The PAP had just suffered a shock defeat at the Punggol East By-Elections. It was a shock to nary those who had been adamant that PAP relook its policies. But for PAP itself, even as it had braced itself for defeat, would not have expected such a lacklustre performance.
PAP won only 43.71% of the votes. WP won by a margin of 10.81% to obtain 54.52% of the votes. This is compared to the 54.54% that PAP had garnered at General Election 2011, which is a swing of 10.83 percentage points away from PAP.
A relook internally is in order for PAP. PAP now needs to look at themselves and not only reinvent themselves, but rejuvenate themselves. PAP, with nearly 50 years of power, had become the middle-aged man, prone to chest-thumping its own achievements, but sighting all other discourses about itself. PAP is like the elderly father who thinks he knows what’s best for his children and would not resist putting his fist firmly down on what he believes is good for his children, even as his children have moved ahead, beyond his time and are unwilling to follow his lead.
The children had given him his chance in 2011 but he has thrown the opportunity away over the past two years, believing in his own authority and abilities. As shocked as PAP might be from the results, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to them. Yet it is likely that PAP will walk away from the by-election, feeling that his children are ingrates, who do not know how to appreciate the intentions of their father and who are seduced by fundamental desires of freedom and human rights. Unfortunately, as much as the father believes that his intentions are good, his children no longer think so, as they have come into their own being, and would want a fair share of their voice heard.
But has PAP perhaps gone a bit too far in isolating itself from some Singaporeans, so much so that a large proportion of Singaporeans feel disfranchised from PAP’s policies and have begun to turn their backs away from the PAP which even as it had turned Singapore’s fortunes around, and even as other countries lament about the lack of freedom in Singapore and admire the wealth that Singapore has established itself firmly in.
But all isn’t lost for PAP. PAP can continue to reinvent Itself, as it believes in its own discourse that it can. But more importantly, PAP needs to rejuvenate itself.
What can PAP do?
1) Make itself relevant by recalibrating itself to the true middle ground. The PAP has always believed itself to think for the middle ground, and that decisions that they make are for the majority of Singaporeans. However, even as it thinks so, the middle ground has shifted, but PAP is still stuck in a middle ground they imagine to be in the early 2000s. The priorities of Singaporeans have shifted. They do not think only in terms of economic well-being but believe in ensuring a balanced society where all Singaporeans can grow together. As much as this is what PAP believes in as well, they continue to champion on a conservative discourse, which has alienated a growing majority of Singaporeans. The PAP doesn’t realise that their balancing act has pandered so far right to the rich that many Singaporeans are increasingly feeling alienated. Their strict focus on growing the wealth of Singapore has gotten so much into their heads that they cannot think otherwise. At this point, the PAP needs to step out of itself and the boundaries it has created for itself and to understand Singaporeans once again. It’s no longer enough to shape the discourse that PAP wants through mainstream media, not when there is increasing awareness among Singaporeans of their shared sense of their shifting needs, aided by the expansion of their knowledge from the online medium. The PAP needs to become real.
2) Admit people who are not just economists, lawyers or military strategists into its folds. In order for PAP to have an accurate grasp of the people’s desires, PAP needs to bring in people who are able to critically and deeply understand the yearnings of Singaporeans. It’s no longer enough to bring in wealth managers and people who can protect PAP’s dominance. PAP needs to bring in social thinkers, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and even historians who can have a deeper appreciation of how their policies have impacted on the people, socially, emotionally and psychologically. The PAP has shown itself inept in responding to the softer sides of the people, and have pandered towards an economic discourse, believing that satisfying the people materially can bring about the desired paths that they want. This way of ‘buying’ over the support of people has increasingly ceased to work since three elections ago but PAP hasn’t understood how else to tug on the heartstrings of the people – precisely because the bankers and businessmen among them are not able to think otherwise. If PAP wants to remain relevant, it needs to bring in people who can have a deep understanding of the human psyche and human condition, so that they will be able to develop policies which are encompassing and holistic.
3) Appreciate the importance of human rights and autonomy. It’s about time PAP return the rights of the people to the people. There’s no other way to say it. The people know that their rights have been taken and they aren’t too happy about that. Why do the people complain even as Singapore is the wealthiest nation in the world? Why do the people refuse to bring in new life into Singapore, even as they are able to do so? Why are the people angry at the government? The people feel cheated of their basic human right – the fundamental right to live without feeling like they are in a prison without bars. Autonomy is a basic human need and instinct that drives innovation, creativity, independence and a want to work together with one another to create for Singapore. The government has gotten used to telling people to be nice, to look out for each other and to be compassionate, but just telling people won’t do. The government needs to show its sincerity – by giving the people their rights back, so that they will search within themselves to reach out to their fellow human being. Then, you will see a Singapore that will grow beyond our immeasurable understanding.
At this point, PAP wants to stay in power, and as someone had pointed out to me, they’ve created the Singapore that it is now based on what they believe they have done. They wouldn’t be willing to let it all go and let another party take credit for what they’ve achieved.
Perhaps PAP needs to realise that no one wants to discredit PAP. The people respect PAP for where PAP had brought Singapore. But the people are angry – angry at not being heard, angry at feeling that their rights have been curbed. But PAP doesn’t feel this because they can hear themselves and their rights are not curbed, so they cannot stand on the other side to understand what it’s like.
PAP needs to understand that as much as people are voting away from PAP, they are not all voting against PAP. The people simply want fair representation. For a long time, the people believed that fair representation could come from within PAP but they’ve realised that this won’t come, and if they truly want to be heard, they need to vote another party, or parties, into government.
And so, the people have – because they know that the election is the only way they can be heard, since demonstrations and referendums have been disallowed in Singapore. And so heard soundly, the people have drummed themselves into the imaginations of the people at PAP.
But PAP needs to remember, as much as they believe that it is them that had built up the Singapore that it is now with their policies, it is the people who has done it with them. This isn’t PAP’s Singapore. This is a Singaporeans’ Singapore. And together, we will be grow Singapore together.
All the people are saying, let’s do it together. So, let’s give ourselves all a chance to make Singapore the Singapore that is truly ours – one that is truly just and equal, so that we can achieve happiness and prosperity, and progress as a nation.