More of the same, more of the same, or something different?

“For me the main issue of this by-election is sending a signal on how our country should be governed,” a friend commented to me, “what sort of representation we want in the highest body of government and demonstrating that we collectively be proactive and can make a difference.”

“The participating parties should evaluate the result of the by election carefully and not take it as a mandate to do more of the same they are doing now.”

That, in a nutshell, is the real issue – not just in this by-election in Punggol East but also in any election, in fact.

Promises of “reform” and “change”, and how general election 2011 was a “watershed” election, and how the subsequent cabinet changes were “epochal”, and how Singapore had entered a “new normal” raised expectations that the ruling party had, at last, seen the light and significant changes were afoot. 

Singaporeans waited with anticipation – and for a short while, those expectations and anticipation were realised – to an extent – when the prime minister kicked out 9 ministers from his cabinet and brought in new ones; cut ministers’ pay by a substantial amount; made changes to the mandatory death penalty; introduced a day off for domestic workers. There was even a one-year National Conversation started.

And then it stopped. The PM, at his party’s conference several weeks back, said the government will “calibrate a bit to the left, a bit to the right”. That more or less put paid to those expectations. Changes will be hard to come by, with the PAP government. By that I mean substantial changes, particularly those having to do with politics and civil liberties, or the media.

The Workers’ Party (WP) also raised expectations with its call to vote its candidates so as to move this country “towards a First World Parliament”. It promised to be a “watchdog”, a “co-driver” with the government. Its candidate, Chen Show Mao, was described as a “star catch” by the media and supporters. The party boasted of a manifesto which it said took them two years to put together.

But after one and a half years, there is a growing sense among some quarters that the WP has fallen short of expectations – and of its own election promises as well. Mr Chen, for example, has been awfully quiet.

This is the context in which my friend made those comments. And there is a case to be made for sending a signal in the Punggol East by-election to the two dominant political parties here – that their performance has not been up to the mark.

As housing prices continue to spiral out of control, transportation continues to be a problem, the depression of wages, the exploitation of cheap labour and then the cut-back which is hurting small businesses, changes to the CPF, etc. There are many issues – but yet little has been offered by the Workers’ Party. But one would understand that a watchdog is not expected to devise or present alternative policies, although such thinking runs counter to the party’s own ambition of a “first world parliament”.

WP's 2006 GE Manifesto
WP’s 2006 GE Manifesto

One is thus hard pressed to see what another WP MP would bring to the table in Parliament, besides adding a little more weight to the collective voting bloc of the WP when casting votes on Bills. Even in this, there has been criticism that the WP vote mostly for policies introduced by the PAP govt anyway – such as the ministerial pay changes, even  though WP had criticised them and in fact had presented its own suggestion. It led to criticism by some that the WP only presented debate for the sake of presenting a debate, and will vote with the PAP in the end.

So, while the SDP’s “joint campaign” idea with WP is a badly thought-through one, it is nonetheless worth pondering if casting a vote for the PAP and the WP will mean (and will send these two parties the signal) that S’poreans are happy with the status quo.

But if S’poreans are indeed unhappy with the performance of the two parties, then wouldn’t having the choice to vote for a third alternative be good to have? Incidentally, providing voters a choice was the WP’s election manifesto in 2006.

So, the real question is: do we want more of the same, more of the same, or something different?

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8 thoughts on “More of the same, more of the same, or something different?

  1. Rome was not built in a day. It was built by doers, not talkers. It was built by workers not politicians. it was declared built after, not before it was built.

    I disagree with you that WP is not doing a good job. They are doing a great job bringing up issues in parliament. How soon we have forgotten the lessons that JBJ endured to teach us. Talk is useless without taking power, in fact it is sometimes dangerous. I want my MP to speak prudently but when she speaks, it is heard and when challenged, win.

    The only way to make real change is to take away PAP’s 2/3 in parliament. That is by convincing the electorate not the netizens how the stable ship is going to shore.

    1. Well then we disagree. I don’t think WP is doing a good job, based on the promises it itself made. So far, I can’t recall any significant contribution, for example, from any of its MPs. Rome is not built in a day. Neither is it built by remaining quiet.

      1. Andrew, WP is not silent. If they’re silent, then I expect to see zero speeches made by WP MPs when I access the Parliament website’s records of the parliamentary sessions.

        But nope… I found like over a hundred speeches, made by LTK over the past 20 years, as well as the more recent ones by SL and others, covering a wide range of issues such as cost of living, transport, healthcare, support for the low-income and CPF. In 2011, they even argued for a minimum wage.

        There’s WP’s silence for you…

      2. hi Ivan,

        Making speeches is all well and good but if that were the barometer by which we judge someone’s performance, then I think we are selling ourselves short, especially when someone promises a “first world parliament”. Instead, what we should expect are debates on issues, ideas and policies. And Parliament is the perfect stage to do so, and WP – with 6 elected MPs in parliament – can effect this by filing motions. To date, I don’t recall WP doing filing any motions at all in the last 5 years or so. So, where is the debate which WP promised during the elections?

        If it believed in its manifesto and its rally speeches, where they raised ideas and criticisms, then WP should file motions in parliament so these ideas and criticisms can be further debated, and the ministers are obliged to engage and respond.

        Making speeches is all well and good but WP did not promise during the general elections that it will make speeches in parliament. In fact, it promised much more, and it is right that we expect them to deliver on their promises.

  2. Honestly I have been thinking about similar issues and can understand some of your concerns. I think many of us want something different. And I always believe we need people who are willing to make changes. In many areas, radical changes. I am blunt and I should say that we are short of such people to become our leaders. The kind of people who are very wise and intelligent as much as being very astute and extremely receptive.

  3. In order to bring about a more ‘progressive-minded’ change to Singapore, a political party other than PAP has to seize power and form government. PAP is a centre-right conservative party; to expect some substantial ‘progressive’ agenda is not going to happen.

    In the end, even if the oppositions grows to 30-40 MPs, it will not do any good until power is seized. Even then, a progressive agenda requires a strong economy, so some centralist (pro-business ) policies will be required.

    We have to grow the alternative that we have (currently in the WP or other viable party) even if they do not meet our full expectations.

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