Event report – Post-Elections forum – What’s at Stake?

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MARUAH organised a public forum on September 19th to share thoughts and perspectives on the General Elections 2015 (GE2015) that took place on September 11th, 2015. The speakers were:-
Mr Alex Au, blogger and activist
Dr Derek Da Cunha, political analyst, author and independent researcher;
Dr Jack Lee, law academic with research interest in Constitutional Law;
Mr Rafiz Hapipi, youth counsellor and researcher, and MARUAH member;
Mr Sudhir Vadaketh, author and blogger;
Mr Terry Xu, editor of The Online Citizen

The speakers were experts who had been watching the General Elections and commenting on the process from one GE to the next.

MARUAH wanted a discussion that covered GE2015’s Campaign, Impact of the Results and What’s Next for all of us. More than 150 people attended the discussion and many among them were young and middle-aged. Many who came also displayed knowledge on GE2015 that was valuable to the discussion. The proceedings were recorded on video.

The Key pointers/perspectives which were shared by the speakers and audience members are highlighted here:-
• The Analysis on GE2015
– No One really got it right
– Most of the predictions on the Voters and the Polling results were not borne out in the GE2015 results
– Most likely people wanted stability, to be ‘safe’ and there was also a fear of upsetting the balance with too many or too extreme ‘opposition’ members when there are more global economic challenges
– A year of SG50, Post-Lee Kuan Yew, Loyalty and clarity of the PAP’s brand were factors that did contribute to the results
– Perhaps most importantly it was ‘voting in their self-interest’ that brought about the results that we see
– Rally attendance is not a good indicator of electoral success and rallies are as much entertainment as an expression of voter support
– There was disappointment and anger among opposition supporters after the announcement of results. But there is also a growing positivity towards the next phase

• On Political Parties
– What is the Political Party brand? Parties should set out clear distinctive brand identities and be focused on their ideologies to position themselves for success. The smaller parties ought to re-think their role and whether Singapore really needs this level of diversity, going by the results over two General Elections
– Discussions on coalitions or getting into horse-trading on constituencies do not appeal to voters
– Any discussion on unity becomes a watch on disunity. So the stakes are high to get involved in this type of discussion once Election Dates are announced
– Should there be a label “Opposition”? We have moved beyond lumping non-PAP parties under a single brand name. In countries such as US or UK the identity of each individual political party is clearer
– An informal survey with Mountbatten residents showed that all opposition parties were seen as the same, rather than having any distinguishing party identity especially on its ideology or manifesto
– There must be a process of rehabilitation of Political Parties in getting ready for the next GE

• Role of MP
– Populism seems to be growing trend and an understanding on what it can mean for the voter and for Singapore
– MPs’ role, for some, is all about the personal touch
– For others, it is also a question of their role in Parliament and the assertion on the representing the residents on their views in the parliamentary discourse
– Parliament a place for checks and balances. Yet how do MPs fare through such a process

• Anti-Immigration Issues – Foreigners
– There is little clarity on who is the foreigner
– Many owners of SMEs will be cautious if there is too much negative onslaught against the ‘foreigner’ as it will affect their business [they employ foreign labour]
– The numbers of naturalised citizens are small yet their numbers are perceived to be high and influential on final outcome
– What is the problem if naturalised citizens become political party members and political parties ought to become more open to these possibilities
– What is also the problem, if as naturalised citizens they care for the community and the policies

• Media
– Social media had little impact on voters. Most had already made up their minds through various interactions and analysing their own self-interests
– Mainstream or traditional media, though improved from the last GE, still showed a certain preference in emphasis given to the ruling party as compared to the opposition parties

• Institutional Mechanisms
– Electoral Boundaries Review Committee and its report on the boundaries which was then accepted by the government. Accountability is low. And there is little transparency on factors influencing Electoral Boundaries. Malaysia for example offers a public consultation on its election boundaries
– We ask for no more piecemeal changes to Election Boundaries
– There is a strong call for an Independent Elections Commission
– The Elections Department’s guidance on what people can post on internet on Cooling Off Day is not completely consistent with the Parliamentary Elections Act. Specific wording of the Act suggests that one-to-many communication (e.g. on social media) are not permitted by law. The question that arises is that this is too broad to be enforceable. Should this provision under the law then be done away with?
– There is a conflation between social services/grassroots activities which only work with the PAP MPs or PAP grassroots advisers. In addition, in an example highlighted, volunteers were asked to wear t-shirts with PAP insignia; the volunteers begrudgingly wore them as they were afraid of being denied use of facilities in the future
– One speaker suggested for the GRC scheme to be limited to just four members, in line with the original intent of the scheme. But there was also a view that we need to do away with the GRC scheme
– NCMP scheme is still one way for opposition parties to participate. But there is also a question if there ought to be such a scheme

• Fear
– Fear of sudden change of ruling party
– Perceived fear of the identity revealed as the number can be tracked through the ballot paper [see MARUAH’s “The vote is secret” video]
– Polling processes still involve polling agents shouting out names that impacts people differently

• The Singaporean
– What do they want at the end of the day?
– What is our ideology, motivation?
– What do we really care about?

Going forward
Most people seem to be recovering from the results which have shocked and startled many. People are still affected by the results in various ways. It is also a process for all to be more in-tune with the ground.
Certain processes need to be reviewed. These include the independence of the Election Department, transparency of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, a revised GRC scheme, stronger identity of all political parties, a higher knowledge and engagement of the public in our own future.

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