Rough Translation: La-kopi Politics
A patron came to the restaurant to have afternoon tea. He sat for a few hours, but the restaurant owner did not mind as the customer was alone. Later, he pulled in a few of his friends, occupied several seats and in the process, denied other customers who would want to have seats to have proper meals. Everyone among his friends only ordered afternoon tea, not having proper meal. The restaurant manager looked out of the window and saw many more queuing up, signalling to him they are all there having afternoon tea, not having proper meal. The restaurant only has 80+ seats, but the number of patrons taking proper meals is fewer. The restaurant owner brought the menu for proper meals to those having afternoon tea, but they all replied him they weren’t hungry yet, causing a big headache to him.
Many have expressed concerns that WP repeatedly emphasised that they were not ready to replace the government soon after winning Punggol East by-election.
No doubt the by-election strategy was one of the key reasons for the result, but such effect was not novel. It was adopted cleverly by Chiam See Tong many years back, but past election results were never so dramatic.
If we combined the results from the four elections held over the past two years, one has to admit that the “spring uprising” fever is not far from hitting our shore. People become sicker and more tired of government who have been in power for the longest time, egged on by news and ideas proliferated by the internet. People thus start to support power which can limit and challenge the authority held by the government. The more secrets the governing party has, the more vulnerable it is to attacks and criticisms in this open internet world.
Half a year back in this column, in our analysis of the election trend and electorate make-up, the future change in our local politics will be decided by how in-depth the PAP would reinvent itself and whether the opposition parties led by WP prepare itself.
The shocked look on WP’s leader face in the aftermath of the by-election showed that the party was apparently also caught off guard with the above-said “uprising fever”, despite fervently walking the ground. On the surface, the WP appeared to be responsible by repeatedly lowering the electorate’s expectation; but in truth, the WP is most irresponsible.
Like other opposition parties, the WP started off with one or two stars. Aided by the increased political awareness and the social media, the WP got a strong boost injection and surged ahead among the many small parties, and concretised its leadership position in 2011.
However, with the increased vote share and MP seats, the WP has to bear a heavier responsibility in delivering its promise. The WP in 2011 came out with the First World Parliament slogan, but two years have passed, the slogan remained empty in its true content. Even the governing party has to remind the people the silence from those WP MP voted into the parliament.
This involves the depth of the talent reserve within the party, which could no longer just put up a one- or two-man show counting on luck or opposing votes to get into the restaurant just to drink afternoon tea.
This is thus not a normal election win, and is not a normal by-election effect; it signifies something more historical. What we are seeing is a strange political situation, with a tinge of black humour. On one side the loser lost resentfully, and on the other side the winner won worriedly. The common point is that both sides are trembling in fear.
The WP win will likely bring our local politics towards a new dimension in the next 5 to 10 years. In the process, what are the promises WP made to the nation, what is really meant by the First World Parliament, these are questions which the WP needs to clearly defined. In other words, it has to let people know, are they in this just to run the town, maintain the cleanliness of their constituencies, help constituents write appeal letters, ie continue to drink afternoon tea while very contentedly collect their ten to twenty thousands of monthly “allowances”?
When WP tells voters it still does not have adequate capabilities to start preparing taking over the government, how many MPs would it need to start this preparation? Is it 20, 30, or 50% minus 1? What is its belief with regards to the value system of a democratic politics? Does it have the necessary competency to point out the mistakes or mis-steps in government policies, or does it need more and smarter netizens to teach them?
Many voters accept WP’s position that it does not have the strength. There are also people believing that WP was just hiding its actual strength, and is wise not to reveal it too early. But such evasive move will hinder the growth of opposition parties. With its own position bolstered by more votes, it will definitely squeeze out the survival space and talent pool of other smaller opposition parties. It will no doubt turn off those talents who are flocking to its camp to find out that the party is contented with its “afternoon tea” politics mentality, and this will only weaken the opposition camps.
Singapore situation is a bit unique in the sense PAP has performed very well compared with the main parties of many countries in the world. Unless the PAP can convince the citizens on its policies to prevent a wider loss in the near future, with more and more people queuing to have “afternoon tea”, it will be detrimental to true democracy when come the next election, those people drinking afternoon tea are not able to switch to proper meal.
A large part of a modern country is run by a large civil service. As long as politicians are not with ill-intention, willing to humbly learn, it should not be a big problem with running the various country’s institutions. Singapore has always relied on elites committed to the country to fill up our civil service and army, thus there is no reason to believe the country will no longer be effective with a change in political party.
WP should just stay put if it does not intend to run the country, just fight for 10 seats or less the next time, and allow the other opposition parties who have higher aspirations to fight for the other seats. A party without ambition, without vision and without confident actually does not help in improving the society, because it does not offer alternative route how a country can progress, or alternative views of the people. By complacently occupying many parliamentary seats just to have “afternoon tea”, it will do good to let others who really want to have proper meals to take the seats.
There are still many who are not too sure about the pros and cons of a democratic system, or clear about the good and bad of such a system. Such people exist in both camps, partly caused by the lack of education in understanding what a democracy system entails, and partly misguided by some public views and opinions.
The time has arrived for the role of WP and other opposition parties to be critically reviewed. How the citizens forge ahead is uncontrollable and unpredictable. But as Hu She (one modern Chinese thinker) said, once a pawn crossed the river, he can only charge ahead. To run politics, one has to take the “proper meal”; if not, state so clearly, and the voters can then serve the final cup of tea and send them away quickly.
陈迎竹 . 早报