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|Volume 10 |Issue 20 | May 27, 2011 ||
Many Singaporeans are no longer afraid of openly supporting opposition parties
RUPAK D SHARMA
They may have lost the contest, yet they were considered winners by many.
In the election held on May 7, Singapore's opposition parties won only 6 of 87 parliamentary seats, but the rise in the share of their popular vote – to 39.9 percent from 33 percent in the 2006 polls – was a clear signal that more people now have faith in them.
Of the six opposition parties that took part in the polls, the biggest winner was the Workers' Party which not only gained an average of 46.6 percent of the popular vote in
Twenty-three seats it contested, but also captured a five-seat winner-take-all group representation constituency in Aljunied.
This was the first time an opposition party had managed to take over the entire bloc since the system of group representation constituency was introduced in the city state in 1988.
After the Aljunied poll result was announced Low Thia Khiang, secretary-general of the Workers' Party, told a mass gathering: “You have made history…. This is a political landmark in modern Singapore.”
It was indeed a feat for the Workers' Party as it was considered almost impossible for the opposition to win a group representation constituency in the past. In the words of Aljunied resident Kyle Toh, a company director: “It's the beginning of a new era.”
He told The Straits Times he was happy, as “fellow Singaporeans dared to take a chance on an alternative just like in the 1950s, when our forefathers took a chance on the PAP”.
The PAP, or People's Action Party, which has ruled the country firmly since independence in 1965, has played a huge role in transforming Singapore from a sleepy village to one of the most important financial hubs in the world. If it weren't for the PAP's policies, Singaporeans probably would not have been able to call themselves citizens of a developed country with per capita income of more than US$30,000.
Assuming people in Aljunied still remembered the party's contribution to the country, Singapore's founding father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, tried to sway votes in favour of the ruling party by warning voters that they would have “five years to live and repent” if they chose the opposition party.
But his authoritarian tone was not well received this time as many called it an “arrogant” remark that shouldn't have been made. This also contributed to PAP's loss in Aljunied constituency.
It appears the ruling party should not just trumpet the achievements of the past to win the support of people. The tactic is no longer going to work because of the rise in the number of young voters in their 20s and early 30s, who make up more than a quarter of the electorate.
Most of these youngsters, who grew up in a fully developed Singapore, are well educated and, thus, very demanding, and want more than what they had inherited. This group of people also wants the government to deal with problems, like rising housing prices and cost of living, head-on rather than waste time telling tales of how their fathers or forefathers built a country from the scratch. George Yeo--the foreign minister who was unseated after his team lost the battle in Aljunied-- acknowledged the need for the PAP to change so as to forge a new unity with Singaporeans--especially the young.
“It is not good that so many of them feel alienated from the Singapore they love,” he said. Right after the election results were announced, Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong also spoke in the same tone. He said: “Many voters, including some of those who voted for us, have expressed their significant concerns. We hear all your voices, whether expressed in person or over the Internet... We will put right what is wrong, improve what can be made better and also improve ourselves to serve Singapore better.”
Singaporeans are currently facing a host of problems. Housing prices are going up and up, prices of other items are also rising and influx of foreign workers is increasing the competition in the job market. The government boasts of an economy growing by 14.5 percent last year but many ordinary people do not think their living conditions have improved because of the rise in the GDP. Instead, they feel, it has only widened the income gap.
These disgruntled people are now questioning the rationale behind spending so much of taxpayers' money on salaries of their elected representatives. Politicians in Singapore are the most highly-paid in the world. The city state's prime minister takes home S$3.87 million (US$3.1 million) a year, making him the highest paid elected leader in the world. In contrast, the US president earns only US$400,000 a year, less than Singaporean ministers, who receive a paycheck of S$1.2 million (US$971,100) a year.
The question now asked by many is: Why should they be paid so much if the real intention behind taking the job of a lawmaker or minister is to serve the people (although this is a debatable issue). An opposition website has also claimed if the salaries of prime minister, minister and president are cut by 43 per cent, financial assistance to the destitute could be doubled to around S$750 (US$605) per person per month.
Time will tell whether the ruling party will be able to address the issues raised by the public. If it is able to it will be good for the PAP. If not it should be ready to shed more seats in the next election.
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