Why We Need To Have Alternatives In Govt.
This is an old question. In past elections the alternative parties (I refer to the opposition parties as such) have made this their platform in general elections. They tried to convince the people of the necessity of having alternative parties in parliament, the highest law-making body in the country. Sadly, such 'noble' messages have been drowned out by the counter-strategies of the PAP which focussed mainly on material promises.
And so, with the next elections on the horizon, we revisit this issue again.
In my view, we now - more than ever - needs to have alternatives in parliament. Perhaps it's the situation of recent years when the economy went bad that we realised the PAP govt is not that perfect after all, if they were indeed perfect in the first place.
Many lost their jobs, retrenched, and had to truly tighten their belts to get through the hard times. One issue which irked many people was the govt's refusal to allow citizens to use their CPF savings to help them tide over this difficult period. Rumblings of this dissatisfaction can still be heard. Also, it was during this difficult period that the govt also made a token gesture of having their own ministers' salaries cut - but promptly reinstated them exactly one year later even though the economy was still in the doldrums.
"It is reasonable" - said Minister Ng Eng Hen.
This difficult period showed up the frustration of singaporeans who felt that they were helpless and hapless, in spite of PM Goh's promise to bring singaporeans 'out of the valley into the highlands'. many felt that they had no voice, that their concerns were not heard. Coupled with the high salaries of the PAP ministers, this was extremely frustrating indeed.
The rich do not suffer. The poor does. No matter how you see it. I do not believe that a multi-millionaire minister sufferred more than a cleaning lady trying to just make ends meet.
So, why have an alternative in parliament?
I have heard ridiculous arguments from pro-PAP supporters that 'the PAP has done so well that there is no need for an opposition." This is one of the most ludicrous argument I've heard so far. For in that assertion is the presumption that the PAP - whether as a political party or a govt - will always stay un-corrupt.
I do not think even the PAP itself can or will make such a promise - and even if they did, they would not say that they will always remain un-corrupt.
There are examples of countries where alternative parties emerge only when something has gone wrong and the people are out on the streets baying for blood and crying for change. The whole country is in turmoil and people suffer even more. Blood is even shed, lives lost.
In Singapore, we are lucky in the sense that the PAP govt has been able to maintain a measure of peace. (Whether the means of achieving this 'peace' have resulted in a climate of fear is another issue which I will perhaps write about in future.)
I would say that now is the best time for us Singaporeans to help nurture and support alternative parties grow. Putting aside partisan politics, this can only be good for the country and its people. Having choices is a good thing in this case. It is always good to have choices as to who you want to run the country. The only countries which do not afford its citizens any choices are totalitarian, communist and dictatorial ones.
Singapore, hopefully, is none of the three.
So, we should allow alternative parties the chance to put forth their programmes and yes, scrutinise them. But we must also be aware of the limitations they face. I find that Singaporeans scrutinise the alternative parties more than they scrutinise the PAP. I guess that's because the PAP has a track record and people gives them the benefit of the doubt willingly. Of course, having the mass media at their disposal has helped the PAP immensely in this aspect of having the people's trust. There is much you can do with tv, newspapers and radio.
Giving alternative parties a chance also allows them to learn while the country is at peace. To learn what? To learn the ropes of governing. We would dread it if the PAP is voted out of office and an alternative party takes over with no knowledge or experiences of governing. That would be dreadful.
But most importantly, having alternative parties in parliament will go a long way to re-set the mindsets of Singaporeans.
This is the crux of the whole matter of giving alternative parties a chance. For 40 years, we've had nothing but one-party rule. The whole country - and its people - has been indoctrinated in one philosophy, the PAP's philosophy. So much so that many Singaporeans cannot fathom a Singapore without the PAP.
Is that good?
I do not think so, certainly. In an ocean of sweeping waves and rising tides, it is always good to have life vests as your alternatives. If you have only one small boat and no life vests, you depend entirely on the boat to carry you to shore.
That is the situation Singapore is in. One boat - the PAP boat and no alternatives, no life vests.
Singapore needs a change of mindset. This change is not limited to the economic sphere, or the cultural sphere, or other areas of our society. It should and must include - most importantly - the political sphere as well. For it is in politics that the whole tone of society depends. Leaders set the tone. The people elect the leaders. But the people must have a choice of who to choose.
The emergence of alternatives will not come unless and until Singaporeans realise, deep in their hearts, that the PAP will not always be there. That Lee Kuan Yew will one day leave this earth. That Singapore and Singaporeans will then have to be truly a global city with the attending democracy, freedom and the right to have choices.
But this will only come about if the people are willing to allow the alternatives a chance to serve the people. If the people keep being seduced by material baits, then I am sad to say that this country will be a vase - exquisite on the outside but hollow on the inside.
I do hope that the alternative parties will achieve a good result this coming GE.
It will be good for the country.
And for Singaporeans.