Be very, very afraid of the electorate

Posted: April 24, 2011 in Culture, Politics
Tags: , , ,

Fear is perhaps one of the most powerful human emotions. Out of fear, human beings can be made to do certain things they normally would not do, or they can be made not to do things they want to do.

During elections when every vote counts, political parties will use all legitimate means at their disposal to win votes, and that includes using the powerful emotion of fear to influence voter choices.

The political parties trying to dent the People’s Action Party’s stranglehold on political power in Singapore are using fear on a grand scale with their talk about how voting candidates from non-PAP parties constitute sound and necessary political insurance to guard against future failure of the ruling PAP.

The PAP is also engaging in the rhetoric of fear on an equally grand scale, with party honchos warning of dire consequences of voting non-PAP candidates, which include weakening of Singapore’s government and loss of future prosperity because PAP policies had always brought about prosperity for Singapore.

The interesting thing about political rhetoric of fear is that many people get caught up in the rhetoric and do not confront and analyze these fears rationally. The rhetoric is based on certain assumptions, and the validity of these assumptions are generally suspicious.

For example, on the topic of political insurance, the fear that non-PAP political parties, especially the Workers’ Party, are trying to sell is the possible failure of the PAP in future. What are the odds of that happening? The non-PAP political parties are mum about that. The unspoken assumption is that the PAP will eventually fail, so voters should buy political insurance by voting in non-PAP candidates.

The other assumption about voters ‘buying’ political insurance by voting in non-PAP candidates is that these candidates represents sound insurance. How true is that? How can Singaporeans be sure that the non-PAP candidates are good enough to take over? Why bother paying money for insurance that doesn’t protect you? If you have no insurance, you are also unprotected, but at least you keep your money.

The PAP’s rhetoric of fear make no rational sense too. Why is it that a government comprising of non-PAP members equals a weak government? Are there prior examples of incompetent governance by non-PAP political parties? In fact, the only government that Singaporeans know of is the PAP government, so voters have no basis for comparison. Perhaps this is why the PAP wants voters to fear the unknown and then allay the fears using the illogical reason that the PAP doing a good job (which is debatable) means other political parties do a bad job.

Also, Singapore’s democratic system (again, subject to debate) is designed such that incompetent political parties don’t stay in power long enough to do long term damage. If Singaporeans vote a lousy, incompetent political party into power, then out that party goes in the next elections. Which political party fights to get into power only to lose the power in the following elections? All political parties are the same; they want power, and they want to stay in power, and the only way to stay in power is to do a good job when they are given the chance to be in power. There’s no rational reason why a political party other than the PAP will do a bad job.

The argument that the PAP had been successful in the past doesn’t mean that Singaporeans can assume it will be equally successful in the future. The PAP has done a remarkable job bringing Singapore from third-world to first world. Does the experience of moving Singapore from third world to first world means that the PAP has the ability to keep Singapore ahead among first world countries? Moreover, the political leaders of PAP back then, now and in the future are not the same. What rational basis is there for saying that the PAP, under different people and conditions, will always bring about good outcomes for Singaporeans?

To the political parties, as long as they get their votes, they probably do not care about whether they got their vote by scaring voters, or they got their vote by convincing voters rationally. Voters, however, should care about whether they are casting their votes out of fear. It is important for voters to rationally examine the assumptions behind all the rhetoric of fear in order to make an informed decision at the polling booths.

Heaven or hell for the next five years will be decided this year. And if there should be political rhetoric of fear, it should be coming from voters to political parties through their votes to keep these parties on their toes to do the best for electorate.

Political parties should be very, very afraid of the electorate, not the other way round.

Editor’s note:

For a more detailed discussion about which political insurance salesman to buy from, read Fearfully Opinionated’s excellent analysis of the various insurance policies.

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Comments
  1. Amused says:

    You are being too kind to PAP. Granted that PAP did a remarkable job bringing Singapore from third-world to first world, but that was more than a decade ago. (See From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 by LKY)

    From some data points, Singapore is actually regressing from First to Third World in the past decade. For example, the average real income of the poorest 20% households has fallen by about 20% since 1998. PAP still maintains no minimum wage policy typical of Third World.

    In addition, labor productivity has gone negative in the past decade, with productivity growth of -0.8% in 2007, -7.8% in 2008, and -14.9% in 2009!

    These are just 2 of multitudes of recent policy failures under the reign of PAP. To argue that PAP had been successful in recent past is stretching the truth.

    Singapore electorate does not need insurance in this election. What they urgently need is to right the ship before it sinks!

  2. sgcynic says:

    The PAP has a consistent track record – good in the early 4 decades, consistently bad in especially in the last five years

  3. Aaron Ng says:

    Amused and Cynic,

    I think everyone has their own opinions as to how good or how bad the PAP is, and I’m not immune. To each his own!

    And to Amused: I would like to think I’m a generally kind person. 🙂

  4. wrath says:

    PAP’s performance has been very successful and consistent for the first 35 years – when the ministers are paid decent salaries.

    PAP’s performance for the last 15 ears have been erratic and mediocre – when ministers are paid the world’s highest salaries for politicians.

    Do we see an inverse correlation here?

  5. […] the chances of it happening), we also cannot deny that the intentional creation of fear is also a PAP political strategy to keep itself in power.  Therefore, should the SPP convince the electorate at Bishan-Toa Payoh to vote out DPM Wong, […]

  6. sophosanthropos says:

    Democracy is essentially people power whereby political leaders are elected into positions of power BY the people, FOR the people, and TO the people. As long as we are not seeing the growth of GDP being redistributed to address the needs of the lowest 10-20% of the population, we have doing democratic politics; rather, a corrupted form of politics. Our PAP Govt has been boasting growth in GDP, which is true, but it does not tell us how this growth in GDP is not reflected in growth in real income or in our median income? Actually, the day our PAP Govt decided to do two things regardless of people’s sentiments, it has lost its high moral ground that the founding fathers of SIngapore/PAP enjoyed – namely, million-dollar salaries for ministers and the casinos.

  7. sophosanthropos says:

    Democracy is essentially people power whereby political leaders are elected into positions of power BY the people, FOR the people, and TO the people. As long as we are not seeing the growth of GDP being redistributed to address the needs of the lowest 10-20% of the population, we are not doing democratic politics; rather, a corrupted form of politics. Our PAP Govt has been boasting growth in GDP, which is true, but it does not tell us how this growth in GDP is not reflected in growth in real income or in our median income? Actually, the day our PAP Govt decided to do two things regardless of people’s sentiments, it has lost its high moral ground that the founding fathers of Singapore/PAP enjoyed – namely, million-dollar salaries for ministers and the casinos. When the govt stops listening to the people, the only thing left for the people to do at elections is to cast a vote to have their voices heard!

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