Legalized gambling, crowded trains, litter on the streets, bicycles on pavements and the latest Singaporean phenomena: politically independent citizens willing to shun stability for change. It almost feels like a New Singapore.
Add to the above, Members of Parliament (MP) waiting at bus stops timing bus frequencies, a (transparent?) review of ministerial pay scales, 'permanent fixture' ministers booted from the cabinet, the Workers Party merging opposition ruled constituencies to create economies of scale and some residents of Woodlands petitioning for the resignation of the Woodlands Town Council management.
The list goes on. One can type Lee Kuan Yew's name (LKY) with neither prefix nor suffix. While not yet an 'ordinary' Singaporean as LKY remains an MP, he is neither Minister Mentor nor Senior Minister any longer. (After many years, Singapore currently does not have a Senior Minister in its cabinet.)
Singapore's General Elections 2011 are notable for more than transforming Yam Ah Mee into a local celebrity. Singapore's longstanding rulers, the People's Action Party (PAP) obtained a relatively low percentage of the popular vote. An electoral slap in the face for most sitting MPs.
However, in reality only the PAP's ego and pride have been dented. The PAP's hold on Parliament is secure. Its control of the national treasury, state institutions and government linked entities are as firm as pre-May 2011.
On the contrary, Singapore's opposition parties may pat themselves on the back for some visible successes, including winning a Group Representation Constituency and a good percentage of the popular vote.
Following the 2011 elections, Singaporeans may have overcome the psychological fear of voting for non-PAP candidates. For its part, the opposition helped by bringing together some credible candidates who campaigned in a professional and responsible manner.
However, it is certainly premature for the opposition to start popping champagne bottles.
Singapore's ruling PAP can expect to continue to win elections for years to come for one simple reason: there is only one PAP and there are six opposition parties. Few Singaporeans probably know the full names of the SPP, SDP, RP, SDA, NSP and WP. Until the opposition's alphabet soup can be synthesized into one cohesive voice and message the non-PAP vote will tend to get 'wasted' between the various parties.
Coupled with the opposition's differing structures across the island are the weaknesses associated with the opposition's policy making apparatus. Will a majority of Singaporeans allow the country's foreign exchange reserves to pass into the hands of the Workers Party? Or do any of the opposition parties have viable foreign policy initiatives?
Singaporeans are increasingly willing to indulge in a 'protest vote'. However, to move from a protest vote over local issues such as immigration, transport and property prices to overall governance of a largely successful city-state is some ways away.
The opposition can multiply its chances of success by establishing well funded not for profit think tanks which act as quasi-policy making institutes. For example, an economic center might help to provide depth to the country's debate about the income gap between the wealthy and not so wealthy. By supporting the opposition's economic arguments with genuine academic research the probability of more refined national economic policies is heightened.
Surely, accountability and democracy within Singapore took a step forward with 2011's general elections. The opposition shrewdly rode a wave of popular discontent to make an electoral splash. The landscape has never appeared more conducive for Singapore's opposition to garner votes.
However, the PAP has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to regenerate and use the benefits of incumbency to its advantage. For the opposition to use its 2011 election successes much needs to be done. For starters, consolidating several party structures and political messages into one single voice is a necessity.
The good news for opposition politicians (and 'wannabe politicians') is that being sued into bankruptcy for criticizing the system, if done responsibly, appears to be history. These days the ground is not sweet for trying opposition politicians on defamation charges.
Who knows, maybe the Wall Street Journal's long running feud with the Republic is reignited by some forthcoming editorials about Singapore and its political establishment!