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.