GE 2011: What it all comes down to
May 4, 2011
It is now late in the game. In a few days we vote. By now you are probably sick and tired of hearing about how this General Election is a watershed one, tired of hearing how Singapore is at the crossroads, and tired of hearing how much your vote matters. But there is a reason why you keep hearing all this – because it is true. You need to clear your head of all the noise generated by both sides of the divide. Clear your head of all the cheesy analogies, name-calling, and insinuations. All these are mere background noise.
This General Election boils down to a simple question – should Singapore continue to put all its eggs in one basket or do we nurture a credible and capable Opposition should the PAP one day fail?
The PAP of old has done a terrific job. Lee Kuan Yew, together with Goh Keng Swee, Rajaratnam, Lim Kim San and company, has pulled Singapore from Third World to First. We are forever grateful. But that team has come and gone, their time has come and gone. Today we have a different PAP team with different sensibilities and a specific renewal process.
There are two selection filters that all PAP candidates have to go through. First, you must be conventionally successful. Second, you must agree with the PAP. We would have a truly diverse group if the PAP selectors stopped at the first filter. We would then have real out-of-the-box thinking. However, it cannot stop at the first, and the PAP is compelled to ask the follow-up question – do you agree with us? And this is where group think emerges. The PAP believes that by selecting the best candidates from different industries it is truly diverse, when in fact, it is merely the self-selection of a particular set of academic qualifications, ideological mindset and life values which finds greater favour within an entrenched system. All the real diversity is filtered out by that follow-up question.
Meanwhile the world is getting more complex, not simpler. The problems of the financial crisis, widening wage gap, globalization, immigration, food and environmental security, just to name a few, are so complicated that diverse alternative thinking must be exercised. It is not just a matter of having the best data, best information, or the ability to move nimbly and quickly (as the PAP is so fond of reminding us), but also the ability to think against the grain and the gumption to tell your leaders – hang on, that might not be the best way forward. It is the ability to think up solutions that are not pre-determined by self-selected ideologies and values. You cannot come up with truly alternative solutions if you share the same precepts and premises. A Parliament with 82 PAP seats out of 84 will simply not have this ability or diversity. Can our future, our children’s future, be unconditionally staked on this type of Parliamentary dominance? Are we, as adult voters, not being negligent with our children’s future if we are easily satiated with catchphrases like “track record” and “estate upgrading”?
And there we have it. Beyond the ruling party’s arrogance, its smugness, the loss of a good foreign minister or the sheer brutality with which bills and policies are rammed through without debate, this General Election is about whether we have the maturity and heart to prepare this country for more uncertain times ahead. Come 8 May, if we wake up to a country without any Opposition in Parliament, we would know the type of nation we have chosen to be – one that is comforted only by the material and willing to be led without consultation. There is nothing wrong with that. People do take comfort in the familiar and tangible. But we would have missed a valuable opportunity to fortify our nation. We would have lost the opportunity to reach out to fellow Singaporeans who have stood up and offered themselves, with so much to lose, as alternative voices. And we would only have ourselves to blame if they are led to believe that we do not need or want them. Would our country be richer or poorer without them?
Crossroads can be perplexing. But they are only perplexing if we do not know which way to go. This General Election is a crossroad where the responsible and long-sighted route is clear. The question is whether or not we are courageous enough to take it.