplaceability will just result in the system now where the silent majority reveres/fears one frail 87 yo who probably can’t even fire a pistol.
I refuse to believe that this is mass gratitude. That’s not a very Singaporean quality, in general. In fact I am even convinced that Tanjong Pagar was uncontested because LKY was part of the team and it would have been bad PR if by any chance, the opposition had won against LKY in a landslide. That kind of damage would have riddled his ego, and more importantly shaken the foundations of fear nationwide.
Z: Sorry, I don’t quite get your last paragraph. So what you’re saying is that Aljunied didn’t vote in WP based on gratitude? Or are you referring to George Yeo?
George Yeo is definitely a crowd favourite of PAP supporters and other opposition supporters also admit he’s one of the better ones. But I agree with you, no one is irreplaceable. But Lee Kuan Yew thinks otherwise, he said in the recent Strait Times interview that Singapore cannot function on ‘auto-pilot’.
It’s sad that none of the opposition parties made a concentrated effort to contest in Tanjong Pagar. I agree, if they had won, it will definitely show Singaporeans that nothing is irreplaceable and that LKY is not a demi-god. Hopefully this will be his last term as an MP. At least in the recent interview he said that PM Lee and his team will analyze and adapt their polices and that he cannot comment on it further. So hopefully it’s a sign that he’s finally retiring, like what he should have done 10 – 15 years ago.
DR: Oh I was referring generically to the silent majority’s support for PAP being less of gratitude and more of fear.
Did you watch the video about why the Opposition was disbarred from getting votes at Tanjong Pagar? There’s a video in r/Singapore, it’s a U2B video. The Opposition did submit their nominations before 12pm; they were in the nomination hall 20-30 minutes before and done taking oaths. On a technicality, AFTER passing the form to the nomination officer, the team leader stepped back 10m away to a different table to settle some issue with the rest of his team. By the time he came back, he was told nomination period was over, even though the form was already submitted. Literally in the hands of the officer.
Z: Ah… I get it.
I’ve read articles about it on TOC, Temasek Review and Alex Au’s blog. I haven’t seen the video but I’ll search for it. I think it’s a big joke that the officer would disqualify them for being 35 seconds late. But no, die die has to be on time. Although it was a eleventh hour bid to contest for TP and they were disorganized, to disqualify them on a technicality is like saying President Obama cannot be the president because the Supreme Court judge messed up the speech during the swearing in ceremony.
On the Opposition parties’ performance in the GE
DR: I also think that the Opposition plays a bit too much on populist sentiment such as overly harsh criticism of foreign talent, for one thing. It’s one thing to recognize the failings of a liberal immigration policy, but it’s quite another to effectively demonize an increasingly significant population of the country, some of whom also have citizenships. In future, their kids will have citizenships too, and this population will grow. Of course they wouldn’t vote for a party that mandates that it doesn’t want them around.
And blaming everything else on foreigners is a really negative sentiment, that also sends out an ugly image to the rest of the world. Housing prices increase are due to the market-price policy, merely accelerated by but not caused by foreigners.
Crowded buses & trains are a function of crowded roads in a country where cars are seen as status symbols instead of tools that may be unnecessary. Crowded buses & trains are a function of frequencies and regular timings. Even in bigger cities with bigger populations elsewhere in the world, similar metro systems adopt different techniques to achieve efficiency. More time learning those methods, less time blaming foreigners?
And the #1 reason foreigners are preferred; blame the government & its educational policies thus far. Every education policy is geared towards producing overachieving slave drones who’re engineered to be good at gaming the system they study in.
Even historically, the local universities were set up to supply undergraduates to the growing economy, not to educate future industrial leaders. And it shows. Even the University rankings are gamed, and not entirely deserved. Every course offered in University is a course that the local economy looks for, but nothing more.
Compare with even a country like China? After their high school examinations the best stay in China in local Ivy universities, while the next best get scholarships to go everywhere else in the world. In Singapore, the best are only considered the best if they are educated outside of Singapore.
Z: Ah, the big number issue: foreigners. I agree with you that the Opposition played a bit too much with populists sentiments. I thought they nearly crossed the line to a protectionism policy in Singapore. While I’m very, very pissed off at the influx of foreigners, my anger is more directed to the immigration policy. Also, I felt that the Opposition could have gone at PAP’s jugular by stating that even though foreigners come to Singapore by the masses, a huge majority of them are underpaid, lack workplace safety and insurance and live in unsanitary conditions. By doing this, it would have pointed straight back to the failures of PAP’s immigration policy and their failure to improve the infrastructure to accommodate the massive influx of foreigners.
DR: Nice! totally agree!
Z: But sometimes, I think why the Opposition parties worked the sentiments of Singaporeans is because during the past five years, when we tried to express our displeasures against certain policies, the PAP dismissed us, saying we don’t know anything. That, plus major cock-ups, led to five years of simmering frustrations that boiled over during the elections. It’s already hard to talk sense to people during the election period, much more harder if people are very angry.
DR: But in doing so, they won the battles but not the war. It was too divisive. If everyone agrees Singaporeans are more educated, more open-minded than previous generations, then we don’t just want yaya politicians who basically regurgitate our displeasures as points to not vote incumbent.
Rather it would have been nice if they had instead come up with solid meta-solutions. Pointed out clearly that foreigner population was a symptom and the anger should be directed at the root cause and these are our suggestions for fixing that root cause, then, everyone might’ve been impressed with the foresight of so-and-so party and confidence might’ve been raise.
Z: I agree that the Opposition parties should give more solid solutions. That is where they failed. I was hoping that SDP and WP would make more headway because they were the ones who came up with solid counter-solutions (SDP’s Shadow Budget and Tan’s economic report; WP’s comprehensive manifesto). Unfortunately, they reduced and simplified their message. They could have referred to those but instead harped too much on foreign workers. The one week campaign time limit was also part of the reason that limited the amount of ideas they could get across.
On engaging the silent minority
DR: Then there’s this silent majority? What are the best ways to draw them out? Since establishing that the local new outlets are nothing more than PAP lackeys.
Z: As for the silent majority, it’s difficult. Some people are really, really political apathetic. To them, a different political party means nothing, the day will go on, Singapore will still be running but with a different political party at the helm. So they’ll probably just vote PAP again. It’s hard to reach them because they won’t actively search out alternative political blogs and forums to discuss about policies. The only way, as Alex Au recently posted on his blog this morning is to actively work the ground, like what WP did.
DR: What can we (as youth, as more active members) do to help with this phenomenon? Organizing events, pamphlets (even during non-election years?), things like printing receipts on the back of mini-messages of the local supportive businesses etc would such things help?
Surely it must be super-lame to most citizens that politicians only crawl out of the woodwork when it’s time to garner votes.
Z: Should have made myself clear. What I meant, or what I assumed Alex Au meant was that the Opposition parties need to work the ground years before the GE. WP gained Aljunied was because Sylvia Lim has been consistently working the ground there for years. That’s what all Opposition parties has to do, work the ground for years instead of crawling out of the woodwork during a GE.
It’s a great idea that more Singaporeans should volunteer and be more politically active. I like your idea about printing parties’ messages on back of supportive business receipts. Hopefully, this GE will spur Singaporeans to be more politically active.
This year 2011 GE has been extremely exciting. While the results are not what I expected, at least Singapore is heading towards the right direction.
As for the Opposition supporters and PAP supporters who are still flaming on the Internet. Get off the computer. Go to sleep. It’s already Monday. It’s been over 24 hours since the results are out. As a friend of mine posted on Facebook: “Whether you voted PAP or WP, Monday we are all gonna go back to school, work, see our friends and return back to our lives. It was good fun though.”
Good fun it was. But I would like to add something. Be more politically proactive. Don’t just come out during General Elections. Volunteer for your political parties. You don’t just have to be politically involved during General Elections, you can always be politically involved throughout your lifetime. After all, Singapore is your country as much as it’s mine.
Blogs on Singapore’s social and political scene
Last but not least, the Returning Officer. Seriously, my housemate and I died of laughter every time he announced the election results.