Key trends on the ground
THE Government and commentators have overstated the "by-election effect" on the People's Action Party's stunning defeat in Punggol East ("PAP leaders expected contest to be difficult"; Sunday). While there is some truth to the view that voters were choosing an MP and not the Government, it would be wrong for the ruling party to ignore some key emerging trends on the ground.
First, the opposition parties, especially the Workers' Party, are able to attract more qualified candidates who can go head to head with many PAP MPs. A few of these candidates appear to have ministerial potential as well.
Second, more Singaporeans are willing to explore alternative socio-political-economic agendas.
Third, opposition party activists and supporters appear hungrier and more vociferous in pursuing their various causes, compared to backers of the ruling party. They have a bigger point to make, and less to lose.
Lastly, the tide has been turning for the WP, and it has achieved some more "firsts", including busting the myth that a three- or four-cornered fight would hand victory to the incumbent.
All these, on top of the local issues in Punggol East, proved too much for the PAP to overcome.
There is no shame in the party's loss in the context of Singapore's changing political dynamics. And there is certainly no loss of face for the party to express disappointment in defeat.
The WP has now won large swathes of support in north-east Singapore.
This is a wake-up call for the Government to rise to the WP's challenge and, more importantly, take the shifting sentiments on the ground seriously.
I welcome WP chief Low Thia Khiang's statement that his party is willing to help and cooperate with the PAP to move Singapore forward.
Its leadership has stated repeatedly in the past that the WP is not ready to form the government.
But as we know, in life, and especially in politics, the lines between words and deeds can often be blurred in the pursuit of power.
Singapore will be finished if parliamentarians on both sides of the fence become "yes-men" to the electorate and indulge in populist politicking to win votes.
A tiny city-state with no natural resources or huge geo-strategic buffers can ill afford to take this dangerous path that continues to paralyse many so-called democracies such as the United States.
Democracy can work only if there is responsible citizenship on the part of all - the Government, the opposition, the media and, above all, the people.
Toh Cheng Seong