What GE 2011 means to a 21-year-old

Sometimes people are too carried away by present events that they forget the fundamentals. What’s the purpose of general elections, anyway? The simplest answer I can think of is to choose a government. And what does a government do, or should do? My view is that the government should be doing these:

  1. Ensure everyone has food, water, proper sanitation
  2. Provide access to shelter i.e. a permanent roof over head
  3. Provide physical security i.e. the police force and army
  4. Gives education opportunities
  5. Creates employment opportunities
  6. Maintain an affordable level of healthcare

Of course, you may argue the government should be doing many other more tasks, like building a transport infrastructure, taking care of the environment or cultivating the arts and culture. But my 6-point-list is minimalist and the very essence of what a government should excel in. Once the basic responsibilities are fulfilled properly and standards are maintained,  the rest should be easy.

Do all S’poreans have all the 6 points? Definitely not. Every society has its marginalised and less well-off, including ours. There are homeless people in S’pore, there are the unemployed, there are those who have difficulties putting food on the table or paying utilities bills, there are those who can’t afford healthcare because their illnesses demand expensive treatment, there are those who aren’t studying because of family troubles or lack of supervision… And the list goes on.

Right now, with cost of living as a major issue, the PAP government is struggling to fulfill a few of these essential tasks. Point 2 is that everyone should have access to a home. The government provides public housing for the masses, but the price index of the resale market has been rocketing in recent years. And since public housing is provided for by the government, it is very difficult for the PAP to deflect blame. Their helicopter vision was not up-to-mark on this vital issue. The end-result is that opposition parties have confidently tackled the housing issue. The WP has also offered a proposal to link median income to new flats, which might be attractive to new flatowners.

If S’poreans believe that the PAP performed badly in these fundamental tasks of a government, they would vote for an alternative party to run the government, or vote in more opposition members to pressurize the PAP to improve.  Of course, the reality is far from that. There are a few reasons:

  1. Personalities play a significant factor in influencing elections. If not, why did Potong Pasir and Hougang vote Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Kiang respectively elections after elections, even with lures of multi-million upgrading? Similarly, even though the PAP might have done poorly in the aspect of housing, the candidates they field can promise change. If these candidates are trusted by the electorate, obviously they would continue to be voted in.
  2. Impressions matter a lot. I think the opposition parties are different from one another, but the average S’porean does not have the luxury of time or effort to try to differentiate among them, and the opposition parties have made few attempts to show how they are different. Hence splits in the Reform Party or the SDA might add to the image of a fragmented opposition camp, doing them no good to court votes
  3. Systemic advantages enjoyed by the incumbent. As the incumbent governing party, the PAP already enjoys 24/7 media coverage. However, due to the GRC system, it is a perennial challenge for the opposition to win a GRC and expand their presence. And gerrymandering, of course.

Well, these are my thoughts. It really takes a leap of faith to choose someone whom you think can act in your best interest in the running of the country. This leap of faith borders on the miraculous, in the sense that you know your representative will act for others too, and he cannot possibly represent everyone. What if he makes a decision which harms you but benefits others? This connection will be broken, even if that decision is good from a macro perspective.

I’m unable to vote in the coming elections, but if I could, I’d keep my fingers crossed as I cast my ballot. And hope in the next five years the government will do better in the 6-point list.


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