The day after GE2015

Sep 12, 2015 04.00PM |

by Bertha Henson

THE posters will come down. The uniforms will go back into the closet. The badges put away. How swiftly 10 days have passed. The People’s Action Party got its wish: it will be business as usual. The Opposition retreats, somewhat sulkily, because the change it had looked for did not materialise. At least, the people didn’t seem to have agreed with it.

There are the usual remarks about the playing field being tilted in the PAP’s favour, such as the changes to the electoral boundaries. But truth be told, the changes aren’t as drastic as in the past and the GRCs have got slightly smaller. Sure, it would be nice to have more single-seat wards. There will be those who will refer to the freebies and hype over SG50, although they can’t go so far as to wish away Singapore’s Jubilee celebrations. Nor can they wish away the emotions expressed over the passing of Lee Kuan Yew.

The PAP, preaching humility, didn’t crow at its landslide victory. It didn’t say, for example, that the Opposition had got the people wrong. That the people showed that they were willing to put themselves in the hands of the PAP government, because they trusted the PAP to take them ahead. It didn’t say that the victory was a repudiation of the Opposition’s platforms, including its check and balance mantra. If the boot was on the other foot, methinks the Opposition would be baying for blood, painting its own victory as a take-down of the PAP, a wake up call.

The people aren’t as divided as they were thought to be or the results would have been closer. In this day and age, would a party expect to garner close to 70 per cent of the vote? Perhaps, the people were scared off by the thought of a “freak” election result with the PAP thrown out of power. If so, it does say volumes about their trust in the PAP to lead them as the Government. The Opposition cannot make it, not on the frontbench anyway. Yes, sure, maybe we had a reverse freak election result.

What about the desire for alternative voices? Has that been tamped down?  Probably not. The people will still want to be heard – and increasingly make themselves heard. The PAP has been arguing that it is listening – directly – to the people. What need is there, therefore, for an opposition in Parliament then? Well, that depends on whether there are high-quality Opposition voices to keep the PAP MPs and government on their toes. If you’ve listened to the Opposition MPs carefully the last time, they have raised interesting questions and points of clarification. Ministers have had to respond with fuller answers. I wouldn’t say they have made changes to policies or helped the G improve them. Let’s just say they have made the policymaking process more transparent. And that is important in a democracy. For most, the question has always been who to put into Parliament and how many – not to change the government.

The Opposition now predicts a return of the PAP of old, that arrogant monolith which views every criticism as an affront or even traitorous. Frankly, the PAP G has taken plenty of criticisms in its stride over the past four years. It is interesting that the policies rolled out so far has not involved the people having to swallow a bitter pill. Instead they have had the effect of mollifying the voters, like the Pioneer Generation Package or Medishield Life. It is easy to say too little, too late or describe them as bribes. But there are plenty of such offers in Opposition platforms too although couched as something the PAP should have done, or which the people deserve.

Perhaps, the image of an uncaring and heavy-handed PAP isn’t quite sticking. The frequent discussions regarding trade-offs (you can’t have your cake and eat it) have probably left an impression – a slight one – on people’s minds. That plus the makeover of the PAP in recent time. In fact, the Opposition is the one which has began to sound like the arrogant one!

What now? We will still have nine Opposition voices in Parliament. Perhaps the PAP MPs will be chastened enough to improve their attendance scores and make more substantial points, even if they do have to align themselves with the party whip. You can bet that interested observers will be keeping tabs on both sides of the House.

There are a few things that I hope will now happen:

a. That we will decide once and for all what the powers of an elected MP will be at the constituency level. I am referring to the Town Council Act which in my view places the population at large in an invidious position because of its lack of checks to safeguard taxpayers’ money. I am also referring to the grassroots organisations that have the power to grant improvements to a ward. As far as I am concerned, they weren’t elected to hold the purse strings for a constituency and should not be accorded equivalent authority over matters concerning the constituency.

b. That we will see more robust debate in Parliament including the convening of parliamentary select committees to scrutinise critical legislation, such as the above, as well as the impending changes to the Broadcasting Act. Yes, there are plenty of outside committees headed by reputable members of the establishment, such as the one on relaxation of CPF rules. But even with a much reduced proportion of votes, at 30 per cent, the opposition voice still deserves a hearing or even a place at the table.

c. That opposition parties can present policy positions publicly to such committees and engage them in debate. The PAP cannot wish them away – and there is some merit in the opposition’s arguments that they are not given enough air-time despite the presence of social media. No need for the PAP to oblige them you say? I would disagree. They must be a contest of ideas, even in non-election periods.

d. That the opposition will close ranks with the G on the big issues of the day, and I mean the external threats that  threaten this place we call home. You can smell one of them in the air. That we hold together as a nation even as countries around us descend into political or economic chaos. We can argue over who to tax and how much or what programmes to help the poor but not over questions of sovereignty or Singapore’s place in the world. I believe the people expect strong leadership, especially on this front (I also think the SDP’s proposal to cut defence spending is quite crazy).

e. That the PAP continues to engage the people early, so that we have an input in the final product or policy. There is nothing worse than feeling that you have been part of a consultation that is really a sham, because everything has already been decided. That means more political work, before a decison and after a decision. The PAP cannot expect to run its machinery at top speed because more people want to get on board that machine. It will be slower but it will be worthwhile.

This GE2015 has been boring. No defamation suits and no discovery of skeletons in the closet. The name-calling is really mild, compared to elections of the past. Besides a fuss over AHPETC which went over most people’s heads, it has been a very ordinary election for the people.

We’re back to business as usual. And that is good.

Majulah Singapura!

Featured image by Chong Kong Yew.

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