by Zadok Lin
Translation by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: The Singapore Beacon
IN AN UNSURPRISING move, the Singapore government dissolved its parliament weeks after it held its national parade, requesting for election to be held earlier than it was originally set for in 2016. Lee’s justification is that voters are increasingly concerned about immigration and the high cost of living in a slow economy.
Here is a short summary to how the electoral system functions in Singapore: The Prime Minister can request the government to dissolve the parliament anytime within 5 years of the previous election (which took place in 2011), and is then required to hold the election within 3 months after the dissolution. For a one party state like Singapore, it means the Prime Minister can dissolve the parliament irrevocably, which leads us to wonder: “Why this specific time frame?”
What is so interesting about this election, is that it will be the first election held after the death of the nation’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew. Under Lee’s iron-fist and steadfast authoritative rule, the country has been a one-party state since its founding, not until 2011 when one of the opposition party won for one of the constituencies contested. In addition, the number of seats the PAP received in 2011 decreased significantly, a sign that PAP influence in Singapore is waning. As stated by Miss Tan, a resident of Singapore: “The PAP is definitely increasingly concerned since 2011 saw the first opposition party win for one of the constituencies contested.” Therefore, in an attempt to secure more seats through manipulating emotional attachment resulting from the death of Lee, the PAP decides to hold its election not too close to the National Day Parade, with nationalism and patriotism all high, but not too long after as well.
In his televised address to the country, Lee said: “This election will be critical. You will be deciding who’s governing Singapore for the next five years, but much more than that […] You will be setting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years, you will be determining the future for Singapore.” With regards to ghostwriting, the way Lee addressed his nation is interesting. “Setting the direction for the next 50 years,” may sound a little exaggerated, but when analyzed, it is understandable that the PAP is using a subtle threat, like all other elections in the world, to inform the general public how it is important to vote for the PAP. As 2015 is the year Singapore hits its 50th birthday, the concept of the future of Singapore is rooted heavily in this concept of 50 years. Not only so, it is also to remind the public that it was the PAP that has enabled Singapore to prosper in the span of 50 years, and that they should continue to do so for the next 50 years. In the case of Singapore, everything happens to coincide incidentally.
Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong. Lee is the elder son of Lee Kuan Yew and general-secretary of the PAP. Photo credit: Michał Józefaciuk/WikiCommons
As the country gears up for the election with campaigning getting intense, speeches and rallies are now occupying the streets and the media. In a recent press conference, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attacked the opposition, calling them a mouse in the house: “The Opposition frankly has been disappointing, because when you go for election rallies, it’s very easy to make fierce rousing speeches […] But when they come to Parliament, none of these issues are raised […] So you voted for a tiger in the chamber and you got a mouse in the house. It’s one of these Frankenstein monsters. Every night it turns into a tiger, every day it turns into a mouse.”
Yet it is important to realize that for a party that has been in power for 50 years, as well as being the overall majority in the Parliament, the only time the opposition does have actual power, rather than figurative power, is when it is addressing the people face-to-face. Mr Lee’s comment on mouse reminds of Aesop’s fables, particularly of the mouse and the frog. Although the frog appears to assists the mouse by giving him a ride across the stream, it slowly submerges itself in hope of drowning the mouse. Suddenly, a hawk dives down and consumes the frog first because it is fatter, giving the mouse the opportunity to break free, hence surviving. The frog would seem to be the PAP, the mouse would be the opposition, and the hawk the Singaporean nation. It is important to realize that the best way to ensure that both parties survive the scrutiny of the nation is to establish a willingness to cooperate, and to recognize that what Singapore really needs is an open, democratic, and equal political channel that compromises with different voices and views.
On September 11, 2015, Singapore will hold its first election after the death of Lee, and it will be interesting to see how the use of the memory of Lee Kuan Yew may help PAP secure its foothold for at least another five years. What does it entails for Singapore if the PAP manages to maintain the status quo, or even increase its seats in the parliament, amongst the problems it faces from the lack of human rights and increasing inequality? If the PAP does not secure its foothold, will the political overturn destabilize the “stability” rhetoric the PAP uses as a form of propaganda? All of such uncertainty will ultimately start to be clear on September 11, and it will be interesting to observe the political transitioning of a country once ruled by one of the world’s craftiest, yet most well respected authoritarian leaders.