If the PAP ever has time to consolidate its losses at this General Election, one might imagine them kicking themselves for not planning a better corporate rebranding exercise, to make themselves look more generous, caring and apologetic despite all failings. Too little, too late, as one may say. But, then again, one would be underestimating the PAP to imagine this: that they rely on positive image and the people’s trust and support alone to stay in power. They may well gamble with government investments now and then, but since when do they ever leave elections to pure chance? No, not even a casino boss would make his roulettes and jackpot machines available to all without ensuring that chances of the game are in his favour.
While the GRC system has always worked splendidly like an enceinte (French. extra ring of fortification) in a castle to defend Singapore’s one-party system, the PAP government has built an extra line of defence this time, a moat filled with water so that voters and opposition members can have a nice dip on “Cooling-off Day” before even reaching the gates of the fortress.
As parties like NSP galvanise supporters and guide them forward like the North Star, the generals standing high on the battlement walls must continue to divert attention by pointing to WP banners of the Hammer and shouting “raid!”. Or to bring it back to reality of our HDB heartland, the PAP is desperately in need of tactics to counter SDP’s successful PR campaign with the well-loved Danny the Democracy Bear. A child carrying that little toy may well find it snatched away by puppies of PAP which are sniffing around, for “any badge, symbol, set of colours, flags, advertisement, handbill, placard or posters as political propaganda” would be “seizable offences” during the cooling-off period. It is time for Men in White to prowl the streets and zap away any ripple of irregularity in the normalcy.
3) Conscience and Compassion of the People, not control by Government through Fear
But if there is one battle that the PAP is clearly losing this time, regardless of the results, it is the moral battle that has been waged by the opposition, even if one be so cynical as to dismiss it all as strategic rhetorics. Things simply can never be the same again, now that a floodgate of voices for the hitherto ignored segments of society has been opened in the stadiums and in the blogospheres of Facebook.
SDP candidate Vincent Wijeysingha has entreated the people to discard the fear that has silenced them for 52 years, tracing variations of Marxist conspiracy claims which have been made by the PAP government through the years. Standing for election as a fellow candidate now is Teo Soh Lung, one of 22 who were captured and put into prison without trial in 1987 under ISA; as ex-detainee and SDP member Vincent Cheng says at the rally, the ISA (Internal Security Act) is PAP’s tool to demolish the opposition.
(Important sidetrack: Singapore has been slated for its first ever Universal Periodic Review of human rights situation before the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva on 6th May 2011, in a most interesting coincidence! Human Rights Watch said on May 4th that UN member states should denounce Singapore’s severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and reject Singapore’s claims of “specific national circumstances”. But it seems Singapore may just let some African countries, or other nations with less affinity to human rights record, line up as speakers during working group session on this day, so that the day can still be kept as ‘cool ‘ as possible…)
Meantime, voters in Singapore have also been urged by WP candidate Dr Chen Show Mao to use their vote as the true secret weapon, telling them that the vote should not be cast for one’s own sake but for others’ too – a viewpoint which George Yeo attempts to counter by telling people to vote out of ‘enlightened self interest’. Tan Jee Say reassures voters that their votes are secret, professing to voting for the opposition himself while still a civil servant, and getting promoted anyway.
Perhaps conscience alone may never carry enough force of persuasion, but people are longing for change in their own self-interest too. NSP candidate Nicole Seah shares that she used to get doors slammed in her face during walkabouts and would be told “I cannot talk to you in public, if not the police will catch me”. But things have changed in the past few weeks and people are coming up to an opposition party instead of the other way round. Perhaps, as her colleague Tony Tan says, the government has created ‘two Singapores’, with the high-income earners on one hand including ministers with bonuses pegged to GDP growth, and the middle- to low-income earners on the other who have to struggle with rising costs of living and little savings.
One may easily cite reports here that Singapore has the second highest income gap among 42 nations with “high human development” according to the United Nations, with a Gini coeffcient at 0.472 in 2010, on a scale starting from zero, with one as maximum inequality. While Singapore has the highest concentration of millionaires in the world at 11.4 per cent of the population (now how many of these would be the ‘new citizens’?), the bottom 10 per cent has a household monthly income of $1,400.
This is not to say that we are looking at a revolution in the mode of the storming at the Bastille in 1789, even though the PAP, with the aid of mainstream media (which is expected to inundate one’s ears on Cooling-off Day), may be creating the impression that everything will just collapse once opposition gets in. Actually, this is akin to suggesting that there is no foolproof system in place, that the system can only run by people with superpowers as denoted by an emblem of lightning on their uniforms. It is no surprise then that they are doing all they can to portray opposition party candidates as a bunch of transgressing mutants, before the electorate decides these are in fact are the heroic X-men who are coming to rescue them.
The ambition of the opposition, as articulated by WP Low Thia Khiang, is honestly rather humble and rational: to be a co-driver in the Parliament. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim asks how one can be a co-driver if one has been missing all these years, but there is already a quick retort to that: the applicants have been missing all these decades, because they are either jailed, sued into bankruptcy, or forced into exile. More importantly, there is a pragmatic answer to that too: the opposition now has a licence that comes complete not merely based on academic qualification but also with some comprehensive manifesto and even a shadow budget attached. They are coming not to bring dissolution, but solutions.
Indeed, a slogan word like ‘compassion’ should not be dismissed now as nothing but an utopian idea. It can be an industy on its own to create jobs, for it is time we consider diversifying in our economy for the benefits of society. Take healthcare for instance. SDP incidentally has a high-calibre team of medical professionals who are guiding its healthcare plan, among them one Prof Tambyah of NUH who has also spoken at a lunchtime rally and remarked that in Singapore, you can die but you cannot afford to fall sick. Now why not expand healthcare budget, build more polyclinics, increase healthcare personnel and make health insurance universal?
As a rebuttal of Low’s co-driver analogy, K. Shanmugam has likened PAP to a pilot, who should have full authority and cannot be slapped by the co-pilot. It is a rather cunning analogy if one reads into it: for only selected few can have the licence and privilege to fly the plane, and furthermore, this conjures an imagination among the paranoid passengers, that anybody other than the pilot who wants the steer the plane another way may just be a hijacker. Well, actually in real life, one may want to worry instead about an SIA pilot who refuses to divert the flight even when a passenger has heart attack! In fact, one should bring the analogy down to a level more primitive than that of a bus. The PAP belongs perhaps to an age without any co-driver, and is whipping horses reckless to speed a chariot away, without regard for safety; worse, to prevent the horses from getting distracted by any good view, it is putting blinkers on their eyes. So we can continue to slave all our lives, say, without ever considering any alternative to the current government-controlled system of housing prices?
The PAP should in fact grow out of the dark ages of witch-hunting already, of conducting character assassination on opposition candidates. Surely you know something is wrong with a country when a tabloid newspaper and the government fearmongers seem to be on the same frequency, playing the same tune. While the bogeyman in previous election was Dr James Gomez, this time round we have two notable cases of sloppy if not ill-intentioned reporting by The New Paper, one that aids Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in questioning if Dr Vincent Wijeysingha has a hidden ‘gay’ agenda, and then one that misleadingly describes Dr Chee Soon Juan as a ‘loose cannon’ trying to lead a march.
These are just the usual lame attempts to brand the opposition as mad men transgressing from the accepted norm of a one-party system. It is typical of an uptight nanny state treating citizens as little children, telling them that the world outside is dirty and dangerous; now when you think of the latest PAP slogan ‘clean hands’ in connection with this, it just sounds very anal. Perhaps somebody is just jealous of newcomers that are selling Singaporeans a new product called ‘democracy’? Well, the voters should regret now for not speculating in this product much earlier. There is fresh air in the world outside!
Indeed it is time we ‘deconstruct’ the government of Singapore, in a postmodern sense of the word. (er, I must pay tribute here to our law minister who has evidently used the word as something negative to ‘fundamental pillars’ of the government, without first checking its meaning on Wikipedia) We must stop thinking of everything in terms of black and white when it comes to party politics, we must not exclude any proposal from opposition parties just because they are not in a privileged position to speak, we must not consider any deviation from the status quo as being mad. We must stop making the assumption as some PAP defenders in the internet do, that the current system has been working for decades and hence there is no need to retrofit. Surely a brand name will have its shelf life too.
PAP’s latest young man (‘hao seh kia’) Desmond Choo makes another warped analogy: “If your wife is unable to cook, there’s no point. You must choose a wife who is able to do things for you.” Well, he is clearly too old-school and sexist to win the hearts of our female voters in this 21st-century society then, and he is mixing up family and work in the first place. Maybe his family is PAP, but work is work for the country. By the way, is that utilitarian mindset the typical elite mentality? If there are citizens in our country who are not productive enough for the economy, the only way is for them to be left behind and replaced?
As the campaign approaches a final showdown on Polling Day, we see the PAP doing all it can to win the votes. It is already behaving like a kind of a shape-shifter, sometimes imitating the opposition’s voice to win voters’ trust, sometimes reverting to the usual form as authority. It would warn us that we need to cast the right vote, or we will live to repent and pay for it (pay and pay forever?). Suddenly, it would also turn all smiley and become our ‘newbie’ friend on Facebook. Despite a 5-year term, it would say sorry only 3 days before polling and maybe it will beg us to recall some good old times in the last half a century. And who knows, just before we go to the ballots, it may also perform a stunt as our neighbourhood policeman, warning us of an emergency in the form of a terrorist attack, or it may start gossiping again like our busybody aunty nextdoor, spreading rumours on some opposition members?
All we need to do anyway is stay calm and not be perturbed, for it is all vanity. As long as we know what we stand for, we can transcend this most surreal of space-time in our national history, we can lift ourselves and dodge any bullet coming our way, like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. There are many others among the electorate who may waver, but it is important to stay firm. Just stay cool, we can indeed be a gracious society during Cooling-off. Do not think of attack if you hate the guts of the incumbents, just thank them for participating in this election and tell them the next better players are here too. Don’t get mad, just get even – as in a more even representation of voices in the government. The country still needs to get a lot of dialogues going after the big day. Fear should not return to haunt us.