SG 50 – Our Coming of Age, Our Political Landscape

8 Aug , 2015  

Guest Article by Mr Benji Lee #SG50 #oursingapore #wearesingapore

9 August, 2015 marks a historic milestone in Singapore’s young history, with billboards and posters flashing the SG 50 logo on the backdrop of a little red dot, reminding us ever so often. It is a testament of the trials and tribulations that Singapore weathered through – from colonisation to,being renamed Syonanto and finally on the arduous path to self independence. The little red dot has Whilst we celebrate in the nation’s historic milestone, let us not forget the path Singapura took to become the bustling cosmopolitan city of Singapore. Our forefathers laid the foundation and cornerstones of Singapore, slowly transforming Singapore from the small fishing village to the current urban landscape that blots out the sky with sky scrapers and tall HDB buildings. The government has always been playing an active role in nation building, rolling out policies and steering the forward direction for Singapore to continue prospering. As with any nation building efforts, there have been ups and downs, but we cannot discount the fact that the government has been one of the key movers of Singapore economy and played a major role in having attained Singapore’s success today.

However, as we bask in the celebratory tone of the Golden Jubilee, it begets the question – where do we move on from here? We are indeed fortunate to be able to raise our champagne glasses in the celebration of SG 50, but what must we do to ensure that the success Singapore enjoys will be carried on till the next Diamond Jubilee? As with our forefathers who laid the first brick of modern day Singapore, it is us whom will carry forth the same tenacity and torch of will for the next generation and many years to come. Singapore is no longer a backward fishing village, and the once lush forestry is now replaced by the urban jungle. This presents a new set of challenges and problems as Singapore sets forth into unchartered territories of nation building.

Together with the changing geography of the Singapore map, the political landscape is changing to adapt to these new challenges. Our society is becoming more educated and literate, thanks to the foresight of the government. With the increasing literacy rates and education levels, the population is altogether a different beast to tame and woo their votes. Have the government, in their quest to gain the Promethean Flame, burnt themselves with it?

Sons of Singapore

The early stages of the political scene in Singapore were to unite the nation through survival. Singapore gained independence via a very abrupt and unwelcomed split from then Malaya. She was not expected to survive with the scarce resources, much less fathomed to achieve an economic miracle and prosper. Cast off from the bigger brother and left to fend for ourselves, our forefathers knew it was a swim or sink moment. A strong leader, the late visionary Mr Lee Kuan Yew, galvanised support from the masses. Singapore gradually found Her footing and pulled through the difficult times.

Over the years, support was overwhelming as the people had absolute confidence in this great man and his governance. After the uncertain years upon gaining independence, Singapore had a solid foundation, but the benefits of labour intensive industries were petering out. Singapore needed to move on to the next tier in order to continue growing, hence the need for an educated workforce. The government strongly advocated learning and education, with the dividends to pay off years later as the youths grew up and contributed to the society. Again, the population was enthralled and believed in the government’s direction and foresight, having ensured Singapore not only did not fall into disarray, but stood strong and tall. The new vision seemed sensible, as they always have, and the population supported them. Fast forward to the twenty first century – the dawn of digitalisation and age of technology. Modern day youths are equipped with computers and laptops, and often times they have devices that allow access to the Internet like smart phones and tablets. In other parts of the world where countries are struggling to cope with illiteracy, here in Singapore you will be hard pressed to find a youth or young adult who does not know how to use a computer or surf the web.

This creates a modern army of highly intelligent individuals, people who have access to the vault of infinite information. Having the ability to assimilate and process the information, it allows for a population that has his/her own voice and opinions. No longer are the days when the population is herded into one unified thinking. Individuals are better able to make an informed (or misinformed ironically!) decision with the eclectic range of information readily available on the Internet.

The Internet age has wide ranging and rippling effects on the global community at large. One of its spill on effects it has on people is it amplifies their voices. Of late, Singapore has seen a trend of social vigilantism or justice. Videos of injustice or wrongdoing or conversely, acts of heroism and kindness, are uploaded on the net and quickly become viral. The MRT bully, the neighbour’s abused elder woman and on the flip side the pushing of the bus to aid the pinned man, these are just some examples of how the digital world has interacted with our daily lives and actually transform the way our society functions. The people have a voracious appetite for news/trends/information on the Web, and the Web then becomes a medium for the people to express their views and opinions, which consequently have a swaying effect on those who merely read it. With the upcoming elections, how will the government continue to garner the population’s support in light of the strong online presence of its citizens?

The government must evolve to adapt and surmount the challenges ahead. With the looming elections, the government can no longer rely solely on traditional means of rallying to garner the support and votes. It must recognise that with each upcoming GE, there is a new batch of voters who have reached the legal age of voting. Social media and platforms have a huge influence on these young voters and the government’s appeal to the public through these social mediums is necessary for them to build further rapport with the citizens. Likewise, the opposition should seek to have these social media outlets at their disposal as well or risk being too distant from the very voters they seek to reach out to.

Although the Internet presents the politicians an opportunity, it has its sinister pitfalls as well, having dire repercussion that could see backlashes and losing popular support. The recent news headline regarding youths and their legal embroilment in over zealously expressing their subversive opinions have rattled tongues amongst the heartlanders. Well acquainted are the citizens of the name Roy Ngerng and Amos Yee, both having had a legal tumble with the nation’s authorities. They have sparked off national debates on freedom of speech in Singapore, and rightfully so as their views were laced with provocative intent. Whilst the subject on freedom of speech is worth pondering over, the government cannot ignore this burgeoning phenomenon whereby the youths and young adults are increasingly having their own individual views on how things should be. From Kate Spade bags to MRT breakdowns, people gave their two cents worth on small and big matters alike.

LOL MRT breakdowns… this pic of an SMRT contest was taken during the glory days? A sea of red….

So what does it entail for the younger voters and politicians alike? For the voters, these public opinions undoubtedly form a key part of their very own assessment and opinion of the governance in Singapore, for the better or worse. Being able to scour the vast network of information on the Web and processing the information influences them to a certain degree. Also, being born in a very comfortable environment without having gone through the threat of starvation leaves one easily discontented with their current situation. “Where is my pay raise? It’s so crowded. Cost of living is too high” are just some of the common grouses. Whilst they are not invalid per se, it is an indicator that there is growing dissent and discontent amongst the populace.

As evinced by the last GE 2011, the once infallible ruling party, has seen waning support and rising opposition. It should serve as a harbinger of a political shakeup, that the ruling party can no longer rest on its laurels and simply expect the people to vote them based on their past merits alone. The older generation of voters are less expressive and reserved in their outward political views, often extolling the adage, “Silence is gold” when it comes to airing their political views. They have admiration for the government, but at the same time have been culled into fear of the government’s omnipotence. The young ones are more foolhardy and brazen with the exuberance of youth, and as Amos Yee famously put it, “obliged to dance with [PM Lee]”. Although the way and content that Amos Yee chose to air is contentious, he is but a manifestation of the growing discontent amongst the populace. The government must adapt to this radically different paradigm of voters who are intelligent, and are not afraid to voice their opinions.

The politicians, both the incumbent ruling party and oppositions alike, must evolve and adapt to this new breed of citizens. The new age voters are vastly different from the older voters. The politicians must be able to engage them, and at the same time cater to the older voters. Both traditional methods of rallying such as walking the grounds cannot be done away with. However, new innovative ways such as through social media to engage the voters is one good way to reach out to the crowds. They must have a vision as well – where do we move on from here on? How do they rectify the problems that plague the nation?

For instance, the MRT breakdowns are a major inconvenience and relevant issue close to the hearts of the commuters. Identifying the problem is simple, addressing the issue is not. What are the safety checks in place to ensure mistakes are not repeated? What is the root of the problem causing these frequent meltdowns? Rather than engaging in slugfests over jobs being poorly executed, it is more constructive to propose feasible solutions.

Having sound policies and guidance is the way that has ensured Singapore has enjoyed 50 years of success. This formula stood the test of time and failing to adhere will see Singapore’s success dwindling. Policies to help the under privileged is also important, to give them the added boost to compete on the same playing field as the rest. As the nation’s celebrations come looming, so is the game of thrones about to herald. The iron throne of Singapore is there for the taking, but the path to the coveted seat will not be as one sided as it was generations ago.

This upcoming (rumoured September) elections will see some very exciting and unforeseen outcome. No one knows where the tides of change will bring us, but we can be certain that it will be a much more contested GE that will see much more intense competition. A toast to SG 50, and many more jubilee celebrations to come!

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Benji Lee

** Benji is a part time freelance writer that sells his soul for words. Drop him your comments here if you wish to have the last words with him!



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