Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Society and Politics 2030

Shifts in the pillars
As the Singapore Conversation gathers pace, the Insight team examines present trends for a reading of the future, in a two-part special (*Part One). This week, the focus is on the shifts that will shape society and politics.
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2013

A MIDDLE ground. That, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last November, is what has allowed Singapore to avoid the polarisation that has ensnared other developed countries.

Because Singaporeans across constituencies have similar interests and identities, politics here has managed to maintain a certain cohesion, he said.

But unhappiness in two areas that touch on fundamental principles on which Singapore’s success has been built now threatens to decimate the middle ground.

1 Staying open to foreigners

As an influx of foreigners has caused Singapore's population to swell rapidly to 5.3 million in the last half-decade, a sense of economic threat and social anxiety has simmered among citizens hitherto open to newcomers.

As public infrastructure heaved under the strain, resentment grew against foreigners who faced a myriad of accusations: depressing wages, using Singapore as a stepping stone, and enjoying the privilege of living and working here without facing any of the obligations, such as national service.

Tales of foreigners behaving badly made the rounds online, from a Filipino boy who played the drums too loudly, to a family from China who objected to the smell of their Singaporean Indian neighbour’s curry; from a Chinese student who thought Singapore had more dogs than humans, to drunk Caucasians assaulting a Singaporean taxi driver.

The political leaders’ message that the country would sink without foreigners began to seem callous to those who felt the Singaporean way of life was under siege.

In the last few years, the Government has started to tighten its immigration framework, determined to reduce the economy’s reliance on cheap foreign labour.

But it has made clear that turning away foreigners is not an option: In a paper released by its population unit last October, government demographers said that given the current birth rate of 1.2, the citizen population of 3.2 million will start shrinking in 2025 without immigration.

About 20,000 new citizens a year are needed just to keep this pool stable, almost twice the 13,000 a year Singapore has absorbed over the last decade.

2 Meritocracy and the income gap

Singapore has the most millionaires in the world, and also one of its highest measures of income inequality - a Gini coefficient of 0.47.

In the past few years, a niggling sense of social stratification has been borne out by worrying school data - first proffered by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 2011.

He revealed statistics showing a gulf in the educational background of parents of students in top secondary schools versus those from neighbourhood schools. They showed that on average, half or more of those from brand-name schools had fathers who were university graduates. The corresponding figure hovered at around 10 per cent for neighbourhood schools.

Late last year, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said four in 10 pupils in six top primary schools live in HDB flats, half the national average of eight in 10 pupils for all primary schools.

There are worries that the Singapore Story - of a meritocratic society that rewards hard work regardless of one’s background - will not survive the decades ahead. The level playing field now seems inexorably tilted towards the privileged, upset by a tuition arms race and the social capital of those born into success.

While Singaporeans once lined up behind the goals of openness and meritocracy as the way a small, vulnerable nation could thrive, some now see in yesterday’s solutions the seeds of today’s problems.

In 20 years’ time, will the border between the local and the foreign ossify into an impermeable barrier? Will the threshold between the rich and the poor - once crossable through hard work and talent - become an unbridgeable distance?

Whither the middle ground?

A new way to be Singaporean
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2013

BY 2025, if the birth rate does not improve from its current abysmal level of 1.2, the citizen population of 3.2 million will start to shrink.

To prevent this, the Government has projected that it will need 20,000 to 25,000 new citizens a year to keep the population stable, or growing slowly.

This is a more aggressive pace than over the past decade, during which 13,000 new citizens were added each year on average.

Already, the character of the local resident population has evolved considerably in the past 10 years. In 2000, 81.7 per cent of Singaporean residents were born in Singapore; in 2010, this dropped to 77.2 per cent.

In another decade, the proportion of "native-born" Singaporean residents will drop again, and probably by an even greater margin, given the predicted number of new citizens needed a year to stop the population from shrinking by 2025.

What it means to be Singaporean in 10 years may be very different from what it is now, just as it has shifted from 10 years ago.

The change in the Indian community, which has seen the most immigration, is the most pronounced and perhaps the harbinger of things to come.

When Ms Subina Khaneja, 50, moved here with her family from India in 1994, there were only two shops in Little India that sold the brown flour she used to make roti. Singaporean Indians, mostly descendants of immigrants from Tamil Nadu, make roti with white flour.

Two decades later, brown flour can be found in every shop in Little India, and in shops along the East Coast where a large population of expatriate Hindi-speaking Indians live, says the president of the Indian Women's Association.

Of the Indian residents here, 35per cent were not born in Singapore, compared to 6 per cent among Chinese residents.

The prevalence of brown flour may be a small matter, but it speaks to the way Indian newcomers have changed the social fabric of the ethnic community.

Their presence has also been felt in other, deeper ways: The household incomes of the Indian ethnic group has been pulled upwards by the affluent newcomers over the past decade, from $3,438 to $5,370. They are now the highest-earning ethnic group in Singapore, overtaking the Chinese.

In the next decade, the mix of "new and Northern" and "old and Southern" could move even more in favour of the former. There may come a day, some believe, when Hindi is used in the vernacular mass media.

The recent outcry over the addition of the Chinese names of MRT stations to train announcements also evinced an anxiety that social norms - in this case the primacy of English as the lingua franca in Singapore - are slowly shifting.

That the Singaporean identity will morph is a given; whether it manages to survive intact is the bigger question with further-reaching consequences.

Sociological studies show a community's sense of belonging and identity tends to become stronger when under pressure or intimidation from other groups, notes National University of Singapore sociologist Stella Quah.

In places like Dubai, the social compact is one where native-born citizens draw closer together in the face of a foreign influx - holding themselves separate from foreigners who are there only to work, and not expected to integrate or become naturalised citizens. Locals there are a privileged minority, showered with entitlements and subsidies to sweeten the presence of a huge contingent of foreigners.

Observers see signs of such a strategy being deployed here, as subsidies and benefits in education, health care and housing have become more tiered towards citizens in the past few years.

Earlier this year, three academics from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies proposed creating a revenue pool from the levies collected for Work Permit and S-pass holders. A one-off entry levy could be created for employment pass holders to contribute to this fund, they suggested.

The money would be earmarked for direct benefits to citizens in the form of an "immigration bonus".

Should Singapore take this Dubai-esque route, the national identity stays intact and unchanging - for the small, shrinking group of native-borns who are entirely cut off from foreigners in their land. Their acquiescence to immigration is economic in nature, and their relationship with foreigners transactional only.

But NUS sociologist Paulin Straughan sees two reasons this path is unthinkable for Singapore. The first is the high rate of inter-marriage between locals and foreigners - in 2011, four in 10 marriages were such cross-cultural ones. This speaks to a very porous division between who is local and who is foreign here, she says.

The second reason is that locals in the United Arab Emirates are bound by the strong thread of a common religion, the same marker that divides them from foreigners living and working there.

In contrast, there is no such binding commonality among Singaporeans, whose hotchpotch of races and religions - and the expectation of mutual tolerance and accommodation among them - is actually a central aspect of its national identity.

A natural capacity to absorb difference and diversity already exists in Singapore society, says Dr Straughan. This may help the national identity adjust to new, moulding forces without pulling away or fraying apart.

Observers hope to see Singapore following the American or Australian model of "integration, but not assimilation". Under a broad umbrella of values and aspirations that define the national identity, ethnic and cultural differences are allowed to flourish.

No one group is expected to be like another, as long as they all agree to subscribe to the common aspirational qualities of the national identity. In such societies, notes Institute of Southeast Asian Studies visiting research fellow Asad Latif, a thick layer of "cultural assurance" exists. "In America, they have a strong sense of themselves. Immigration is not seen as a threat to identity, it does not touch the core of their being."

He is confident newcomers can adapt to the local way of doing things, rather than insist on their old norms - as long as it is clear what is expected of them. "Immigrants know what they don't want, not what they want," he says. "It falls to us to offer them something they want. It comes back to our sense of ourselves."

The respect for multiculturalism inherent in the Singaporean identity puts it in good stead to emulate countries like the US and Australia, but its small size and youth are hurdles which pose considerable challenges.

Ms Subina notes that her brothers, having lived in the US for some time, identify themselves as Americans. But for Indians like herself who have been in Singapore for decades, the same declaration is not as easy to make.

Her husband and children are naturalised citizens, while she is a permanent resident. "There are things that Singapore stands for, like being corruption-free, meritocratic and multi-cultural. But these are not well-defined as aspirational qualities of the national identity. It's not clear that this is what makes you Singaporean."

While "core Singaporean values" such as meritocracy and fairness are important to uphold, Behavioural Science Institute director David Chan suggests integrating foreigners into Singapore society need not start from such lofty points. "More simply and directly, Singaporeans expect foreigners to subscribe to the same common principles of respect for multicultural differences, basic courtesy and being law-abiding individuals."

Conversational ability in English is also an increasingly important marker of Singaporean identity, he adds, as it is the "common interaction medium" not tied to a particular race or cultural group.

But Singapore's youth and small size make its integration challenge greater than that of the US or Australia. Institute of Policy Studies' Dr Leong Chan Hoong says common cultural norms are integral to the formation of a strong "national identity" that binds foreign-born and native-born citizens.

In New Zealand, for example, he notes that supporting the All Blacks national rugby team is a must to be "a part of them" - "These norms reinforce the notion of naturalisation."

Such cultural norms are yet unformed in the Singapore context, if a 2012 IPS survey of 2,000 citizens - half local-born, half naturalised - is indicative.

Asked what makes someone Singaporean, the characteristics that emerged were vague. Besides "respect for multiracial and multi-religious practices", "getting on well with neighbours" and "being gainfully employed" topped the list.

Responding to the survey, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing says the Singaporean identity is not yet fully formed because the country has had only four decades behind it. In contrast, the US Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, while the Commonwealth of Australia Act, creating one entity from the Australian colonies, was passed in 1900.

Economic growth, says Mr Chan, "buys time" for the Singaporean identity to form and strengthen. But the city state's size may be one challenge that time cannot overcome.

"Australia is huge. If you're not comfortable with the Vietnamese or Chinese, you can move to the north-eastern cities," points out Dr Leong. "There is the hinterland, which mitigates a lot of the problems."

For Singaporeans who are unwilling to accept a high level of immigration, there is nowhere for them to "escape" to, he notes.

In attempting to be both a global city, open to global talent, and a home for a native-born population on a small island, "we are trying to do something unique in the world", he adds.

But the Singapore story is built on being the exception. With time for cultural norms to solidify and intangible values to strengthen, the country in 2030 will not be an Asian Dubai but, hopefully, a miniature America.

The flip side of meritocracy
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2013

FRENCH President Francois Hollande wants to abolish homework for all primary school pupils in France. It is part of his plan to improve the education system and devote more resources to helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The reasoning behind the homework ban is this: Affluent and educated parents can offer more help with homework, hence a system with no homework is more likely to help poorer families keep up.

Mr Hollande's argument is vigorously contested by experts. But the radical move speaks to the discomfort in France that education - meant to be the great social leveller - is actually worsening the gap between the rich and poor.

In Singapore, the same fear has festered; what parents sense to be true on the ground for a long time has, in the last few years, been borne out by worrying statistics.

In the top primary and secondary schools, a disproportionate number of students are from affluent and educated backgrounds: six out of 10 live in private property, when two out of 10 Singaporeans overall do.

About half of these students have parents who are university graduates, compared to about two out of 10 in neighbourhood secondary schools.

While social mobility has not halted, it is slowing. Singapore, say experts, finds itself nearing the edge of a cliff that other developed countries like France and the US have already fallen off.

If more active intervention is not taken over the next decade or two, the Singapore of 2030 may well find itself grasping at straws, considering such desperate moves as a homework ban.

The momentum of privilege is a powerful one. It places kids at different starting points in the race of life. And the pistol does not fire on the first day of school, but much earlier; the track does not consist just of time spent in class, but is also smoothened by hours of enrichment activities, tuition and yes, homework.

Placed against this backdrop, meritocracy perpetuates privilege in a resilient cycle. The problem is well-understood. How to meet it is a battle of philosophical proportions, one that observers see being waged over the next decade.

The Government has made its strategy clear: Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong defended meritocracy's central place in the Singapore story, emphasising that Singapore broke away from Malaysia in 1965 precisely because of its belief in meritocracy, rather than a system based on race, connections or wealth.

When it comes to levelling the playing field, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has said that the Government's strategy is to push up the bottom without holding down the top.

While social and financial assistance is given to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, these must not distort the market of meritocracy or block ability and talent from rising to the top, the Government believes.

Mr Nizam Ismail, former chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals, puts it this way when it comes to students in top education institutions: "The Government will help with fees, not with placement."

If children from disadvantaged backgrounds gain entry on their own merit to a top school, there is financial aid and bursaries galore. But the Government will not manoeuvre these students there in a bid to reverse-engineer social mobility.

Observers like education policy expert Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education argue that such help given to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds can only chip away at the barriers formed before their birth. "The momentum that these measures build up is much less than the momentum of the cycle of privilege."

While not advocating an alternative to meritocracy, observers and sociologists want to see it put in its proper place as a means to the end of social mobility, rather than an end in itself.

"The desired policy outcome should be a high and constant degree of social mobility, not just a meritocratic system," says Mr Soon Sze Meng, a board member of the non-profit Halogen Foundation. "When meritocracy leads to social mobility, that's when it is doing its job."

From this start-off point, meritocracy in the Singapore of the future looks very different, they say. For one thing, such a society must not only support a high degree of upward mobility, but also its corollary of downward mobility: a much less alluring prospect, but inevitable in a working meritocracy.

In the education system, such a a policy goal would mean removing the catchments where children of privilege are cushioned from facing the consequences of a lack of merit. These include a lower PSLE cut-off score for affiliated schools, or preferential primary school admission for the children of alumni.

The Government's long-term goals should also be viewed with a tweaked lens, suggest observers.

For example, it is now in the midst of a laudable effort to get more lower-income families to send their kids to pre-school, and to equalise the quality of pre-schools - in recognition that the starting point in the education system comes before the first day of primary school.

But accompanying this push should be measures to "mix children from different backgrounds", says National University of Singapore sociologist Vincent Chua. "Research from the US shows that disadvantaged children reap very positive effects when mixed with stronger kids."

Most importantly, an emphasis on social mobility sends the same message as an emphasis on meritocracy - with a significantly different thrust. Both tell those born to disadvantage that success is still within reach through hard work and ability. But a society which prizes social mobility holds up a collective goal, while one prizing meritocracy focuses on individual achievement.

The challenge should not be underestimated: A future Singapore that maintains a high degree of social mobility would be bucking the trend of developed societies.

In the US, the gap between the share of prosperous and poor Americans who earn bachelor's degrees has widened, according to researchers from the University of Michigan. Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage-point difference. Now, the gap is 45 points.

But the Halogen Foundation's Mr Soon sees Singapore as being in a better position to face down growing inequality, because its political system does not allow "the 1 per cent" to fund the campaigns of politicians who, in return, promise not to erode their advantages. "Our political system makes it possible to enact such measures despite resistance from elites," he argues.

The cohesiveness and closeness of a small country could also ease the pushback, says Mr Nizam. Unlike in bigger countries, Singaporeans are not in silos of gated communities or urban slums. "It's like giving to charity, but you now give that donation in the form of an acceptance that the less well-off deserve these opportunities, because you have a certain set of advantages that they don't. I don't think many would find that unpalatable."

It would also be less facile than a national ban on homework. With a renewed emphasis on a Singapore story that promises social mobility through hard work and ability, the country may avoid confronting such a choice.

S'pore politics 2030
A one-party dominant political system has been the hallmark of Singapore since independence. Is that set to change? Jeremy Au Yong reports.

IF THERE is a consensus about the trajectory of Singapore politics, it is that the country is on a slow, if unstoppable, drift towards liberalisation.

As constrained as some might feel the scene is today, a glance back just five or 10 years into the past will reveal a clear pattern of a government loosening its tight rein on political expression little by little, one protest or online election campaign at a time.

Yet, for Singaporeans clamouring for a Western-style liberal democracy, the true mark of Singapore's arrival will be when that drift ends in a two-party or multiparty democracy.

Rather than a single party controlling the bulk of parliamentary seats, political contestation would be marked by two or more strong parties, vying continuously to gain an edge in parliamentary seats won.

But is this where Singapore is necessarily headed? Will we get there by 2030? And is this ultimately the system we want?

The times, they are a-changing

THOSE who think Singapore is headed towards a multiparty democracy can point to the erosion of the People's Action Party's (PAP's) vote share at consecutive elections, the first- ever loss of a group representation constituency at the 2011 General Election and a seemingly growing appetite worldwide for political change.

The PAP's 2011 share of the popular vote - 60.1 per cent - marked a historic low. In 1991, when the PAP lost a then-unprecedented four seats, it still managed 61 per cent of the vote.

The 2011 Election was also notable for the defeat of a strong PAP team helmed by then Foreign Minister George Yeo and including newcomer and potential office holder Ong Ye Kung.

It mirrored political change around the world. In Japan, Australia and South Korea, long-standing incumbents have been defeated at the polls. In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has seen the downfall of more than one authoritarian regime.

Harvard professor of leadership Barbara Kellerman notes Singapore is far from immune from the current "tide of history".

"In general, leaders are being demeaned and diminished, while followers are more reluctant to follow," she tells Insight.

Mr Yeo explained his decision to quit politics after 23 years in terms of this same tide, which he could do little to turn back.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Mr Yeo said the man who defeated him, Mr Low Thia Khiang of the Workers' Party (WP), told reporters that he and his team won not because his PAP opponents failed to do a good job, but because people wanted the opposition team in Parliament.

Mr Yeo added: "I thought if there was not something that I could change, because it was not something about me, maybe it was time to open a new chapter of my life."

All these seem to portend a seemingly inevitable weakening of the PAP's dominance, which would thus leave the door open for someone else.

Stop at two?

FIRST-PAST-THE-POST electoral systems like Singapore's tend to create two-party structures.

In such systems, weak parties either end up merging with each other or being eliminated, leaving just two strong players, argues political scientist Maurice Duverger.

A critical part of this process, of course, is the separation of stronger parties from the rest of the field. And at the last general election in 2011, the WP clearly emerged as the preferred alternative party.

The WP has eight of the nine opposition members in Parliament, and enjoys strong brand recognition. In 2011, the party did not poll less than 40 per cent in any contest it entered.

Still, WP dominance in the opposition does not get Singapore anywhere close to a two-party system, and that end, even for the most committed opposition supporter, is not a safe assumption.

For years, opposition members have made the case for a shift towards proportional representation, at least for some seats in Parliament.

With proportional representation, seats would be allocated according to a party's vote share. Historically, the opposition's vote share in Singapore general elections has ranged from 22.3 per cent to 39.9 per cent, while its share of Parliament has languished at well below 10 per cent.

Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan argued recently that a mixed system that combines proportional representation and first past the post, as in Germany and South Korea, "makes for a lot more sense and a more responsive government".

Yet, such a change seems unlikely.

"I don't see it happening. I think it requires too much of a change for Singapore," says former nominated MP Siew Kum Hong. He previously argued in Parliament for some seats to be allocated according to the proportional representation system.

And there also does not appear to be the correct set of circumstances that might lead those in power to support such a change.

By its very nature, such systems prevent absolute victory and absolute defeat. For incumbents to support it would require there to be so much uncertainty in the electorate that they feel a very real threat of losing it all.

"I have never seen the PAP adopt a strategy of minimising its losses," says Mr Siew.

Only room for one?

THE WP leadership has long maintained that it is not yet ready to govern Singapore, and other opposition parties like the National Solidarity Party have said the same.

At the crux of the argument are two factors: talent and consensus.

On the matter of talent, all opposition parties will readily admit that they do not have enough people of quality to take over from the PAP at this point. The question is whether they will ever be ready.

This is an argument that the PAP itself has made numerous times.

In September 2011, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew gave reasons why he believed a two-party system was both not sustainable and not desirable in Singapore: "Among other reasons, I do not think Singapore can produce two top-class teams. We haven't the talent to produce two top-class teams."

Mr Lee added: "When you have popular democracy, to win votes you got to give more and more.

"And to beat your opponent in the next election, you got to promise to give more away. So it's a never-ending process of auctions - and the cost, the debt being paid for by the next generation. So that's it."

Earlier that year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made a similar argument. "To form an opposition to be a sparring partner, yes, you can do that. To form an opposition to be a hot stand-by which can switch over, that's a different proposition."

In that same interview, he also touched on the second factor that needs to be taken into account when considering a two-party system: consensus.

Two-party systems, he pointed out, must be based on certain divides - such as race, class, ideology, policy or geography.

He said: "What divides these two groups of supporters? Is it race? That's disastrous. Is it class? That's possible, like in the UK, but that's not good for Singapore. Is it policy? I very much doubt it because in Singapore you don't have a wide range of policy choices to make."

While many political observers are far from convinced that there is a lack of talent to form two teams, they do accept that there may be insufficient differences of view among Singaporeans to generate an equilibrium that involves two parties. One side may always have to win.

Those who hold this view argue that in a small city-state, it is more likely that there will always be a mainstream view, and whoever can capture that will be dominant.

Indeed, Singaporeans are generally too pragmatic a lot to be wedded to any particular form of government.

A recent poll of 400 students by the National University of Singapore Students' Political Association found no clear desire among the young for a two-party system. In fact, two-thirds said that the performance of the parties will determine if such a system is a boon or bane.

That said, it does appear that the kind of control the PAP has enjoyed for half a century does seem to be taking its toll. There are signs that people now blame all manner of things on the party.

Even while more people might be inclined to see the PAP's dominance curbed, there is as yet no critical mass of voters pushing for a shift to full-on, Western-style liberal democracy.

Where does that leave Singapore politics?

The next four elections

THE way ahead may well depend on what the PAP does in the years and elections to come.

For Dr Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies, the extent that the country moves towards a two-party system depends on how connected to the people the PAP stays.

"To the extent that it succeeds, the 'demand' for opposition politicians and parties will diminish. To the extent that it doesn't, the 'demand', scope and therefore level of contestation between the opposition and the PAP will increase," she says.

Mr Eugene Tan, a Nominated MP and law professor from the Singapore Management University (SMU), is looking to the next general election for clues.

He says that it might not be safe to simply extrapolate based on the results of the 2011 polls. He pointed to 1991 - when the opposition won four seats - as a "false political dawn".

The PAP made a strong comeback at the next polls in 1997, winning back two of the four seats.It was another 14 years before the opposition, led by the WP, made significant inroads once more.

And while he believes Singapore will ultimately get to a two-party system, the timeline could change drastically, depending on whether the PAP is able to stem the electoral slide at the next general election, he says.

The PAP is all too aware of its need to regain and hold its ground. And in the 18 months since the last general election, it has moved decisively to address past policy missteps.

The national conversation exercise is also an attempt to engage the ground. These efforts have not struck a strong chord thus far, which the party will need to do if it is to improve on its performance at the last polls.

One big problem is political succession. In a time when demands on PAP MPs have increased, a better educated electorate has many voters who no longer treat politicians with the same reverence as in the past. The combination will likely make it harder to entice talent into politics to serve in government.

But this is a difficulty for all parties, and the difficulty is in part due to the trust that Singaporeans continue to have in the PAP. Most feel no need to enter politics with a competent incumbent in place. If the PAP can retain that trust, it will still be best placed among political parties to persuade good and able men and women to join its ranks.

Another factor that might come into play is the electoral fortunes of GRCs at future polls. The loss of Aljunied two years ago may have changed the way GRCs are looked at.

SMU assistant professor of law Jack Lee said with the PAP's loss of Aljunied GRC, "it no longer looks impossible for opposition parties to contest GRCs successfully".

The PAP may well move to further reduce the size and number of GRCs, a process PM Lee started at the last polls.

When Mr Lee was asked late last year if the PAP would remain dominant in the years to come, he said: "I don't know. The question is, will there be a stable consensus in the society on the direction we want to go?

"If there is, then there can be one party which has got a strong mandate and can work on behalf of Singaporeans effectively."

Most believe that there will continue to be that consensus. And to the extent that the national conversation has produced signals, it is that Singaporeans are coalescing around a future that includes the values of a gracious society and a pursuit of happiness not anchored around wealth.

All things considered, it seems more likely than not that Singapore in 2030 will continue to have the PAP in charge as a single, dominant party, albeit with a smaller seat advantage in Parliament.

No one would rule out, however, the emergence of a two-party system, with the chance of a party other than the PAP in charge. Granted, swopping out a government that has been in power for over half a century is never going to be a smooth or painless process.

For that change to happen, the PAP would have to suffer a persistent erosion in popular support over several elections.

But given how pragmatic it is, the PAP would no doubt seek to counter this by moving to accommodate more alternative views and get not just its policies but also its politics right.


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