The other side of politics

The May General Election saw an unprecedented level of support for the opposition parties. In the aftermath of one of the most keenly fought contests, the ruling People’s Action Party – a behemoth of a party – ended up bruised and battered, in more ways than one. But anyone who thinks the giant is down and out would be wrong. The behemoth may have taken a knock but it will soon nurse its wounds and come back fighting again, fangs and all.

For the moment, however, it seems the giant has taken to heart the lessons learnt on the battlefield. Its leader has urged humility among its ranks. And by all accounts, the message has trickled down to the ground.

Some of course are cynical or skeptical about this. No matter – if at the end of the day, residents and citizens are served well. As they say, whatever the color of the cat, as long as it catches mice.

The result and effects of the elections are not consigned to the political. In the past one week alone, non-political activists and organizations have jumped at the opportunity to highlight their causes. From the Cat Welfare Society which has taken Mr Khaw Boon Wan’s promise to stop cat culling, to the Save The Dolphins campaign aimed at Resorts World Sentosa to return 23 dolphins captured from the wild. Then there are the environmentalists, in particular those in support of the Green Corridor, making their voices heard. The proposed erasure of the Bukit Brown Cemetary too is being opposed by those who treasure its preservation for heritage and historical purposes.

In short, we are seeing Singaporeans becoming more open and vocal about non-political issues.

This is a very welcome development and should be encouraged. It is heartening thus to see Foreign Affairs Minister, for example, speaking on the matter of animal welfare at a public forum. Together with Mr Khaw’s and BG Tan Chuan Jin’s remarks about cat culling, it would seem that the government will have to deal with a (perhaps) new segment of Singaporeans who care about less materialistic and political causes.

Is a softer side of Singapore emerging? I would say yes, although the causes mentioned above are not really new. What is new is that, with the help of the Internet, supporters of these causes can and are banding up to lend weight to their voices.

The elections in May have given new impetus to Singaporeans to stand up for what they believe – this is ironically a call that has been made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the years, since he took office in 2004.

One hopes that the government will encourage these movements and even go further by actively promoting and supporting them. The active participation of these Singaporeans add to the vibrancy of our society, and more importantly, empower citizens to do things for themselves and to do so boldly and responsibly.

The government should no longer take a hardline stance on any matter with which it disagrees. Indeed, to do so would further alienate it from the people. This is the most important lesson it can learn from the election results.

Patience, engagement and sincerity are the order of th day from now on. And there is no going back from this.

A government which is able to do these will have won many hearts and many minds.