April 16, 2006

What is Politics?

It was an interesting forum between Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and a number of young journalists from our local media, entitled "Why My Vote Matters"?

One message that MM Lee reiterated during the forum caught my attention. Politics is not just about whether one casts a vote or not. It is about securing a job, a home, a future. This perception broadens the scope of what we would usually perceive as the political landscape. And in some ways, it tosses back the question, "Are Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, politically apathetic?"

If we define politics strictly as the arena in which governance issues are debated and discussed, as well as the electoral processes that are conducted to bring representatives into Parliament, then there is little doubt that Singaporeans by and large are hardly pro-active in local political issues.

With MM Lee’s interpretation, the political field is much wider. Does Singaporeans care about their jobs, their homes and their future? You can bet your life on it. For most Singaporeans, the fact remains that they are making steady progress in these areas as a result of a strong PAP government. This is their yardstick for political involvement. Should the day comes when significant numbers of the population do not have a job, a home or a future, they will be agitated enough to question and change the political system which we have come to relied upon since the PAP came into power.

Which explains why MM Lee sounds assured that a walkover in his constituency is a mandate for him. Indeed, the Opposition’s failure to attract good candidates in good numbers to contest the past General Elections is an indication of the level of endorsement for what the PAP government has achieved generally. True, there may be unhappiness over one or two policies, but few people have felt so aggrieved as to join the Opposition or form a new political party. And in the contested wards, the results more or less reflects the mood.

The Opposition is aware of this and have tried very hard recently to shift the focus onto ideals such as the need for checks and balances in Parliament and an alternative platform for those with dissenting views. They accused the GRC system of being biased and resulted in substantial walkovers and that the PAP candidates who got into Parliament through walkovers are without a "real mandate". By crying aloud the need for an independent representation in Parliament to check against the PAP, they are also attempting to narrow the focus of the electorate on the dominance of the PAP in Parliament.

The real reason for the walkovers and PAP’s dominance is really down to the (lack of) strength of the Opposition. And the Opposition is weak because most Singaporeans know, deep in their hearts, that a good and strong government in place and there is little incentive to do away with the status quo. Despite their many complaints over petty issues, Singaporeans are generally pragmatic and are acutely aware of the many privileges of being a Singaporean. And in an environment that is increasingly beset by fears of terrorism and epidemics, Singaporeans know who can be relied upon to ensure their security and good health. This is the political battlefield that the PAP has fought and won with clinical efficiency. The parliamentary debates and election contests, to many Singaporeans, have become sideshows. Not because they are politically apathetic, but because the ruling political party will give them the progress that they are looking for.

It is the politics of contentment.

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