Thoughts on the Singapore General Elections 2011

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Bye Bye Mr. Chiam See Tong! =(

I have decided to put down some of my thoughts on Singapore’s General Elections. It’s been quite an exciting time the past month or so. And it’s made me think a lot too.

Politics is close to my heart because social justice and the issues of poverty and oppression are close to my heart. I got an Arts degree with a major in International Relations and International Development Studies and so it’s true that I’ve been more interested in international politics – especially as it relates to the development of third-world nations. But I have to say that Singapore politics is getting more and more interesting and I’ve written a bit on it here before.

I’m no expert in local politics, but here are some random thoughts:

Opposition YAY!

Let me say first off that I voted for the Worker’s Party (WP) in the Moulmein-Kallang GRC. I’m really glad that Worker’s Party won Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC. I was sad for the loss of Chiam See Tong’s SPP team at Bishan-Toa Payoh, Dr Wijeysingha’s SDP team at Holland-Bukit Timah and Lina Chiam of SPP at Potong Pasir.

Opposition talent

I thought SDP’s team at Holland-Bukit Timah (like the Worker’s Party team at Aljunied) was outstanding in terms of their “talent”. They are definitely the kind of people I’d be able to trust if they were to govern Singapore. There were other “high-calibre” opposition candidates this time round. In a way, it’s just a pity they were dispersed among different parties. However, hopefully more and more credible candidates will join the various parties and make the next elections even more exciting!

SDP and Chee Soon Juan

I think that if the SDP team at Holland-Bukit Timah had contested under the Worker’s Party ticket, they would probably have won. I’ve got nothing against Dr. Chee Soon Juan and SDP – just that I think WP definitely has more credibility at the moment – and probably enough to have taken Dr. Wijeysingha’s team over the line. By the way, I actually have utmost respect for Dr. Chee. I’m for non-violent civil disobedience if it works. It’s just that it doesn’t accomplish anything in Singapore. Maybe in 50 year’s time it may. But Singapore is not ready for that now. Non-violent civil disobedience works in a country full of idealistic people, but Singapore is still by and large one of pragmatic people. But Dr. Chee has shown a lot of courage through the years and while I’ve disagreed with his style in the past, I’ve never disagreed with his ideals. Because of all he’s had to go through and the fact that most people don’t recognize all this, I have so much more admiration toward him. I’m glad SDP has been able to attract such candidates as they have recently and I really hope they continue to do so.

Tin Pei Ling

Let me mention Tin Pei Ling here. I don’t know her personally – even though I was involved in a community program a few years back in which she was also part of, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to her before. I know she’s the butt of an enormous number of jokes online and perhaps the person who has come out the worst emotionally (not financially!) from these elections. Both George Yeo and Chiam See Tong lost and no doubt have suffered emotionally, but both were also almost unanimously loved by Singaporeans.

Pei Ling’s faults wouldn’t have been played upon so much if she were an opposition candidate and Nicole Seah wouldn’t be the heroine she now is if she were representing the PAP.

First off, let me say that I think the reaction toward her has been thoroughly unfair. I’m pro-opposition (at this moment of Singapore’s journey), but I also feel strongly when I feel people are wronged. I would stand up for the person. It doesn’t matter which party you’re from or whether I’m against you in other areas. Two wrongs do not make a right. One reason I’m very much against the PAP is because of what they’ve done in the past to oppress Singaporeans they disagree with and the pure injustice of some of their ways – which I’ll talk about below. Certainly, one can be critical of Tin Pei Ling for some of the stuff she said, but I think it’s blown totally out of proportion. I would not judge her so quickly as we all have a bad day and we all say things we regret saying. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Kate Spade picture – people are allowed to have a personal life! Just as I think George Yeo didn’t deserve to lose his seat (but I’m glad he did for the greater good of getting WP in) and people voted him out because of their anger against the PAP, I think Pei Ling doesn’t deserve a lot of the criticisms she’s gotten and she’s only gotten them because she’s on a PAP ticket. This is, of course, partly the PAP’s fault as their policies have attracted so much hatred toward their members but this is something Pei Ling should also have expected when joining the PAP. The truth is that Pei Ling’s faults wouldn’t have been played upon so much if she were an opposition candidate and Nicole Seah wouldn’t be the heroine she now is if she were representing the PAP.

Having said that, I don’t think she got into parliament fairly. I’m against the GRC concept and there’s no way she would have won if she stood in an SMC because of the public sentiments against her. She wouldn’t have won not because she isn’t talented and capable. I did have a positive impression of her during my time when we were involved in the community program, but I don’t know enough of her to pass judgment. I didn’t like some of her views she shared recently though. And I’m not talking about what her “biggest regret” was. I think her comments about not taking her parents to Universal Studios showed she wasn’t yet fluent in playing the political game. It is a really stupid answer (in the context of politics) and that was so probably because she was nervous and unprepared. But if that’s really what she feels, I have nothing against that. If she’s being authentic, then more power to someone who’s willing to be authentic, rather than play the political game. Don’t we all hate people who just say things not because they truly mean it, but because they know people want to hear it? My guess is that she was nervous and wasn’t totally comfortable with handling the media and attention and that’s why I wouldn’t judge her based on that. But anyway, this is politics and the media lapped it all up – especially the online media. In politics, like it or not, that’s fair game. That’s the way the game is played, whether that’s a good thing or not. And you’d expect your every fault to be exaggerated by the online media, because there’s truly a lot of unbalanced foolishness online  So she wouldn’t have won not because she isn’t talented and capable, but because the people’s impression is that she’s not talented and capable.

I actually think she’s probably talented (or she wouldn’t have passed the PAP’s scrutiny), but I have a feeling that based on what she’s mentioned so far regarding her political views, I probably wouldn’t agree with her. But she is now an MP whatever we think of that and if I were a neutral (and of course I’m not), I think she deserves a second chance and I’d see how she performs over the next 5 years.

I would stand up for Pei Ling as a person – not because I would vote for her, or because I agree with her views but simply because she’s a human being who doesn’t deserve the criticisms she’s been getting.

I’ve written all this because I feel Pei Ling has definitely had to endure a lot of scathing criticism (especially online) that I don’t think she deserves. I don’t think anyone deserves to be treated like that and that’s why I partly empathize with her. But I believe she’s strong enough to go through all this – if not, she wouldn’t be in politics. So for the same reason I have great admiration for Chee Soon Juan (because he’s endured a lot of shit he doesn’t deserve), I would stand up for Pei Ling as a person – not because I would vote for her, or because I agree with her views but simply because she’s a human being who doesn’t deserve the criticisms she’s been getting. And for the same reason I would stand against PAP’s oppressive and unjust ways, I would stand against those who have unfairly criticized her and carried things too far.

Nicole Seah

There’s really nothing much to say, is there? I hope she gets into Parliament. I don’t know if she will on an NSP ticket. Somehow brand still matters greatly. It would be a loss for Singapore if she doesn’t get elected in the next elections.

PAP and difficult decisions

While the PAP have lots of talented people, that in no way means they always make the right decisions that are best for Singapore

Even though I’m against the PAP, I do recognize (e.g. see this essay) that in the past the PAP has had to make hard decisions and they’ve had to pass unpopular policies for the benefit of the country. Governing a country is certainly not easy. Some decisions are hard decisions, but they need to be made nevertheless. So I do think that in general the PAP has had the right intentions. They are not out to enrich themselves and they have no intention to make the poor suffer. They are well-qualified people with our interests at heart. As yet, I wouldn’t trust an opposition government to make the right decisions. I believe the opposition candidates have bigger hearts, but I don’t believe there are enough with the experience and knowledge to understand the complexity of decisions involved and to make the difficult “non-populist” decision when needed. On the other hand, while the PAP have lots of talented people, that in no way means they always make the right decisions that are best for Singapore. And that is the great problem with a one-party dominated parliament. There may be debates within the party, but that’s not good enough. We need more voices and alternatives to be discussed publicly, not just behind closed doors.

Personally, I’d admit that a lot of the unpopular decisions made by the PAP in the last 5 to 10 years relate to issues that are very complex – too complex for me that I wouldn’t want to say that I know better than the PAP. I don’t want to go the “populist” route and disagree with all the unpopular policies. Some may be good in the long run. What I do believe, however, is that there should be more discussion with Singaporeans about them. I don’t want the PAP’s high and mighty “this is the best way for Singapore, we know best and you’ll have to accept it.”

Influx of foreigners

One issue I’ll mention here is that I think the speed of bringing in foreigners has been absolutely crazy. I can understand the PAP’s justification regarding the slow birth rate and benefit for the economy, etc. But I think they could have done much better in listening to the ground and could have had more dialogue and debate with Singaporeans. Even if the policy was the right thing for Singapore’s future, the style of implementing it was not. I have to acknowledge that I’m not super-patriotic. I love Singapore, but I consider myself first and foremost a global citizen and I don’t plan to live in Singapore forever. As a Christian, my true citizenship is not here and I have a big heart for missions overseas. But if I were a Singaporean, I’d be really worried because I wouldn’t be able to define myself and what a Singaporean is, if you know what I mean. But I gotta say that in a sense this is good for me as a Christian and for me as a global citizen. I love Canada and one thing I love about the country is its multiculturalism which I explain here. To put it simply, Canada doesn’t have much of a national culture (past ministers in Canada have actually acknowledged this). And I’m all for that (not having a dominant national culture), because I like to live with different cultures. Sometimes it makes one feel a bit insecure, but there’s a greater purpose in my life and that keeps me going. I like it, but I don’t think Singaporeans would like that. And I think Singapore is pretty much going that way with its immigration policy. Singapore has transformed enormously in the last 5 to 10 years with regards to foreigners coming here. And this has happened without citizens having an input. The government needs to dialogue with Singaporeans regarding how far they (Singaporeans, not the PAP) want to go. One thing I believe definitely needs to dramatically improve is helping foreigners assimilate to Singapore culture.

Why I’m against the PAP

I mentioned above about the way the PAP has oppressed its political foes. I’m against the ISA and ISD and the way the PAP has used the ISA in the past to oppress and torture their opponents. This is enough to really piss me off. The PAP doesn’t play fair at all. That’s why even though I do want to give credit to the PAP MPs when it is due them (and I do believe that most of their candidates have the heart and the brains), I cannot really respect any one of them because they are joining a party that has done the above. Torturing and oppressing political opponents is, to me, totally inhumane and unjustifiable. I could never join or support a party whose history has been tainted by such an evil past. And I find it hard to respect people who do so because to me this is equivalent with being complicit with the PAP and what it has done in the past. Of course most PAP MPs and supporters I’m sure wouldn’t agree with the past actions of the PAP. However, you can’t just brush all this aside. No one person’s suffering is any less than the other. I feel Pei Ling has suffered unjustly and that’s why I’ve spoken up for her. But so have past political opponents. And even worse, some of them have gone through not just emotional, but also physical, suffering. Until the present PAP leadership deals with their past faults (renounces them and apologizes for them), it’s gonna be hard for me to respect any of them that much.

Even if one argues that all the past oppression by the PAP was a means to a good end (I do understand this viewpoint, though don’t necessarily agree with it – see my article on creating social change) and thus things were more complex than I’m making it out to be, times have changed now. Lee Kuan Yew and his style of politics are for a different era and yet the PAP doesn’t seem to have changed that much. And if it has really changed, I would want to see the PAP address the past, apologize for it and compensate those affected so we can move on. This is something I’m quite firm on: the past wrongs need to be addressed and no suffering should be overlooked. The moment we start to overlook injustices that have been done to people and tell ourselves that all that is in the past, is the moment we start to lose our morals and sense of justice. It wouldn’t be long before we start justifying all sorts of oppression and evils.

There comes a time when after trying to change things and not being able to, continuing to be part of the party makes you complicit with their wrongs – and you need to get out for the sake of truth and justice even if it costs you the love of your colleagues, your comfortable salaries and your political fame

However, I don’t think that will happen any time soon as the PAP in the present is still caught up with a similar, though less extreme, kind of dirty politics of the previous era as shown through the policies of the GRC, gerrymandering and the use of upgrading to bribe voters. If one can forgive the PAP MPs and supporters for not addressing the past oppression and torture perpetrated by their party, there’s no excuse for them to ignore their party’s present tools of injustice. To be honest, I find it very hard to accept that the current PAP crop truly has integrity if they don’t address these issues. Now, I’m actually hoping that despite the fact that no PAP MPs have actually come out publicly against any of the above (at least I think none have), debate about these issues have taken place behind closed doors. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that many PAP MPs actually do have morals and do stand up for justice. However, I think there comes a time when enough is enough and if your party still doesn’t listen to you, you need to have the moral courage to put justice and your principles above your friendships and speak out against your party and even leave the party if necessary. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” There comes a time when after trying to change things and not being able to, continuing to be part of the party makes you complicit with their wrongs – and you need to get out for the sake of truth and justice even if it costs you the love of your colleagues, your comfortable salaries and your political fame.

The Straits Times had a very interesting article on May 8th 2011 entitled “‘Advocate of reform’ leaves the scene”. I was quite happy to read that George Yeo was one of the most progressive among the PAP leadership. I liked how he disagreed with the party’s style since the very beginning he entered politics over 20 years ago. I liked what The Straits Times wrote here:

He has long been described as a liberal, almost a dirty word in some circles in the PAP. While he squirms at the label, he has said that ‘there is a certain positive aspect of being liberal which I like’ – ‘the sense of equality, the sense of the individual’.

However, it continued:

Asked in 1999 whether he has not lived up to the expectations of progressive Singaporeans, he said that his fundamental positions have not changed much.

But he has ‘grown older, hopefully wiser and politically more mature and experienced’, he said.

George Yeo should be happy about one thing: that WP is in parliament and they can now do what he’s failed to do for 20 years – that is, bring reform to the PAP

I’m just a little bit sorry to see George Yeo leave. Although I do believe he’s a genuine progressive at heart, I think he wasn’t able to carry out any reforms in the PAP simply because it’s hard to go against the system. It’s better to put pressure on it from outside like what the voters and WP have done and are doing. In this sense, I’m not so saddened by George leaving because he didn’t really seem to do much of what he wanted to. I’m sure he’s a nice guy – maybe one of the nicest in the PAP – but there was something greater at stake here and it was imperative WP won Aljunied for the sake of the whole of Singapore’s future. I don’t want to be harsh, but talk without action isn’t much of a use. “Grown older, hopefully wiser and politically more mature and experienced?” Hmmm… Or grown less idealistic and more comfortable with the status quo? If he’s still true to his idealism, then George Yeo should be happy about one thing: that WP is in parliament and they can now do what he’s failed to do for 20 years – that is, bring reform to the PAP. If I were George and were really progressive in my ideals, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t accomplish anything after all these years. Of course, maybe George thought it was better with him in the PAP than him out of it because for so long there were no credible opposition parties to join through which to contribute to Singapore. But maybe it’s time for him to do something that could actually bring reform in the PAP: join an opposition party, help them get more credibility and better candidates and be a positive influence over them. When you bow out of politics, you’ll be a hero. Not that you want to be one, but do it for the sake of Singapore! As I mentioned here, I believe that if the PAP truly has Singapore’s interest at heart, it would help strengthen the opposition and not just be concerned about the everlasting reign of its own kingdom.

The best thing that any outgoing PAP MP can do for the country is to help the various opposition parties. This would be a true national service for the sake of the future of Singapore

One reason why strong alternative voices in parliament are needed (besides the fact this gives us options and helps us better think through what the best policies are) is simply because the PAP can never guarantee that their party will always have Singapore’s best interest at heart. I do trust their good intentions now – I even trust that Lee Kuan Yew had good intentions even while oppressing his political opponents. But nobody can guarantee that PAP will always have people with good hearts. And if one day they don’t and they are fully dominant with no alternative voices in parliament, Singapore will pay the price severely and the PAP and Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy of having created a strong party that transformed Singapore could be destroyed in an instant – by the very same party whose authoritarian style is suited more to the past than the present or the future. That’s why Singapore needs strong alternative voices. This is not about this or that party or this or that person. If we had a kinder PAP in power or a quality WP team in power, we should still make sure that the ruling party (PAP or WP) doesn’t become too dominant for the sake of our nation. And that’s why I think the best thing that any outgoing PAP MP can do for the country is to help the various opposition parties. This would be a true national service for the sake of the future of Singapore.

I also liked the views of new MP BG (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin in this May 4th article article (BG Tan admits PAP needs to address public frustration):

The candidate in the People’s Action Party (PAP) team contesting in Marine Parade GRC admitted some voters were ‘troubled, angry even’ over issues such as the fairness of the GRC system and attacks on the opposition.

‘Some feel that you’re being talked down to, that there’s not enough listening, that we need to be more compassionate and less calculative,’ he said at a lunchtime rally at UOB Plaza. ‘Whether real or not, if we are unable to address these perceptions and sentiments, our moral authority to lead will erode.’

A softer approach in engagement is needed, said the 42-year-old, tipped by many to be part of Singapore’s fourth-generation leadership.

‘I know we need to listen and to communicate our ideas better. We need to balance efficiency and effectiveness, and to temper it with more heart,’ he said.

I don’t know if BG (NS) Tan is just playing the political game, but I give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m glad to see leaders like him in the PAP. And I think he’s slated to reach a very high position in the government so that’s good. What I really hope is that the new and younger candidates will eventually stop the PAP’s unfair ways of winning the elections, the arrogance and classless attacks on the opposition – like what was said by MM Lee Kuan Yew, SM Goh and very disappointingly, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan.

Use of Reserves and Education

This elections has got me thinking about the use of our reserves. It’s well-known that SDP’s Tan See Jay proposed using $60 billion of our reserves on various projects. I don’t plan to comment on his proposals, but I think it’s worth discussing PAP’s assumption that it’s almost always good to keep accumulating more and more reserves and almost always never good to use any of them. While I’m not for spending all our reserves or even a large amount, the truth is that we do have money to spend. We certainly don’t want to be in debt, but we’re also actually very far from being in debt! Yes, we all hear that we need to save for a rainy day, but when will this forever saving last? Surely we don’t want to spend recklessly, but I’m beginning to disagree with the fundamentals of us always saving more and more.

One area I think it’s good to spend more on is education. Money spent on education would be an investment into the future of our country and so it’s a more attractive way to spend money. I’m a teacher, though I’ve never really considered working for MOE. I’ve heard too many horror stories and I know too many people who are so tired out by teaching. MOE and many principals are really out of touch with the ground (i.e. the teachers). Many teachers are quitting and many staying behind are doing so only for the money – not that they don’t like teaching, but they’d tolerate an exhausting life (which means they aren’t teaching to the best of their abilities) because of the pretty decent pay. I mentioned about my teaching experience in the private sector here. Like over there, I understand that changing things depends on getting a higher budget. The MOE and the principals live in an imperfect world and have to do the best they can based on what they’re given. So in a way I don’t blame them because they are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

I’m certainly no expert in what goes on in MOE and government schools although I do have close friends working in government schools and I had a chat with a future principal about some of my concerns. All I’ll say here is that there’s no way the teachers are doing their best to teach and take care of the students because of the amount of work they have and the stress. To make sure our children are educated as best as we can educate them (especially with the challenges of teaching a child now), we need to take care of our teachers first!

This may not be one of the more urgent or glamorous issues like housing and the cost of living, etc., but it’s possibly of greater importance than any other because this will really affect the future of Singapore’s human capital, our most precious asset.

I don’t want to say too much because I’m not a government school teacher nor have I ever been one. But I do hope that more teachers will come together to voice their unhappiness and propose solutions. I do think that any good solution will start with an increase in the budget for education because I believe many solutions would depend on hiring more teachers or employees to take the non-academic workload off teachers so they can focus on what they should be focusing on. I don’t know if any of the opposition parties have considered this issue carefully and done their study and research. This may not be one of the more urgent or glamorous issues like housing and cost of living, etc., but it’s possibly of greater importance than any other because this will really affect the future of Singapore’s human capital, our most precious asset. I also hope more ex-teachers (especially from the higher levels) and ex-MOE HQ staff would join the opposition parties and come out with alternative plans. The issue of education needs to gain more prominence in the political discourse for the sake of our future.

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  1. well said and well thought regarding tin pei ling and george yeo. nevertheless, i think tin pei ling should have been more aware of what social media platforms like fb can do and behave maturely even in times of anxiousness. after all she is 27 years old and entering the political scene. it is exciting to watch what’ll unfold till the next ge.

  2. Hey Jonathan, ever thought of being a politician one day? :) You write and argue well and have a strong sense of justice. We need such politicians to run the country.

    1. Hi Esther, during all the hype of the elections I thought a bit about it, but never seriously so! I think you know what I really want to do in life and that’s so much more meaningful! :)

  3. Wow… you summed up everything so succintly and objectively! I share the same views with you… especially about the past deeds which needs to be addressed. Or else nothing will change and the people’s resentment towards the PAP will continue. Thanks again for blogging this. Will be sharing it around. :)

  4. A well written and well through-through article. Certainly one of the more balanced ones out there. While I differ from you on several points, I do think you have done very well to bring out your views in a clear manner. This is the kinda dialogue I think is good for our nation and not just “scandalous” headliners that serve nothing that to peeve even more people and get unnecessary feathers a-ruffled. :)

  5. i agree with your assessment of TPL; her major problem is immaturity not incompetence. what is truly disturbing is however the fact that she 1)declared that she would be the SOLE administrator of her facebook site, 2)apparently had a group of “administrators” who helped her manage the site, and 3)readily fingered the specific admin who had apparently posted on fb on cooling-off day. these actions point to a sad misunderstanding of what integrity entails.

    the elections dept has not emerged with flying colors either. the speed of the 35 second decision, vis-a-vis the absence of response to the cooling-off day incident, is astonishing.

  6. Enjoyed reading this. I too voted for WP in Moulmein-Kallang – without knowing much about the candidates on both sides! What I thought as I voted was this: “JBJ, this is for you”. I saw him once on the streets handing out flyers and only found out who he was many years later when I saw his photo in the newspapers. I was horrified to read online about the injustice he suffered.

    I agree with our former MM. It’s a sad day when one votes for the opposition for the sake of having an opposition.. but many Singaporeans were left with no choice. I am so glad the tide is turning. As Christians we are privileged to be able to pray for our leaders and be confident that the changes needed will happen.

  7. it takes more than intellectual comments to oppose the People’s Action Party and many of its policies and unkind things they did which affected many people e.g. my tampines flat suffered structural damage which resulted in permanent wall seepages in my masterbedroom – despite NUMEROUS efforts and many leave days which should have been spent on rest n recreation, the HDB only carried out remedial works which never arrested the seepage – whilst this was happening I found out that HDB had successfully sued the developers for damages and the high court awarded them substantial amounts – but for us citizens who bought our flats with our wages, we were left to fend for ourselves. Talk is cheap – pap is not as caring as they portray themselves to be – politicians CAN NEVER BE TRUSTED.

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