Singaporeans are still ravishing in the fact that they can soon flock to packed charged-up stadiums again to hear their favourite political parties pump them up during the forthcoming Punggol East by-election on 26 January.
Many have already voted twice within a 18-month period – some for the first time even though they are in their thirties and residents staying in Hougang and Punggol East would have the special priviledge of voting thrice within a short two-year period.
I have listed the strengths, weaknesses and future of the two dominant parties eyeing Punggol East SMC.
People’s Action Party (PAP)
The PAP has ruled Singapore for the past four and a half decades and is the only government that Singaporeans have known.
To it’s credit, the PAP has led Singapore from a third-world backwater port to a world-renowned mega city with world class facilities and infrastructure – all within a short four and a half decades.
Its meritocratic policy has enabled the poor to inch up the class system using education as the only way out of poverty.
Many babyboomers and Generation X Singaporeans have benefitted from the system but the Generation Y feels left out because of competition from the current foreign influx resulting in a lack of opportunities for them.
Its dictatorial style means that the ruling party could do what it wants while pushing for much-needed reforms and this benefitted the country alot during the post-colonial period in Lee Kuan Yew’s era.
The ruling party has so far installed a stable well-educated ministerial team with sufficient backup from the many scholars that gleaned the elite Administrative Service.
There is hardly any political upheaval in the country except for the recent sex scandal case which triggered a by-election in Punggol East.
There is no also clear-cut corruption scandals affecting the government during the past two decades as most of it’s political key appoint holders are well paid to the tune of one million dolars a year for junior ministers.
The ruling party also has a good successive plan that has seen three prime ministers over the four and a half decades of it’s reign.
Many ministers are recruited from the army echelon and they have brought with them loyalty and experience to the ruling party though many felt that they are too detached from the ground.
The country also has a solid world-class infrastructure second to none and has managed to attract the world’s best talents to it’s shore.
Many third-world top brains want to settle down in Singapore as citizens due to the abundant opportunities presented.
The country’s over-riding emphasis on the economy has seen it top the world’s most GDP growth last year and probably for many years to come.
All in all, the government is seen as stable, reliable and abled.
The ruling party’s main weakness is it’s inability to change – or exalt enough change to adapt to a well-educated electorate that is demanding reform.
As political reform swept through the world during the past few years culminating in the revolutionary Arab Spring, young Singaporeans are switching camp to the vibrant fresh opposition parties such as Workers’ Party (WP) or Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
To it’s credit, the PAP has tried to change and scraped several sacred cows - from de-emphasizing PSLE results to sacking incompetent ministers after the disastrous GE 2011 resulting in the first-ever loss of a GRC to the WP.
The ruling party also saw its majority votes slipping through the past three elections and many have predicted that in GE 2016, more seats will be gone resulting in a two or three-party Parliament.
No democratic political party in the world has rule for more than five decades and many political analysts have predicted that the PAP will be no exception.
Its decline will be sure and swift and the resurgence in opposition politics has ensured that the ruling party faces an uphill battle at the polls in five years’ time.
It’s best strategy is to plan for a stronger opposition force in Parliament in the future and learn to work with them rather than against them for Singaporeans’ sake.
People are clamouring for change openly now and will not hesitate to vote with their feet at the ballot box once every five years.
Some critics have even predicted that the government will be out of power in less than two decades’ time or they may need to form a coalition with another party.
The ruling party’s biggest handicap is it’s prolonged entrangement at the top which makes them look very detached from the ground.
Many damaging policies such as the huge influx of foreign imports, sole emphasis on building up the economy at all costs and pro-employer legislation have caused the people to distrust the government.
There is always also the debilitating factor that the prime minister is the son of ex-PM Lee Kuan Yew which deters him from attmpting to tear down some old scared cows in the process.
The ruling party is now seen as a spent force and will likely lose more seats in parliament but may still remain power for at least two more decades.
It has to learn how to share its power with other political parties in future and not to be seen as cutting them off.
The population wants change and it will come despite the PAP’s attempt at bringing in 20, 000 new citizens a year to influence the voting pattern.
It may feebly arrest the downward trend for a while but over the long run, more people will follow the revolutionary trend of voting for the opposition.
The population has largely suffer from low wages for a long time and the recent influx of foreigners have ensure that property prices remain high and work opportunities at a premium low.
The country’s poor human rights record and freedom of speech mean that many young people are determined to vote against the PAP so that change will come sooner than later.
The Worker’s Party has remained the dominant opposition party in Singapore for the past decade led by the abled Mr Low Thia Kiang amidst a very harsh political environment.
Opposition politics have being in a serious haitus for the past two decades and it’s resurgence came about only during the last GE in 2011.
The capture of Aljunied GRC reemained the best catch for the party so far and its resurgence is strengthened with the re-capture of Hougang ward six months aago when the seat is left vacant by an absconded Yaw Shin Leong.
So far, eight of the nine Parliamentary seats are held by WP and no one will be surprised if their presence is enhanced with more captured seats in five years’ time.
It’s strong brand name, party discipline and professional image have endear itself to the average Singaporeans.
Many have treated the party as their saviour and faithfully attended the party’s rallies by the tens of thousands.
It has no star element like NSP’s Nicole Seah and even its best catch Mr Chen Show Mao is currently kept in cld storage.
WP’s future looks bright and promising and will lead opposition politics for the next decade.
It will likely win more seats in five years’ time adding on to its strong political presence in Singapore.
I have also heard that the party has a steady crop of good candidates primed for the next election and they are all ready to do battle for the party and country.
WP’s main weakness could be it’s too-safe approach in trying to maintain a comfortable presence in Parliament without rocking the boat too much.
Many have criticised it’s soft approach in Parliamentary debates recently when none of it’s MPs has make any favourable impresson.
Even the star catch Mr Chen Show Mao is a paper tiger and showed none of the fiery impact created at the election rallies in GE 2011.
WP also tend to withdraw into its own exclusive mode leading many people to feel that it is aloof and detached.
For example, the SDP tries to engage WP in the current Punggol East by-election but was politely rebuffed by the latter.
WP may need to share some of its’ opposition party resurgence with other parties.
It may have tried to hard to maintain the dominance in local politics but there are also many Singaporeans who support the fiery brand of SDP.
WP is also seen as too similar in style with the ruling party and critics have called for a bolder engagement in Parliament.
It also lacks a star speaker in the mode of JB Jeyeretnam and so far no one has stepped up the plate during parliamentary debates.
Nevertheless, WP will likely remain the dominant opposition party for the next decade due to its strong branding and party discipline.
It has to however improve on it’s parliamentary debates so that followers will not switch camp to other opposition parties.
Though SDP will continue to attract a following, its biggest handicap is a lack of presence in parliament.
WP will also likely win some more seats in GE 2016 cementing it’s position as the dominant opposition party here.
To win more support from the ground, it has to be seen as collaborating with other opposition parties and not seen as trying to stay exclusive and unapproachable.
Written by: Gilbert Goh