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PAP needs to muster moral courage to push for change, say Cherian George & Donald Low

The academics warned that PAP could go the way it did in 2011, addressing only errors in policy while leaving the party’s actual politics unchanged




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Singapore—In a post-election analysis entitled “GE2020: Singapore’s day of decision and the challenge of a generation”, academics Cherian George and Donald Low argued for real changes to be made within the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), as well as for citizens to continue to stay engaged with Singapore’s political processes.

The results of the election, with watershed gains for the opposition Workers’ Party (WP), should spur the PAP toward positive, and not negative, action, Messrs George and Low write. “Influential individuals in the PAP need to muster the moral courage to push for change; peers need to support them; and the small number of decision-makers at the top must finally give their nod of approval.”

As for citizens, they must keep a watchful eye on the county’s political scene and volunteer in community-level activities, which the two academics say is “against the grain of Singapore’s political culture.”

They warn that PAP could go the way it did in 2011, addressing only errors in policy while leaving the party’s actual politics unchanged. “It may once again convene managed conversations while restricting the space for public discourse and whipping up populist nationalism against critics. As the PAP starts soul-searching, influential voices are already advising it to focus narrowly on livelihood issues and ignore the calls for political diversity and fairness.”

The writers went on to address the WP’s win in Sengkang, which, as admitted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, shows the desire of Singaporeans for a “diversity of voices in parliament.” This is opposed to the opposition’s first big win in 2011, where “bread-and-butter” issues were the source of dissatisfaction. For this year, despite the generosity of Covid-19 related rescue packages, voters showed they wanted “political change, not just practical help.”

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Capturing a second GRC also resulted in WP chief Pritam Singh formally being named “Leader of the Opposition.” The writers called it an important gesture as it “acknowledges a loyal opposition’s legitimate role in Singapore’s system of government.”

Furthermore, Messrs George and Low add, “This is a step toward correcting the common misperception that the interests of the ruling party, the administration, and state are one and the same — a conflation that remains one of the main barriers in the way of a fairer, more contestable political system.”

The GE’s results, therefore, present opportunities for the ruling party to “change its internal culture and its approach to governance,” an uphill climb by any measure.

The authors cite a much-shared Facebook post from former Law Society president Thio Shen-yi calling for the PAP to end its culture of political bullying and in essence, play fair. “A good rule of thumb for the PAP to adopt would be to ask itself what sort of formal and informal rules of political conduct it would like to see in a world in which it is no longer dominant, or even in power. Somewhat paradoxically, only by embracing such rules can it secure its long-term success.”

The writers believe that the ruling party is capable of necessary internal reform, as it considers what is in the best interests of the country. “With the PAP, a few good men and women at the top should be capable of changing the entire administration’s direction. Unlike many other parties that have been (or were) in power for several decades, the PAP is not rigidly factionalised along personality lines.”

The writers end the article saying they believe that the election was not a fluke but a sign that the Singaporean electorate is maturing.

“GE2020 affirms our belief that Singaporeans — whether in the administration or the public, whether among PAP loyalists, opposition supporters or neutrals — do not lack ability or patriotism. GE2020 presents openings for government, parties and citizens to respond positively to the need for participation and distributed leadership. The question is whether Singaporeans and the party they have relied on for six decades can rise to this challenge of a generation.”  —/TISG

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