New platform for a new generation


JUDGING from Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's recent comments in Prague, economic issues are likely to be a major theme in the forthcoming General Elections.

The new generation forward and footloose are not hankering after cars and houses, but for a sense of rootedness and identity

He was quick to underscore his Government's track record in keeping Singapore on an even keel during the Asian financial crisis. No surprises there.

From the 1991 ''mandate'' election to the ''upgrading'' vote of 1997, the message to the electorate so far has been crystal clear: Gripe all you want, but when it comes to bread-and-butter issues, don't fool around with your votes.

After all, it's a time-tested strategy that has carried the People's Action Party (PAP) through countless elections.

And it's hard to imagine voters keen to rock the boat at this juncture, given the current climate of stock market malaise and acquisition jitters.

The Government, which has done its best to ward off the excesses of global economic trends, is not to blame for the downturn. Its best assurances to date in these uncertain times: continuity, a generous budget, off-budget measures if necessary to maintain business as usual.

But there's hardly a rallying call for what is likely to be a significant political milestone for Singapore.

For one thing, it will be a transitional elections.

PM Goh has indicated that a new team will take over the helm within the next term of office.

A new slate of leaders will have to earn their own mandate.

More critically, the 180,000 Singaporeans who will enter the electoral roll this year herald a new breed of voters - the first of the Internet generation.

Savvy, sassy and cosmopolitan, with greater access to information and alternatives, they cherish significantly different aspirations from those of the previous electorate.

Even PM Goh has acknowledged that issues like HDB upgrading - which secured the PAP its landslide victory in 1997 -- will not resonate with younger Singaporeans.

Can they be brought into the fold by the usual threats to material prosperity?

Perhaps. But the signs suggest that they're hungry for more than the status quo .

On no less than the Young PAP's online forum, participants have been calling for an emphasis on values rather than value: more ''belief in people'' and participation, less rigid application of economic one-up-manship.

''How about a government that promises to look after a society, and not only the active money-making population?'' one poster asks.

Others warn darkly of an ''exodus'' if life in Singapore becomes ''unbearable''.

Sound like your typical young ingrates? But the new generation - forward and footloose though they be - are not hankering after cars and houses, but for a sense of rootedness and identity as Singaporeans.

To be fair, these emerging aspirations have not gone unnoticed, which is why the PAP's forthcoming electoral manifesto is compellingly titled ''The Future Society''.

Yet, there's been uncharacteristic silence on the details, given that the GE could be held as early as this July.

Of course, no one's asking to forego the fundamentals of sound economic management. But a maturing society cannot thrive on bread alone. Ironically, global economic competition will demand of Singapore a more creative, responsive and cohesive population.

The call for all Singaporeans to pull together and co-create their common destiny was made by PM Goh himself back in 1997. It led to the Singapore 21 vision launched in 1999, the product of an unprecedented consultative effort with 6,000 Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Back then, it was pitched as a national vision, our common dream of a more caring, involved future society with a Singaporean soul.

It's yet to be ratified by the electoral process.

The next GE would be the first opportunity to do so, unequivocally signalling a brand new way of making Singapore work.

That's as worthy a platform as any for the Government to stand on and fight for.

© alvin pang
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