Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Politics of Singapore. (Or "what's this I hear about the 'New Normal'?")

With the 10 point "swing" back to the PAP, some are saying there was never a  "New Normal" that was being bandied about after GE2011.

GE2011 was just a hiccup. Voters were just having a "hissy fit" as Chua Mui Hoong puts it:
If so, then GE2011 was the equivalent of a hissy fit from voters unhappy over rising costs, infrastructure overloads and immigration.
-  "Silent majority's roar of support for PAP"
Chua Mui Hoong
Straits Times 12 Sept 2015 

Now, can we get back to our lives?

There are many theories about what happened on Sep 11 2015. Here are some of the more popular ones, I have heard/read.

1) Singaporean Voters are stupid, politically immature, shallow, short-sighted, materialistic, brainwashed, and easily bought.

As compared to the intelligent, mature, sophisticated, altruistic, right-thinking, independent, condescending, arrogant, intelligentsia making the above pronouncement.

I don't think it is my place to argue with intelligent, condescending, arrogant, opinionated sophisticates. I'll just leave a banana and back away slowly.

2) The Lee Kuan Yew Effect plus the SG50 Effect + the NDP effect + the ASEAN Games Effect + the NDR political rally effect + Personal Charm of Lee Hsien Loong Effect + [insert any other  effect you can think of]

The seductiveness of this theory is that it is unfalsifiable. You cannot remove the "Lee Kuan Yew" effect if it exists. Or any of the other effect.

Well, maybe the NDR political rally effect. A survey between 5 and 17 Aug 2015 found that 70% of Singaporeans were already going to vote for PAP. And this was before the NDR.

But if this theory is correct, as long as the GE was held after National Day, PAP would win as it did. Then, there is nothing the opposition could have done.

So instead of "Singapore Voters are Stupid", the summary of this theory is "PAP is strategic and manipulative".

Not much better is it? Because for the "PAP is strategic and manipulative" theory to work, Singaporean voters must be malleable to manipulation. In a word, stupid.

Like I said, not much better.

3) The "Silent Majority" roared!

Which was the main thrust of Chua Mui Hoong's article (quoted above).

If so, where was this "silent majority" in 2011? This answer is not an answer.

Voting is compulsory, and this GE's about 93.5% of eligible voters voted. This is slightly higher than in 2011 when about 92% (IIRC) voted. If the Silent Majority voted PAP this GE, what were they doing in 2011?

Roaring for the opposition?

Then the question is not whether they roared, but how did they decide who to roar for? Which is precisely the question and which this so-called answer does not answer.

4) The Opposition were pathetic

The Singapore voter is not stupid, contrary to hypothesis #1.

If you look at how the various opposition parties fared, you will see that the SG voter differentiated WP from the rest of the pack, and were rather swayed by SDP.
WP:   about 40%
SDP: about 31%
SDA: about 27%
SPP:  about 27%
NSP: about 25%
PPP:  about 23%
SingFirst: about 21%
RP:    Less than 21%
At the bottom of the pack are the egotists - Kenneth, Jee Say, and Meng Seng. This is my personal opinion, but I think they deserved to be there.

OK. Just because the SG voter agrees with me, I say they are not stupid... I think there is a self-referencing logical fallacy there.

But there are other incidents - the desperation of some opposition parties and their leaders. The clear opportunism in their scramble to contest Punggol East. And one particular character that flitted from GE to PE and almost to BE. At which point, you realise he just wants to win an election, It doesn't really matter which to him. Which also implies that the voters don't really matter to him except as a means to an end (his erection).

The conclusion is that the opposition lack clarity of vision, steadfastness of purpose, and a definable positive mission other than "check the PAP".  In other words, the opposition's main and ONLY selling point is that "we will pasang kaki the PAP".

5) Opposition tactical errors

Like contesting in all the seats thus raising the spectre of a freak election results that scared voters to vote PAP in droves in order to stave off the spectre of a freak election.

Like lip service to "opposition unity" while the biggest opposition party goes its own way.

Like forsaking the "by-election strategy".

Like making grand plans without first establishing their foundation.

These explanations after the fact are from 20/20 hindsight and are at best observations with narratives spun as explanations after the fact. The explanations are at times tautological and at other times simply assertions, with no falsifiable hypothesis.

One of the narratives concerned social media, which is the next theory.

6) Undue influence of Social Media, and attendance at opposition rallies.

The explosion of alternative voices on the social media, this theory goes, gave voters the impression that PAP was going to fall.

This in turn raise the spectre of a freak election, and so....

You know, this is a "damn if you do and damn if you don't" situation. The critics of the "govt-controlled Mainstream Media" asserts that alternative voices are not represented in the mainstream media. So voters are NOT aware of alternative views and alternative explanations and, well, just alternatives in general.

Which is why they have always returned the PAP to power at every election.

So here comes social media and the critics of govt and the supporters of opposition flood social media with alternative views pushing for a more representative democracy. And pushbacks or counter arguments from other netizens are attacked, and denounced as the propaganda and attempted manipulation by the "PAP Internet Brigade". If you repeat a lie often enough, you will start to believe it.

And now the VERY SUCCESS of the critics on social media in pushing their alternative views, in shouting down and shutting down opposing voices is being blamed for the "gains" by the PAP?  So if the "pro-democracy" lobby had been a leeetle less effective, a leeetle less loud, and a leeetle less scary, the opposition would have made more gains?

Sure. Continue to delude yourself in this wonderful game called, "Heads I win, Tails you lose". You may want to check if anyone is actually playing with you.

7) Fear of a Freak Result

This raises a possible "tactical error" (#5 above) to a full theory by itself.

The theory is that in 2011, WP and SPP took a gamble and Low and Chiam left their stronghold risking everything. Low's gambit was to tell the voters that if they did not vote for him, they may well have NO opposition in parliament. So the fear of a All-PAP Parliament led to votes for WP, and their taking of Aljunied.

However in 2015, the fear was a different one. This time, Low was sitting in his base, and all 89 seats were being contested. The fear now was that a freak result could mean NO PAP government on 12 Sept.

Fear of that outcome drove voters to vote PAP this GE.

If so, the question we need to ask is, what does the SG voter want? In 2011 when there was a danger that there might be NO opposition, the voters of Aljunied decided that trading in two Ministers (including one well-regarded Foreign Minister) was worth keeping an opposition presence in Parliament.

In 2015, voters everywhere (except for Hougang and Aljunied) decided that the opposition candidates  being offered were not worth trading in a PAP minister or two. Or even potential minister.

In other words, fear may have worked in both elections to focus the choice for the voters.

If so, the question then is, so what? This was the choice that voters made if the choice was presented to them in the starkest possible way. They were not deceived into making their choices. The choices were not misrepresented. But it was okay in 2011 when fear drove them to vote for WP, but not okay in 2015 when fear drove them to vote for PAP?

I like double standards as much as the next guy, but let's be honest about it, eh?

Theories aside

So those are some of the theories.

I'm sure there are more. These are just the ones that I can understand and explain.

Here's my "theory".

There was no trick or tactic or strategy. Or none that worked.

Voters voted for who they thought would be their best MP, or voted for the party they had the most trust in, or for the party they believed could make their lives better.

One month before the GE, an independent survey found that Singaporeans were going to vote overwhelmingly for the PAP - 70% of them. Plus or minus 2.6% margin of error. PAP polled 69.9%, almost dead on the survey findings.

That means one month before Polling Day, voters had already decided. Nothing during the 9 days of campaigning changed that.

What about the huge crowds at rallies? People gathered for entertainment. Rallies are like Las Vegas. What happens in Rallies, stays in Rallies.

So what does it mean that people have already decided?

It means that nothing during the campaign period means anything. Everything that matters happened before Nomination Day. And what really mattered to voters was whether the PAP, the govt, had responded to their complaints and feedback, and the signal they sent to the PAP at GE 2011.

And the signal was received loud and clear.

And the PAP had responded as the voters wanted. And the voters assessed that things were improving, that the PAP was responding, and the PAP was changing, being more responsive.

So they voted for change they wanted and could get.


To be sure, this is probably the high point (or very nearly the high point) of support for the PAP, just as GE2011 was the low point (or very close to the low point) of support of PAP at this stage of Singapore's political maturity.

I will stick out my neck and say that in the next election, regardless of what the PAP does between now and then, and regardless of what the opposition does between now and then, and regardless of what their arguments are for more opposition, the vote share for PAP will fall.

What swings one way, will swing back.

The only question is how far back. And THAT will depend on what the PAP does wrong. NOT what the opposition does right.

I COULD be wrong though. Maybe there is an emerging "new normal" but it is emerging - still emerging. GE2011 was just a glimpse, but it was not the final stage.

I say the PAP is at a political high point now and that means their vote share can only fall in the future. No matter what the PAP does right. This is simply because voter's expectations will rise and it will rise regardless of reality and circumstances. That is the nature of human... nature.

Singaporeans are not stupid. They have confidence in the PAP. The opposition at this time are nothing more than a bogeyman to be used against the PAP. They have little credibility, offer no real alternative, and have nothing for Singaporeans to believe in except ideals, dreams, and fantasies. And Singaporean don't get enough sleep to dream, and got too much work to fantasise. But they like it when there are opposition characters to do it for them.

But more importantly, Singaporeans may have rejected the opposition because of the "poison" in their argument. In the aftermath of GE2015, PM Lee was quoted as saying that the Opposition's approach was "dangerous" and "goes against human nature".
"They said "Government is doing good, vote for us, the Government will work even harder'.
That is a very dangerous approach and it goes against human nature. If you have a friend and he is nice to you, you are nice to him or her." 
PM Lee may be right. Singaporeans have a sense of justice and fairness. We are steeped in the principles of meritocracy, and we believe in rewarding good results. To ask voters to whip a horse that is already running faster strikes us as unjust and unfair.

It goes against our sense of rightness.

But again, I return to the pre-election survey.

One month before the campaigning started, voters had already decided. And they were saying, "the PAP had responded in the last 4 years. Things are better or will be improving. The signs are there. They have my vote. "

Theories and armchair analysts may try to explain what may seem inexplicable to them. But it may only be inexplicable within their prejudiced or preconceived notions of what should be instead of how things are really. Quote from a blog post:
"The greatest humility (and honesty) is to be able to see things as they are, not as how you think they should be, not as how you wish them to be. Conversely, the greatest conceit (and deceit) is to see things as you think they ought to be, as you want them to be."
And armchair analysts (myself included) often suffer from a lack of humility. It is our hubris.

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