Election fever raging

Maxwell Coopers
Free Malaysia Today

Constitutionally, there really is no hurry for it. Because as after all, the official decree mandates that Singapore’s ruling Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) has the mandate to rule the tiny island city-state right till February 2011.

Yet the feel and smell of election in the air is almost unmistakable.

“There must be something wrong if you do not see the signals” the city-state’s premier Lee Hsien Loong jocularly told reporters who quizzed him about it over last weekend.

Still there is no denying that election after all, is what is needed as it scouts around for another premier.

Not only has the electoral boundaries commission been formed – which always is a precursor to indicate elections are around the corner – there has also been walkabouts and other ‘theatrics’ to ensure that elections are in the offing.

And symptomatic of that Lee has even reshuffled his cabinet and picked the ‘right’ lexicon indicative of the mood: bringing in new blood into the government.

So it is – now is the time more than anything else, to say that election fever undoubtedly is in the air.

From the looks of how things are in the city-state; it is in anybody’s guess to ask why the next six months shouldn’t be called opportune.

The economy is coasting along unbelievably well. It is projected to grow by an astonishing 13 to 15% when the year ends, an outcome which will probably chasten and wallow the United States and Europe into self-pity and who continue to languish in anaemic growth.

Unemployment only stands at 2%, according to government statistics.

There has been a raft of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs’) with neighbouring nations and major powers and that truly is a good feel factor about what the future heralds.

And if national pride needs to have a place, the country chalked enough medals in the recently held Commonwealth Games to reverse years of sobering introspection, soul searching and self-flagellation.

Measure of success?

If that was not enough the nation announced over the course of the week, its launch of a telecommunications satellite thus making it the first South East Asian nation to soar into space through an indigenously-built craft.

Little wonder that the catchphrase of “punching above its weight” sits so well with the Republic. For that is what it is does best, and does well.

Anybody in such enviable circumstances cannot but feel the overweening pride, but a degree of self-assuredness. It is a sure measure of success.

Yet it is in those very areas of success that, ironically, where the fiercest electoral battles will be fought.

The PAP has long argued that without human talent the nation’s complex and vibrant economy will stall and its people will suffer.

From all outward appearances there is much truth in that dictum because three million Singaporeans simply cannot do the job of maintaining an economy that has to stand up to some of the world’s most states.

Not just that, there is also national service to mind – the state mandated calling to the nation’s young and virile to commit to military service. All said, such huge commitments undoubtedly will stretch the nation to its limits.

Growing income gap

That Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, the father of modern Singapore had once urged a drawing down of immigrants and the easing granting of permanent residency status is almost the surest indicator that the close to more than two million Singaporeans living and working in the city-state will be a special target in the hustings.

It is not just jobs these foreigners have been accused of taking away. They are also squarely blamed for the high cost of living and some of the crimes in the city-state.

The other which though self-effacing yet rarely talked about, least of all in an election year is the growing income gap.

Singapore does boast some of the most enviable noveau riche in South East.

But that fact masks something that is little known across its borders; that amidst the oasis of wealth and prosperity, pockets of poverty continue to dot across the city-state.

Little wonder Lee introduced sweeping constitutional changes to the nation’s election rules this year.

Calling the need for such rules as being necessary to, “generate more robust debate, improve policy formulation, expose PAP MPs’ to the cut and thrust of the debate and demonstrate what the opposition can and cannot do”, the new moves cannot more be about upmanship than it is of political brinkmanship and dogged resilience.

Detractors may call it desperation on the part of the PAP, but when it comes to political survival and remaining relevant, there are few matches to the PAP.



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