Like many Singaporeans I was shell shocked today, the day after what was supposed to be a historic General Election. Incredulously, seventy percent of Singaporeans had voted for the People’s Action Party, which won 83 of 89 seats in Parliament as it did in 2011 in a watershed election.
It is not an understatement to say everyone is shocked by the result—the opposition, all of the state-owned media, even the beleaguered PAP, which despite its perennial stranglehold in Parliament, seemed to have conceded defeat in the 5-seat Aljunied Group Representation Constituency by fielding a ‘suicide team’ following the loss of two Ministers there in 2011.
Singaporeans attended opposition rallies in historic numbers. The PAP had far fewer numbers at theirs despite resorting to its traditional inducements and the twisting of arms to get uncles, aunties, and the employees of the party’s enterprises to attend.
On the whole, the opposition boasted its most impressive slate of candidates who each night gave some of the most passionate, inspirational speeches heard here since Lee Kuan Yew crushed theBarisan Socialis political party in 1963.
It seemed the new Parliament would be composed of an unprecedented number of opposition members.
But, today, the online world is quiet, numbed, deflated. Everyone is wondering what happened.
Was it the new citizens? The SG50 freebies? PAP’s constant invocation of LKY? Or did the PAP put something in our drinking water causing those not immune to its effects to be zombified and act against their will at the ballot box?
The only logical explanation I can conjure up at the moment is that there was a significant segment of Singaporeans—the fence-sitters—who were spooked by opposition politicians, such as the Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang, who had hoped for 20 seats in parliament and intense social media speculation of a third or more of parliament falling into opposition hands. This group, fearing a freak result, decided to calibrate the outcome of the polls by casting their vote for the PAP. That resulted in a different kind of freak result.
That this election result is an anomaly is beyond doubt. Surely Singaporeans are not saying they favour a population of 7 million, or the ever increasing Central Provident Fund minimum sum, or million dollar Ministers, or the influx of cheap labour, or Vivian Balakrishnan.
Social media the day after was not merely sombre, what little talk there was was defeatist in nature. Most questioned the point of complaining any more, saying it would be better to accept the inevitability of life in a country where the majority, it seemed, preferred the elite to do their thinking for them. Others called for all opposition parties and civil society organisations to close shop. Some contemplated migration elsewhere as the only salvation.
To this group, I say all is not lost. Keep your chins up. Show your appreciation and support for those who fought the good fight, give them the fuel they need to keep going.
Every day, in the social media age, we are reminded that a small spark can cause sudden and dramatic changes in society. The strong mandate the PAP received this election, which even the party is at a loss to explain, can disappear very quickly if it does not address the unhappiness that caused it so many sleepless nights during campaigning.
We may not have to wait five years for another elections if circumstances change and the PAP decides to call for snap elections. By-elections can result at any time. Opposition parties must be ready for these, be visible in their efforts, and should not wait for another three years to start working the ground.
In the meanwhile, regardless of where you live, make use of the six Workers’ Party Members of Parliament and three Non-Constituency MPs to bring up your concerns to Parliament.
Parliament is not the only place we can be heard. Do not let the PAP ‘ownself check ownself’. Instead, keep the PAP and its apparatchiks accountable. Continue to ask the hard questions and call out questionable policies. Support the alternative media and civil society organisations which work diligently every day for worthy causes, elections or no elections. Sign petitions. Blog. Volunteer.
Whether you support the opposition or PAP, know there is something we can agree on—Singapore is worth fighting for.