Singaporeans are not necessarily yearning for a political ideology—be it democracy or otherwise. What we want is a government that is more open and accountable to its citizens, and which truly serves its citizens, not just the ruling elites. One of the proven ways of bringing this about is through more political competition.
Political competition, just like competition in the commercial world, can bring about great benefits to citizens. Imagine walking into a supermarket and having a choice of only one brand of products on the shelves. The manufacturer of that product may claim that its product is ideal for local households, but without competing products, can consumers really know if they are getting the best possible deal?
The product manufacturers may also start getting complacent, thinking that there is no need for continual improvements, as there is no risk of losing their monopoly status.
This, I feel, is exactly what is happening in Singapore.
We have a ruling party that dominates almost every aspect of our lives—from political to business to cultural—without much political counter-balance. The operational and policy failures in just the last five years—from Mas Selamat’s escape, to the repeated floods, to the poorly managed immigration policies—have put into question the ability of today’s PAP to guide our country through its future challenges. Despite their glaring mistakes, they don’t seem aware of the frustration felt by citizens—or they are choosing to ignore it.
What benefits can political competition bring to Singaporeans?
Competition will make the incumbent party work harder to get re-elected. They will no longer be able to simply coast along. Instead they will have to work for every vote and really listen to, and act on, the concerns of voters.
Competition provides choices for voters. They will have a direct say in who runs their country and their constituency. This could in turn establish a greater sense of belonging and commitment among citizens.
Competition leads to better service for citizens, because the parties and candidates are competing to present better proposals and serve their constituents better. Many Singaporeans will remember the days when Singtel was the only mobile provider in town. When M1, and later Starhub, entered the market, prices suddenly dropped and service levels improved. Would Singtel have improved on their own without the “help” of fierce competition? I don’t think so.
Competition provides a more sustainable, self-regulating system. With the right incentives and rules in place, and with a free flow of information, political parties will be competing to serve their constituents better. There will be less of a need to depend on a strongman to hold the party or the country together.
Is all this is too idealistic? I think it’s possible.
It depends firstly on a level political playing field, which Singapore is far cry from. But more important than that is a need for more upright and passionate leaders to step forward to serve in opposition parties. A political party is only as good as its leaders and members. An in order to provide sufficient competition, opposition parties need to rise to a higher standard in order to be seen as a viable alternative to the incumbent.
This all takes time, on election at a time. It also depends on voters to educate themselves about the candidates, and not blindly vote for the incumbent because they didn’t bother finding out who the opposition candidate was or what he or she stood for.
So next time you have a discussion with your friends and relatives, and they ask “What can the opposition do for me?”, this article can provide some answers.