GE2015: Thoughts on Cooling-off Day

SINGAPORE - The campaign for General Election 2015 is dialling down and the nation gets a Cooling Off Day before heading to the polls on Sept 11.

Like the other 2,460,976 other voters, I will be mulling over how to vote.

Like many Singaporeans, my decision will be a mix of the head, the heart and the gut.

I will assess what the different parties and candidates have said, consider how they have acted. As a journalist who has had a chance to talk to, interview, or observe some candidates at close quarters, sometimes over decades, I am perhaps in a more privileged position than some readers. But like all of you, my decision will be influenced not only by what candidates have said and done, but also by my own expectations and aspirations, tossed in a mix of own experiences and impressions.

So here goes.

1. What is the best choice for Singapore's future?

I'm a top-down kind of person. I see the big picture before I drill down to details. So my vote won't start with what's best for me, for my estate, or for my family. It starts with what's best for this society.

As I've noted in a previous commentary, the key question this election is whether a stronger PAP is better for the country, or a stronger opposition.


Like many post-Independence Singaporeans - and also many older ones - I believe Singapore would be stronger if it had a stronger opposition. A strong opposition in my books isn't just about number of opposition MPs in Parliament. Quality matters.

At the same time, a strong PAP is also good for Singapore, so the country stays united. But like many voters, I don't want too dominant a PAP. Few of us, I reckon, want a return to the era when the PAP was full of Proud and Arrogant People who thought nothing of bullying its opponents, and threatening voters by withholding public funds for constituency projects. But I believe the PAP is changing. I see it changing.

Should my vote this time go to helping to spur the PAP on its path of change?

Or to prop up the current type of opposition and strengthen it further?

I think this is a tough one, and voters across Singapore will have to make up their own minds, depending on the relative quality of the slates being fielded in their constituencies.

2. What are the parties' track records in the last four years?

The PAP wants voters to think of its track record in the last 50 years. To those who say this election should be payback time for SG50, and a vote for Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy, I say: the electorate already endorsed all that, through every election in the past. The PAP has been amply rewarded by voters' support through 1959 to 2011.

This is a fresh election, and I would look simply at what has been done in the last four years, by the PAP, and by the Workers' Party, in its last term.

The PAP has changed course. I agree with Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who says that actually the PAP has changed, is changing, but doesn't know how to communicate that well enough.

It wasn't just by force of coercion that the PAP has remained in power since 1959. It changed from being a radical revolutionary party, to embracing democratic socialist ideals, and then becoming more pragmatic as it became the government. It became a capitalist, pro-business party. Since 2011, it has recalibrated, going back in some ways to its socialist ideals. It has built more homes, expanded the bus and rail network, and slowed the influx of foreign workers. It has raised subsidies for the middle income, in housing, health, childcare and eldercare.

But it hasn't embraced as much democracy as political liberals like me would like to see.

Do you want to encourage the PAP on its path of reform so far? Or has it not changed enough to your satisfaction?

As for the WP, has it entrenched its position as the leading opposition party since 2011? It has managed to recruit good candidates this election. But has it strengthened its governance as a party, become more coherent in its party platform and policy proposals?

In short, the question for me is: which party has made better use of the last four years?

3. Which team standing in my constituency has qualities that I would trust?

Beyond the party and the platform, the people matter a great deal. Electing Members of Parliament isn't a matter just of choosing someone to run your town council, or someone to organise social programmes for the elderly, the poor and the sick. It is also more than choosing someone to be your voice in Parliament. MPs have real power. They have power to make laws that govern how you and I live in society. They are first and foremost, legislators.


Many people figure that it's alright to send dubious folks into Parliament, since an opposition MP may not be able to muster enough support in a PAP-dominated Parliament to get his way.

But that won't be the case for long. Once elected, an opposition MP entrenches his leadership position within his own party. His win attracts others to join his party. Soon, perhaps before we are fully aware of it, the candidate and his party can become a real force to be reckoned with in Parliament. How will he then use his legislative power to make laws?

I'm not a Holland-Bukit Timah GRC voter, but I have watched the campaign there with interest. I met Dr Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party with whom I had a cordial hour-long interview on healthcare and other issues.


I found him credible and serious-minded. But if I were a Holland-Bukit Timah GRC voter, I would find it hard to support him as part of a slate that includes Dr Chee Soon Juan.

I was a young reporter in The Straits Times through the 1990s, and covered Dr Chee during the Select Committee hearing on healthcare costs and the subsequent parliamentary privileges committee hearing that found the SDP team in contempt for presenting false data to Parliament.

The thing is, everybody makes mistakes, even political parties presenting important reports to Select Committees. But I didn't like the way Dr Chee fudged and prevaricated during the hearings.

And because I had seen him up close, I still can't shake off a lingering distrust, touching family video and Wall's ice cream stories notwithstanding.

As a voter, I would not hand over legislative power to people I find hard to trust.

4. This isn't GE2011. This is GE2015. And there is GE2020.

The last GE was defined by anger among voters, to the extent that the Prime Minister apologised to voters for his government's mistakes. This is 2015, when the PAP is trying to renew its mandate with voters.

For the many Singaporeans who want both a strong PAP and a strong opposition, the dilemma will be acute. Vote to entrench an opposition on the rise, or to strengthen a weakening PAP government?

Luckily for all of us, whatever you decide this election, there is another one in five years' time, when you can send another signal to steer the political direction of the country.