Ground Not So Sweet For PAP
The election result had probably left PAP leaders scratching their head. Out-going Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had remarked that the ground was not so sweet due to higher cost of living but they had hardly predicted that the groundswell of discontent was so huge that the ground was not sweet became the understatement of the year. So what had PAP done wrongly? To be fair to them, they had not changed much over the past 50 years in terms of performance or attitude. However, they had become victims of their own successes. While transforming Singapore, they have also transformed the mindset of people.
In the past, majority of the population were lowly educated immigrants and who did not mind a more high-handed management style. Unexposed to western democracy, most citizens were subdued and law fearing due to the cultural influences. History and Asian philosophy had taught many that the mandate to rule come from heaven and authorities must be respected. Moreover, with poor education, most of these people couldn’t fathom politics and voting back then was more a popularity contest rather than a contest of the brains for policy.
Exhibit 1: Singapore electorate in 1970
In the past, our electorate looked something like Exhibit 1 where majority of the people were the clueless mass. Top down approaches worked well as most of them could not comprehend the impact of the policies and discussions were often kept minimal. It was more like a stern father guiding a young child and the child trusted the father for his wisdom and experience to provide the best.
Exhibit 2: Singapore electorate today
As we can see from Exhibit 2, the electorate had changed due to PAP’s own successes. We have an electorate that is more articulate and knowledgeable. This created three new groups of people that the PAP were unaccustomed to.
For the “blind leaders”, PAP had to focus more on providing explanation and education. This is solely lacking in the past as there were never huge groups of articulate people around. Vocal dissidents were far and few and were quickly quashed by PAP. However, as the number grows for this group, it is no longer effective or feasible to silence the group. Lack of information in the public domain for many of the matter relating to our politics and policies, these group tend to spin their own stories which may be half-truths or blatantly false. However, when stories are repeated, the perception that the government had failed would strengthen. Perception is reality in politics.
The outspoken advocates are the difficult people for the PAP to deal with. Those people demand respect and would actively engage the PAP on various issues. In the past, all the intellectual elites were either in the civil services, academia or in PAP and hence the tone and manner which PAP spoke to critics could be condescending at times. In today’s world, where there are many qualified people in private sectors, such comments would be dissected, analysed and torn to shreds by these group. The condescending tone that was once condoned is now viewed as sheer arrogance or even hubris.
Lastly, the PAP had underestimated the importance to engage a large group of seemingly passive silent influencers. These people are knowledgeable and often analytical. As they are normally passive and silent, this group posed no issues in the past election. However, with the advent of social media, these intellects wield great influence on the results of the election. Highly respected by their peers, they could shift opinions with their arguments. The internet amplified these voices, which are inaudible in the past, to such an extent that they could make or break a party. PAP’s control of the mainstream media which served them well in the past had shown signs of cracks during the election as overwhelming damnation drowned out most of the voices for support for PAP. The clueless mass, which formed a huge part of the electorate are influenced by all the messaging that they hear. As PAP is slow in engaging the silent influencers and winning them over, these people’s views would tend to be negative as they perceive PAP to be arrogant. These people greatly influence the voters belonging to the internet age.