Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Anti-ISA Circus is in Town

It is strange that when Najib decided to repeal the ISA in Malaysia clearly for his own political survival, it stirred this hornet's nest in Singapore. Suddenly, our NGOs start clamouring for something similar and ex detainees start demanding redress for their "wrongful" detentions years past. What's worst, the liberal media starts imagining that there are hundreds of thousands of oppressed Singaporeans willing to go Bersih-like and start demonstrating down the streets.

People Care about Housing, Transport, Healthcare, Education, Not ISA

The funny thing is that most Singaporeans actually do not care; they did throng the streets but for the carnival of the F1. Despite the efforts of the esteemed TOC and even the oft-reviled Straits Times to create some kind of groundswell for this ISA issue, Singaporeans are just not talking about it. James Gomez and his Singaporeans for Democracy imported two foreign talent politicians to talk about the issue and it reached the ears of a ground-shattering 50 people in a pub. There is simply no buzz.

This is something of a lesson here for NGOs and ex-detainees alike; rather than flog a dead horse, they should focus on issues of greater currency and relevance? Ms Teo Soh Lung should know and have learnt by now surely? If Singaporeans wanted to take on her baggage and fight for her "wrongful" detention, the people of Yuhua SMC would have simply voted her into Parliament when she stood for election in May 2011. She had the entire stage in her numerous rallies to convince and persuade Singaporeans to her case but did she win? Nope. Was it even close? Nope again. But are Singaporeans blind, nope, when articulated correctly, Singaporeans disposed of a reigning PAP Foreign Minister and delivered a GRC into the hands of the Opposition. Most Singaporeans, like the constituents of Yuhua, have some sympathy for Ms Teo but that's about all.

COI and Much Ado About Nothing

Civil society in Singapore must know what are the issues that nauseate Singaporeans and not just ape vacuous liberal ideas that have no relevance in Singapore. We could be a monarchy for goodness sake and people will still be happy if their needs are met in a relevant manner. Trying to drum up some kind of Jasmine or Arab Spring in Singapore via this ISA issue is just downright silly. There is no groundswell over this ISA issue and even less over the "wrongful" detention of Ms Teo in Spectrum. And now, even the pre-Spectrum detainees have jumped on the bandwagon and are demanding their cases re-opened in front of a COI.

May I ask the question that no one seems to have thought of since most of the minority think that they are innocent ie what if the COI finds them guilty again despite all the show and tell they are allowed in the COI?? Do you think the ex-detainees will than suddenly see the light and quietly plead guilty again? Fat hope. If so, what then is the true motive of this COI but for this 16 to turn the COI into another platform for them to whine about their deeds and hopefully create a groundswell since they have failed in their numerous books, on the Internet and in the electoral hustings to awaken Singaporeans to their "grievances".

In the end, Singaporeans are not stupid. For Ms Teo and her comrades, perhaps if you can get the thousands of people who have been detained by the ISA and CLTP to sign this blood oath with you and get another hundred thousand Singaporeans to march behind you than maybe you will get the redress you crave; if not, just do the simple thing and move on, there are more pressing issues which Singaporeans need a voice for from their politicians and their civil society.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Why I am not a “PAP die hard”

Our recent presidential election (PE) had as much drama as any TV addict could hope for: four pre-qualified candidates (when all previous PEs after 1993 failed to produce even two!) and a recount that created a nation of temporary insomniacs.

Now it’s all over and the Net is awash with post-hoc analyses about why who got how many votes and so on. Much of it, however, lacks any real depth. (The only exception, perhaps, comes from Yawning Bread).

You see, I voted for TT; by some accounts, I am now labelled – along with 35% of my fellow voters – as a “PAP die-hard.”

I detest that label. I am not a PAP die-hard and had in fact voted opposition during the GE.

It was in fact a process of elimination.

First, as the president is an apolitical position, I tried to view each individual as such.

I could not in good conscience not vote for TKL because he appeared to be very much out of his depth. During the exchanges/debates, he was clearly outclassed by the other three candidates. He tried to be like a favourite uncle, but I was voting for a president, not an uncle.

I saw TJS as being divisive; sure, he had grand plans and promises, but the issues he raised are meant for Parliament. Given the role of the president as defined by the Constitution, I felt that there was a fundamental misfit between the person and the post.

I remained undecided between TT and TCB until polling day itself.

I did not buy TT’s claim that we need him as president because of the impending financial crisis. After all, in a fire, our best fire fighters should ideally be in the SCDF, not the Istana. Hence, he should have stayed in GIC. I also did not feel that he (or MINDEF) had adequately addressed the brouhaha over Dr Patrick Tan’s NS obligations.

TCB’s plan to boot the Prime Minister out of the Istana did not make sense to me. I did not see it as congruent with his claim that he would unify Singaporeans; after all, how can one unify a country if he feels he cannot stay and work in the same compound (and a very large one at that) as the Prime Minister?

My one vote was precious to me. I did my due diligence and thought over my decision carefully. I believe that many other voters likewise did not take their decision lightly. Those who are too quick to label voters as “die hard” fans (of either the PAP or anyone else) are guilty of shallow reasoning.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Neutral, Non-Partisan and Natural Choice Tomorrow

For those who are not voting Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock for their ties to the PAP, that leaves us with only Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian.

Tan Kin Lian started off well in the race and would have lured the opposition and moderate votes away from the PAP camp. Then Tan Jee Say got into the game and like the mythological Siren, he seduced away voters from the former NTUC Income CEO. All is fair in love, war and politics. This is a game of high political and personal stakes - salary, responsibility, foot-in-the-door opposition influence, and the future of the form and function of the presidency. Everyone has to be "mature adults" about the competition in the presidential elections as Tan Jee Say mentioned during the TOC Presidential Face to Face forum and CNA's Meet the Candidates.

That Tan

From the way Tan Jee Say presented himself since Nomination Day when his supporters booed away the PAP proxy, Tony Tan, the PAP and the public would expect a confrontational populist president if he is elected into Office. Expect brinkmanship and the stubborn PAP ignoring whatever the SDP-backed candidate might advise from his seat in the Istana. For the Cabinet, to treat a former civil servant who joined the SDP camp as the president would be a humiliating slap in their face. Furthermore, frankly, Tan Jee Say does not appear to have the composure and class to be a president. He was visibly upset with Tony Tan during the TOC forum, and Goh Chok Tong's former Principal Private Secretary actually raised his voice and pointed his finger at Tony Tan. Also during his CNA debate, Tan Jee Say stumbled during his opening statement. Right from the start he dropped the ball, although to be fair, chastised by public opinion, he was not so easily angered by then compared to the TOC forum outburst.

Tan Jee Say boasted his illustrious private sector employment. However, his employment history was questioned and Tan Jee Say later clarified that he was not involved in the demise of Peregrine or AIB Govett. This explanation was just like he was not involved in the Marxist Conspiracy although he was the top aide to Goh Chok Tong, a DPM in 1987. Certainly the former civil servant who struck out on his own was scrutinised and there might have been deliberate falsehood against him as part of the campaigning. However, Tan Jee Say was oddly quiet about the allegations that he was managed out of Standard Chartered and that he was shunned by the banking industry since 2006.

The Only Tan

In contrast, Tan Kin Lian is more amicable and less confrontational. He smiles often, is more casual in his appearance and reasoning compared to his competition. He wore batik during the TOC forum, is often seen in his casual high-five tee to emphasis his people-oriented branding. He is more of the people's president rather than an opposition's president. He stressed during his campaigning that while it is not within his constitutional powers, he would suggest a state pension fund and an added HDB grant for NSmen i.e. he knows his limits and does not go into esoteric debates like disbanding Temasek or debunking the Marxist Conspiracy. He goes for the heartland issues right away. More down-to-earth, more to the heartbeat of Singaporeans uncertain of their lot in life under the PAP government.

He is more accommodating and although his feel of socio-political moods is not there as seen from the TOC forum, this is compensated by his eagerness to help. He seemed more grassroot in his style and that would be a plus. Nobody should forget that he stood up and spoke up during the Lehman crisis at Hong Lim Park for those who were burnt. It is only one incident, one instance, his critics might voice. Indisputable allegation, but it was his big intervention in being the voice. Where was Tan Jee Say or for that matter, Tony Tan or Tan Cheng Bock, then? That demonstrated that he was concerned about people's money being safe and not risked away.

Furthermore, Tan Kin Lian helmed NTUC Income for 30 years. Tan Jee Say is a job hopper in comparison, perhaps unfairly presented if we were in a non-election period but fair in an election, someone who is not sure of what he wants. The stereotypical government scholar who cannot survive outside of his cushy fast-tracked government sector as critics like to gossip about. During Tan Kin Lian's leadership of Income, the NTUC leader grew Income to the large cooperative it is today, like or loath his leadership style. While the president does not have the mandate to do with the reserves as he pleased, his track record of prudence in Income is assuring and he views the reserves as both insurance and investment. Not something for the opposition to bargain with the executive and legislative.

Come 27 August, nothing as changed and I'm still doing a high-five for one particular Tan.

Presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian said he encountered two low points in his race to Istana, and both of them involved fellow candidate Tan Jee Say.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Tan said the first low point was when Mr Tan Jee Say applied for a certificate of eligibility to become a candidate in the presidential election.

This allegedly took place after he invited Mr Tan Jee Say to be part of his think tank.

The second low point was when Mr Tan Jee Say received his certificate of eligibility.

Mr Tan Kin Lian said one of the criteria to qualify for the certificate is that the individual has to head a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital, and he says Mr Tan Jee Say did not qualify in this area.

Mr Tan Kin Lian also shared two high points in his campaign.

The first was when he found out that many people are supporting him in the election.

Another high point was when his strategic team came up with the message for his campaign, which is to be the voice of the people, and the five values of positive attitude, public service, courage, fairness and honesty.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Election Dilemma and the President Idol

In the recent general election, the majority of us did not vote for an MP. The GRC system meant that most of us actually chose between teams of MPs offered by the PAP and opposition parties.

The dilemma was that in some cases, to cast a vote for someone we wanted as an MP, we inevitably also had to support someone we would prefer not to see in Parliament. On the other hand, this could also drag his/her team down.

With the official nomination of the 4 Tans as presidential candidates, voters face a different dilemma at our upcoming presidential election.

Say you are firmly of the view that the president should be not be a former PAP MP or Minister, and would be happy to have either Tan Kin Lian or Tan Jee Say as president. You believe that a slight majority of Singaporeans share your view, and that the ideal outcome would be that either one of them wins the election.

But who would you vote for? As with the Prisoners’ Dilemma, you might want to take a stab at guessing how your like-minded citizens might vote. If the votes are split down the middle, it is unlikely that either candidate will win.

In a curious case of divine impartiality, the same applies to those on the pro-PAP camp.

Someone has suggested having two rounds of elections, the second being between the top two candidates in the first. While the proposal has its merits, it is clearly not going to happen on 27 August 2011.

To “neutralise” the huge difference in country audience sizes, SMS voters in the Asian Idol competition had to name two countries; it has been argued that Singapore’s Hadi Mirza won the title of Asian Idol not because he was the best singer, but because he was the “safe choice”.

It is not a close parallel, since voters for the Asian Idol were required to select two choices. Nonetheless, the “safe choice” theory suggests that the candidate who wins may not be the most-loved, but simply the least despised.

But this is not an ideal outcome for Asian Idol, and even less so for a presidential election.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tan Kin Lian for President

The inaugural contested presidential election is here. This Wednesday would be a milestone in Singapore's history. For too long the presidents have been selected by the PAP, even after the elected presidency was enacted in 1991. This time, still smarting from the humiliation in the GE months ago and the spirit of soul-searching still in the PAP psyche, the PAP turned away for once and let the Presidential Elections Committee do its job. Consequently, there are four individuals who would stand for elections this Wednesday. All Tans, all hoping to be president, all have their flaws, all have their strengths.

The Room for Independents

I've always thought that there is ample space for independents in politics. Not only because of the romantic appeal of the underdog especially in a PAP-dominated Singapore, but also because independents don't have the baggage of party politics and history trailing them. Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Jee Say and Tony Tan have all offficially left their respective parties but around their necks, I still see the faint signs that say - PAP, SDP and PAP respectively. That Tan trio can never truly distance themselves from their political roots. Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock would still be loyal to some of their former PAP comrades at least, if not to the PAP itself. And the same would be so for Tan Jee Say, who flew the SDP flag merely months ago too at the GE. If a former PAP member is elected as the president after 27 August, he would draw disdain from segments of the public. Similarly for the former SDP member as there would be those in the crowd who would prefer a PAP man over someone from the SDP camp.

Community, Ceremony and Constitution First, not Party Prejudices

The president in Singapore performs constitutional, ceremonial and community roles and should he be beholden to any political party, he cannot carry out those roles to the best of his abilities. Party prejudices would cloud the president's office and undermine the office in the eyes of the public. Furthermore, Singapore is a parliamentary system and the president's office should not be backdoor for opposition parties to sneak into parliament.

With a president who is not aligned with any party, the opportunities of gridlock brought about by party politics is significantly reduced. The PAP-dominated parliament would be more open to listen to an independent president, partly as a public relations demonstration of their growing openness to win the voters over in time for their next election. Furthermore, in the eyes of the PAP, it is best that their henchman becomes president. But in the end with the expected anti-PAP resentment still fresh after the GE, preferable that an independent they can reason with who sits at the Istana rather than a card-carrying member of the opposition intent on blocking anything because of party agenda.

The Path Ahead for an Apolitical Presidency

Hence, to apoliticise the presidency, and in the spirit of the elected presidents from Ong Teng Cheong to SR Nathan, the choice is clear to voters like me who want to see the assertion of the political independence of the president's office. From Ong Teng Cheong who was a minister and NTUC leader, to SR Natan who was a senior civil servant, the natural evolution in the apoliticisation of the elected president would leave us with Tan Kin Lian, someone from a cooperative. He is qualified with regards to his Income stewardship and has remained independent through the GE and has no political ambitions in that sense or else he would have joined the opposition. His critics spread that he is a former PAP member and thus tainted. However, he left the PAP in the early 1980s and that is a long time ago for him to retain party loyalties.

When Tan Kin Lian officially commits himself to the presidential race in a few days, he would get my vote.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Internal Politics and Knifing

Fascinating to see political parties indulging in internal politics. During the GE, the parties were fencing with each other. Mostly gentlemanly except for the innuendos of gay agenda of a party by a minister and attacks on a bimbo politician who brandished a Kate Spade bag in a private photo. After the GE, the biting and scratching were not at other parties, but within parties. In particular, WP, NSP and PAP.

WP Tension

The tension within the Workers' Party was evident when Eric Tan who contested in the East Coast GRC, resigned after he was not offered the NCMP position. That coveted appointment, foot-in-the-door into parliament to showcase to voters in the next GE was given to Gerald Giam instead. Why Eric Tan, a veteran of the 2006 GE where he also stood in East Coast GRC, was not selected were for strategic reasons. Gerald Giam should be given the exposure in parliament as he has more years ahead of him. Disagree or agree, Eric Tan quit the party not 3 months later but immediately once the decision was public. The longer he delayed his resignation, the less he linked it with the NCMP chair passed to a younger inexperience candidate, and the less the damage to WP. Some called him petty and that he placed personal interests before party interests, the euphemism for "selfish". Not many emphatised with him and the fact that he was older, was around since the GE 2006 and thus had more experience to share in parliament compared to Gerald Giam.

The WP wanted to pander to the younger voters and Gerald Giam it was. Eric Tan's sense of betrayal was expected but the extent he was disappointed was unexpected. Would Eric Tan soon defect to another party to further show his resentment? Another party like WP which did well in the GE despite not winning any wards?

NSP Intrigue

Another post-GE internal politics fallout is based on rumours, but there is no smoke without fire as they say. NSP members, among them Gilbert Goh and Goh Meng Seng, supposedly met Joseph Ong who is an associate of the disreputable Temasek Review. Goh Meng Seng denied there was a meeting while someone else refuted the NSP secretary-general's denials. This someone called himself "NSP Insider" and added that Joseph Ong wanted to pay for the legal fees of NSP Nicole Seah to sue Shin Min, for reasons unknown. However Goh Meng Seng was against it.

The backstabbing here in NSP is that there might have been a meeting that Goh Meng Seng disallowed but Gilbert Goh and others had a Faustian deal with Joseph Ong behind the NSP leader's back. It was a symptom of a larger problem of a breakdown in party cohesion. NSP is not disciplined like the WP and some factions in NSP probably were unhappy with NSP's lacklustre performance in the GE and the way NSP was heading from now.

PAP Factions

With regards to where a political party is heading from now, and forgetting its proletariat roots, can be seen in the infighting in the PAP camp in the run-up to the presidential election. Tan Cheng Bock jumped into the race, to the surprise of his former comrades. Lim Boon Heng pulled the rug from under Tan Cheng Bock's feet by not giving him a clean bill of health as he doubted the former Ayer Rajah strongman's credentials. Fearing that popular Tan Cheng Bock would become like Ong Teng Cheong in asking uncomfortable questions in parliament, the PAP looked like they had to drag out Tony Tan from retirement to run for office as a counterweight to Tan Cheng Bock. Rather that retired Tan over the other retired Tan.

Just when political shadow boxing within the PAP cannot become any more complicated, George Yeo who earlier said after he was humiliated in Aljunied GRC that he did not have the temperament to be president, hinted that he might give it a shot too. The PAP would not have supported George Yeo as his about-turn on running for president made the PAP looked like they wanted a puppet president too obviously and without finesse. Abdullah Tarmugi was probably the original puppet for the PAP but Tan Cheng Bock and George Yeo ruined the opening game for the PAP. This public display of internal politics only means one thing - they know that Lee Kuan Yew is losing his hold over the party. His eventual demise might actually spark off a breakaway PAP faction as speculated.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

PAP’s GE2011 Post-mortem

Clearly, there must be, by now, a document with this title being circulated amongst PAP’s top cadre. The following is just my own stab in the dark – and if you’ve been (mis)led here by a keyword search, thinking it’s the real McCoy, I’m sorry. (And I’m not alone in saying so).

Traditionally, in Singapore politics, we can almost expect opposition politicians to trip up. In GE2001, it was Chee Soon Juan heckling the PM. In GE2006, it was the James Gomez saga. This year, we had Kenneth Jeyaretnam misquoting PM in a condolence letter.

Conversely, it was a given that PAP would roll a near-perfect score. Candidates with impeccable resumes would be trotted out; not all are eloquent but by-and-large, all generally somewhat likable. If all candidates were stripped of party affiliation, it would be a fair statement that the majority would chose the PAP candidates. Add the party’s huge resources, and every move is strategically-motivated and ably executed, leaving very little to chance.

But the tide seems to have turned in GE2011, with a 6.5% slip in votes and the loss of a GRC. Did the PAP play its cards wrongly this time? Or is the PAP’s new vulnerability a result of the shifting sands?

Let’s look at what I consider to be the three key mistakes in PAP’s GE2011 campaign.

[Note: Here, I define a “mistake” as something that – on hindsight – one wishes that one had not done; even so, I understand that you may not agree with what I consider a mistake, and if so, I’m sorry (again).]

Mistake 1: Fielding Tin Pei Ling. With the massive negative reaction following TPL’s introduction, the PAP could have shelved her candidature for one term; by their own admission, PAP has a slate of reserve candidates which included at least one surgeon. But, no, PAP chose to drive her into Parliament in the armoured convoy known as Marine Parade GRC. The convoy made it, but not without significant battle damage; SM Goh Chok Tong has announced his retirement from the Cabinet’ speculation is that it is linked to his GRC’s low share of votes.

Mistake 2: The Steve Tan faux pas. Clearly the PAP’s due diligence process is showing some cracks; perhaps there are some things that do not come up in polite conversation over a cuppa. In any case, Tanjong Pagar MP Baey Yam Keng was sent east to fill the ranks while overnight MP Dr Chia Shi-Lu got to walk(over) into Parliament as part of MM Lee Kuan Yew’s armoured convoy. (MM has since announced his retirement along with SM Goh, which makes one wonder if it has anything to do with his remarks on the Muslim integration or about Aljunied voters repenting).

The biggest mistake, IMHO, is to play for broke in Aljunied. With the GRC system, the nomination of candidates is akin to the game of Chinese poker. You can either spread out your chances or go for broke. It is not necessary a winning strategy – WP won both in Aljunied and Hougang; SPP lost both Potong Pasir and Bishan-Toa Payoh.

It was politically unfeasible to move FM George Yeo into a ‘safe’ ward. PM upped the ante in Aljunied with the announcement that MP Zainal Abidin would be Speaker of Parliament. Newbie (and touted 4G leader) Ong Ye Kung was probably sent there on account on his being more charismatic than the other new recruits. Still, this set proved no match for the WP’s A-team.

During the fog of the hustings, it was passé to praise but kosher to criticize. It was too easy to overlook the successes of the PAP administration over the past 5 years, especially during the Global Financial Crisis, where the introduction of Workfare and Jobs Credit effectively staved off unemployment, or new developments such as the Marina Bay area, Sentosa’s Resort World and the F1 night race.

In GE2011, PM Lee earned a mixed mandate. While PAP as a whole has lost points, PM’s Ang Mo Kio GRC enjoyed one of the strongest returns, providing him with moral authority that was not available to him in GE2006. The departure of MM Lee, SM Goh, Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim further heralds the possibility of changes, and the one clear message from GE2011 is that changes need to be made. Not only in the Cabinet, but also within the PAP itself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

GE: One Week Later

Things are still falling into place about one week after the milestone 2011 election in Singapore's opposition history, besides other significant periods. 1968 and the irresponsible Barisan Socialis boycott and the chance for PAP to monopolise parliament until 1981. 1981 and the Anson By-election. 1984 and Anson and Potong Pasir. The breakthrough 1991 and 20 years later, 2011.

PAP Looking Ahead and Making the Right Sounds For Now

On the PAP front, the most startling and welcomed news is that MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong are finally giving up their Cabinet positions, if the PM accepted their resignations. Finally, and it is about time. Looking at the recent political damage done by the two former PMs of Singapore to their own party especially, their departure from cabinet is long overdue. MM Lee's hard truths on the supposed lack of Malay integration which is perhaps partly true and partly false depending on perspective, did not sit well with politically correct Singaporeans. SM Goh also did his fair bit to provoke Singaporeans in October 2010 when he mused why he should continue to work for Singaporeans who felt that they didn't belong to Singapore. Nobody wanted him to work at all and for him to be paid millions if you asked me. The GE period recently also showed how these two old men managed to sabotage PM Lee's PAP's campaign which was already being shaken. MM Lee's repent ultimatum to Aljunied residents and SM Goh's desperate attempts to protect George Yeo at the expense of other cabinet ministers showed that PM Lee was not using the Whip enough, if at all.

The resignations suggested that the PAP has got it into their thick heads that Singaporeans are frustrated with retired PMs who are holding cabinet positions and getting million dollar salaries. Naturally if the two former PMs want to contribute, they can contribute pro bono or at an MP allowance which is what they are proposing to do now. It is assuring that the PAP is making quick moves to demonstrate that they are trying to win back Singaporeans, after winning the recent GE by one of the lowest winning margin in years.

WP is Already Ahead and Looking Good

Lots have been said on the WP and the WP is basking in its glory as it rightly should. They were good sportsmen when they won Aljunied, just like the PAP Aljunied team was also quite gracious when their faces were pushed into the mud. However, the Eric Tan debacle showed that while WP's pre-GE and GE discipline is exemplary, cracks are surprisingly beginning to show post-GE. Coldly calculated, the choice of Gerald Giam over Eric Tan as NCMP actually underlined WP's strategic view and its willingness to offend its key party members for the party's long term good. The whole of Singapore would be watching when WP sits in parliament soon and how WP is going to use not only the 6 MPs, but the 2 NCMPs as well. Former NCMP and now MP Sylvia Lim already left big shoes for her WP NCMP cadres to step into.

The Other Opposition Merely Looked Good

The other political parties are also coming to terms in their defeat in the 2011 GE. Some might have improved in their performance from GE 2006 but in a GE and as long as the opposition candidates were not elected into parliament, it does not mean anything significant despite anything consoling pundits say.

The Reform Party marched into the scene with much celebratory fanfare last year but its GE performance was horrible. Kenneth Jayaretnam has been relatively quiet on his loss so far. In contrast, Goh Meng Seng from the NSP was more forthcoming on his reflections of his defeat and he gentlemanly has taken full responsibility for it. He had a good team, made up of former Reform Party members but his party's branding was hijacked by the Nicole Seah phenomenon and this showed that he might have to crack his party whip on his members like Nicole Seah who looked like they have their own independent media campaigns.

SDP despite its rebranding and hooking of a former PPS to Goh Chok Tong and the eloquent Vincent Wijesingha also failed to win any seats. SDP's performance was actually disappointing as they had a strong new media campaign as well which surpassed that of the other parties including WP. However, in the end in SDP's case, there was a limit to how much Internet campaigning and popular culture branding worked in getting votes. SDP's Danny the Bear was also a novelty at best and a cheapening and trivialisation of SDP's political message at worst.

In contrast to the WP victories in Aljunied and Hougang, SPP's defeat in Bishan-Toa Payoh and Potong Pasir did mar Singaporeans' optimism in opposition strongholds lasting forever. What rubbed salt into the wound in Potong Pasir, albeit SPP did what they could to calm their people, was the petty petition by some Potong Pasir residents who insinuated there was unfairness and were in denial over PAP's win in their SMC. Those who participated in the petition were the proverbial sore losers and their incredulous reaction from their doubt mocked the entire voting system. SPP themselves accept the results and that should be the end of it. On SPP's rocky future, Lina Chiam accepted the NCMP offer. Looking at her dismal maiden debate among political peers during the CNA panel discussion last month, the chances of Lina Chiam standing tall and toe-to-toe with PAP MPs in parliamentary debates are horribly slim. From the quality of Lina Chiam as a poltician, that NCMP slot could have been controversially surrendered and offered to WP instead, although that is a politically naive move if SPP did that.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Opposition Parties

SDP Rally at Yuhua on 29.4.11 8pm

Workers' Party and Singapore Democratic Party. One is an old brand, the other is being rebranded. The former has a more substantial manifesto. The latter's manifesto is considerably weaker in content. One has entrenched itself in a SMC and is on the verge of winning a GRC. The other is trying to reclaim its lost glory days and get a seat in parliament. One is filled with good speakers who make sense. The other is filled with mediocre speakers at best, and of which some just have rally rhetoric and made little sense. This is my experience from comparing the WP rally on 28.4.11 and the SDP rally on 29.4.11.

A Class Apart

Between the two parties, WP is more likely to beat the PAP than SDP from the way the crowd behaved. I attended the WP party Hougang SMC rally on the 28th and there was chanting of "Workers' Party", cheering and clapping. Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and the newcomer fresh off the plane Chen Show Mao had an electrifying hold over us. When Chen Show Mao appeared and greeted the crowd in Malay, Tamil, Mandarin and English, the crowd roared in approval. Low Thia Khiang wove his charismatic magic and it was clear that the crowd which numbered in the thousands that filled the field about 2-3 times a football field all backed him. I bet even the PAP supporters among them too. Especially when he said the WP as a figurative co-driver was there to slap the PAP in parliament if the PAP drove dangerously. Low also had a nice touch of formally introducing Yaw Shin Leong, ensuring a proper and official handover of Hougang.

The frenzy in the WP rally was not seen in the SDP Yuhua SMC rally on the 29th. At about 8pm on Friday night, the stadium where the SDP rally was held was sparsely populated. This was in sheer contrast to the Hougang experience where it was already packed one hour into the rally. None of the SDP speakers could move the crowd like how the WP candidates did. Ang Yong Guan from SDP tried his best to work up the crowd but his crass efforts were futile. Teo Soh Lung who was going to wrest the SMC from PAP's Grace Fu just appeared nice but she couldn't connect to the crowd particularly because of her poor command of Mandarin. One thing oddly different was also that in the SDP rally, only the speaker was on stage and everyone else was somewhere resting perhaps. Bad form. In contrast, in the WP's rally, the various candidates sat on the stage, behind the speaker, implying that they bothered to sit there, however uncomfortable it was, to try connect with the crowd and show support for their fellow candidates.

Hopes and Fat Hopes

Is the WP's A-Team going to take over Aljunied GRC at least? If the crowd reaction is any indicator, probably. No amount of upgrading promise can keep Aljunied residents voting for PAP. Unless the PAP becomes creative in its pork-barrel politics e.g. cheaper better faster childcare, elderly care and other services beside physical infrastructure.

Is SDP's A-Team going to win Holland-Bt Timah GRC? Judging from the crowd reaction and performance of the speakers, their chances are quite dismal, especially if the Holland-Bt Timah residents are confident that WP is taking over Aljunied anyway and why have an opposition like SDP in their turf?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Fellow Bloggers...

My fellow Singaporean bloggers

I am proud to be one of you.

In a sentimental mood (and blessed with some free time), I read through some of the blog postings written ahead of the 2006 GE, and compared them to our discussions in the blogosphere today.

By and large, the quality of our discourse has improved significantly. Name-calling has (mostly) given way to robust debates on hard issues. There is an increasing segment which supports a candidate or party on the strength of its ideas and policies, not its rhetoric and personality. Consequently, the online political conversation has become a lot more substantive.

We still know how to have fun, and this wit often reflects a deeper realities a la Animal Farm. Far more than just a song and dance, we use humour to mask hidden messages about the fundamental issues at stake. Or maybe we just enjoy making each other laugh.

In any case, I am convinced that we bloggers today have a bona fide role in national discourse.

Separately, I came across this quote by the late US senator Robert F Kennedy:

“Our gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud to be Americans.”

I would argue that a high GNP would actually help pay for our children’s education and healthcare. But otherwise, I think Senator Kennedy has effectively captured the essence of what Americans’ real priorities were. And they had little to do with numbers.

One of the issues that appears to be shaping our upcoming GE is whether we should have cheaper HDB prices or more national reserves. Another “hot button” issue is the influx of foreigners.

While both issues can be expressed in numbers, the real question that should be addressed is: “What makes life in Singapore worthwhile?” Is it worthwhile to have flats which are worth less in future in order to have more case in hand now (or for retirement)? Is it worthwhile to have more space (and jobs) for Singaporeans if it means slower growth as a whole?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The March of the Independents

There were no independent candidates in the 2006 General Elections. However, in the 2001 GE, there was Tan Kim Chuang who stood in Bt Timah, faced off SDA and PAP and got the lowest percentage of the votes (4.92%) of the three candidates in the SMC. Independent candidate Ooi Boon Ewe in Joo Chiat who stared down Chan Soo Sen in Joo Chiat SMC, fared better as he garnered 16.45% of the votes. In 1997, Chia Shi Teck was in a 4-corner fight with PAP-DPP-NSP in Chua Chu Kang SMC and obtained 14.06% of the votes. Not bad for an independent.

1991 - The Promise and Pitfalls in the Independents' Political Aspirations

The 1991 GE, the first post-LKY GE and the spring of political change, had a relatively thriving independent movement. Independents stood in Bt Merah (Patrick Leong who collected 1.63%) Bt Timah SMC (Sani Jan, who obtained 1.68%), Chua Chu Kang SMC (Harry Baptist and Kwek Guan Kwee who obtained 7.61% and 23.95% respectively), Leng Kee SMC (GK Niddy who snatched 23.43% of the votes from the PAP candidate), MOuntbatten SMC (Eugene Yap who scored 22.05% of the votes) and Tanglin (Gnaguru s/o Thamboo Mylvaganam who obtained 1.23% of the votes). The 1991 GE results for the independents in the 6 SMC showed that independents can fare either relatively well (more than 20% of the votes) or dismally (less than 2% of the votes). Why the disparity? Nobody can really tell but it has a lot to do with cleverly tapping on voters' frustrations with both incumbents and the alternatives.

Independents Have A Good Chance in 2011

Can independents actually win a seat in a SMC, since independents presumably do not have the resources to compete in a GRC? The easiest answer is probably a "no". However, the possibility of an election result where an independent can do well enough to keep his deposit, earn enough reputation and credibility for his future professional and political life is not out of reach.

Independents can be seen as very much similar to NMPs in many ways to the matured voter who is cynical of the tiresome rhetoric of all the political parties, and rather let an independent who has no political flag and baggage to wave and carry to enter parliament. Imagine if people like Siew Kum Hong stood as an independent, there is a high chance he can re-enter parliament as a full-fledged MP this time. Furthermore, the public should reflect on the myth that independents are lost causes or basket cases. For example, independents do not have the monopoly of crackpots. SDP, PAP, SPP etc incidentally all have their own crackpots.

In the 2011 GE, former presidential candidate Andrew Kuan is back and might do well in Joo Chiat. He has gained enough reputation since he made a grab for the elected presidency in 2005. Similarly, chairman of the Stansfield Education Group Kannappan Chettiar, might also score reasonably well in Mountbatten SMC.

However, those media-shy and mysterious loners who expressed some interest in being independents would probably fare terribly as they didn't even bother to market themselves credibly when it is so vital to do so now especially when every potential candidate is putting their cards and wares on the table already as there is so little time left to win voters over.

Catering to the Younger Voters and their Defiant DIY Streak

Although independents have not done well since the 1997 GE, the 1991 GE demonstrated that independents are players best not underestimated. Independents are not shackled by the party whip and are very non-partisan in theory. Assuming they can have a good social media penetration, independent candidates can reach out to the younger voters who are jaded of the various parties' branding and more receptive towards political gungho mavericks who answer to no secretary-general. The very same younger creative DIY voters who use Youtube to showcase their own films and music, blogs to coordinate spree shopping or market their writing. The same young voters who might prefer independent films, music, comics, labels etc. The public is also probably matured enough to understand that NMPs are "independents" already and electing people like Andrew Kuan and Kannappan Chettiar as an MP is a very favourable option to consider. Also, it is better to vote them instead of spoiling the vote on polling day.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Pack Mule/Maid and the NSF Not Packing a Punch

DARPA and the US army have the high-tech Legged Squad Support System, DSO and SAF have the low-tech maid.

The picture of the young chap in the SAF uniform, apparently trailed a maid carrying his field pack, has stirred debate on whether the SAF soldier has gone soft.

Analysts like Dr Bernard Loo and Dr Tan Ern Ser have come out to caution that this one case should not been seen as a reflection of the SAF. Others – like Dr Paulin Tay Straughan – suggest that the photo/article was unhelpful because it was not contextualized. For example, the soldier could have been tired or injured.

(MINDEF’s official response is that the SAF takes a serious view of the conduct of its servicemen in public; they will investigate the matter and take appropriate action.)

It cannot be doubted, however, that our rising affluence has afforded the current generation of enlistees with a very comfortable lifestyle. The TNP survey of 80 national servicemen found that 23 of them came from families who employed maids.

Doing the family laundry is a natural part of the maid’s job scope. 22 of those surveyed reported that their army uniforms are washed and ironed by maids, but only one admitted that he also had his army boots cleaned.

This suggests – thankfully – that by-and-large, our young national servicemen know where to draw the line.

But what demarcates this line?

The line is pride in one’s role in the SAF and by extension, his conduct, particularly while in uniform. And carrying one’s own field pack is one of many ways to reflect this pride.

Some online pundits suggest that the “outsourcing” of such menial tasks is not a reflection of the soldier’s ability and that one could in fact argue that the trait to make use of one’s “available resources“ is required for officer-hood.

Such views miss the bigger picture. In peacetime, the value of a military service resides largely in being able to serve as a sufficient deterrent to would be aggressors. Since its fighting capabilities are unproven, military watchers make assessments based on manpower, equipment and reputation for training and discipline.

Only when it appears imposing does a military serve to be a deterrent; to have to prove its abilities on the battlefield is to have failed in its primary mission, and would result in the loss of many lives.

For this reason, there are myriad regulations about how the uniform should be worn (e.g. wearing of headgear and fatigues), behaviour protocols while in uniform, as well as how we dispose of old uniforms.

This solider has done the SAF a disservice. It may be only one case, but it has damaged the reputation of the service, and all others who don the uniform with pride.

To all serving SAF national servicemen. Carry your own field pack and polish your own boots; a soldier’s pride demands no less.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quality, not Quantity

The state of Singapore's election candidates?

In recent weeks and months, Singapore’s various political parties have introduced a slew of new faces.

It is quite certain that unlike recent elections past, the PAP will not be returned to power Nomination Day. Opposition parties look set to contest every seat, and some constituencies are even likely see multi-cornered contests.

This promises that a generation of Singaporean virgin voters who have been living in “walkover constituencies” – many of whom are on the wrong side of 30 (or even 40) – would finally get to see a ballot box up close.

But is that all they really want?

In the words of Oliver Twist, please sir, I want more.

Whether from the PAP or opposition, I want to see candidates who:

(a) Have a track record of being interested and involved in local grassroots and community work. I have my doubts that anyone who has just flown in after spending years overseas is equipped (or committed) enough to serve as an MP..

(a) Can connect with the audience. Being fluent in local languages (and dialects) is nice, but that does not equate to having charisma, which IMHO is a more critical prerequisite for any would-be MP. In election rallies past, I have listened to several MP-wannabes (and some who got in!) who were sorely lacking in this department.

(c) Can critique and suggestion improvements to existing policies (for PAP candidates) or can present practical alternatives to policies they don’t agree with (for opposition candidates). Would-be MPs should not go in riding on coat tails (although this is sadly the case) but at the same time, cannot expect to make a career out of simply criticizing without having to present feasible alternatives.

I do not want to see candidates who:

(a) Base their entire campaign simply on the basis that they will provide an alternative voice in Parliament(for opposition candidates). They have to convince me that they are a *better* alternative. Singapore is not perfect, but things could be worse. Voting for them should not make things worse.

(b) Attacks or disparages a rival candidate on basis of age, gender, race/religion or education level. There is no room in Singapore for bigotry, much less in an MP.

(c) Would view the MP allowance as a “lottery strike.” Those who intend to give up similar or higher paying jobs to serve as full-time MPs win points. Ditto those who donate or use the allowance for the constituents.

Hopefully, we will see a good contest between quality candidates from all sides. Otherwise, I would rather stay home like a virgin (voter).

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Pride, Prejudice and Politics: Hard Truths


This was one of the comments by MM Lee Kuan Yew publicised in January that made angered the Malay-Muslim community especially,

"Be less strict on Islamic observances and say,'Okay, I'll eat with you.'"

When MM Lee made his cutting comment on such supposed hard truths, the Association of Muslim Professionals was among the first, if not the first, to put the first Prime Minister of Singapore in his place. Even PM Lee Hsien Loong realised from the furore that he had to correct his father delicately in public,
"But my own perspectives on how things are in Singapore based on my interaction with the Malay community, the mosque and religious leaders and the grassroots leaders, is not quite the same as MM's."

After that mini-storm died down, MM Lee returned to the scene and explained,
"I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably two or three years ago. Ministers and MPs, both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with the other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date.

“I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future,”

MM Lee Kuan Yew said he stands corrected for his remark that the local Malay-Muslim community in Singapore were not integrated into the larger society. As many have observed on the implications on the way he admitted his mistake, he did not say the usual neutral "I regret" or the semi-formal "I apologise..." or even the humble and contrite "I'm sorry..." regarding his remarks that caused quite a stir.


Why can't the elder statesman, with an undisputed record of dragging Singapore with his other first generation leaders into the First World from Third World as he described, be so insecure and not admit openly that he might be wrong occasionally? The simple and short answer, the hard truth, is pride.

To be frank, MM Lee did admit his mistake and it was probably difficult for a man like him to do so. The rational among us would not expect him to be Nipponese in his apology to the point of seppuku. But the way he explained that he was corrected, gave the impression that he might have been more sorry about everyone misunderstanding him, or the dink in his reputation because of his comments, rather than the consternation he caused with his typical bluntness on people being daft as an example. The closest remark in recent times on mistakes he made pertained to his and his government's Chinese language policy,
"A language is first listened to, heard and then spoken. It's not read or written - that follows later. (But) we started the wrong way. We insisted on spelling and dictation (in Chinese)."


Why did MM Lee re-open old wounds? The hard truth again is that it is probably because the PAP feared that they might lose the Malay-Muslim community's vote in the general election as a result of MM Lee's bluntness and misconceptions on Malay-Muslim integration with the other ethnic groups in Singapore. Others have also sensed the politicised timing of this need for closure. MM Lee needed to do the damage control himself for closure according to the plan. Despite that PM Lee and Minister Yaacob Ibrahim had already assured the ground that MM Lee's comments were his own personal views that the government did not agree with.

MM Lee's explanation of being corrected which was short of an apology might have harden sentiments instead among those who needed more excuses to dislike the statesman and his party. The magnanimous however would accept whatever MM Lee had mumbled reluctantly to rebuild bridges with the Malay-Muslim community. Which sentiment would dominate is unclear. What is clear is that if MM Lee had appeared more contrite and reined in his pride further, he and the PAP might have clawed back more credibility with the Malay-Muslim community. That community might forgive, but not forget since the wound is still fresh. That's another hard truth.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Kingmaker" and "PAP-Breaker" - Political and Proud of It?

On 3 Nov 2001, Singapore held its general election. A few months earlier that year, the milestone Sintercom website was approached by the authorities to register the website as a political one. Tan Chong Kee guessed correctly that from the vague terms and conditions on registering Sintercom as a political website, he was liable for civil and criminal action, regardless if comments in his website were not by him. Fast forward to 2011, it is deja vu because the authorities have gazetted The Online Citizen (TOC) as a political association on one hand so that it cannot get foreign donations, and as a political website under condition 4 of the Schedule to the Broadcasting (Class License) Notification’. So it is a pincer assault for the alleged kingmaker in opposition politics despite the rightly politically correct denials.

What is this Condition 4?

"An Internet Content Provider who is or is determined by the Authority to be a body of persons engaged in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore on the World Wide Web through the Internet, shall register with the Authority within 14 days after the commencement of its service, or within such longer time as the Authority may permit"

What is a Political Association? According to the Political Donations Act,

"political association" means —

(a) a political party or an organisation which has as one of its objects or activities the promotion or procuring of the election to Parliament or to the office of President of a candidate or candidates endorsed by the organisation; or

(b) an organisation (not being a branch of any organisation) whose objects or activities relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore and which is declared by the Minister, by order in the Gazette, to be a political association for the purposes of this Act;

Political Website Yes, Political Association Maybe

Without doubt TOC is a political website so MDA's intimidating request for it to register its team of citizen journalists should not come as a surprise to TOC or its readers. The contention is whether TOC is a political association simply because of declaration by a Minister via a gazette. "Light touch" pledge broken or not, MDA and MICA supposedly think so because TOC has dabbled in online activism e.g. from its public transport to anti-death penalty campaigns. Moreover, since the new leadership of TOC under Joshua Chiang and with the seminal Face to Face pow-wow of the major opposition players in December last year, there are signs that TOC is becoming more ambitious and we the public welcome its tentative crossover from online to offline presence.

Hence, TOC is a political website but not necessarily a political association depending on who is asked. Being branded as a political association ironically legitimises TOC further and enhances its credibility. So the new TOC under Joshua Chiang has to decide whether to reject this branding and implicit acknowledgment of TOC's effective activism and go to court where the outcome is rather clear, or to welcome it and be proud of the political signature which TOC has marketed since 2006. Be proud of being political. Some writers or editors in TOC might naturally feel the strain although hopefully they all reach consensus and register accordingly as dissent in the ranks would be a poor show of confidence in TOC's direction.

Stay Around They Lose or Go Away They Win

Responsibility in its opinions on political, racial or religious views is constantly seen in TOC's writings so the MDA political website leash has no effect. If they wanted to, they would have used it on TOC long ago. The authorities' paranoia of foreign funding in the case of TOC is most ridiculous and unless TOC has foreign funding currently or has plans to in the future, the Minister's gazette of the site would not affect TOC's existence anyway. Thus, TOC should stick around and accept the mantle and make a stand.

The alternative is for TOC to cease existence in its current form and like a phoenix from the flame...