In a year singularly focused on the spirit of nationhood, it would be indeed deflating if national perspectives are upstaged by petty and parochial concerns in the run-up to Polling Day set for Sept 11. Voters will want political players to run their election campaigns in a manner befitting a country marking its Jubilee year. Rows like the one over Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations in 2001 or the delayed upgrading of a suburban shopping centre in 2013, that once proved irksome as side issues, are hardly the grist that parties ought to mill now, at this stage of the nation's development. Rather, one would expect substantive arguments to be advanced by all political players, with an eye on not just the next five years but also the decades to come.
The quality of candidates matters, both those from the ruling party and, equally, their opponents - given the entrenched role of the opposition here, as signalled by the constitutional provision allowing for the appointment of up to nine Non-Constituency MPs from the opposition. As all are expected to contribute to debates in the House, candidates ought to, at the very least, present clearly their stand on critical issues - like the challenges facing the economy, sustainability of ever-broader social programmes, and uplifting of disadvantaged groups in society. Many candidates have cited immigration flows and rising costs as continuing concerns. They should do voters the courtesy of going on to say what they think should be done to address these issues, if they are to earn their support. Being ready to voice the people's concerns is necessary but not sufficient to warrant a seat. After 23 general elections and by-elections since independence, voters would expect politics as well to have matured alongside the evolution of the economy and society.
Reflecting on past unstinting support for the People's Action Party - dubbed a "paradox" considering certain unpopular policies then deemed necessary by the leadership - economist Bryan Caplan (author of The Myth Of The Rational Voter) concluded that this was not because Singapore voters were more economically literate than those elsewhere. Instead, support was based on a track record of delivering the goods - a preference for a "party that takes economic reasoning seriously". One could also add its other serious concerns like infrastructure, security and defence. In recent times, that delivery has included the remaking of social policies, like Workfare which was introduced in 2007. Not surprisingly, opposition parties will seek to claim credit for greater government responsiveness to voters' concerns in recent years, a charge the ruling party rejects. Yet, that is how democracy is supposed to work. Voters will give their support to parties and leaders whom they believe are most alive to their hopes and concerns, both present and future.