The catchword for GE 2011 has become ‘change’. Whatever else may or may not have happened and whatever change may be due to take place, the political landscape in Singapore has changed irrevocably in a noticeably powerful way. Our collective fear of the PAP has been smashed in a dramatic fashion. I know that a significant number of people still experience that fear. However, thanks to the social media, for many of us this general election campaign has enabled us to find a voice and a very loud one at that.
All of this noise making has, it appears, forced the PAP leadership to re-examine itself. It is too early to tell if the PAP leaders would in fact change their policies and modify their authoritarian style of government. I am still skeptical. We have heard before about the supposed change in the style of government. But, past actions do not bear out any real attempt at fulfilling those promises.
As it stands right now, it appears to me still that the leadership is engaged in perception management more than anything else. I am not convinced that they are really going to look at their policies to see how they may be changed. I suspect that they may try to explain their policies in a more palatable fashion.
The following is an article that appeared in the Today paper on 13th May 2011 entitled “I wondered how leaders would react: Tan Chuan-Jin”:
BG Tan said what needs to be done is to change the perception that the PAP is a long—time ruling party that is quick to look past public views — even though it has made policy decisions with the best of intentions.
"It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint what exactly sparked that perception. But perception is reality and it’s important because if that perception is widespread, it will erode that sense of support ... and the mandate where the people trust you to make long—term strategic decisions," he said.
My worry is that in the end, the next five years becomes an endless exercise in underlining the official narratives that continue to keep the majority of Singaporeans convinced that this country cannot survive without the PAP. We are a small island with no natural resources. We are surrounded by hostile or potentially hostile neighbours. Our economic progress was solely due to the enlightened economic policies of the PAP. That such economic progress is not compatible with ‘confrontational’ politics. That our society is so fragile that it is just poised to break into chaos if freedoms are given to Singaporeans. That the past track record of a previous generation of leaders is indicative of the present and future performance of PAP leaders. I could go on.
The election campaign on the last day and the subsequent comments by the PAP leaders as well as forum page letters in the Straits Times all indicate a trend where:
a) the PAP leadership has realised that the level of unhappiness on the ground borders on anger and hatred;
b) they have decided that an apology and a promise to change would be the best way to limit the fallout;
c) they don’t appear thoroughly or even mildly convinced that their policies are wrong or may be wrong;
d) they seem to have a sense that Singaporeans have not fully understood government policies and explanations and that there is a breakdown in the communication
What I worry the most is that the campaign of perception management that the PAP leadership may engage in over the next few years might achieve the objective of pulling back the popular vote in PAP’s favour without any real change that the some of us desire; i.e. a change in failed policies, greater accountability for policy decisions and transparency through an effective system of Parliamentary checks and balances.