Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why PAP should feel liberated

Why PAP should feel liberated
By Azmi Anshar
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CRITICS of the People's Action Party will expect Singapore's ruling party, despite the landslide May 7 general election victory, to sulk after losing six out of 87 constituencies and 40 per cent of the popular votes -- the highest ever -- to a burgeoning and well-organised opposition.

However, there are tantalising reasons why the PAP should regard the polls' outcome -- a minor political tsunami of sorts if one is fond of the hyperbole -- as a cathartic occasion.

Instead of falling back on vengeful ways to make life difficult for the new opposition members of parliament, the PAP should be zen-like in losing six seats and 40 per cent of the popular vote.

Here are five reasons for the therapeutic magnanimity:

- Singapore can finally dispel decades of annoying ribbing that as a country, it was run by cautiously calculative leaders for millions of automatons who only assumed "humanness" when they cross into Johor Baru;

- The true political soul that gestated for decades, the one dreaded by the ruling elders for so long, has finally metastasized into a cause celebre that the nation has grown democratic legs despite troubling past accusations that the ideal was abortive;

- The younger under-40 generation, raised on Lee Kuan Yew's singularity of steadfast social engineering, economic prosperity and the inappropriateness of Western-styled democracy, is coming of age and able to think for themselves. A big hint that they want a strong say in charting their future and destiny;

- The steady realisation that the days of "government knows best" is gone, similar to the enlightenment Malaysia awakened to after March 8, 2008 as acknowledged by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in reinventing a government that engages its people, not lord over them; and,

- The PAP is still the leading political light, running the show and calling the shots although on their toes with a vigorous opposition snarling and barking like an authentic watchdog, which can be a good thing provided there is genuine government-opposition enablement.

Another lesson learnt is about Singaporean voters: as it can be gauged by now, they are neither fools nor bleeding heart liberals stoking in idealistic fervour, demanding a zero-sum transformation that might disrupt 50 years of careful socio-political programming.

The Singaporean opposition understands, too, the voter sentiment intimately, which explains why there was nothing in their manifesto that howled for a sea change in government. That would be delusional.

In fact, the Workers' Party victories are loaded with sensibility and earnest expectations, unlike the Pakatan Rakyat that regards every election -- general, state -- as well as insignificant by-elections as clarion calls to thrash or topple the ruling party, no matter how egotistically glib or shallow their pronouncements are.

The March 8, 2008 opposition gains have become for the Pakatan Rakyat a heroin addiction that badly needs a regular fix: you can hear and feel the need for it in every ceramah and every statement made by PR stalwarts.

And it is the need for a fix that has become a cautionary tale to Singapore's opposition, perhaps more jarring with the WP, which secured all six victories among the six opposition parties, as they carefully unthreaded 46 years of cohesion to propel their historic gains.

Singapore's opposition might like to say that they were inspired by Malaysia's March 8, 2008 phenomenon, mostly in how they constructed a loose pact of not contesting each other, but that doesn't mean that they modelled their political activism to the tenuous take-no-prisoners doctrine amplified by the likes of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

Forget about the technically intricate way voters cast their ballots for four to six-member Group Representation Constituencies or the declaration from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that the opposition might get three additional "non-constituency" seats to raise their representation to nine seats. Or which PAP ministers won or lost what seats.

The real consequence now is this: the Singapore opposition will be wary of unnervingly jolting a sleeping giant out of its political stupor. Nudging the beast to open just one eye is all that is needed.

Basically, the Singapore opposition knows it is pointless to make gains now, only to lose it all the next time when the PAP suddenly realises that its very existence might come under threat -- unlikely as it is -- to re-invigorate, reinvent, rebrand and refuel itself so good that nothing, not even the WP, can stand in its way.

The six seats gained have to be carried with burdensome responsibility and embraced with a humbled stance, never to be exploited to humiliate the PAP.

The Singapore oppositionists will also realise that Singaporeans who courageously voted for the WP did so not because they loathed the PAP, even as many do, but because many want the option of an opposition representation that could help alleviate socio-economic concerns that became the mitigating factor for the WP's success.

Otherwise, it's a great day for good old-fashioned democracy in Singapore, where voters got up the gumption to finally kick some egalitarian dust to jolt the founding fathers and elders to listen up and not take them for granted any more.

The younger Lee certainly did and you'd have a sneaky feeling that he, too, is elated with the results, not just for his party's triumphant stranglehold, but also for the opposition which has finally given him the challenge that he needs to boost further the Singapore agenda.

Lee, too, can further foster right-thinking arguments and open-minded debates on the web as he engages his newly-minted rivals the same way Najib has rightly done so with the new rebellion.

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