KUALA LUMPUR Tuesday, 17 May 2011– Although the People’s Action Party won more than two-thirds majority in the recent Singapore general election, its popular votes dropped and the opposition made inroads.
There are a few reasons for this that political parties on this side of the causeway may want to digest and so learn from the Singapore experience.
Chief among these has been the opposition’s success in tapping into the resentment of large numbers of the “lower classes” towards the PAP despite the party’s success in making Singapore a rich, clean and law-abiding city state.
The PAP had alienated many voters who perceived the party as arrogant and out of touch with the concerns of the less well-off people such as rising prices, especially of houses.
Housing Development Board flats that used to cost S$80,000 (RM193,600) a unit now sell for S$400,000 (RM968,000). Many Singaporeans are said to be working longer workers to pay for their higher living costs.
The rapid influx of immigrants has been a major sore point. Many companies prefer to hire foreign workers rather than locals because they are cheaper, hired through a contract system which does not carry any costly social obligations.
This influx has resulted in foreigners accounting for a quarter of the country’s population of five million today.
Against this backdrop of rising costs, stagnating incomes, low domestic purchasing power and the widening income gap between rich and poor, it is no wonder that many Singaporeans are fed up with the PAP.
Some political analysts believe that the opposition would have won more seats if not for the sterling efforts of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who struck an unusually humble tone during the election campaign and even apologised for some PAP “missteps”.
Dr Ooi Kee Beng, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said that Lee did well to implement damage control after the PAP was caught off guard by the opposition at the start.
The PAP changed from a hardline to a soft approach as it knew that generally the people preferred “the status-quo to change rather than changing the status-quo”, Ooi said.
Another political analyst, Ong Kian Ming, said the issues faced by Singaporeans are quite different from what Malaysians had to deal with as more of the younger generation become voters.
“For me, Singaporeans were actually looking at Malaysia after the 2008 general election and seeing a stronger Opposition. I think Singaporeans took the cue from there,” he said.
Although some issues seemed similar, the Malaysian government had tackled the housing problem with the “My First Home” scheme for private sector employees between 18 and 35 years old earning not more than RM3,000 a month.
Buyers can get up to 100 per cent financing for repayment stretched to 30 years for houses costing between RM100,000 and RM220,000 under the scheme initiated by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
Other political observers said that the Workers Party did better than the other opposition parties because it is very much “connected to the lower classes of society”.
The WP not only retained the Hougang Single Member Constituency but also created an upset in the Al-Junied Group Representative Constituency by ousting the PAP team led by Foreign Minister George Yeo.
WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang believed that the success of the party was in large part due to its approach as a “rational, responsible and credible opposition party”.
Low was reported to have said the WP did not oppose for the sake of opposing nor did it believe in grandstanding so as to be confrontational.
Another reason the WP performed better was that its candidates continued to serve and didn’t just disappear after losing in the 2006 polls.
And that is a lesson that politicians on both sides of the causeway and political divide will do well to learn.