Mr Han Fook Kwang, SPH’s Editor-At-Large, wrote an article today (‘PAP in decline? But what if…’, 9 Nov) speculating under what scenarios PAP can continue to remain in power for the next 50 years.
He started by asking, “What is it about Singapore that when people talk about its future, it is almost always about whether the ruling party will remain in power?”
Specifically, he mentioned the recent public talks given by Ho Kwon Ping and former Minister George Yeo.
In his talk, Mr Yeo related how social media and the information revolution had overturned traditional hierarchies, making governance more difficult, including in Singapore.
Mr Ho, on the other hand, sketched several scenarios on how PAP’s dominance would be challenged, and he thought a 2-party system might emerge in 15 years’ time.
“These discussions might seem odd to external observers when there isn’t a successor to the ruling party in sight,” Mr Han said. “The closest, the Workers’ Party, has openly declared it isn’t ready to form the next government, though it might not be so diffident the next time it makes further electoral gains.”
“But, for now, we are left with speculating the longevity of the PAP in a political vacuum,” he added.
Mr Han then said that perhaps it is more useful to turn the question around to ask under what circumstances PAP can remain just as dominant in the next 50 years as it has been in the past.
He drew up 3 scenarios where PAP might continue to “reign supreme”:
Scenario 1: All change at the party
“One of the most difficult for the party is its loss of control of information because of the proliferation of social media,” Mr Han said. “Singapore society is also much more diverse and fragmented today.”
Mr Han noted that economic growth has not benefited Singaporeans evenly.
“From the feedback I get, there is a sizeable group of Singaporeans who say they supported the PAP in the early years but now feel it isn’t the party they knew,” he said.
“Their criticisms: It has become elitist, is no longer in touch with the lives of ordinary people, and its market-driven policies have departed too much from its socialist roots.”
Mr Han then wondered if PAP can make a complete change so as to win back their former supporters.
“Is it possible for it to again be the party it was in the 1960s and 1970s, trusted by the people to overcome the odds that must have seemed even more insurmountable than today’s challenges?” he asked.
Mr Han surmised, “If it (PAP) is able to make the changes – whatever these might be – and transform itself, who is to say it will not regain its past dominance?”
He gave the example of Britain’s Labour Party, which had spent almost 20 years in opposition, but which eventually transformed itself into New Labour under Tony Blair. Subsequently it won the 1997 general election in Britain by a landslide.
Mr Han also mentioned Britain’s Conservative Party which was rejuvenated by Margaret Thatcher in the 70′s. The Iron Lady, as Mrs Thatcher was fondly known, went on to be Britain’s longest-serving Prime Minister in the 20th century.
“These parties found new impetus to change and they did so successfully,” he said.
Scenario 2: Out and back again
In this scenario, Mr Han speculates that PAP loses a general election (perhaps the next one).
But the opposition party which becomes the new government “fumbles badly and loses the support of the people”.
Then, PAP is voted back in and possibly rules for another 50 years.
The reason Mr Han gives is that PAP is so “chastened by its years in opposition, it renews itself in heroic fashion to recapture the people’s trust”.
“This comeback scenario isn’t unique and has been replayed elsewhere, most recently with the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. Don’t rule out it happening here,” Mr Han postulates.
Scenario 3: A near-death experience
In the third scenario, Mr Han thinks that if Singaporeans experience “trauma” in a near-death experience like a long, deep and paralyzing global recession, conflicts in the region or a war between the major powers in Asia, they will likely hang on to PAP, the party they know.
“Faced with impending danger, Singaporeans are more likely to want to unite than divide, possibly behind the party they know,” he said.
Mr Han cited the trauma that Singaporeans experienced when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965. He said that many people attribute the PAP’s long hold on power to this incident.
“That separation was so life-threatening, the people rallied behind the Government to make a superhuman effort to succeed,” he said.
Hard to say
Mr Han did, however, acknowledge that the big unknown is the electorate.
He also acknowledged that a sea change in the people’s attitudes and outlook has taken place, especially in their relationship with the PAP government.
“It has ushered in a period of electoral uncertainty, and where it will lead to eventually is hard to say. As someone once said, prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future,” he concluded.
Will Mr Han still be employed at Singapore Press Holdings, let alone remain Editor-At-Large, if a new government takes over?
What do you think?