I was heartened to hear that the Prime Minister is launching a review of major policies and that no stones will be left unturned in a fresh bid to revive the ruling party’s political fortunes.
Since last year’s watershed general election, the ruling party has been beseiged by calamity after calamity as if the heaven is trying to create havoc in our tiny island state so that the government will wake up.
Chiefs of top-level civil service departments were caught literally with ther pants down and our over-worked train system keeps failing and shows no sign of reprieve.
Every day, people are talking about the adverse effects of foreigner influx until the topic has being the number one grouse list of the average Singaporeans.
In fact, the topic has somewhat unites the whole country so much so that the population has developed a seige mentality which can only augur dismay for the ruling party.
More significantly, the solid win by Workers’ Party at the by-election at Hougang few months back – even though the by-election was triggerd by a all-guilty Yaw Shin Leong – revealed that the population has indeed swung their votes uniformly to the opposition without any sign of slowing down.
If the by-election of such a nature was held fifteen or even ten years ago, it is likely that the ruling party will confidently re-take the single ward without any issue.
If the ruling party loses another 2 to 3 more GRCs in GE 2016, it is almost certain that a 2-party ruling system will take place ensuring that the views of the average Singaporeans are better represented in Parliament.
Most Singaporeans prefer a two or even three parties system as the ruling party has enjoyed almost total dominance in governance – to the country’s detrimance.
Bills were routinely passed after the cursory airing of views in Parliament by majority of the ruling party’s elected MPs.
New members of Parliament from the ruling party are hardly in the mold of the former fiery Presidential hopeful Mr Tan Cheng Bock who dared to ask difficult questions in parliament and even offended the government with his no-nonsense performance.
MPs must always remembered that they are elected into power in the first place by the people even though they have to take care of the interests of their political party.
In fact, the best way for the current regime to stay in power is to provide more political space for another credible party to develop so that power can be shared equally with one or two other alternative party.
Failing to do that may trigger a fresh avalanche of discontentment whereby the vote swing may be so harmful that the ruling party may be voted out of power in two to three elections’ time.
Its is nevertheless evidential that the ruling party is in a precarious political position and indeed sacred cows need to be slain fast and without mercy.
Even though the ruling party still currently enjoys at least 50% of solid loyalty among the electorate but with so many people becoming unhappy lately on a host of issues, there is every chance to believe that another 5% vote swing in five years’ time is still pausible.
That will bring the ruling party’s majority down from the curent 60% to 55% which will probably mean that two to three GRCs have fallen to the opposition quarter.
All signs point to a well-read feisty electorate wanting another credible voice in parliament to speak up on their behalf and to act as a possible check on the government.
More significantly, the election rot reveals a government that is slow to change and trying to cling on to past glory.
PAP’s use of economic tangible return to shore up its popularity has worked for the past few decades when it is in power.
People were poor then and economic return has proved to be a workable reward as the ruling party was ushered into power election after election for at least four decades – almost unheralded.
However, time has changed and many Singaporeans now are pushing for political reforms.
They want more political space, a free press, proper human rights and more importantly a say on how they are being governed.
We still could not demonstrate freely and peacefully without facing police arrests, have to withstand a slanted press that bears the heavy hand of the government and opposition parties still have to face up to subtle governmental pressure of various kinds.
Will the Prime Minister finally give in and starts to do something drastic so that there will be visible changes in governance or is it just another political gimmick aim at restoring confidence in the ruling party?
So far, Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong is not noted to be someone who dare to implement shocking changes to a governance that carries many archaic policies passed down by his father.
The prime minister has another bigger psychological hurdle to clear – how much should the government change to appease a hostile electorate and will the population ever be contented?
Will they clamour for more change when it seems that the government is finally relenting to the pressure of trying to shore up its popularity?
These are tough questions that the government has to answer and come to terms with.
Nevertheless, so far, there isn’t much change that the population can shout about.
Besides bringing down the salary scales of his cabinet and some other minor comestic changes, Prime Minister Lee is probably not someone who will dare to implement serious changes to a 47-year-old regime.
He is seen more as a moderate leader and may even not be the right person to bring about changes for the country.
Prime Minister Lee also rules the country with too much economic consideration in mind and the population felt that they are merely digits that could be discarded when they are no longer useful in the workplace.
Many educated PMETs in their forties were shunned by the employers and many either migrate in search of greener pastures or turn to driving cabs in order to survive.
The happiness quotienth of the population is at its lowest now and the ruling party knows that it is governing on borrowed time.
Thinking that he could follow the successful footsteps of his father by revetting on economic goals in all his policies, Prime Minister Lee may have miss the mark totally here as the aspirations of the population have changed alot since his father’s retirement.
In fact, more than 70% of the population does not want to have two casinos in our island state despite the inherent economic benefit and I am sure that many loyal PAP supporters have swung their votes because of that ill-fated decision.
The main grouse of the population now – the foreigner influx – needs to be seriously look into as it not only brings down the votes for the ruling party but clearly also divides the country due to its complexity and lack of transparency during the implementation phase.
There are no clear guidelines on how foreigners are being selected to become permanent residents and later citizens.
So will our prime minister be able to make a decision here regarding the reduction of foreigner influx which will appease a large proportion of the general population?
Or will the government stick to it’s long-held policy of implementing policies that will benefit the country’s economy instead despite it’s unpopularity?
It’s a double-edged sword really and the government may now have no choice but to walk on unchartered territory of giving way to a restless electorate bent on using their votes to good effect.
Another sacred cow for the government to slay is the government’s stingy spending on welfare benefits.
By spending so little in healthcare, education and retirement benefits despite the huge reserves we have in place, the population realises that the government has short-changed the people.
The archaic policy of not wanting to provide too much to the population for fear that it will spoil the people and develop a dependency habit within them has angered many who feel that the high cost of living has robbed them of what is left to pay for healthcare or retirement cost.
Our GDP has grown to be the richest in the world but yet not many Singaporeans can identify with that tag.
Our wage gap remains one of the largest in the world and 150, 000 Singaporeans still earn $1700/month – considered to be the minimum wage one can survive on without any other frills.
Our government has in turn place the enormous surplus reserves into our two sovereign funds so that they can grow the money.
We all know the tragic outcome when the global financial crisis hits us in 2008/09 causing us to lose almost 25% of our reserves in the process.
I do not even want to talk about the controversy surrounding the Prime Minister’s wife Ho Ching appointment as the Chief Executive Officer of Temasek Holdings.
Will he dare to remove her position?
If he puts the motion to a vote among Singaporeans, I am pretty sure that more than 75% will call for her removal.
Moreover, by being very pro-business in it’s approach, many workers felt that their rights are not in place and employers have a field day firing our local PMETs and replacing them with cheaper easy-to-hire foreign workers.
Will our prime minister dare to dismantle the useless tripartite arm which serves the economy so well but yet inversely discriminates the rights of the average workers?
Will he dare to dissolve NTUC – a toothless union umbrella that pronounces to champion the rights of our workers only in name sake?
If the tripartite movement is indeed successful, why are our cleaners still earning $600 – $800 a month until the former chairman of National Wages Council Professor Lim Chong Yah has to come up and provide his wage shock therapy?
I don’t think Prime Minister Lee has the gumption or guts to change the labour movement yet as it will unruffle quite alot of old feathers – including his father.
He is seen as too nice and gentle to rock the boat too much.
He may implement some changes here and there but it will not be enough to pacify the frustrations of the general population.
Our prime minister must be visionary, daring and unshakeable if he wants to slay sacred cows.
It takes raw courage to implement changes to a successful regime – even though you are the prime minister.
He must be able to face criticisms, stand up to his ideals and most importantly speak up for the people.
He must not always govern with economics at the back of his mind and some of his policies may even be revenue-losing.
So, will our Prime Minister dare to slay sacred cows?
Talking about doing it is one thing but actually doing it is a totally different matter.
Written by: Gilbert Goh