Why the middle ground must remain rational for the sake of our children's future
The upcoming Singapore General Election 2015 is going to be a hard-fought battle.
The opposition Worker's Party (WP) had pulled off an unprecedented feat of winning a GRC and the win would have encouraged many educated Singaporeans to join the fight against the People's Action Party (PAP). The WP's bench, in terms of depth and strength, is now within striking range of the PAP's. The main thing working against the WP is the legal, financial and moral issues surrounding AHPETC.
Unaccounted monies, favoritism to friends and cronies, and blatant lies to Parliament. All this shake the confidence of the electorate so unless the WP comes clean, these doubts will hurt the party at the General Elections.
The incumbent PAP on the other hand goes into the battle with a perceived upper hand, but with two clear Achilles heels - their refusal to trade short-term populist policies for the long-term survival of Singapore and their absence on social media.
Policy Trade-Offs. The new generation of voters, especially those who did not experience the growing pains of a young nation, have come to expect the good life. The Singaporeans of today are no longer happy to have a roof above their heads. They now want a roof which is nice, a roof that is free, and a roof that appreciates in value. The angst over the CPF is a classic example which activists like Roy Ngerng and political wannabe like Tan Jee Say exploit. Roy and Jee Say are telling Singaporeans that they deserve the good life. There is nothing wrong with this. Aspirations are good. But what Roy and Jee Say do not tell Singaporeans is that they need to work for it. Instead, they tell Singaporeans that it is the Government's responsibility to give the good life to every Singaporean. And, if they want it, vote them into Parliament and they will get it.
Social Media. With an electorate that no longer relies on main stream media for news and information, the PAP's absence on social media means that they will no longer be able to "communicate" effectively with Singaporeans. Alternative sites that are anti-PAP thrive and, given that the contributors are not bound by a journalist code of ethics to be truthful and objective, good and well-intentioned government policies are distorted to suit the political agendas of the opposition. Social media also allows the opposition to fight a guerilla war against the Government by spreading untruths via the fabrication and sensationalization of news to portray an uncaring government and a government that has lost touch with the electorate. Without a social media presence, the PAP lacks the ability to counter these lies.
Looking at the election landscape, I often describe it via a bell-curve. Generally, 30% of the electorate is assessed to be pro-PAP with another 30% being anti-PAP. The balance 40% are considered the crucial middle-ground who have not decided. It is important to highlight that I did not describe the 30% as pro-opposition, but as anti-PAP. This is an important distinction as this segment hates the PAP so much that it does not matter who the opposition is. As long as they oppose the PAP, this segment will vote for them.
Given this landscape, the only election strategy that any of the political parties can adopt is to fight for and win the swing votes. Assuming you already have 30% in the pocket, all you need is another 21% to win. Broadly speaking, the 30% in the bell curve are too emotional. For the anti-PAP camp, nothing the PAP does is ever right. If it is good, then there must be a catch. This is similar for the pro-PAP camp. As such, there is no easy way to convert the votes of these two segments. This then leaves the middle-ground. The middle-ground is assessed to be the rational voters. These voters are those that would consider the pros and cons, the cost and benefit and the consequences or advantage of the choices presented. Unfortunately, this segment while rational, are also human and they are prone to being manipulated by their emotions.
For the PAP, the true danger of the middle-ground is the fear that they want the PAP in government, but want to signal their unhappiness of the PAP's policies. As one cannot control who votes for whom, a miscalculation could end up with a freak election result where the PAP is voted out of government. In my assessment, the loss of Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election was a freak election result. The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's statement that the residents of Aljunied would live to repent their choice pushed many to vote WP to signal their unhappiness over Mr Lee's statement. And as things are unfolding now, the residents of Aljunied GRC are suffering for their choice.
General Elections in Singapore, be it for 2015 or even the next two, will not be about choosing a more capable political party. In the foreseeable future, the dominance of the PAP is unquestionable. For General Election 2015, the true determining factor of who will win, will be on how voters choose to signal their unhappiness over the PAP's reluctance to mortgage our future for short-term gains. In short, if voters miscalculate, a freak election result will be the outcome and the best party to govern Singapore will have lost.
While unorthodox, voters have a third option. If voters truly believe that the opposition is not capable, but they want the PAP to know their unhappiness and to work harder for them, voters should signal by spoiling their vote. The percentage of spoil votes has remained largely in the 5-6% range. Any spike in these numbers will be a clear indication to the PAP that the electorate is unhappy. Spoiling a vote minimizes the risk of a freak election result. For the sake of our children's future, please do not throw the baby out with the water.