"SEMBAWANG GRC will get a $500 million makeover, to be implemented over the next five years."
- Straits Times, 23 April 2011.[Link]
In the 2006 elections, the main problems/issues faced by Singaporeans were income inequality, rising cost of living (housing + healthcare+transport), structural unemployment. stagnant wages, and the negative effects of the large foreign influx. Today every single one of these problems has become bigger and more serious - Singaporeans face the same issues in the 2011 elections and the PAP again promises to do something about them if we vote for them. Of course, after the elections, they may deny that any of these problems exists or say it is not the responsibility of govt or blame it on their favorite bogeyman these days - globalisation. In the coming days, the PAP will use the mainstream media to explain why the foreign influx benefits Singapore, why its policies are good and so on. Some issues are too complex for some Singaporeans to grasp the full picture and its a matter of pulling out some selected numbers from here and there to show how Singaporeans have benefits just like what Mah Bow Tan did several months ago and what Tharman did in the recent CNA forum. In the coming days, their propaganda machine will go into full swing. The opposition will reach a limited number through its rallies and the Internet. But given many are worse off or directly hurt by PAP policies in some way, it is hard to guess what goes on in the minds of Singaporeans. The PAP will always say they will make things better during the elections and if you find yourself getting persuaded and swayed by them, I want to tell you a story.
In 1996, 103 veteran civil servants sued the govt[Link]. When they signed up to join civil service, they did so under a pension scheme left behind by the British govt. In 1973, the PAP govt persuaded them to sign up for a new scheme called CPF. They were told this scheme was better because they would take home more pay every month and they would be better off in the long run. When they switched to this "better" CPF scheme, they would have to give up their medical benefits and pensions.There were many civil servants put under pressure in the 80s and 90s to switch to the CPF scheme. I remember the Straits Times had article after article on the benefits of switching to the CPF scheme including calculation to show how much these civil servants will benefit from the switch. The man pushing for the civil servants to convert from the old scheme was Lee Hsien Loong. 2-3 decades later many of these civil servants who gave up their pensions realized they are worse off due the the inadequacy of CPF and escalating healthcare cost. They sued the govt and lost...then they appealed and lost again. When they made the wrong choice and believed what was presented to them, they committed an irreversible mistake which they regretted the rest of their lives. The pension scheme and medical benefits that these low ranking civil servants gave up were retained for top civil servants/ministers whose salaries also rose much faster than the average civil servant.
In a few weeks all of us have to make an important decision. We are shown numbers and calculations on how the foreign influx has created jobs for Singaporeans, how HDB remains affordable and massive upgrading carrots dangled to sway you to vote for them. Just remember what happened to those veteran civil servants who believed what they were told.
When the PAP hiked the GST to 7% we were all told it was done to help the poor. Several weeks ago, Tharman went on TV and show some statistics to prove that GST benefits the poor - his flawed argument was the rich pay more GST than the poor. Before GST, the poor paid no taxes and the rich paid more in income tax and corporate taxes. Yesterday, the PAP govt announced there will be no GST hikes in the next 5 years. Great! But cynics on the Internet joked that the PAP will not be helping the poor more for the next 5
years using their original argument that GST hike was to help the poor.
The PAP wasted a lot of time on a barrage of uncoordinated attacks on the Workers' Party manifesto, Chen Show Mao, and badgering the opposition to say whether they are out to form an alternate govt - this is an amateurish strategy which most people can see through...if the opposition answers "yes" they will be attacked for their lack of experience. Some of the remarks have been weird, for example, Goh Chok Tong said future ministers will serve no more than 2 terms[Link] which completely contradicts the PAP claims that ministers are hard to find rare talents. The PAP also asked voters to scrutinize the details in the Workers' Party manifesto when the PAP manifesto which is one-tenth that of WP's has no details! Mah Bow Tan angered many by saying the reserves are raided if HDB flats are more reasonably priced based on income. A quick look at the larger scheme of things it is clear now to most Singaporeans that the purchase of HDB flats has drained our CPF and it looks more like the PAP has raided our retirement accounts to build massive reserves. Goh Chok Tong said the "ground is not sweet" this elections which is true but why admit and give voters a clear reason to vote against the PAP. Many speculate that the PAP is not so united this time with the abrupt departure of Lim Boon Heng and entry of high profile candidates from the SAF to replace those leaving. Tharman said a strong opposition is good for the country but he was contradicted by Lee Hsien Loong the next day who said the one party system is best for Singapore - how is that for confusion?
When politicians run for office, it is advantageous that they can project a strong sense of purpose, answer the pressing needs of the populace,and show themselves to be more credible than their opponent. You start by seizing the moral high ground and start your campaign with an edge - you are the good guy and your opponent a baddie that voters should not trust. This moral high ground is lost by the PAP as they pursue their usual pork barrel politics and arrogant denial of citizens; problems. The number one problem this election is the relentless rise in the cost of living which is felt by almost all Singaporeans. The PAP started by denying that the problem exists by saying that housing, healthcare and transport are still affordable. The problem is the cost of living has risen while wages for a large number of Singaporeans remain stagnant - it is a waste of time telling people that things are s"till affordable" when everyone feels the pinch of rising prices. The people want leaders to seriously look at our healthcare and public housing schemes to find ways to stop the price rise that is outstripping our income growth. The candidates interested in serious change to fix the situation appear to come from the opposition.
I can't recall another election in the last 20 years that the PAP is viewed so negatively by so many people. Those who feel the direct negative effects of their policies have quickly woken up and the PAP leadership gives us the impression that they don't know how to steer us to a better future. The opposition has been able to recruit some very good people and make this look like a battle between a group of "yes-men" and passionate people motivated by the need for change. Many people find the PAP recent move to hike ministers' pay repulsive given many Singaporeans are struggling to cope with the high cost of living. The PAP has a few fallbacks when things are not going their way - the mainstream propaganda machine, upgrading carrots and long term track record. When voters are not so sure, the PAP will use their propaganda to say " see how far we have taken Singapore from fishing village to a world class city". These days economic miracles are not so uncommon and unique. We have Taiwan, South Korea and numerous cities in China that have grown rapidly. For many Singaporeans, living in an expensive city with a 3rd world wage structure means that life is tough perpetual struggle. WP's vision of a 1st world parliament that would bring about 1st world quality of life and 1st world schemes for healthcare, housing and transport is appealing to voters. PAP's attacks on WP\'s vision without creating a worthy vision of their own send a strong message that their main interest is to preserve the status quo...a status quo that fewer and fewer Singaporeans want for themselves and their children .