The year is 2016. The opposition coalition parties had just been elected into the government by Singaporeans. Spurred by the win by PKR in Malaysia in 2013, Singaporeans took to the polling booths enmass and voted the opposition into power – the opposition beat PAP with a 53.13% vote.
The shock loss shook the leaders within PAP who had expected to be in power for another two elections. But it wasn’t totally unexpected for them. They reshuffled the PAP candidates who were not elected into government and placed them in the ministries, statutory boards and Singapore companies owned by Temasek and GIC.
For the first time, the previous Prime Minister suffered a defeat in what was thought to be his stronghold. He was voted out with a vote of 46.24%. Singaporeans had spoken and they wanted to show that they’ve lost confidence in the PAP. The previous Prime Minister retained his role as the Chairperson of the Town Councils and he always shifted to become the Chairperson of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Once the opposition got elected into power, they started to get down to work by pushing through the policies that they had promised Singaporeans during the elections. They prepared policy papers and submitted them for approval – they wanted to implement a minimum wage law in Singapore, so that they could life the wages of the very poor in Singapore. They wanted to increase the interest rates of the CPF, to channel more of the interest earned by Temasek and GIC back into the CPF. And they had also wanted to increase the proportion of government expenditure to foot Singaporeans healthcare bills. The proposals and bills were passed by a slim majority in government, with all the coalition members supporting the bills and the PAP members all against.
The mood in Singapore was exuberant. For the first time in 10 years, the real wages of Singaporeans could finally increase, and they would have be able to increase their real earnings and savings. The mood was overwhelming, as people took to the streets to celebrate.
But this wasn’t meant to last. The president was still aligned to the PAP. The top military personnel were appointed by the president and he ordered the military and police to go to the streets and prevent the people from celebrating. He declared that there was an emergency and used his powers from keeping the people from expressing themselves.
Meanwhile, the coalition party would have none of it. They drafted proposals to amend the law to allow for peaceful demonstrations and freedom of speech to be allowed. This was submitted to the courts for approval. However, again, the president was the one who had appointed the heads of the judiciary system. The judiciary struck down the amendments to the law and claim that they were unconstitutional, without giving an explanation why.
Meanwhile, the people got restless and they took to the streets once again to demand that the president steps down. They claim that the president was abusing his powers and wanted him removed. The president declared a state of emergency and used the Internal Security Act against the key leaders of what the president called was a communist movement to overthrow the government. 35 people were arrested, some of whom were members of the coalition government. The coalition government protested but the president had the final say as to when the Internal Security Act can be used. He did not budge.
Meanwhile, the courts convened and declared that the policy changes that the coalition government had proposed and approved – to implement a minimum wage law, increase CPF interest rates and increase proportionate spending of healthcare for healthcare bills – were a threat to the stability of Singapore and they struck down these policies. Again, the explanation given wasn’t clear.
The coalition government was dumbfounded. The jubilant mood that had taken Singapore by storm when the coalition government had won disappeared overnight. The coalition government realised that even though the were now the majority in the government, their powers were severely crippled because the president had appointed the leaders of the military and the judiciary. The president’s interests were aligned to PAP and so were those of the military and judiciary. The coalition government might have gain control of one estate of governance – the government – but the other estates, the president, military and judiciary, were still controlled by PAP. The coalition government simply couldn’t do a thing to implement what they had promised to Singaporeans.
For the next few months, things were in a deadlock as the coalition government was held ransom by the other estates controlled by PAP. They couldn’t exercise their rights. Singaporeans were also beginning to doubt the capability of the coalition government. Things didn’t look well for Singapore. Finally, the coalition government decided to request for the president to unlock the reserves so that they could access the funds in the reserves to increase social and welfare spending for the poor and needy. This was the least they could do to ensure that the poor and needy were protected in Singapore.
Alas, the president held the key to the reserves and he rejected the requests by the coalition government outright. Also, the previous prime minister was the head of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and he had recommended that the president not approve the access to the reserves. The coalition government was effectively crippled as their powers were withheld from them.
In the civil service, they weren’t making headway as well as the civil service was made up of representatives aligned to PAP. They didn’t give the coalition government their full cooperation and would not act on requests from the coalition government. The coalition government had proposed a change – that the Ministry of Manpower and unions start listening and addressing demands of the workers who have been treated unfairly. However, the ministry and unions slighted the concerns of the workers further. This infuriated the workers who felt that the coalition government wasn’t responding to their needs. They took to the streets. This time, the ministry did not label their actions as a ‘strike’ but even throw their support behind the demonstration. The president also did not use his powers to ask the military to intervene. He sat aside as the ‘strike’ went on and the people protested against the coalition government, thinking that it was the coalition government which had sabotaged them.
Meanwhile, Internet services and access were becoming intermittent and were being cut off. The people thought that the coalition government was the one who had cut off access because they had lost control of the government. However, what had happened was that the telecommunications companies, which were owned by the previous government, had began to cut off access. This telecommunications had been privatised. When they were owned by Temasek and the then-PAP government, they would function smoothly, at the request of the PAP government. But now they would not. And the coalition government was left to suffer from the attack, whilst Singaporeans didn’t really know what was happening behind the scenes and blamed the coalition government for their ineffectiveness.
Then, the trains and buses became affected. The trains started breaking down like they never had before, and the buses were late by even hours. The coalition government demanded an explanation from the transport ministry, who said they would look into it. But the people at the top at the transport ministry were people who were aligned to PAP. At the same time, the top personnel at the privatised train and bus companies were also individual aligned to the previous government. The coalition government was enraged as they could not get the cooperation of the ministry and the privatised transport operators to ensure efficiency in the transportation services. Meanwhile, the people continued to blame the coalition government, because they thought that the coalition government has wanted to cut off access to the essential services as they thought the coalition government was trying to become dictator-like. They continued to take to the streets and the president continued to do nothing.
It did not help that the 5th estate of governance – the media was also controlled by the previous PAP-government as well. The ‘mainstream’ newspapers started attacking the coalition government, and claimed that they were a lame duck government, who couldn’t push their policies through and who not have the ability to run the government. As usual, the online media were not coordinated and they continued to speak in all directions. Singaporeans continued to relied heavily on the mainstream media and they believed what the mainstream media were saying – that the coalition government was ineffective and useless. And people continued not to be able to receive credible news from the online media. Singaporeans took to the Internet to complain once again – this time against the coalition government.
The opposition might have won one estate of governance – the government. But they didn’t have control over the other estates – the president, economy, military, judiciary and media, which were still owned by the previous government. Their powers were completely crippled. Even though they had tried their best to push through policies or to work in the interests of Singaporeans, no one knew. Because they couldn’t get their voice out in the mainstream media. And the online media continued to be haphazard.
Finally, people demanded for a snap elections. The PAP ran and they won an overwhelming 75% of the majority. The PAP was brought back into power. The people went back to their daily lives, controlled, submissive and unquestioning. They remained quiet, as they had did, as long as there was stability and as long as things were chugging along, even if it means their rights were curbed and they couldn’t express themselves.
The enslavement of Singaporeans continued because Singaporeans didn’t know then before 2016, and they still didn’t know after 2016.