Monday, 5 September 2011

Singapore’s ‘Arabian Spring’ and its new political landscape

A gust of the Arabian Spring breeze blew straight across West Asia and found itself on the shores of East Asia's Little Red Dot. Arab discontent had few release valves, ultimately forcing citizens onto the streets. Fortunately, Singaporeans have the chance to use a less disruptive method: elections.
Surprising many observers, Singapore's democracy demonstrated vibrancy not anticipated even a few years ago. Complacency and apathy have given way to mild forms of activism, first during the 2011 general elections and subsequently during the presidential polls.  
Although Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won both contests, shifting voting patterns indicate that the traditional patriarchal relationship between the PAP and Singapore citizens is dying.

Both main candidates in the recent Presidential Elections were former PAP members.

Singaporeans appreciate the economic advances engineered by the PAP during its four decades rule but those advances are history – voters are looking to the future. Today's voter asks, 'What have you done for me lately?'
Singapore's changing political landscape lends itself to a few observations.
The 'Fear Factor' (or is it a 'Guilt Factor?') associated with voting for a non-PAP candidate has disappeared. Earlier, individuals, rightly or wrongly, believed that voting for non-PAP candidates might have real consequences.
The argument went that the PAP can identify persons who vote for the opposition voters and might 'punish' them for doing so. Perhaps tax documents would come under intense scrutiny, private companies would lose government business or expired professional licenses may be more difficult to renew. This perceived fear partly explains the large quantum of 'spoilt' votes at each general election – spoilt votes are effectively votes against the PAP.
Singapore's New Media is a powerful agent of change. Surely, the mainstream media is far from irrelevant. Nonetheless, the traditional media's credibility as an independent source of news has suffered with the proliferation of New Media. Recent revelations by Wikileaks will certainly not help the traditional print media's reputation.
Singaporeans' appetite for a truly independent media has risen exponentially in the last few years. A non-state controlled newspaper may yet be years away but it is a discussion very much in the making.
In the coming years, the grey areas where the Singapore state and the ruling PAP overlap will come under increased scrutiny. The recent controversy about the use of HDB public areas and the People's Association is likely the beginning of many more such debates. The complex, often incestuous, relationships between various organs of state and government will change as political consciousness increases with time.
It is likely that voters will continue to demand greater transparency surrounding financial entities such as Temasek and GIC. A system to distribute a portion of Temasek and GIC's long term investment gains, 'Temasek Bonus Shares,' may be the logical result of greater transparency.
Singaporeans must be encouraged by the beginnings of genuine national debate about the republic's future. Recent political changes may be subtle but they are significant. Singaporeans, the PAP and the opposition alike, have a responsibility to build upon the foundations of the last four decades. Incremental change which builds upon past successes will be more sustainable than radical, ad-hoc change.   
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at 

1 comment:

  1. Is TRE dead? Has it been ''taken out''?