About a month ago, there was an exhibition in my area showing how the estate will be revamped in the coming years - a new MRT station, new bus interchange, parks and cycling paths etc.and the usual HDB upgrading for flats in the area. Singaporean voters know that their vote is linked to upgrading and which blocks get upgraded is decided by the % support for the PAP. As the HDB flat is usually the single biggest asset owned by Singaporeans who have to service their housing debts for more than 2 decades, the threat to leave their ageing flats in a state of decay is a effective one. Just look difference between Potong Pasir and the PAP constituency just next to it - we should all applaud the real sacrifice of Potong Pair voters not to be lured by upgrading and doing the right thing. The HDB upgrading is perhaps the worst form of pork barrel politics in the world - as a threat and carrot it is very direct and real while politicians in other countries are only able hazy promises that their opponents can also make....in many countries pork barrel politics is illegal.
"Vote the PAP and you will get upgrading earlier, he responds quietly and reacts with an amiable smile when a woman retorts: 'Do the upgrading first'." -Straits Times 14 April 2011 on how PAP's Hougang candidate, Desmond Choo plans to win votes.
In 2 recent forums, young Singaporeans asked the PM about the linking of upgrading to votes. Older Singaporeans don't bother because they have already heard all the answers and the answers can only make their "blood boil". PM Lee gave the usual bad answers:
"The answer is that there has to be a distinction. Because the PAP wards supported the Government and the policies which delivered these good things." - PM Lee to student Seah Yin Hwa[Link]
Seah then asked if he could pay less tax and maybe "take one or two years off my NS?".
Linking votes to upgrading is unfair and undemocratic. It uses tax dollars collected from everyone to shore up the votes for the PAP during elections. The question is not whether it is right or wrong but why the PAP introduced this when most Singaporeans can see that it is not the right thing to do.
Linking votes to upgrading actually carries very high long term risks for the PAP. Having found a way to unfairly coerce the electorate to vote for them, they make fewer adjustments in policy formulation thinking that winning votes is just a matter of dangling bigger and bigger upgrading carrots before voters - we are starting to see upgrading plans in excess of $500M ...very soon we will have billion $ upgrading plans. At the same time, voter frustration builds up and unhappiness with the PAP festers as the PAP go along the same path without making the long overdue changes. When the upgrading carrot loses its effect, there can be abrupt shifts in voting patterns that will catch the PAP off guard. Some people say that this coming election will be another "foregone conclusion" like the last 5 elections but I think it is a lot harder now to guess what goes on in the minds of voters.