Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Singaporeans should not be alarmed in JB?

The New Paper, 10 APRIL 2006


It was interesting that on 2 Apr, The Sunday Times and The New Paper on Sunday simultaneously carried lengthy reports and an editorial (The Sunday Times) on car thefts in Johor.

It was unfortunate that these reports over-exaggerated the actual situation on the ground and at the same time portrayed four major shopping malls in Johor Bahru (Holiday Plaza, Plaza Pelangi, Aeon Tebrau City and Giant Plentong) in a rather bad light.

The immediate and strong reaction to these reports could certainly have been anticipated.

The Johor State Government, the Johor Police authorities, the Johor Bahru Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Malaysia Shopping Complex Management Association (Southern Region), among others, were swift in their response.

State Tourism and Environment Committee Chairman, Mr Freddie Long, in a press conference convened on 3 Apr, clearly articulated the serious concerns of the state, including the repercussions that such adverse reports might have on the state's economy, tourism flows from Singapore to Johor, as well as on the image of the State.

Questions were also raised on whether there was a 'hidden agenda' behind these reports. It would be useful first to establish the facts. From statistics compiled by the Johor Police authorities, in recent years car thefts involving Singapore-registered cars have been negligible.

In 2004, of the 1,381 cars reported stolen in Johor, only 33 (2.39 per cent) were Singapore-registered cars. In 2005, of the 1,394 cars reported stolen, 52 (3.7 per cent) were Singapore-registered cars. In January and February 2006, of the 264 car thefts reported, only 3 were from Singapore.

Looking at these statistics, the outcry in the Singapore media that Singapore cars are targets of car thieves in Johor really does not make sense. It only serves to fuel unnecessary speculation that there is more to these reports than meets the eye.

Singaporeans should rest assured that the Johor state government is constantly taking steps to reduce criminal activities, including car thefts, and improve public safety, both for its people as well as for visitors to the state, including our neighbours from Singapore.

To deter robberies and car thefts, the police authorities in Johor have just announced that an additional 100 men and 45 patrol cars would be deployed. Closed-circuit TV cameras linked to the state police headquarters are also being installed at strategic locations. The Johor state government would also soon hold discussions with the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Bakri Omar, to look into measures to further improve security in the state.

Johor-bashing should stop. The sooner, the better. We should not stand in the way of forging more and even closer interactions between Johor and Singapore in the days ahead.

Dato' N Parameswaran
High Commissioner of Malaysia to Singapore


I have just read an excellent book titled Freakonomics. It basically shows how available data can be used to logically disprove commonly-held assumptions. Let me try to apply some of its precepts to a current bilateral bone of contention -- how Malaysian car thieves appear to be targeting Singapore-registered cars.

It was alleged in a Singapore media article that Singapore cars were preferred targets because of their comparatively low mileage and generally better condition. The Malaysian High Commissioner, has rebutted that the outcry does not make sense, citing (probably official) statistics that only 3.7% (or 52) of the cars reported stolen in Johor last year were from Singapore.

To put things into proper perspective, we would need to know (or guess) what proportion of cars in Johor (at any given hour) were from Singapore. A NST article dated 5 Apr 2006 quotes traffic consultant Dr Tai Tuck Leong as saying that about 20,000 foreign cars drive into Johor each day. I think we can assume that almost all the non-Malaysian cars in Johor would be from Singapore -- the number from Thailand is probably not significant. Let's further assume that each Singapore car would typically remain for about 6 hours on average. If so, we can induce that at any given time, the number of Singapore cars somewhere on Johor roads (or car parks) would be about 5,000.

I couldn't find any direct reference to the number of cars in Johor, but various sources suggest that Malaysians have 1 car for every 2 people, Johor's population of 2.8 million would suggest that there are about 1,400,000 cars in the state (not too surprising given that Johor covers an areas of almost 20,000 sq km).

Based on these assumptions, there are about Singapore cars 5,000 cars sharing Johor's roads with 1.4 million local cars at any given time. In other words, Singapore cars make up just under 0.36% of Johor's car population.

Since 3.7% of the cars stolen in Johor were from Singapore, this indicates that a Singapore car is about 10 times as likely to be a target of a car thief in Johor as compared to a Johor/Msian car.

Perhaps someone (like Dr Tai perhaps?) would like to do a more rigorous study to support or dispute this?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Women in Politics: Hear Us Roar Soon

Straits Times

April 8, 2006 Sat


By Li Xueying

HUMAN resource manager S.H. Lee is 'intrigued' by Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim.

'She is a woman and an opposition leader to boot,' says Miss Lee, 26. 'That makes it doubly hard, doubly brave and doubly foolhardy.'

While Miss Lee, who lives in Aljunied GRC where Miss Lim is expected to contest in the coming election, has not decided who she will vote for, she adds: 'I'm more willing to listen to what she has to say.'

With such attitudes, it is perhaps not surprising that the People's Action Party's (PAP's) Mrs Lim Hwee Hua has been spotted working the ground there too.

Pundits observe that it is a canny electioneering strategy: for the PAP to pit its highest-ranking woman against Miss Lim, to counter any gender appeal Miss Lim may have with women.

This year's general election is shaping up to be one in which gender plays a role.

Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Jeanne Conceicao says that women candidates - especially new ones - have an edge in bringing in women's votes. So far, on the PAP side, six new women candidates have been made public so far. As for the WP, expect two or three women candidates, Miss Lim says. This is a change indeed. For 14 years in the 1970s and 1980s, there were no women in Parliament.

Why is there a bumper crop of women candidates this time? Will the coming election be a milestone for women in politics? And will a woman finally become a full minister?


I was told that the Miss Singapore Universe beauty pageant this year had, among its midst, contestants with remarkable education qualifications - degree holders, Master’s students, and an aspiring PhD candidate (not at all surprising, given the academic excellence that we ladies have achieved). Beauty pageants are increasing a celebration of the females’ beauty and brains. Or are they?

The age-long debate will continue on how beauty is subjective and that academic excellence does not guarantee one successes in life. What I wish to instead highlight here is that the highly educated and (presumably) beautiful females are stepping forward to represent the country as its ambassador at the world stage.

But can the same be said about women entering politics?

Regrettably, despite the reported increase in the number of female members of parliament (see Straits Times article, More Women Willing To Enter Politics, 3 Apr 06), I’m afraid the situation is far from ideal.

To highlight the dire situation, the percentage of women in parliament in Singapore is 16% (15 out of 94) which places the country at joint 66 out of 187 countries (as of 28 Feb 06; statistics and ranking by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU): Women in National Parliaments).

Sadly, the percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond to our percentage of the population and falls short of the 30 to 35 % that the UN deems necessary for women to make an impact in policies.

Astoundingly, there are hitherto no female ministers in Singapore. The highest ranked female politician in the history of Singapore, I stand corrected, was former Acting Minister Seet Ai Mee.

So why the miserable 16% female representation in Singapore’s parliamentary process?

OnlineWomen offers its explanation that the low representation of women in Singaporean politics “reflects the highly Confucian nature of the Singaporean society, which is very paternalistic”. It echoes the view of local NGO, Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) that the “patriarchal system puts pressure on men to perform regardless of their ability and circumstance, and limits the potential of women regardless of our ability and circumstance”.

Also, the arduous balance between work and family led to many women to choose the latter, according to a Miss Singapore Universe contestant who was asked for her opinion on whether women found it difficult to become CEOs and Presidents of companies.

I do not agree that systemic factors (real or perceived) prevent the participation of women in politics. Indeed, there is no legal bar to the participation of women in politics. Women in Singapore enjoy the same legal rights as men in most areas, including political representation.

What matters, however, is the courage for women to step forward to serve society and the belief that we can make a difference. We women can only take it upon ourselves to represent women’s issues and interests.

Ministers of State Lim Hwee Hua and Yu-Foo Yee Shoon are currently among the more prominent female parliamentarians. Several women are also Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP, ie not elected) and they too are playing an important role in policy formulation and review. In addition, a law lecturer at a local polytechnic is chairperson of the opposition party, the Workers’ Party. Outside of politics, Chief Executive of local Temasek Holdings, Ho Ching ranks 30th in Forbes’ list of most influential or “powerful” women in the world.

They are role models for other women. They demonstrate that the efficient and capable can do many things (career, family and national duties) and gender is in no way an obstacle to their achievements.

This forthcoming election in Singapore promises more women politicians. I applaud the ruling political party, the People’s Action Party which has named 6 new women candidates, on top of the 10 existing female MPs so far. The opposition is also likely to field several women candidates.

The signs are indeed encouraging…

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Vote for ‘No-Vote’ - People Power or Mob Rule in Thailand?

Democracy in Asia
Financial Times
April 4 2006

It is tempting for Asian authoritarians to point to the confusion in Thailand after Sunday's election, as well as the instability in the Philippines, and dismiss democracy as a risky and supposedly western concept that should no longer be """"exported"""" to east Asia.

This analysis is self-serving and wrong. Most east Asian democracies - with the exception of the system successfully imposed on post-war Japan by the US - have arisen naturally, if fitfully, over the past 30 years as a result of increasing wealth and sophistication among citizens no longer impressed by dictators or military rulers.

Flawed individuals and constitutions, not inappropriate political philosophies, are to blame for the latest crises afflicting the democracies of south-east Asia. The problem with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippine president, is not democracy but the way she subverted it by secretly talking to an election official during the vote-counting in 2004 and then refusing to explain herself when damning recordings of her telephone calls were leaked.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister who called this week's snap election in an attempt to bolster his legitimacy, is an authoritarian leader, not an instinctive democrat. Chastened by what turned out to be only a half-hearted endorsement from the voters, he deserves some credit for suggesting last night that he might stand down if asked to do so by a committee of eminent persons, even if there are justifiable suspicions about how such a committee might be formed. Until now, Mr Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire proud of his "CEO-style" of government, has relentlessly exploited the weaknesses of the Thai political system without honouring the spirit of the home-grown democratic constitution.

His opponents, led by the Democrat party, took a big risk in boycotting the poll. They arguably betrayed their democratic ideals by ignoring the popular vote and relying instead on street protests, appeals to the hereditary king and the constitutional niceties that will delay the opening of parliament following a largely uncontested election.

Mr Thaksin's critics, however, are right about one thing: for liberal democracy to succeed, citizens must enjoy not only the right to vote but also the broader benefits of a free society, including an impartial justice system and a free flow of information.

On these issues, Mr Thaksin's rule has been disastrous. His government has favoured the businesses of his family and friends, harassed the media and undermined supposedly independent bodies, such as the National Counter Corruption Commission, designed to monitor the executive.

For Asian democrats, the one good result to emerge from this otherwise inconclusive election is Mr Thaksin's admission that he was not as indispensable as people thought. Now it is up to both sides to avoid violence as the political wrangling continues.


I’m undecided whether to view Thaksin Shinawatra’s shock decision on April 4th to step down from power as an end to the political saga in Thailand or the beginning of worse things to follow...

His stepping down from power may be good riddance for the Bangkok folks who were becoming increasingly frustrated over Thaksin’s misrule, particularly his blatant use of power for personal profit (read his family’s not liable for tax on the Bt73 billion profit from the Temasek-Shincorp deal; For more details on the deal, see Straits Times, “Thai tycoon pumps in $112M for stake in Shin Corp”, 16 Mar 2006).

I understand that the Temasek-Shincorp deal was restructured to ensure that the Shinawatras would not be liable to any tax payment at all. While they did not, in fact, violate securities laws over the sale, the avoidance of tax payment from Temasek-Shincorp deal was probably political foolhardy on Thaksin’s part. The family’s deliberateness to avoid tax liability was portrayed by Thaksin’s opponents as a clear selling out of national interests for personal profits, which easily found resonance among the tax paying populace. (I shall not bore you with the technical details of the deal. Those interested may wish to refer to The Nation, “Book outlines key issues in Shin takeover scandal”.)

Apparently, it was ‘people power’ that brought about the political change in Thailand. They came in tens of thousands - the young, the old and the families. They gathered at Bangkok’s main shopping district, Siam Square and its upscale malls. Their message was clear enough - “Thaksin, get out!” It was a vivid demonstration of the return of power to the people. Or was it?

Although I am no fan of his populist agenda, Thaksin has undeniably his set of staunch supporters who were won over by his 30-baht healthcare scheme, One Tambon, One Product (OTOP) program and other debt relief packages for the rural folk. Thaksin promised and delivered real benefits to the common citizen who had not gotten much out of politics in the past.

Notwithstanding his personal failings (critics cited his lack of moral legitimacy), one cannot deny that Thaksin is genuinely popular in Thailand. While the lenses of international media focused on anti-Thaksin demonstrations at Bangkok’s Siam Square (including at the new Paragon!?), one should not forget that there were also over 30,000 Thaksin supporters, including those that came from the villages outside of Bangkok, who had camped at Chatuchak (famous for its weekend flea market?) to cheer Thaksin on.

Hey, the fact is that Thaksin is a democratically elected leader. Although the opposition parties took no part in the election over the weekend (slamming it as a sham), Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (literally, Thai love Thai) party won Sunday’s ballot as a matter of fact, with a majority of 57% of the vote. Look, while he may be unpopular among the Bangkok city folks and the southern Thai populace, Sunday’s ballot results showed that Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party have the popular mandate of the electorate in all other parts of Thailand.

I am therefore uneasy that it was mob rule that returned triumphant in the latest saga in Thailand and sadly so. Regrettably, democracy proved no contest for the might of Bangkok’s street justice…

Well, it is without a doubt that democracy is more than just elections. It is about the rule of law, legitimacy, transparency and accountability. That combination, I feel, can only be achieved through an evolution of institutional democratic habits and not spectacular revolutions by the motley masses. And surely, a respect of the polling results (ie the choice of Thai people from all parts of Thailand, not just Bangkok) is the very basis of democratic principles.

What next for the anti-Thaksin opposition and what constitutional role will they perform now they are not represented in the next parliament? Will Thailand degenerate into ‘mob-o-cracy’ (mob rule aka ‘ochlocracy’)?