PM Lee said that the GE2015 results were excellent for Singapore. I agree with him. And here are four reasons why:
No need to freak out
That PAP is firmly in power suggests to the rest of the world that we are still a very political stable country. In a world where the dominant theme is chaos and instability, this is a very strong and important signal to foreign investors. No doubt the result of GE2015 comes as a great relief to these foreign investors and reassures them that the money invested they have invested in Singapore is safe, that the long-term projects that they have committed in Singapore (e.g. factories, regional headquarters) will yield dividends as planned. This will likely mean that there will not be a flight of capital, resulting in relatively stable economy.
Endorsement of the leftward shift
The result of GE2015 also shows that Singaporeans are willing to reward PAP when reward is due. In GE2011, PM apologized for getting some of its policies wrong. Many questioned whether that was just wayang, and doubted if there will be any real change in the attitude, approach and policies of the PAP.
The reality showed that PAP indeed was open to change. Mr Tharman was appointed as the DPM after GE2011. He was tasked to oversee social policies. That was a masterstroke.
PAP then took massive efforts to rebalance its policies, moving away from the growth at all cost strategies toward social policies that provide greater safety net for the less well-off. AS DPM Tharman emphasized during his rally speech: “In the old days, you had to depend on yourself, there was very little social support… That has to change… We cannot just leave it to people to fend for themselves… The basic values of the founding generation are still relevant, but we have to adapt them for the new times – and the new times require an active government supporting those who start with less, making sure we mitigate inequalities; and an active community so society remains strong, it’s not just ‘me and the government”
We saw many policies which addressed a lot of the pain points of Singaporeans being implemented: increased funding for early childhood sector, support for PMETs, investments in continual education and training, slowing down of inflow of foreign workers, emphasis on building up Singaporean core in workforce.
Even policies, which were once thought impossible, were implemented. These included the government’s move to a contracting model for public transport, MediShield Life, Pioneer Generation Package, and Silver Support Scheme.
Hopefully, PAP will interpret the GE2015 result an endorsement of that shift and see the strong support in GE2015 as encouragement to stay the course it has set itself on since GE2011. This will result in Singapore moving slowly, but steadily toward a more inclusive society. This will result in a Singapore, where even though income inequality may not narrow, even the poorest amongst us will be able to have a dignified life and a decent shot at improving their quality of life.
Evolution of Singaporean democracy
The philosophical shift of PAP that led to the results of GE2015 also shows that PAP is now more responsive to feedback by voters. It listens more and is more empathetic.
It demonstrates that the PAP isn’t intransigent, that it can learn its lessons. It is adaptable. It is values-driven, not ideological. Values are faithfully applied to facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question. And when the changes are good, Singaporeans are more than willing to reward the PAP so as to encourage it to continue improving.
GE2015 shows that Singaporean democracy is evolving into a deliberative democracy, in which many citizens engage in a process of testing our ideas against an external reality. When a party improves, we are willing to let the anger we felt against its policy missteps leading to 2011 be appeased and return our support to the party.
Conversely, while there was a groundswell of support for the opposition in 2011, Singaporeans won’t just support opposition for the sake of supporting opposition. We showed that we will withdraw support when the opposition did not live up to certain expectations. We showed that we will withdraw support when the opposition, in response to PAP’s shift to the left, resorted to what many considered to be fiscally unsustainable populist policy suggestions. We will withdraw support when the opposition thinks that they can win seats in parliament by just appearing weeks before the election rather than working the ground over many years, doing things that improve our lives in tangible and significant ways.
This shows that Singaporeans are willing to consider the possibility that we are not always right. We are willing to examine our motives and interests constantly, and recognize that both our individual and collective judgments are at once legitimate and highly fallible. Consequently, we are willing to change our minds when there are sufficient reasons for us to do so. These are the beginnings of a healthy democracy.
Have our cake and eat it
While many see the result of GE2015 as a complete bloodbath for the opposition, it also shows a silver lining for the opposition. The fact that WP retained Aljunied (albeit by the skin of their teeth) and Hougang, shows that voters are not short-termists. Voters understand that four years is simply not enough time for any opposition to establish themselves, especially considering that they are moving against considerable headwinds.
WP has another four to five years to prove themselves worthy of the support and chances afforded to them. WP has another four years to keep pressure on the PAP. The presence of the six elected opposition MPs shows that there are people willing to contest the PAP’s dominance. I hope this serves as a reminder to PAP that should they slip up, there is a theoretical possibility that they will lose their monopoly on policy making.
Put together, this means that Singaporeans, while still able to enjoy the stability, also have the option of dialing up the pressure on PAP when we think that the PAP needs to improve.
On polling day, I wrote about why GE2015 made me hopeful. Now that the results are out, I think there are more reasons to be hopeful. Our work is not done. There is still a long way to go. But together, we can do it.