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Struck by lightning: The next five years

Kirsten Han photo
Kirsten HanSingapore
Struck by lightning: The next five years
Predictions of more opposition gains were annihilated in the early hours of Saturday morning as the 2015 general election results showed huge gains for the ruling People's Action Party, perpetuating one-party dominance in Singapore yet again. So where to now?

It turns out that sample counts based on 100 ballots from each counting centre are really accurate after all.

When the numbers first came out everyone I knew was in disbelief. “These numbers can’t be right, it’s far too good for the PAP. Look at those swings! It just doesn’t make sense with the results from the last election.”

It was the first time the Elections Department had ever released results of sample counts to the public, and many – including myself – were having a hard time trying to understand how it worked and what it indicated. (In hindsight I think it’s also fair to admit that there was probably a fair bit of denial.)

Many of us sat down to wait for the results expecting a continuation of the last general election in 2011, where the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) had its worst showing ever of 60.1 per cent of the vote. Singaporeans, it seemed, were exercising their democratic right to demand more representation in Parliament, and vote for change. There was every expectation that this would continue in 2015.

But it didn’t.

What we instead saw was a whitewash: huge swings back to the PAP across all constituencies. The opposition-held wards – Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC – were won with smaller margins, while the PAP won with comfortable margins everywhere except Punggol East SMC where they won by 3.5 per cent.

A screenshot of a map by and The Online Citizen showing the difference in margins in each ward.

I'm not going to pretend that I can explain this swing; there simply isn't enough data released to the public for us to be able to draw any conclusions. Only one thing is clear: Singapore has chosen.

For members of civil society – by which I'm generally referring to advocates for human rights and social justice issues – this PAP victory has been crushing. The hope had been for an increased opposition presence in Parliament and yet another reduction in the PAP vote share, so the one-party dominance would eventually be broken and pave the way to a freer, more politically-aware Singapore.

This has clearly not come to pass, not in this election anyway. It's easy, in the heat of the moment, to feel as if Singaporeans simply don't realise what's good for them, and voted against the change the country needs.

But that would be taking the easy way out, rather than meeting the challenge head on. 

The playing field was always uneven and undemocratic, involving gerrymandering as well as unequal access to resources and power. But ultimately, the results of the 2015 general election suggest that the narrative spun by the PAP was more appealing than that of the Workers' Party, or the Singapore Democratic Party, or any other party and independent candidate. One can argue that the PAP's narrative was built on nostalgia and politics of gratitude for former leaders now dead, or that it involved no small measure of fear mongering, but the fact remains that it was this narrative that spoke to people and convinced them put the cross next to the lightning.

The challenge, then, not just for political parties but also for civil society and all Singaporeans who wish for an end to the one-party state, is to figure out how to challenge this narrative. How to break through the myths – such as the one that tells us Singapore developed from "mudflats to metropolis" in 50 years, thanks to Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP – that are uncritically taught in schools, reproduced in the media and constantly perpetuated in everyday conversations. How to shift mindsets so that terms like "human rights" and "social justice" cease to be seen as little more than airy-fairy idealism, but matters crucial to achieving better lives for all. How recognise and be wary of preconceptions so we don't apply grossly oversimplified analyses of world events, such as the Greek crisis, to discuss matters important to Singapore.

No one votes to make things worse for themselves, and by that logic everyone who voted yesterday chose what they thought would be best for Singapore. If one does not believe that this result is what's best, then the work for the next five years – and beyond – begins now.

Learn more about Singapore's history, so as not to be so easily caught up in narratives that conflate the nation with the party. Thum Ping Tjin's excellent podcast The History of Singapore is available here.

Volunteer with citizen journalism websites like The Online Citizen (which I also write for). The platform is not perfect. There are occasionally going to be articles that you strongly disagree with. But contribute articles that you do want to see. Or start your own blog/platform. Or just write Facebook notes for yourself and your friends. Don't be silent, and don't let politics appear in your life only once every five years.

Keep track of policies presented by political parties – all parties. Know what they stand for and hold them to it. There's probably going to be a fair bit of party-hopping again, but the parties should spend the next five years properly distinguishing themselves (and if they can't I'd suggest they swallow their own egos and merge) as well as presenting good alternatives for consideration. Volunteer with them. They're always in need of manpower, or expert knowledge in areas that can help shape their proposals.

Voter and political education is important. Keep track of Parliament as much as you can. Look at what bills are being tabled, who is speaking up and who isn't. Don't let your Member of Parliament off the hook. You should be able to find contact information for your MP on the Parliament website once its updated.

These are just a few ideas of how to stay involved and move towards the change you want to see – the list is certainly not exhaustive. These suggestions don't just apply to people who voted for the opposition in this general election, but those who voted PAP as well.

An active citizenry is an important part of a democratic society, but Singaporeans have, for the longest time, been told to butt out of matters too complex for us to understand. The first step towards a more democratic Singapore, then, is to regain that voice.

#singapore, #democracy, #politics, #elections, #asia, #social justice, #activism, #human rights, #representation