There is a survey online that you can take to see where you are on this political compass[Link].
Where do we put the PAP govt on this compass?
The PAP is somewhere on the upper right hand side. Suppose you gather a group of people to decide what kind of govt they would like to have. If they are not under the fear or danger (war) , they will naturally not give up their civil liberties, and if they are not under severe economic strain...and there are competent people that represent various parts of the political compass and a free press, what you usually get is usually a govt in the square box.
In a one man one vote system is actually quite hard to hold power staying out of the square. The electorate will naturally want to use their votes to get a govt within the box. So how does the PAP stay there for so long? Before we answer that question, I would like to roll back to a time when everything was in a political flux 50 years ago. How did the PAP get dominant power in the first place?
From the chart above showing % of votes for the PAP, you can see the PAP did not start with dominant power in 1959 elections. A large fraction broke off to form the Barisan Socialis and losses at 2 by-elections meant that PAP hang on to power with a fragile 1 seat majority. The Barisan Socialis was formed because leftwing members disagreed with PAP on various matters:
"The Big Six – Mr Lim, Mr Fong Swee Suan, Mr Woodhull, Mr Dominic Puthucheary, Mr S.T. Bani and Mr Jamit Singh – had stated that while they supported the PAP in the coming by-election, they would not compromise on issues such as detention without trial and freedoms of press, speech, assembly and organisation" - Straits Times, 27 Dec 2009[Link]
Lim Chin Siong in a Fajar article dated Aug 1961 written shortly after the formation of Barisan Socialis explained the importance of democracy and freedom because without these, people in newly independent countries previously exploited by colonialists will again later find themselves dominated and controled in a way no different from colonialism.
The Barisan Socialis had a good chance of winning the 1963 elections if not for Operation Cold Store (Feb 1963) which detained 111 leftwing activists including key members of Barisan Socialis. The weakened Barisan Socialist led by Lee Siew Choh still won 13 of the 57 seats in the Sept 1963 elections and the PAP had only 47% of the votes - the opposition had fewer seats because their support was concentrated in a few areas.
The PAP govt won by a landslide in 1968 when the Barisan Socialis boycotted the elections. The PAP then went on to win 3 more elections with 70% or more of the votes. These wins can be attributed to a weakened/repressed opposition and one-off rapid economic transformation. During this period the HDB's successful housing program improved the lives many citizens who moved from villages to housing estates. Along the way, swept by the rapid economic growth across most if not all East Asian countries, the PAP took the opportunity to repressed it opponents, shutdown independent newspapers e.g. Singapore Herald closed in 1971 when its license was revoked by the govt. The PAP soon had control over the media and a climate of fear was prevalent among the people. People were too afraid to join the opposition.
However, even with all its advantages, support for the PAP started slipping after the 1980 elections. Seeing the slippage, the PAP govt changed the rules to have GRCs in 1988. The votes it secured hit a low of 61% in 1991. With this level of support, if not for the GRC, they would have lost, maybe 10 or more seats because the 61% cannot be spread evenly across the constituencies - GRCs have the effect averaging the votes of the combined constituencies. Even with GRCs, the PAP's support was still falling, so in 1992, the PAP govt announced it will link votes to HDB upgrading right down to the number of votes for the PAP in each block[Link]. This form of pork barrel politics immediately resulted in improved results for the PAP in the next 2 elections before it started slipping again in the 2006 elections. During the 2006 elections, the PAP was announcing $400M-$500M upgrading packages all over the place but still couldn't stop the slip in support.
I walked through some amount of election history to illustrate several key points:
- The one-off economic transformation earned widespread support for the PAP in the late 60s to late 70s is no longer possible.
- The support for the PAP slipped with every election during the 1980-1991 period even with its control of the media & repression of opposition.
- The PAP changed election rules and used estate upgrading to push up its votes. The also controlled the media and repressed opponents to deny the people a choice.
The one man one vote system will always pose a challenge to the PAP because of where it is positioned ideologically in the political spectrum (out of the box). Its policies are frequently unpopular among the vast majority of the voters e.g. GST hikes to cut corporate taxes..only the businesses are happy. Many vote for the PAP although they don't like the PAP policies for one of following reasons:
- The linking of votes to upgrading.
- They believe the myth that the PAP is super-competent, honest and efficient even though they don't agree the policies, they are willing to tolerate them. We know that this is a myth because when the same problems occur in a number of countries and the PAP handles no better than other govts - e.g. minibond issue, SARS, capture of MAS Selamat (Malaysians did it). Other govts appear to have many problems because they run countries 10-100 times the size of Singapore not because they are less competent.
- The opposition appears weak and often portrayed as less competent by the state media.
There is little the opposition can do about estate upgrading. To overcome PAP's media control, the Internet can be harnassed to help ordinary citizens make more accurate assessments of PAP's performance. The most important thing for the opposition is the recruitment of new members. Since the PAP is so far out on the political compass, there should be a large number of pool of qualified people who do not share their views. The opposition parties should pro-actively reach out to them through seminars, talks and walkabouts.
The PAP in the past 4 years implemented a number of policies that have negatively affected a large number of ordinary Singaporeans. The most unpopular and the most poorly executed one is the foreign talent policy. The PAP govt has not been able to explain this policy clearly with regard to the number of foreigners needed and how the policy can benefit Singaporeans. So far all the direct results of this policy appear negative for ordinary Singaporeans. The next most important issue is the income gap - the fruits of economic development has not be equitably distributed among Singaporeans. A large number became worse off and many fear they will be worse off in the coming years. The 3rd issue is the cost of living which has risen sharply especially the cost of housing. The cost of housing rose much faster than the rise in income - this undermine families' ability to upgrade and young couples ability to own a home.
I believe the wind is blowing in the direction of the opposition for the coming elections. The opposition needs just to unfurl its sail to catch it - move into action, campaign passionately and confidently. Many of you think it is impossible for our opposition to achieve something as spectacular as opposition in Malaysia. Don't forget before their big win, most people also thought it would be impossible. Badawi had 64% of the votes in the 2001 elections and LHL was not too far ahead with 66% of the votes (for the PAP) during the 2006 elections.