GE101: Why Cynics should vote for Opposition

There should basically be two types of voters for the GE in Singapore now: those who know why they must vote for the opposition party, and those who will soon come to realise – hopefully before it is too late. (Of course that leaves out people who are one with the ruling party, but do you really count on them to make any change when they virtually function as one organism serving its own elite perspective?)

I shall not reach into the dark recesses of history to make my arguments here; I know there are a lot of people for whom concepts like ‘democracy’ sound too abstract and words like ‘injustice’ too disturbing for their tranquil mind to deal with. The arguments here will just be socio-economic and pragmatic, setting sight on the future, and I do hope they speak for themselves especially to our ‘Type 2′ fellowmen who may still be politically apathetic, fatalistic, defeatist and cynical.

For it is a question of whether the incumbent party actually has that secret formula to upturn the economic downturn that has plagued citizens of working age for an entire decade, or whether it is time to puncture that myth of our Asian economic miracle as something independent of global systems. It is a question of whether we are experiencing the upside or downside as an outpost for foreign talents from the middle empire or down under, and whether we are attaining Swiss standards or Russian standards of living. Ultimately: can the one-party system still be relied on to work magic for all strata of society?

The point here is not to convince anyone to cross a yes for an opposition party on the ballot paper as a pure act of protest – even though I would very much love to do that personally and I won’t stop anyone from doing it. Neither is it the point to hear the voices of your favourite opposition politicians venting the anger for you, the NCMP system already set aside a stage for such simulated democracy. Instead, we should see that electing candidates of opposition parties into the parliament is no longer a mindless gamble; it has now matured into a viable and urgently needed option to help push for alternative policies and ensure accountability in governance. And I shall summarise the virtues of a bigger fraction of opposition party representation into three C’s (I do hope the SDP will forgive me for stealing their idea of the capital C’s):

1) Competency and Accountability (not complacency and arrogance)

First of all, don’t ever let anyone tell you that all political parties are the same. That’s a lazy way of thinking that belongs to some belching old man in the coffeeshop who has seen the 50s and 60s and concluded that politics is necessarily dirty; he has seen two faces of PAP, and he finds it a norm that an election be a game of mudslinging, he no longer thinks about what is right, left or wrong.

Well, he is just about ready to nullify his vote to signify his withdrawal from humanity, but you who still treasure your meaningful life should be smart enough to know that you have to choose between the lesser of two evils. Anyone following current political debates now will not only see remarkable qualities in opposition party representatives and cogent arguments for alternative proposals from them, but also how the arguments by the PAP ministers for the status quo are looking increasingly lame.

Secondly, don’t ever trust any party that tells you they have an exclusive monopoly of talents and integrity. More crucially, be very wary when they start to conduct the vilest personality assassination at the slightest opportunity. This is a cheap but typical tactic to cloud the voters’ judgment and divert their attention from the real issues. We are not here to sieve for saints or holy men who can heal the sick by the touch of their hand, or martyrs who will die to save the world – if we were we should never have accepted PAP ministers who demand such ridiculous high pay and yet never take the blame for any negligence or oversight leading to flood, transport disaster or escape of terrorist.

We are voting in MPs who are competent individuals representing policies advocated by their party as a whole, because their party has not been empowered to push for policy changes till now. MM Lee is saying the PAP is fielding 24 new candidates of proven character, of high calibre and track record of performance. I would say we are sorry, we don’t know what your criteria and process of selection are, but your party has been given enough chance over the years yet it has demonstrated nothing but groupthink, and the last decade just never worked out well for us with a poor 1.1% real wage growth (and ‘resident’ unemployment rate has hovered between 4 and 5.9%). So take the hard truth that this is not Disneyland, we must be practical and not sentimental, we can’t watch the same cartoon over and over.

Meantime, it is notable how the opposition parties in Singapore have grown in sophistication and come to represent much more than just a voice of dissent. SDP has released a shadow budget calling for the development of ‘third sector’ industries, and eliminating ministerial costs by $30 million to put into more productive use, among other things like revamp of school education system, introducing counselors in schools, reducing fees for local students at tertiary level and so on. WP has proposed in its manifesto to peg the prices of new HDB flats to median incomes of households.

And with the introduction of candidates like Chen Show Mao who has advised China’s Agricultural Bank on some billion-dollars offering, the party’s call for voters to invest long-term in its party for a First World Parliament does not seem all that odd now. Finally, when it comes to the ‘poster-girl’ factor, NSP’s Nicole Seah is just winning her PAP’s counterpart hands down in conviction and eloquence. Shall we not take that as a sign? Not just our economics but also our politics ought to be competitive, it’s maybe high time that our complacent and arrogant PAP candidates be replaced by more hard-driving and hard-striving opposition party members?

(to be continued)

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