Photo: Osamu Kaneko on flickr

Photo: Osamu Kaneko on flickr

Election results show that for pragmatic voters, material comfort trumps civil liberties and political participation.

What was tipped to be the most competitive poll in decades has resulted in an emphatic victory for Singapore’s ruling party.

Last Friday, the People’s Action Party (PAP) was returned to power with a stronger mandate, stunning both supporters and detractors alike.

Undoubtedly, the timing of the polls was an adroit move by the government. The date itself served as a reminder of the vulnerabilities and uncertainties that the nation faces.

Singaporeans went to the polls amid global financial turmoil; first in Greece and recently in China.

Closer to home, the spectre of terror and political instability looms over the region, notably in Thailand and Malaysia. This certainly served as a stark reminder to Singaporeans that, possibly what is really needed to steer the nation forward, is a strong government; a strong PAP.

The ruling party went into this election having only secured 60.1 per cent of votes in 2011. This is in comparison to the 66.6 per cent in 2006 and 75.3 per cent in 2001. This year also marked the unexpected resignation of the transport minister, Mr Lui Tuck Yew. Additionally a slew of high profile MPs including Mr Wong Kan Seng and Mr. Mah Bow Tan retired from politics.

For the first time, voters went to the polls in a post-LKY era. Undoubtedly national sentiment stirred the hearts and minds of the people, thereby giving the ruling party a decisive victory. Arguably, instead of being less fearful and more audacious, people used this election to pay one final tribute to the legacy of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

More importantly the outcome of this election demonstrated the pragmatism of the Singapore electorate.

Many people still see the relevance of a powerful ruling party model – one underpinned by communitarianism[1], where leaders and people are integrated through an elaborate network of interdependencies, bonds of loyalties and mutual acts and responsibilities. While citizens exercised pragmatic acts by pledging unwavering political support, political leaders respond by providing material goods and services.

While the form of this model has evolved through the years, its function and purpose has fundamentally remained the same. Undoubtedly, this has brought us great success; Singapore has become a global hub in shipping, aviation and finance, leapfrogging other East Asian nations that were initially tipped to be regional powerhouses. But of late, it has been struggling and playing catch up, particularly in regard to its immigration policies, social security and transport issues.

Of significance is the extent of society’s pragmatism, with many Singaporeans now better educated, and/or having worked or studied overseas, as well as having access to new information and ideas.

From the outcome it is both persuasive and disconcerting to note that Singaporeans, despite having raised uncomfortable questions on civil liberties, LGBT issues, political participation and consultation, and having been presented with a hungry opposition containing a slate of candidates with impressive credentials, are still willingly to sacrifice all these in return for material comforts and social stability.

Perhaps, through this demonstration of support, the electorate trusts the ruling party to reciprocate by rigorously assessing the current model of governance; to ensure its does not remain a bland simulacrum of rigidity but a transitory model that continues to evolve with more openness, more flexibility and compassion.

But whether this government will acknowledge this and allow alternate voices and viewpoints remains to be seen.

Patrick Sagaram lives in Singapore and works as a teacher.

End notes

[1] Chua, B.H. 1995, Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore, Routledge, New York