Hindsight is 20/20. With the GE2020 results, it is easy for anyone to say how and what the PAP has done wrong. There are countless opinion pieces and commentaries. I have not read many, but the ones that I did read, the ones that touched and moved me, are excellent, making good sense, honest, written by people who sincerely care for Singapore. And if I may add, by people who care for the PAP and wish for a fresh lease of political life in Singapore, an improved governance led by the PAP. Making this less-than-stellar win by the PAP a most meaningful one.
A friend asked me yesterday, “Do you still believe in the PAP?” I was surprised, taken aback by such a question. I shouldn’t be, given that even our PM had acknowledged ‘the share of popular vote was not as high as he would have liked’, and with such headlines: ’Singapore’s Lee Retains Power But Party Has Weakest Showing Ever’ by Bloomberg, ’Singapore Ruling Party Wins Easily But Its Vote Falls Sharply’ by The Economist, and ’Singapore Ruling Party, Stung By Poll Setback, Faces Succession Question’ by Reuters.
I was surprised because this friend knows I have been a PAP supporter. “The PAP government makes mistakes, but the number of times they get it right outweigh the wrongs,” I would say to him. A friend who manages a growing team of independent sales agents would tell me, “I empathise with the PAP. People take the good work for granted, and it is so difficult to please everyone…” I do appreciate the good work. Yet the way this GE2020 campaign was run shows what is right about the PAP, but it mostly shows what is fundamentally wrong about the PAP.
Lee Hsien Yang who suddenly appeared on the electoral landscape declared that “the PAP has lost its way”. Contrary to this pronouncement, I think the PAP has stuck on to its ways for far too long. The LKY handbook, ruling by the iron fist, ruling by fear, is antiquated. The heavy handed way of stamping out dissent is as old as social media is new. And social media is not so new anymore. What is new will be an ability to weigh opposing views with grace, fairness and a confidence bold enough to accept differing views that are right.
That the PAP would be returned as the ruling party with the majority of seats was a given. Or it should be. Calling it to question with the suggestion that technically the opposition could form a government underscores the conundrum of the electorate. Singaporeans want a stable and competent government. But the electorate is maturing. Besides the younger voters, the majority were now asking questions beyond the irregular and uneven playfield. Why was this election called just when we moved into Phase 2 of reopening during a pandemic?
The Unity Package, the Resilience Package, the Solidarity Package, notwithstanding, why was the PAP asking for a clear mandate so that the government could create jobs and rebuild the economy? What was a clear mandate? What percentage of the vote? How many seats? And why would the PAP need such a mandate? The PAP could run Singapore effectively if it lost 25 seats. In the past, the rallying cries for a mandate would silence the majority. Now it just numbed the senses. Now it just provoked more questions. And there were no direct answers.
A maturing electorate is also sensible and responsible. What was not right, or rather perceived to be wrong was challenging alleged falsehoods with POFMA, the police reports against Raeesah Khan, the criticism of Jamus Lim’s credentials. A maturing electorate demands fair play. A friend asked, “Does a party with such a commanding lead need to resort to tactics usually seen in a party fighting for survival?” Is the PAP under siege? Is this why the PAP dubbed this as the crisis election, billed as the most significant since Singapore’s independence?
Increasingly, Singaporeans expect the PAP to take the high road. Yes, and especially in an election. The irony is, during the GE2020 campaigning, the WP, the opposition, appeared to take the high road. No ‘gutter politics’, no attacks, no smears. Instead openness, humility under attack. And the grace to apologise for missteps and mistakes, past or present. With the GE2020 results, will there be genuine soul searching and reflection? Is the PM’s designation of Pritam Singh as the Leader of the Opposition the signal of a new beginning, a clean slate?
ESM Goh said this designation acknowledges voters’ desire for more opposition MPs in Parliament. He added, “Our opposition MPs and NCMPs will now have to go beyond merely serving as a check-and-balance.” My friends think I am an eternal optimist. In this instance, I hope to be the realist. That our Men In White will rise to the occasion. Yes, the results are a clear mandate. But not a blank cheque. That they will also have the magnanimity to acknowledge the PAP “does not have a monopoly on the best ideas on how we should bring society forward”.
Back to the question, ‘Do I still believe in the PAP?’ Saying my piece here is an example of how Singaporeans tend to flag out what the PAP did wrong. It is perhaps a human trait when the stakes are as high as an election. Especially in the comfort of knowing the fundamental status quo will prevail. That the PAP will continue to rule, just that we want them to rule even better. Some of the PAP candidates are as good as they come, some even better than the ’star’ performers in the opposition. I must remember not to take them for granted. So, yes I still believe.