You can tell from my previous post that I wasn’t particularly optimistic about GE2015. I was expecting just one GRC win at East Coast and WP retaining their seats. Sadly, even that didn’t come true. As some of us have feared, the mood at the rallies and social media were no indication of actual results. Many were shocked as the silent majority gave the PAP a landslide victory. Although most of us have already come to terms with these results, the haze makes the results of September 11th feel like a bad dream.
Why? There are many theories going around. Let me examine a few that I find more plausible.
1. Fear of PAP not forming the government.
This is probably the most probable explanation. The opposition came up very strongly, contesting all the seats. Many of those who are not die-hard opposition supporters decided to play safe and vote the PAP. Consider the credible team led by SPP’s Mr Benjamin Pwee. They only managed 26.41%. Likewise, Jeanette Chong Aruldoss only managed to garner 28.16% of the votes. Compare this to the gawky SDA team led by Desmond Lim. They managed 27.11%
Nobody thought they would stand a chance against DPM Teo. Hence, the sympathy votes.
2. Young voters cannot accept the Chiams.
Mr Chiam may be a legend with the older folks like me, but to the younger voters, he is just a frail old man in a wheelchair and his wife is an auntie with little charisma or oratory skills. It is difficult for them to connect that clean-cut, courageous and determined MP holding a single opposition seat (when Jeyaratnam was kicked out) debating with the entire House. Mrs Chiam will continue to have a hard time in Parliament regardless of how good her intentions are. It’s so sad that this may mark the end of Mr Chiam See Tong’s legacy.
3. Fake opposition supporters
They turn up in droves at opposition rallies, complain to no end and argue for the opposition’s case on social media. But when it’s time to mark the cross, they still vote for the PAP – not because they like them or believe in them, but because they still benefit from them. If you’re friends with any one of them, watch your back.
4. Pioneer Generation Package
How many people actually turned up for opposition rallies? It could be tens of thousands but I suspect that many are repeat audiences. Their numbers are still small compared to the silent majority who can’t be bothered to tune in to any political speeches. They equate Democracy with chaos and parliamentary fist fights and just mark the cross on the party they think is responsible for the PGP and other election goodies.
5. New citizens
It’s a well-known fact that new citizens tend to vote for the incumbent party. The more of them we import from Third World countries, the more support the ruling party gets.
6. Lee Kwan Yew’s legacy and SG50 celebrations.
No need for elaboration here.
10 years ago in 2005, I made plans to slog hard for 10 years, then move to Thailand to run a hill resort cum medical spa. If things had worked out as planned, I would be residing in Thailand now. Why Thailand? That’s because with all the rules and regulations here, it would be quite impossible for me to combine medical services with wellness and market the business creatively. However, my dreams were shattered when Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra got ousted in a military coup in 2006. All of a sudden, foreign businesses came under intense scrutiny. Rules which the authorities often closed one eye to were suddenly strictly adhered to. Under the military government then, I saw no future for my kids as the post-modern feudal system which Thaksin set out to dismantle seemed set to remain. Even though I was sure that Thaksin would be missed, the powers-that-be were and still are so formidable that he or future PMs like him will never govern the country in a meaningful way.
In the same year, Singapore held its General Elections. The economy was stagnant. People were fearful then and they wanted to give the government greater control. Only 2 opposition party MPs, Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang won. I was curious about what made the people at Potong Pasir and Hougang so different from other Singaporeans. They have been left out of so many upgrading programmes. Yet, after so many general elections, they still supported their incumbent opposition MPs. They remind me of characters in the Three Kingdoms. In one episode, Guan Yu was cornered by Cao Cao’s forces. Unable to protect his two sister-in-laws, he surrendered. Cao Cao showered him with gifts. Later, when Guan Yu found out about his sworn brother, Liu Bei’s whereabouts, he left the gold which Cao Cao presented to him untouched and rode off. On his way to Yuan Shao’s camp, he killed 6 of Cao Cao’s generals who stood in his way. Guan’s devotion to his sworn brother and the Han Dynasty is still depicted in children’s books and Chinese opera today.
Besides Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun were also some of the most powerful warriors of that era. They chose to serve the losing Liu Bei, risking their lives to save him in numerous lost battles. No amount of gold from Cao Cao could buy them over. Regardless of whether you’re talking about Eastern or Western culture, such values are universally admired. Liu Bei’s generals are remembered and admired for keeping their promises and remaining loyal in the face of death or defeat. Only the historians remember Cao Cao’s generals.
Having grown up reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义, I had to salute the pride, dignity and unflinching nature of those in Hougang and Potong Pasir. Having lived in Hougang and Punggol, I could almost hear the whole estate cheer when the results for these 2 SMCs were announced during the previous GEs. They are like Liu Bei’s men. They would stand by their heroes and tell the bully off – even if it meant sacrificing some material comfort and conveniences.
2011 was a special year. The opposition won its first GRC. The folks at Aljunied seemed to have inherited the Hougang spirit. They seemed to have looked beyond material gains. They seemed to have taken an interest in national issues and want their voices heard in Parliament. Rooster or no rooster, it woke the government up. Our leaders started looking into the welfare of the less fortunate and introduced some very generous schemes like the Pioneer Generation Package which swept many old folks off their feet. I saw hope in Singapore, so much so that this June, I travelled to Chiangmai and sold my property over there. I was hoping that this trend would continue in small steps so that Singapore can eventually become a truly democratic country where everyone has a voice in Parliament and evil schemes that punish single parents will never get passed in Parliament, but this was not to be. All the gains that were made in recent years were lost in one night.
Former NTU lecturer Cherian George once said:
A second dampener on the WP’s aspirations is the absence of a First World electorate, as Ho Kwon Ping noted in a recent Straits Times op-ed piece. Political reform anywhere depends not only on political parties but also on active citizens who participate through civil society. The problem is that Singapore society has been systematically depoliticised over the decades and is mired in apathy. While there has been a noticeable revival of civil society over the past decade, activists of all kinds are still used to forging ahead only to find nobody behind them.
Going by the outstanding performance of some of the opposition candidates on stage during the hustings, it is easy to go away with the impression that the opposition will win big this time with Dr Chee Soon Juan getting the Best Speaker award. But this is not a competition and we don’t arrive at the results by judging and awarding marks. Winning only depends on the popular vote and the voter doesn’t need to watch the rallies or even have an intelligent opinion to decide the winner.
Make no mistake, the nation is divided. One segment of our society has issues with national policies, education, CPF regulations, business regulations and they want intelligent discussion and debate on these topics. The other segment comprises either faithful folks who believe that the government is always right or simple folks who just want neverending estate upgrading and other goodies like CHAS and PGP. They are the “passive citizens” who leave all the thinking to the “experts”.
Nonetheless, the silent majority has “spoken”. They don’t really need any voice. They don’t need any heroes and they don’t really mind if the winner resorts to threats, bullying tactics and doesn’t play fair. Humans are complex creatures. I don’t know who I can trust, but I definitely don’t trust people who don’t play fair. Sadly, the Hougang and Potong Pasir spirit may fade away before it can spread to the rest of Singapore. There are already potential First World politicians out there but I may never see a First World electorate within my lifetime, not with 6.9 million (mostly new citizens) becoming a reality. Meanwhile, I’m still watching Thailand.
It’s not a better place, but it’s much easier to get away from fake people and draconian rules over there.
© Chan Joon Yee