Give Yourself, not the PAP, a Chance

Often, when I tell people which party I will be voting for, I get told that that I should not divulge it because it is secret. And I would start clarifying that the secrecy of the vote is not a requirement for the voter to keep his/her vote secret but rather an assurance that the vote is confidential unless the voter chooses to divulge it. Yet, some are unconvinced, perhaps because there is so much justifiable and/or unjustifiable fear in Singapore that it does not even seem possible that the confidentiality of the vote is guaranteed and the guarantee is interpreted as a repressive or restrictive mechanism instead. Of course, it does not help that the clause is often recited together with an injunction to vote—voting is mandatory—that is by no means universal.

Perhaps the irony of the secret vote is but a symptom of a larger problem with socio-political domain in Singapore. I know politically aware people who are unhappy with the PAP’s policies and criticize the PAP for its tactics at maintaining its political hegemony, which is not at all anything surprising. Except I also know that some of these people are voting for the PAP, even with the prospects of 87:0 after the Election tomorrow. It is lamentable that the PAP has more voters than supporters and wins one election after another even when it lacks supporters, even when it is not necessarily even preferred over the opposition.

It becomes interesting, then, to ask what it is about Singapore under the PAP that makes for transcendental ludicrousness. Singaporeans have in recent years become more aware of the drawbacks of the PAP’s policies. In fact, many are not simply aware but are actually experiencing the drawbacks firsthand. Yet, it does appear that despite new awareness, old habits and old assumptions die hard.

There is, for instance, a rather strange belief about the PAP and political stability. Sure, Singapore has, for a long time since the PAP came to power, not been politically unstable. But why do people seem to think that there will be political instability if there were 30 opposition MPs in the Parliament? Why do people seem to think that there would be political instability if the PAP were no longer the government? Even if Singapore is not the most democratic place in the world, it has the structures of a democracy in place and there is no reason that Singapore would become politically unstable with the presence of opposition MPs. It is not as if there is going to be a civil war the moment the opposition becomes the dominant party instead; if there is going to be one, wouldn’t it be the PAP (now the opposition) who starts it even though it is currently being praised for bringing about stability. It is also not as if there is any opposition party that harbors aggression towards other countries and voting them into power could lead to war. People simply cannot understand that a change in the make-up of the government is not political instability. It is just change. And change takes place even if the PAP is the only party left in the Parliament.

One of the craziest reasons that has been given for voting for the PAP: you know they are going to win (or “You know the opposition won’t win”). So? Conversations will usually end here or the subject is changed. It is as if the predictability of the Election results is a reason to perpetuate its predictability. In Aljunied, there are voters who will repent (to borrow Kuan Yew’s vocabulary) by voting for the PAP before they have even sinned. Which begs the question of whether repentance is even necessary. Similar reasons given for voting for the PAP include “Everyone also vote for the PAP one lah” or the patently preposterous but certainly enlightening “I don’t like their policies but it has become a habit to vote for them.”

It is unintentionally enlightening. People are starting to exfoliate the dry, coarse skin of the PAP’s policies and even rhetoric. But a greater change is necessary. Beyond the skin, people need to recognize how the PAP has wired their minds and make an effort rewire them. Unfortunately, five decades of political hegemony during which the PAP is virtually god has left a large portion of the population unwilling to think and lazy to invest any effort to recognize the conditions that have constructed their worldviews and undying habits. In other words, uncertainty seems like a fearsome zone than the increasingly uncomfortable comfort zone to which they have been inured. This is perhaps the greatest success of the PAP. It is difficult to win hearts and minds and keep them, but it does not matter at all if you could colonize them and shape their landscapes.

No doubt, Lee Hsien Loong has used the word sorry in his speech (and that is, I remind the reader, different from saying sorry). No doubt, George Yeo has said that the PAP needs to transform itself and review the way it governs. But even if we assume naively that the effort to the truly sincere, there is no way to tell if the PAP will see what it has got wrong. In fact, it is more likely than not that the PAP will ultimately rely on new indicators to afford alienating or offending Singaporeans, but will continue to be the same in essence. In other words, it can well become stronger without becoming better. There is little indication that the PAP will change the main thrust of its economic policies. There is even less indication that the PAP will change liberate politics or retreat from its obsession with engineering society. There’s no indication that the PAP will tell the Straits Times to maintain journalistic integrity instead of being biased towards it. Is it possible that the PAP is wired in such a way that it is unable to change even when it realizes the need to, just like the voters who are dislike the PAP but vote for the PAP? The PAP has so thoroughly engineered Singapore that it could well be a victim of itself.

Singapore needs change. But, first, the people have to want change. And show it.

We have seen members of the PAP shed tears and express regret. If we assist them in eradicating the opposition from the parliament, we could well be the ones to shed tears and express regret in time to come. For PAP-voting readers who may just have that little tinge of indecision: Vote for the opposition. Vote to oppose the PAP or vote to oppose the self that has never managed to manifest itself in you.

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