Imagine this. You walk into a brightly lit room and in the centre is a beautiful red box with a lid. There is a note on the lid that says, “Do not open”. What would you do? By all intents and purposes, you will open it to see what’s in such a beautiful box! Humans have never been very good at keeping instructions.
The PAP should bear this in mind the next time they try to drive action against the opposition.
It so happened that last Friday, the PAP resorted to dropping flyers to units in Kovan to discredit the opposition running the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC). This is in response to the lapses in financial management highlighted by the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO). In their flyers, the PAP challenged residents to question the AHPETC about their practices, especially in light of appointing the facilities management company handling the cleaning and maintenance contracts belonging to their council members. It was reported that the contract rates at AHPETC were higher than those at PAP-held wards.
While it is not uncommon for PAP to discredit the opposition in such fashion, it has time and again shown to lead to the opposite effect of what they had tried to achieve. One very famous example is in the Hougang by-elections in 2012, where DPM Teo Chee Hean repeatedly questioned Mr Png Eng Huat’s credibility, casting aspersions onto his character. Yet it is these very tactics that probably helped Mr Png win at the polls.
Are they doing this again?
Every action is driven by an intent, and one wonders what the intent is here. If the PAP wants to rouse the people in these wards to take action against the incumbents, then it may be misplaced. Why? Because flyer drops have little effect in changing behaviour. Being externally driven, with its own ulterior motives, flyers try to push people to do someone else’s will. In today’s day and age, Singaporeans are much more perceptive than that; skeptical even. They will resist all attempts at being turned into lackeys, even if it’s for their benefit. Singaporeans hate to be taken advantage of.
Another reason why this tactic will not work has more to do with internal motives. If residents in the AHPETC don’t mind the extra expense, who are the PAP to question their decision? Perhaps the higher expense is the cost of having an opposition in parliament? A cost that the residents will gladly pay for? If this is the case – as most likely it is – then the more the PAP pushes, the more the residents will be resistant, like the “Do Not Open” sign on the rid box!
Change needs to come from within. Like the uprisings in the Middle East and the protests in Hong Kong, these originated from an internal dissatisfaction. Social media then helped fan the dissatisfaction, giving rise to the increased opposition, thereby toppling incumbent authorities. If the PAP wants to unseat the opposition, they will have to do it from within. They would have to sow social discord amongst the residents. They would have to divide the populace. This has to be driven from one of most respected residents of Hougang, Aljunied and Punggol East, those whose words will sway thousands of votes. There has to be a galvanizing issue that can pull the political fabric in the opposition wards apart. Unfortunately, a little financial shenanigan, if ever there was one, would not cut it. Just as there has been no voice of dissent when the government increases taxes, there will probably be no concomitant dissent when the residents pay more to have their streets cleaned. After all, the streets in the AHPETC are clean!
It is time for the PAP to think of better ways to win back the votes from the opposition. And a sugary budget like the one that parliament has just approved might still not work. Singaporeans are wary of such tactics, remember? Applying some strategic thinking to the issue: identifying the true intent, thinking in time to see what had caused the situation to be as it is and finding a holistic solution around that, reframing the problem and identifying the drivers that cause the situation to move in one or another direction, are all necessary to formulate a new PAP strategy of winning back votes.
Otherwise the PAP activists might be guilty of littering the community with its flyers.