It’s just two more days to polling day in Singapore – and the democratic awakening sweeping across the world has not left the island republic untouched.
“Singapore is a country – not a company,” says private teacher Michelle Lee, speaking at an opposition SDP rally
One political observer in Singapore told me he expects the opposition to pick up 10 to 12 seats in the 87-seat legislature. “(It is) difficult to predict though…..could be more. People I spoke to (seem) determined to cast their votes to the Opposition.” In the 2006 general election, the opposition won just two out of the 84 seats up for grabs. Under the circumstances, even if the opposition captures six to eight seats, it would be a significant advance.
Like elsewhere, part of this newfound democratic consciousness may be attributed to the stranglehold over the mainstream media being broken by wider public access to alternative views on the Internet. There’s solidarity in numbers too – and that has helped to cast off some of the fear of earlier years.
What’s interesting is that quite a number of the major election issues in Singapore are similar to ours – although of course the obvious corruption and the racial and religious rhetoric over there is much less.
The core issues seem depressingly familiar: lack of freedom of expression, the rising cost of living, an influx of migrant workers, the absence of a minimum wage, a clamour for affordable health care and housing, traffic congestion and crowded public transport, long hours at work, retired workers having to work into their twilight years.
Apart from this, many seem resentful over the high ministerial pay packets. Like in Malaysia, income inequality in Singapore is worrying: the island republic’s Gini coefficient was 0.425 for 2000-2010, the second highest of 42 nations with “very high human development”.
But beyond all this there seems to be realisation that human development should not be measured solely in economic terms. At the heart of it all, many Singaporeans appear tired of the focus on GDP and productivity in Corporate Singapore even as a large proportion of workers appear to be struggling.
Voters now seem to be looking at larger quality of life issues; they want to be treated with dignity and they want their democratic freedom, their basic universal rights. Surely, there must be more to life than slogging away in the service of GDP growth rates and the bottom line or being a human cog in the production line.
That’s not too dissimilar from what is happening in Malaysia, where many are waking up to hard economic realities. Many Malaysians are also burdened by the inability of wages to keep pace with the soaring cost of living. And all the while, the government bows to Corporate Malaysia with pro-business policies that promote corporate-driven GDP growth (for whom?) while dishing out corporate incentives, soft loans, and contracts for the ‘boys’.
It’s time for a more sustainable and people-centred approach to development that would put people above profits. The economy should serve the people and not the other way around.