The euphoria and fervor in the air is almost palpable and my heart beats a little faster as the crowd shouts in passion amidst blaring horns and loud continuous chanting of "Workers Party!" Like superstars at a rock concert, the crowd responds with a surge of energy, expressions of hopes and passion for our country at WP rallys, and last night's rally was no different.
Admist all the celebrations I stood alone having a foreboding feeling of deja vu. Ealier this year in July, at the birthplace of democracy, the Greeks had a similar outburst of fervor when they celebrated the 60/40 victory in a stunning "NO Vote" to EU austerity measures. But the celebrations were short lived and despite the vast majority having voted against the acceptance of the bailout terms, the government did a stunning U-turn and submitted to harsh reforms and eventually obtained the EU bailout. Did the democratic process achieve what the people wanted? In the end the government had to do the unpopular to save the country from bankruptcy.
Could it be a similar situation next Saturday when I wake up to a new Singapore after polling day where the PAP became the opposition? What I'm saying is that it is easy to get carried away during opposition rallies and to support populist policies like minimum wages and protectionist immigration policies. But in governing a country, there are more complex issues to balance, and the decisions taken are not always popular. If a government was self-serving, it would be so easy whilst they were in power to implement policies that ensure that they get the vote - but would it be in the long-term interest of its people and would that be the kind of government we want?
In numerous conversations with people at opposition rallies, the underlying reason cited on why they will vote for the opposition seemed similar - vote them in so that we have more opposition in Parliment to represent us and so that they would be able to block the PAP from passing any bills they tabled into law.
But we really need to mature as a society and think deeper, and not be like the household depicted in this now famous note stuck on a door in the Tanjong Pagar GRC.
I have said enough about the AHPETC incident that an objective person would be able to discern the truth (link to past articles here) - but I'm a realist and acknowledge that we all look at the world through colored lenses. But as we get ever closer to polling day, I'd like to pause and ask myself the question - do I trust the current PAP government and objectively evaluate their performace since GE2011.
For me, it’s a basic issue of trust. In a household, if we trust our parents, we do not mind them setting the direction or rules in the house, as we believe that it is in our best interests. Similarly, if we trust our government, we would not doubt that the policies they have implemented are to our collective best interest.
Next comes my dilema of wanting more opposition to better safe guard our interests and to prevent the blank cheque passing of bills into laws.
Having put some thought into this, I have decided that I'm against this for two reasons.
Firstly, it is 2015. Unlike the past, information is fast and freely shared. The ubiquitous nature of the Internet and social networks means that no government is able to get away with blank cheque passing of laws and debate is usually fiercer online than in Parliment. Think WikiLeaks and Hardwarezone, you get the picture.
Some have said that our government is becoming a repressive government that would censor or control our internet by intimidating bloggers with lawsuits and forcing websites to register. But to me that is a flawed argument as our government is business friendly and would not control the Internet.
Modern businesses need the Internet to function and to control it would be out of character, as our PAP government is known to be very business friendly. Without such strict Internet controls, it would be impossible to censor access to alternative media and therefore healthy debate would continue online. Even the Great Firewall of China could not censor the fierce online debates in China and Governments were embarassed through sites like WikiLeaks. A great recent example is the Arab Spring, where much of the activism happened online through social networks like Twitter which helped many overcome psychological barriers of fear and enabled them to connect and share information.
So governments are kept on their toes and remain accountable to its people even if we do not have a single opposition member elected. For me, its whether the government deserves the kind of trust we have placed in it, and whether its policies benefit the majority while still caring for the special needs of the minority.
The PAP has done an excellent job in this regard. Our neighbours admire our economy and our low unemployment rate (compare this to all the other countries - link here). We have immigration issues because people want to come to our country to work and to do the kinds of jobs that we don't want to (alluding to this article i've read that Singaporeans are spoilt). Businesses are doing well because we have the confidence of investors and the size of the population has grown the pie so that more busineses can operate here. But we all want our cake and to eat it too.
Sure this leads to integration issues, overcrowding and transportation woes - but is a protectionist immigration policy the solution? To its credit, the PAP government has responded to these problems by building more housing and increasing the capacity of the transport system by adding more buses and train services (for example, the Bus Service Enhancement Program BSEP). Unless you've been living in a cave you would also have noticed the price of housing has been dropping the past few years - all thanks to government intervention and policy changes.
The second reason i disagree with the argument for more opposition in government is more selfish - I've noticed that throughout history, a strong government has always resulted in a strong country. The PAP's track record speaks for itself and as we've just celebrated SG50 as a nation, the pride is fresh in our collective awareness. Here is a PAP government that has consistently kept to its election programs and promises, and the success of our country is testimony to their good stewardship.
We don't need to look far to see the difference between a strong government and a weak one as our Singdollar is at a record high to the Malaysian ringgit - a country we were a part of before our separation 50 years ago. For this reason, I wouldn't want to have a situation where time and resources are wasted and unsatisfactory compromises made just because of the increased opposition seats and their veto power in parliment.
Instead, when voting for the opposition, vote based on the election promises and programs they will implement, and judge them with the same fervour that we judge the incumbent as they have had 4 years since GE2011 to deliver on their promises and programs.