How did the PAP govt perform? Actually its not so hard to figure out. Lets leave aside all the untangible things like uncomfortable overcrowded buses and trains, the negative feelings generated by leaders who call us daft lazy lesser mortals, the higher stress level and insecurity caused by the large influx of foreigners. Lets just look at the cold hard numbers ....and what it means to ordinary Singaporeans.
Lets begin with the GDP. It grew by 14% last year. Median monthly income from work among resident households increased by 3.1 per cent last year to $5000. But after you adjust this figure for inflation the gain is only 0.3 per cent[Link]. Medical cost has escalated with class "C" wards costing 30% more than in 2006 (roughly 7% increase per year). Public housing rose 14.1%[Link] rising more than 60% within 4 years. Income gap has widened further[Link]. You probably figured the GDP can grow so much with improving the lot of ordinary Singaporeans because they did it by simply expanding the workforce by importing foreigners.
So it is all very simple. Wages have been relatively stagnant for ordinary Singaporeans while the cost of housing and medical care has risen sharply since the last elections. Ordinary Singaporeans saw their working hours rise to the longest in the developed world based on the ILO report [Link]. We have the 3rd lowest fertility rate in the world if you count territories (Hong Kong and Macau at the bottom) and lowest in the world if you count countries Quality of life of ordinary Singaporeans has been deteriorating. This deterioration started about a decade ago but most Singaporeans woke up to it only in the past few years.
Some of you may say a large part of it is due to globalisation. I don't share this view. The PAP could have done a lot better if it had effective policies in place to tackle these issues. At the end of the day it probably won't matter. When people's lives don't get better, they will demand change. 4 years ago, they were hoping for change from a new PM who looked like he all set to "remake Singapore". Today many have run out of patience and ready to vent their frustration.
I was in Penang in 2007 and 1999. When I was there in 2007, everything more or less looked the same as 1999 and that is why some Singaporeans like to go there - things don't change much. The island looked the same but I sense a change of mood in the people. When I took the taxi from the airport, I chatted with the driver and he sounded unhappy ... he told me the KL govt didn't take care of the people of Penang and wanted to shift the airport to Buttersworth (which was not be true?). He felt insecure although he had been doing what he was doing for the past 10 years. I ate at a restaurant the next day - was at the same restaurant on the previous trip there. I noticed the waiter and manager were the same people - a chinese feller working with an Indian chap. I chatted with the Indian manager I remembered from 8 years ago. After chatting for a while, he started talking about how the Indians & Chinese are sidelined in Malaysia. I was telling myself then that this "pro-bumi" thing had been going on for the last 40 years ...this guy was born into the system shouldm't he be used to it? ...Over the next few days, I spoke to a few more Penangites and they were unhappy with the govt but their actual issues were all different i.e. the unhappiness was not very coherent in terms of actual issues. The thing they had in common was this feeling that the govt didn't care about them....they were not hopeful the govt would solve their specific problems. I carried with me this suspicion that something had gone wrong in Penang when I left the island. In March 2008, when the Malaysians had their general elections, I wanted to write about my trip experience and that there might be a swing in the votes. However, when I ran through the news reports at that time, the overpowering belief at that time was that an opposition win was simply not possible although they were expected to do better so I thought my suspicions were unfounded. The huge win by the Penang opposition was completely unexpected by pundits.
If you have been talking to people, the ordinary folks in Singapore - taxi drivers, hawkers ...the man on the street, you get a sense that certain thresholds have been crossed and there is feeling that patience has expired. Many have waited hoping that their problems will be solved or get some help solving them but you sense that the people already realised that they are not this govt's priority. This is a govt that would give out thousands of scholarships to foreigners but does not ensure its own citizens get quality pre-school. This is a govt that advertises Singapore as a medical hub to attract and treat foreign patients [Link]but tell its own citizens to go to Malaysia for medical treatment and nursing homes if they want to more affordable care. 4 years ago, people still had some hope that this govt will turn around and put the people 1st in all its decision making. ...today there is little doubt that this govt will not and cannot change. That is the hard truth that common people have discovered in the past 4 years. ..and their quality of life has deteriorated and will keep deteriorating until they do something about it.