Jan 30, 2010

why the vote is not `daft'

Last Nov, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed APEC delegates in Singapore. When asked if he was confident that his economic reforms and stimulus packages would work for Malaysia, he quipped: “Well, it better work. Otherwise, you won’t see me around for long”.

While his quip drew laughter from the audience, there was obviously a serious side to this. Politically, the ruling Barisan Nasional’s pole position had been significantly eroded in the General Elections, and the balance of power could tilt in favour of an opposition bloc if the people became more dissatisfied with the ruling coalition. The threat of being voted out of office is a real driver to perform, and to be seen to perform.

Over in the USA, the stunning loss this month of just one Senate seat - Ted Kennedy’s seat in a blue state like Massachusetts – was a slap in the face for President Obama and the Democratic Party. It sent a clear message that there were serious public misgivings about the President’s priorities. Moreover, the Democratic Party’s majority in the Senate became one seat short of the “supermajority” of 60, which meant it could no longer prevent the Republican Party from using (filibuster) procedures to block the Democrats’ agenda.

Thus this week, when Minister Mentor warned Singaporeans not to cast protest votes against runaway HDB prices, at the risk of being `daft’, he was telling Singaporeans that they should not use the vote the way the rest of the world did.

The last few years in Singapore have not been rosy for everyone. Just in the last few days, I came across many people who did not seem to be getting much out of the Singapore Dream: divorcees with genuine housing needs; elderly who could not touch their own Medisave for their outpatient medical needs; chronic sick saddled with huge medical bills; Singaporean workers suffering from being displaced by cheap foreign labour.

Of course, inequalities will exist in any society. Rich and powerful people generally have more control over their lives than the poor and marginalized. But the one, and perhaps only, time when the voices of ordinary citizens speak as loudly as the voices of the elite, is during the General Election. Rich or poor, each person has one vote and an equal say. This truth is so self-evident, and yet often overlooked. Just think about it.

It would therefore be a sheer waste of the vote to support the ruling party when one has grave dissatisfactions with policies or life in Singapore. It is entirely predictable what the incumbents would do with a strong mandate – which they have always done – say that Singaporeans have shown that they trust the ruling party, a recipe for them to decide on any policy, however harsh.

That is not what democracy should be about.