Lessons from Singapore election

Updated: 2015-09-18 07:44

By Tony Kwok(HK Edition)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Tony Kwok argues that in rejecting oppositional politics, the voters of our closest regional rival had been taking note of Hong Kong's social and political turmoil

It is now time to see what lessons Hong Kong can learn from the recent Singapore election. In the lead-up to the poll there was widespread optimism among the opposition camp that they could make history by winning enough seats to create a two-party democracy with the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Hoping to build on their unprecedented 40 percent vote in 2011, the opposition parties for the first time contested every seat in the election.

Their Western-style propaganda build-up fueled discontent over the government's inability to control rising housing prices, unfair distribution of wealth, the influx of overseas workers and investors, and so on. Their election gatherings attracted tens of thousands of people with overwhelmingly supportive comments on social media, especially among the younger generation. It hinted at a major upset faced by the PAP.

Another reason for the opposition's optimism was that more than half of voters were from the younger generation born after independence in 1965 - the majority of whom expressed their strong discontent with the government.

Hence when the PAP was returned victorious with 70 percent of the votes cast, it was a huge disappointment to the Western media and commentators. Lamely they explained that the sympathy vote was swung to the incumbents by the recent death of PAP and modern Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew and the 50th anniversary of the island state. But let us pause to consider whether recent events in Hong Kong influenced the vote.

Singapore's poll showed that "so-called" public opinion can be very misleading. In Hong Kong, whenever tens of thousands march on the streets or stage a demonstration, certain media and the "pan-democrats" will claim that these protesters represent the majority views of Hong Kong's roughly 7.5 million people. Singapore's election demonstrated the real power of the silent majority. Further, since by law all eligible citizens in Singapore were required to vote, this means all the supposedly disgruntled younger generation voted. Therefore, the PAP's decisive win represented the overall wish of Singapore people, including younger voters.

There were probably two major factors influencing people to continue to support the PAP.

First, Singapore and Hong Kong are regarded as the only successful models in being able to transform themselves from two very corrupt British colonies into two of the cleanest societies with arguably the most efficient governments in the world. Singapore people likely drew a lesson from neighboring Malaysia, which happened to set up an anti-corruption agency about the same time as Singapore's Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, but was still troubled by widespread corruption in its government, notably the recent scandal involving the prime minister. As a result, Singapore voters would certainly have been more comfortable with the PAP's integrity and track record than with the unknown opposition party. In fact, the one constituency won by the Workers' Party was found to have dubious public financial accounts.

Similarly in Hong Kong, can we really trust the integrity of the "pan-democrats"? After some months, the "Occupy Central" organizers still cannot produce a proper income and expenditure account, while a number of "pan-democrat" political parties are under investigation for receiving dubious political donations.

Second, I believe the people of Singapore could have learned from Hong Kong the awful consequences of giving power to radical opposition parties. They had seen on TV how these legislators threw glasses, "hell money" and even bananas toward senior government officials in the solemn Legislative Council chamber. They also saw how students of our top university stormed into a university council meeting and used abusive language against its members.

Additionally, many Singaporeans would have been aware of our major problems, such as the long-delayed third airport runway and the new town project proposed for the New Territories, as well as the 79 days of the illegal "Occupy Central" protest spearheaded by the opposition parties that paralyzed Hong Kong. Formerly, Singaporeans regarded Hong Kong as their most powerful competitor. But in recent years Singapore has surpassed Hong Kong, and they realize this has happened because Hong Kong has been bogged down by frivolous political disputes and social discord, thanks to the opposition parties' obstructionism. Weighing up the right way forward for their republic, they dreaded to think that the same might happen to Singapore if they voted for the radical opposition parties.

I have to admit Singapore deserves to do better than Hong Kong because of the quality and vision of its sensible and pragmatic voters. Having said that, I believe the silent majority of Hong Kong people are equally pragmatic and sensible, but the problem is that their views may not be reflected in the votes. Hong Kong should consider making it compulsory for all those eligible to vote to actually do so. At present, only about half of our eligible citizens are registered as voters, and in the last elections only about half of them actually voted. The current system clearly fails to reflect the views of the silent majority.

If Hong Kong fails to vote sensibly in the coming election, thereby reducing the influence of the radical opposition parties, Hong Kong can be sure to continue to watch Singapore surge ahead of us economically by a bigger and bigger margin.

The author is a former deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and currently honorary fellow of HKU SPACE and the Open University. He also conducts anti-corruption training in various countries.

(HK Edition 09/18/2015 page10)