Brexit vote holds lessons for Singapore

There are two lessons Singapore can draw from the Brexit vote.

Those who voted to remain in the European Union tended to be the upwardly mobile urban families who benefited from the United Kingdom's inclusion in the EU, while those who voted to leave tended to be from working-class households who have not benefited much from the inclusion in the EU.

Europe correspondent Jonathan Eyal says: "While the forces of global markets have created winners, they have also created many losers. The losers have votes, too, and are ready to use them." ("Why leave? A protest against parties and price of globalisation"; last Saturday).

What can we learn from this?

Singapore is one of the world's richest countries on a per capita basis. It has a lot of money flowing in, but how many Singaporeans actually benefit from this inflow of money?

The per capita gross national income for 2014 was $69,168, roughly $5,764 a month, while the median income was $3,770. The difference in the two figures suggests a certain amount of income inequality in our country.

This means that Singaporeans are rich, on paper (comparable to the upwardly mobile in the Brexit vote), but how many Singaporeans, in reality, struggle with daily expenses (the working classes)?

Next, reports and analyses have indicated that many Brexit voters didn't even know what they were voting about, that they didn't even know what the EU was about when they voted.

In Singapore, how many voters actually know what is happening in our own country, and how many vote responsibly?

How many think about the policies they are voting on, and how many actually vote based on their feelings and on what they overhear in the coffee shop?

This is frightening, because a vote in the wrong direction can have undesirable consequences, as many voters in the UK are now realising.

There are similarities between what is happening in the UK and what is happening in Singapore - while there are people who are benefiting from our country's economic policies, there is also a sizeable portion of our population who are struggling with daily living expenses. I encourage our country's leaders to keep this in mind as they formulate present and future national policies.

Let us learn from Brexit - that voters vote with their feelings, not with well-thought-out decisions, and that "the losers have votes, too, and are ready to use them". The outcome of such a vote may not be for the betterment for our country.

Yeo Eng Buan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Brexit vote holds lessons for Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe