Singapore Politics - Insights from the Inside

Saturday, April 29, 2006 

Photos of General Elections

Friday, April 21, 2006 

General Elections: Final Salvo

Yes, General Election is finally here. After all the media hype and build up to this coming elections, 6 May will be the decisive day where the talking will end and the people decides (subjective…). Needless to say, this GE would be significant in many ways. This will not only be the first real test to the new leadership under PM Lee Hsien Loong, but is also the longest preparation time (and warning) given to the oppositions to GE. In this coming election, maybe we would see some fireworks and sparks.

New Leadership
Obviously, the new leadership would be questioned in the coming elections. In the previous transition of leadership (from LKY to GCT, in 1991), there was a significant drop in the percentage of votes. If Lee Hsien Loong was deemed a less popular Prime Minister than Goh Chok Tong, this election will show. Another issue on everyone’s minds is whether Ang Mo Kio GRC (PM’s ward) would be contested. Perhaps, only Low Thia Khiang has the answers. But in my opinion, it would be uncontested. The oppositions have already been hard-pressed for manpower and resources. Unlikely, they are going to devote that much time and effort to tie the PM down to his ward. Moreover, the oppositions have not been visiting the blocks or markets of AMK GRC that often.

NKF Saga
Some opposition parties such as the Singapore Democratic Party (under the leadership of Dr Chee Soon Juan) have announced that they would be challenging Sembawang GRC and Khaw Boon Wan on this issue. The interesting twist is that the Board members and TT Durai have been charged in court and the case is still in progress.

The problem now arises as it is unlawful to publicly comment on a case while it is still under judgment — otherwise known as sub judice, in legalese. As mentioned by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah, on TODAY papers: "The public is always at liberty to discuss matters of public interest. However specific issues such as guilt or liability which are the subject of pending court proceedings should not be pre-judged." Mr Shashi Nathan, head of criminal department at Harry Elias Partnership, explained that general comments on the NKF saga can still be made during the run-up to the elections, although "specific references to allegations or to people involved in the case should be avoided at all times".

For example, he said, it "should be fine" for candidates to express a public opinion such as citing the old NKF as an organisation lacking good governance, transparency or accountability. Likewise, it would not be against the law for Opposition candidates to question why the Government did not take action against the NKF much earlier. While the neutrals think that the NKF trial was not timed to coincide with the GE, many would differ with that opinion.

Thus it would be interesting to see the contest at Sembawang GRC where Khaw would have to face the heckling of Dr Chee and his party. Leading up to this point, I would make this prediction…

Civil Disobedience
The laws on public rallies, campaigns and speeches on NKF-like issues have been placed on the table and made clear. Dos and do nots have been issued and to be observed. However, I am quite sure that a particular opposition member would deliberately break the law, in the name of civil disobedience. The idea is not to proclaim in the name of civil rights to prove a law unjust by deliberately breaking it, but to use this as an election tactic. This is my following prediction.

At present, the various charges he received render him ineligible to run for elections. Wherever and whenever he made public rallies, there will always policemen tailing him. Come elections, it will be the grand stage where he will plan to make a big media bang out of this issue. First, he will talk in places where he has no license to talk. Next, he will talk on issues where he is, informed by law, not to talk on. In other words, it is civil disobedience.

Police will be there to enforce the laws and give him the usual warnings to leave the place. He would obviously refuse. Just when the police arrest him, he would try to make himself the martyr of political freedom, in the presences of the foreign and local media. Next day, his party would come onto the rally and ask the public why is TT Durai still on bail, walking free (technically), while the Singaporean who spoke on that issue gets jailed. The foreign media and the political blogs would have a media blitz to support this “martyr”. His aim, to be the “single spark that started a prairie fire”, is accomplished. If his party is lucky and able to capitalize on the anger of the people, they might walk away with a GRC. And all these controversies would start on the first few days of elections so that the issues discussed during elections would be drawn to what he wants rather than being dictated by the PAP. The rest of the opposition parties would tap on to this issue and exploit this controversy to their advantage.

May I just add that I have utmost disrespect for such civil disobediences. Nonetheless, this is quite a lethal election tactic. Let’s just see how accurate is my predictions.

Casino Issues
Another tricky issue would be the casino. Granted, that the whole saga was badly managed by the PAP. What started out as a public consultative project, led to not whether would there be a casino or not, but resulted in two casinos. Previously, I’ve written on my thoughts on the casino and will not repeat it further. Some have suggested that the PAP went against the wishes of the PAP, but this is quite hard to validate. It is a case of a vocal minority versus a silent majority. Should this issue be put to referendum, casino might still get the go ahead. Nonetheless, the oppositions are likely to use this as ammunition against the PAP.

Podcasting and Political Blogging
How could this (political) blog not talked about the regulations of podcasting and political blogging? =P

Firstly, the bloggers have to understand that there have been no additional rules placed. The recent parliamentary speech on podcast and blogging was just an interpretation of the existing laws (namely PEA) in place. Perhaps, the bloggers should view this issue in two distinct periods: election and non-election period. For the 9 days period of General Elections, podcasting on political rallies, parties and advertising are disallowed. After the elections, they are free to resume. Thus, there isn’t an extreme violation of speech or internet freedom. It is just a matter of adjusting to the election period and the regulations governing it.

Secondly, a blogger should know the rationale behind the election advertising laws. Although, the law purports to provide a level playing field for both the ruling party as well as the opposition, many would felt otherwise. Without a doubt, the ruling PAP has far more resources (eg: finances, manpower) to create their own pro-PAP websites, shadow sites or blogs, compared to the oppositions. In terms of online advertising resources, they have far greater capabilities than the opposition or any individuals. If the PAP wishes to “flood” the internet with their own advertisements they have more than enough resources to do so. Thus, it is not a matter of oppression or creating unfairness to the oppositions but the rationality of the law. While they may not agree with the law, the law has to be observed and obeyed. Thus, distinguishing between agreeing/disagreeing the law and obeying the law is important.

Lastly, the nature of the internet and blogging makes the law difficult to be enforced. It was announced that if the blogs persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore, they are required to register with the MDA. However, the nature of blogs is such that blogs can easily change their web address, name or even spawn multiple blogs with similar content. Registering one blog may just lead to another 10 blogs that have exactly the same content but not being registered I am sure the authorities realized this and this could be one of the reasons why there hasn’t been any blogs (or not to my limited knowledge) asked to register with MDA. This will simply create more negative publicity for MDA, without being able to remove the content. Thus, the nature of blogs and internet may simply render it ineffective.

To sum up my lengthy opinion, I do not view this (law) as an infringement, contrary to many other bloggers’ beliefs. I do agree with the purpose of the law but in the modern era, the law is simply not enforceable and should be revised. If you are wondering whether will this blog cease “operations” during elections? The answer is no. Bottomline is that we should always blog responsibly.

By the way, did anyone say this coming Election to be boring?

Sunday, April 16, 2006 

Launch of PAP Manifesto

The whole GE media "agitprop" is getting mundune. Whether be it turning on the television, flipping the newspapers or even drinking kopi at the hawker stalls, it is hard to avoid hearing or viewing GE news and events. In the past GEs, it was always called in short notice to give the opposition an element of surprise. This coming GE will be lengthiest preparation notice given to the oppositions. As you all know by now, yesterday was the launch of the PAP Manifesto. Without trying to add to "comment noises" or give my 2-cents worth on the manifesto, I'll just publish this interesting news report from the Business Times, dated 27 November 2001. And if you are wondering whether a Singapore Politics junkie like me was at the event, maybe some photos would ease your queries. ;)
New Ministers of State will Lose Up to $200,000 per Month in Pay
The seven new people made ministers of state will lose between $10,000 and $200,000 monthly by moving into the political jobs, according to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

And, going by past records, not all will make it in their new appointments and may have to drop out after a year, he said at the People's Action Party convention on Sunday.

'The losses for the (junior ministers), the few whom I spoke to, I think four of them or so, will range from $10,000 per month to $200,000 per month,' he said.

'Now, this includes very successful specialists in the private sector earning high income ... '

Of the seven, two were top civil servants, two from the corporate sector and three medical specialists: Balaji Sadasivan, a neuro surgeon; Ng Eng Hen, a cancer surgeon; and Vivian Balakrishnan, an eye specialist. Mr Goh, who is the PAP's secretary-general,
said they willingly made the sacrifice and undertook the risk. 'We hope all would succeed but going by past records, I think it would be difficult, in my one view, to expect successes everywhere and in every one of them.'

All they wanted was to be informed as soon as it was decided they are not going to make it, he said. 'In other words, if after one year we think they can't make it as minister, tell them, then they can go back to their private sector life.'

And to help the medical specialists make that return if needed, the government will arrange for them to spend one or two mornings weekly at its hospitals to keep their skills current.

'These are good people but, just in case, they are good specialists but not good in public policy making and they haven't got the political acumen, why should you cause their lives to be hurt more than necessary?' Mr Goh said.

27 November 2001
Business Times Singapore

Tuesday, April 04, 2006 

What “Elections” Mean to Me

With the hype of the General Elections circulating in our media, I wonder to myself if Singaporeans really and truly understand the meaning of elections? To the apathetic youths, the General Elections might only be a procedural formality to affirm the PAP as the legitimate government. To the polarized youths, they looked at the GE with skepticism on the fairness of the PAP and the GE. Some sections of the public believed that the voting slip is deliberately coded to trace people who voted against the PAP. Over 20,000 people voted for Oppositions (in Jurong GRC) during the last elections, and we didn’t see 20,000 people being discriminated against. I’ve friends who openly declared their preference for the Oppositions but yet, still hold high offices in the civil service and never been discriminated against. Many urban legends have sprouted and many are false. Personally, I don’t think the PAP is that vindictive nor have that many resources to track who voted against them.

Apathy of a Singaporean

The problem is that it has become a convenient excuse for the people to self-censor their political preference and using their non-participation as a smoke-screen for their apathy. Stand up for what you believe in and stop being a “closet” opposition or “closet” PAP! If there is one argument that really irks me, is when people grumble over not being able to vote when their constituency is not challenged by the oppositions. Then, they will start blaming the PAP repression, the lack of democracy, the paternalistic governance or the inability to demonstrate their political ownership due to the “unfair” electoral rules. If you seriously think that you need an alternative voice in the polls, sign up and pay the membership fees to the Oppositions so that they have more resources to work with. All it takes is for 30 Singaporeans to pool their Progress Package bounty, one for candidate to stand for elections and another 50,000 people will be able vote. Seriously, the empty talks and the groundless accusations should end and Singaporeans should start exercising their political voice. The system can only be as democracy or as autocratic if your mind permits. If you think Singapore is not democratic, you are already seeing through a biased perception lens. Far too long, Singaporeans chose to self-censor. I say, forgot about so-called PAP repression. If it existed, it is history. Political ownership is not about whining and groaning, it is about knowing your beliefs and sticking to your beliefs. We lived in one of the smallest surface area in South Asia but we are one of the richest in the world. However, in our mindless pursuit of wealth, we lost our souls. The world may be your oyster, but you only have one home, a home called Singapore.

Meaning of Elections

Do Singaporeans truly understand the word “elections”? We all ought to but never tried to. This word encapsulates 2,600 years of human trial and error, blood, sweat and even lives. Yet, we treated the “elections” with skepticism, apathy, distrustfulness and even ridicule the whole sacredness of it. If one looks through the philosophies and histories of the concept of elections, three words persist through the thousands of years, millions of minds: Equality, Justice and Happiness. It is no coincidence that the three words, Equality, Justice and Happiness appeared in our pledge, written by the late S. Rajaratnam. Raja did not simply throw in these three words into our pledge just because they are suitable words. These words are the ultimate goals of the human race that we have strived for the thousands of years. A learned man like Raja seeks through the thousands of books he read just to understand the purpose of life. What is life and what would man seek that they are so willing to forgo their lives just to pursue this end? Ultimately, every human will have to die someday. Life is not about pursing wealth, fame and fortune, but serving an end beyond itself. An end the purports equality, justice and happiness to future generations.

Demeaning Elections

Sadly, an increasing disturbing trend of elections in Singapore is equating upgrades and material wealth for representation. Such economic benefits should not be placed on the table as a stake for your votes or mine. If we do start a trend of votes equating to upgrades, MRT stations and other economic wealth, it will only dilute the idea of Singapore identity and replaced it with economic pragmatism. Should candidates or parties be chosen because they have “deeper” pockets to provide Lift Upgrades? Maybe yes, maybe no. But on any given day, I would insist that the answer is no. Regardless of your voting preference, no Singaporeans should be made less well-off in terms of assets than another just because he/she prefers the Opposition to represent his political voice.

The idea of elections is to decide the best people to lead and represent the interest of the Singaporeans for the betterment of Singapore. Elections and votes should never be on self-interest in preserving their own asset values and forsaking the idea of a better Singapore. Parties and candidates should be compared not on the “depths of their pockets” but by their abilities to represent the interest of Singaporeans and make Singapore a better place. Do not vote for the Oppositions just because they are the underdogs or that you simply want to exercise your political voice by not voting to PAP (since you think the PAP will win, by voting for them is similar to not voting – “By-Elections Effect”). Similarly, do not vote the PAP just because you want to have upgrading at your blocks. Judge them by their quality of ideas, opinions, character and sincerity. They should represent not just your own interest but must benefit Singapore as a whole. By that, we don’t need 84 President’s scholars seating in the parliament. We need Members of Parliament to serve the people, not to serve power; who know the ground, not just knowing figures, numbers and statistics.

Words to Would-be-MPs

Most, if not all, of the new PAP candidates will be elected into the parliament. Yes, many of them are corporate high-flyers that have recently “helped” out at grassroots and community events. If anyone of the new-MPs ever read this, may I just provide my 2-cents worth. Do not be blinded by the sudden fame and power. With elections nearing, you are pushed into the media limelight but do keep your head up and your feet on the ground. We don’t need opportunists in parliament that seeks power, fame and fortune. Many argued that politics is about serving power, but I would naively beg to defer. Politics is about people and serving people. In the past, we have seen new candidates promoted into Ministerial positions straight after elections, with their impressive credentials. Paper politics is vastly different from people’s politics. Some found out that they are not suited to deal with lower strata of society and quit office before the next GE. They have nothing to lose as by quitting office, they could easily step back into the corporate world or even the GLCs (Government-linked Companies) as Directors or CEOs.

Truly, I do hope that the new candidates know what they are up for and against. Being a MP or Minister is not always about the high-life, of glam and prestige. It takes lots of personal sacrifices, human relationship and energy to translate ideals to actions, actions to reality. Be a pro-Singapore MP and not a pro-PAP MP. Ideally, what is best for the country is best for the Party. But in reality, things may not be so simply. When the crunch time comes, all you need to know is whether you are born as a Singaporean or a “PAPian”.

Words to the Oppositions

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.” – John Anthony Ciardi.

Perhaps one of the major flaws of democracy is the tendency for Oppositions to oppose for the sake of opposing. However, I do have strong admiration to some opposition members for their devotion to serving the people and playing fair. These opposition MPs do seek to better outcomes and future for Singapore. For every credible and good opposition, there are the wayward ones. There are other “unelected opposition members” that rants to foreign sympathizers on how the Singapore system is undemocratic and so on. They are fighting based ideologies such as civil disobedience and liberal democracy but have nothing to show when it comes to the polls. Why is that so? Another conspiracy theory on how the voting forms are coded? Has he ever wondered why is Mahatma Gandhi able to mobilize the masses to be civil disobedient against the Colonial powers but not him?

The system did not fail him, but he failed to understand the system. Has he spend more time campaign on his ideals, protesting, jetting from seminars to seminars, countries to countries to make mockery of the Singapore system or has he sat down with the residents the write petitions for them? Perhaps, more than any other countries, Singapore and Singaporeans are mindful and pragmatic on their needs, wealth and wellbeing. If you are an ordinary layman that received help (not just financial but social and physical help) from avenues such as Meet-the-People sessions, would you vote for someone who rants about the faults of the system or someone that sat down with you to help you with your problems? Paper politics and opposition based on ideologies do not serve people but only blinds the politician with power, angst and anger. If you think that the system is unfair to you, and you go raging to foreign media and press, are you benefiting your self-interest or the interest of Singapore?

Once, in the American Presidential Elections, the candidate that was favorite to win, lost due to some dodgy inconsistency in votes and large number of spoilt votes in the last polling state. The governor of the last polling state was the brother of his rival candidates. Under such suspicious circumstances, he has every right to call for an investigation or vote recount. But he didn’t and accepted defeat. The reason is that he didn’t want to make an international mockery of the system and harm the public image of the country for his own self-interest. While you may disagree with the system, ask yourself if by going to the foreign press, are you doing Singapore’s image good or harm?

Chasing an Elusive Goal: Knowing What and Why You Chase

What is democracy? Is democracy a means to a better end or is this the end itself? Liberal thinking youths often criticize the government for their strict controls over freedom of speech and media restrain. But what is freedom of speech too? Another ends, or a means to an end? If today, the elusive “freedom of speech” has been granted to all, what is the next forbidden fruit you are going to pursue? Freedom of speech needs to purport an ultimate end, an end that is not simply explainable by criticism and the whole notion of democracy. Ultimately, the first fighters of freedom of speech and democracy are people striving for equality, justice and happiness.

Yes, no doubt that PAP will return to power on the next General Elections. But never should we take our every vote for granted and for ridicule. If you vote just based on hatred or apathy, you have betrayed your future generations and the learned men who seek Justice, Equality and Happiness. If you want the responsibility, you will first have to think beyond self-interest or even beyond the interest of your inner circles. You, determine Singapore and Singapore is just an empty shell without you. Individuals come and pass, but Singapore will live on, but how well it lives depends on your action today. Today, it might just be an Election on whom and which party becomes the government. But tomorrow, it will determine the future of the next generation. Men strived for democracy for hundreds of years just to have a stake in the nation’s future. Today, you inherited this intangible gift and it is your responsibility to exercise it with care and understanding.

Regulations on Blogging

By the way, many bloggers have expressed their concern on the recent parliamentary speech on blogging. Much of this have been sensationalized by the media such as Reuters. As long as you blog responsibly, you should not fear of any prosecution. So, don't go buying into all the "repression" arguments and folklores again. Below is the parliamentary text made by Senior Minister of State, Dr Balaji Sadasivan:


Mr Low Thia Khiang: To ask the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts whether the Government intends to change the laws and regulations concerning the use of Internet and new technologies such as podcasts for campaigning during the General Election and, if so, what will be the main changes and when will such changes be made public.

Response from the Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Balaji Sadasivan:
Currently, there are several pieces of legislation and guidelines which cover Internet campaigning issues or which touch on such matters. These include the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) and the Election Advertising Regulations under the PEA, and the Class Licence Scheme and the Internet Code of Practice administered by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

2. Political parties, candidates and election agents are permitted to use the Internet for election advertising based on a “positive list” of activities listed in the Election Advertising Regulations.

3. The “positive list” ensures the responsible use of the Internet during the elections. In a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules, political debates could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumours and distortions to mislead and confuse the public. The Government has always maintained that political debates should be premised on factual and objective presentation of issues and arguments. The regulations governing Internet campaigning have served well to safeguard the seriousness of the electoral process.

4. Political parties, candidates and their election agents will continue to be guided by the “positive list” in the Election Advertising Regulations in the coming general elections. Party political websites must be registered with the MDA. Failure to register is a breach of the class licence conditions.

5. Private or individual bloggers can discuss politics. However, if they persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore , they are required to register with the MDA. During the election period, these registered persons will not be permitted to provide material online that constitutes election advertising.

6. Mr Low has asked about podcasting. I take podcasting to mean the provision of an audio feed over the Internet to subscribers. As I have noted, during the election period, political parties, candidates and election agents must keep to permitted election advertising set out in the “positive list”. Podcasting does not fall within this list.

7. There are also some well-known local blogs run by private individuals who have ventured into podcasting. The content of some of these podcasts can be quite entertaining. However, the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations. A similar prohibition would apply to the videocasting, or video streaming of explicitly political content.

8. At this point, the Government has no intention to amend the legislation regulating Internet campaigning during an election. But the review of government regulations is a continual process so as to ensure that they are kept up-to-date. We recognise that in our society, people will have their diverse opinion and some will want to share their opinion. But people should not take refuge behind the anonymity of the Internet to manipulate public opinion. It is better and more responsible to engage in political debates in a factual and objective manner.

The Idealist

  • Thrasymachus
  • Propagating In: Singapore
  • The Critic, The Philosopher, The Pragmatist, The Moralist, The Egalitarian, The Confused, The True-Blue Singaporean
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    The author of this blog bears no responsibility for any misinterpretation, libel, defamation, injury and death as a result of reading this blog. Contents are high subjective and readers should read with caution. All readers should be 18 years and above, with half a decent brain to judge the validity of the articles.

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