Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A letter by Ooi Hui Mei, director of corporate and marketing communications, from the People’s Association about why elected members of parliament who are not from the ruling People’s Action Party are not allowed to become advisors to the PA’s grassroots organisations has generated an online firestorm.

The full letter, available from the Straits Times website, is republished below:

WE REFER to Mr Muhammad Yusuf Osman’s letter yesterday (‘Advisers to grassroots bodies should be elected MPs’).

The mission of the People’s Association (PA) and its grassroots organisations (GROs) is to bond the community and connect people with the Government. PA and its GROs serve all residents regardless of their political affiliations in fulfilling their role.

Grassroots advisers are appointed by PA, a statutory board. Besides connecting people to people, grassroots advisers are required to help the Government connect with people and help promote government policies and programmes such as anti-dengue and active ageing.

Hence, the Government has to appoint grassroots advisers who support its programmes and can play this role well. Opposition MPs cannot be expected to do this and thus cannot become advisers to GROs.

Ooi Hui Mei (Ms)
Corporate and Marketing Communications
For Chief Executive Director
People’s Association

Many commentators have taken issue with the PA’s supposedly partisan stance in favour of the PAP, but there appears to be a much more fundamentally disturbing idea in the reply, which is that the PA does not appear to consider elected non-PAP members of Parliament part of the government.

Under Singapore’s parliamentary system of democracy, the legislature — the Parliament — is supreme. The executive, known as the Cabinet, is drawn from Parliament and the ministers which form the Cabinet have to answer to the members of parliament when parliament is in session. That the executive draws its power from the Parliament clearly shows that the powers of the Singapore government is vested in Parliament.

PA, as a statutory board, reports to the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports, which is headed by a minister that has to report to Parliament. For the PA to suggest that “Opposition MPs cannot be expected to do this (the supporting of government policies)” is akin to implying that these non-PAP MPs do not support the very institution they are a part of, which appears to be bordering on alleging treason.

The PA ought to clarify whether it considers non-PAP MPs as part of the government. If the PA indeed does consider non-PAP members of Parliament as part of government, then a better explanation of why non-PAP MPs are not allowed to be grassroots advisors is in order. If the PA is unable to give a satisfactory answer, then it should accord elected non-PAP MPs the same respect as elected PAP MPs, for both have been given the mandate of the people they represent.


Tony Tan has won the presidential election to become Singapore’s seventh president. However, what is more significant is not that he won, but how he well he fared.

Winning by a margin of 0.34 percent, or 7,629 votes out of 2,153,014 votes cast is an extremely poor result for someone who has held several important ministerial positions, the highest being deputy prime minister, under the banner of the People’s Action Party. Tony Tan was the only candidate to be praised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the election’s hustings, which is a clear signal of who the PAP prefers to be the president.

That the PAP’s preferred candidate, with such gilded credentials and close association with the PAP, could only muster a win of such epic proportions is undoubtedly a bad omen for the PAP’s political future.

If the results of this year’s presidential elections are anything to go by, the PAP can expect its die-hard supporter base to hold steady at about 35%, and possibly decline a few percentage points by the next general elections because many of the PAP staunchest supporters are the elderly folks.

The PAP’s political opponents are not faring better than the PAP. The darling of the opponents, Tan Jee Say, raked in 25% of the votes cast, suggesting that the PAP opponents are not strong enough to topple the PAP from its political perch on their own.

The candidate in the middle of the political spectrum, Tan Cheng Bock, pulled in just a whisker shy of 35% of the votes, indicating that more than a third of Singaporeans are moderates or independents. The political middle ground appears to be the critical factor in winning future elections, and it remains to be seen how far the various political parties are willing to pander to the moderates and independents. Tan Cheng Bock has proven that the political middle ground is highly fertile and clearly worth cultivating.

For future elections, the moderates and independents are going to feel like a busty, pretty blonde on Valentine’s Day, with tons of suitors bearing flowers and gifts in exchange for a date. Moderate and independent voters are the true winners of this presidential election, and they are going to have it good in future elections.

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Posted: August 24, 2011 in Politics
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Teaching an old dog new tricks, as the saying goes, is almost impossible.

The People’s Action Party aptly showed its inability to learn new tricks, judging from the uproar over Housing Development Board’s decision to lease open spaces in Aljunied GRC to the People’s Association instead of the newly minted Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

While the PAP did not appear to have a direct hand in the matter, judging from the reactions from the online sphere, it would be pure naiveté to think the PAP wasn’t involved at all. Netizens were predominantly sympathetic to the Workers’ Party, and the magnitude and speed of the uproar appeared to have caught both HDB and the PA off guard, with a surprisingly quick turnaround in PA’s policy in less than a day following a standard, bureaucratic and unapologetic reply about the matter.

The recent parliamentary elections clearly showed unfavourable political winds blowing in the direction of the PAP boat, but instead of lowering the sails down the masts, the PAP has appeared to keep their sails up to continue catching the unfavourable winds. This situation could have been a political coup for the PAP in Aljunied GRC, but the botched handling of the situation could very well cement the Workers’ Party hold on Aljunied GRC.

While the Workers’ Party did wrest Aljunied GRC from the PAP, the winning margin wasn’t all that big. This indicates the loss of Aljunied GRC was likely the result of independent voters aligning themselves with the Workers’ Party rather than an organic decline in the numbers of PAP supporters. If the independent voters can align themselves with the Workers’ Party this time, they could very well abandon the Workers’ Party at the next general elections if the PAP played its cards right.

Unfortunately, the PAP appeared to have played a poor hand just a few months after the elections. If the PAP had kept status quo, allowing the new town council to manage the disputed sites, it could have made a big show out of it, possibly with George Yeo giving a press conference announcing a complete, proper handover and that the PAP is gracious in defeat. Imagine the guilt that would have been yoked onto the hearts of the independent voters who aligned with the Workers’ Party. The guilt would certainly be helpful in the next elections.

However, the PAP chose to hand the Workers’ Party a loaded gun instead, and the Worker’s Party has, perhaps with much glee, opened fire on the PAP using the gun. And now, the independent voters who fled from the fold of the PAP are probably nodding to themselves in approval that they did the right thing in voting against a bully.

Will the PAP learn from this episode not to shoot itself in the foot again, and perhaps surprise Singaporeans with a few good tricks or two? Stay tuned.

Singapore’s upcoming presidential election is keenly contested, with four candidates vying for the position of the head of state of the Republic of Singapore. The presidential elections, hot on the heels of this year’s parliamentary elections, has generated much interest in the role of the president.

The role of Singapore’s president is largely ceremonial, although the president has some powers in terms blocking the drawing of Singapore’s reserves by the executive, as well as the ability to block appointments of key civil service positions by the executive (for a fuller list of the powers of the president, see this Wikipedia entry). While the president is not as powerful as the prime minister, the discretionary powers afforded to the president necessitate a prudent choice by the electorate.

A president who gets along too well with the executive led by the People’s Action Party raises the important question of whether the president will be partial to the executive, while a president who constantly tries to obstruct the executive can hamper the effective making of important decisions. The president Singaporeans need is one who is neither a lap dog nor an obstructionist.

As such, presidential candidate Tony Tan, who has served in many different PAP-led executives and held several ministerial positions for a large part of his life, is not an ideal candidate to be Singapore’s president. While some may argue Tony Tan’s experience in various PAP-led executives throughout the years means that he has a better understanding of how the executive works and thinks, resulting in a more effective presidency, his overly close past ties with the executive raises too many concerns about his ability to be impartial.

The issue of impartiality plagues candidate Tan Jee Say as well. The former senior civil servant turned private investor contested the recently concluded parliamentary elections under the banner of the Singapore Democratic Party, and his fiery anti-PAP speeches still lingers in memory. If candidate Tony Tan has had an overly cosy relationship with the PAP, then Tan Jee Say has the completely opposite problem, which naturally rules him out as a good president.

The two other candidates left are Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian, the former being a medical doctor and ex-PAP member of parliament, and the latter, the ex-chief executive of the largest insurance cooperative in Singapore, who was also once a rank and file PAP member. Despite a history of affiliation with the PAP, both Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian are not close to the core of the PAP leadership, which is largely comprised of the PAP members in the executive. In addition, both of them have histories of being critical of the PAP when they disagree with their party. Hence, both of them are much less objectionable than Tony Tan.

Between the two, Tan Cheng Bock is the better choice. Both Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Kin Lian have won the hearts of the common folk, and many Singaporeans would certainly prefer a “People’s President”. Tan Cheng Bock had a long career of providing medical services to the less well-off, while Tan Kin Lian has been at the forefront of championing the rights of small investors in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The difference between the two is, however, not in their ability to be independent and impartial.

The head of the state of the Republic of Singapore, other than being independent and impartial, is also the representative of the republic to the world. The president has to be some who can carry himself well on the international stage and be the representative of Singapore whom Singaporeans can be proud of.

Tan Cheng Bock is the clear winner on this count. He should be the next president of Singapore.

Too little, too late

Posted: May 6, 2011 in Politics
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Singapore’s general elections this year is remarkable, for it’s the first time in decades that most Singaporeans can exercise their basic right of being in a democracy: the right to vote.

In past elections, many of the seats up for election have been uncontested, resulting in walkovers by the incumbent People’s Action Party, who has never been voted out of power since independence. This year, with the exception of residents in the Tanjong Pagar Group Representative Constituency, the rest of Singapore will vote and exercise their democratic rights as citizens, many for the very first time.

The past nine days of campaigning has revealed discontent, frustration or even anger at the ruling PAP. The PAP has appeared to be caught off-guard by the groundswell of negative sentiments and only attempted to defuse these feelings late in their campaign.

How did the PAP, with its much vaunted grassroots network under the People’s Association, fail to read ground sentiment? The main reason is that demographics and habits of the electorate has started to change, but the tools that the PAP use to gauge ground sentiment has not.

Social media is increasingly becoming the preferred way for Singaporeans to communicate and share information. Social ties are now fostered not just at block parties or grassroots events, which might have appealed to Singaporeans in the past, but younger Singaporeans are not biting. The PAP has not done a good job feeling the ground sentiment online. Perhaps the PAP thought that online sentiment had little impact in the last general elections, so it did not really pay attention to social media until it was too late.

Social media is a completely different animal from other forms of online media. Facebook, in particular, is not made up of anonymous members. There is a real face, a real identity to an individual Facebook profile for the most part, and this means that opinions on Facebook can no longer be brushed aside as anonymous attacks or propaganda. The opinions posted on Facebook are just about as valid as an opinion said face to face.

The overwhelmingly unhappy sentiments about the PAP circulating on social media are not trivial. They are real sentiments by real people, and the PAP appeared to have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear until Lee Hsien Loong’s apology at a lunchtime rally in the city centre.

Is it too little, too late? Will Singaporeans believe that the PAP, which has brushed aside the cries of many Singaporeans for the past five years, will change its ways? Why did the PAP wait until the elections to apologise? Can the PAP be trusted again? If the PAP cannot be trusted, then who else can be trusted?

Singapore will find out tomorrow.

Just when this blog published a piece on how hard it was to get the prime minister to say sorry, the People’s Action Party team in Aljunied Group Representative Contituency wrote a Facebook note which ought to have been an apology but instead turned out to be a denial.

The note titled “Response to Online Slander that Aljunied PAP team is not compassionate” is republished below:

We wish to clarify on the slander that has been viralling online, particularly on the accusation that we had pressed charges on a helpless, mentally handicapped resident who came to MPS (Meet the People Session) in Serangoon North and slammed a chair on the door.

We were wrongly accused that not only that we had not been compassionate, also that we had pressed charges against the poor boy. We didn’t press charges. The mother and son have been coming to MPS regularly and we had been helping them to get financial aids. We had continued to help after the incident and we will continue doing so.

We would like to urge residents and grassroots leaders to look out for those who require assistance but are hesitating to come forward to ask for help.

Facebook users have been quick to provide evidence that the PAP team in Aljunied GRC did indeed make a police report against the “helpless, mentally handicapped resident” mentioned in the note, posting a link to a news story published by The New Paper in May 2009.

According to the news story, the teen who slammed a chair on a door during a MPS wrote a note to apologise but the apology was not accepted. One of the PAP members of parliament in Aljunied GRC, Lim Hwee Hua, was quoted as saying, “I made it very clear to (the mother of the teen) that this is unacceptable behaviour. It is not justifiable in any circumstance. There’s no excuse to be violent.”

If the news report was untrue, why did the PAP Aljunied GRC team not sue The New Paper? The news story clearly showed that the Aljunied GRC team made a police report and did not appear to make any effort to have the police drop the charge after the teen, who was reported to have low IQ, apologised. Lim’s statement to The New Paper appeared to suggest that the police report was justified.

The PAP team in Aljunied GRC is already facing an uphill battle, and instead of apologising for their poor handling of the case, the team is denying its actions, handing valuable political ammunition to the Workers’ Party. One can imagine the kinds of political points the Workers’ Party will score if the party makes a show of seeking out this resident and promising to redress his grievance.

The PAP team in Aljunied should take a leaf from the book of their secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong and say sorry before it is too late.

It took the People’s Action Party seven days after Nomination Day before it finally acknowledged that it has done poorly in some areas in the years since the PAP won the last general elections.

PAP’s secretary-general and Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong apologised for his party’s missteps during a lunchtime rally on May 4, an apology that should have been said much earlier.

Prior to his apology, other leaders in the PAP had been insisting that the PAP had done a wonderful job governing Singapore in the face of an electorate that is increasingly frustrated with housing, transport, costs of living and immigration policy. The PAP appeared to be up in the clouds, inside a world of their own, and finally, Lee brought his party back down to earth again.

While Lee’s acknowledgement that the PAP had made some serious missteps is certainly much welcomed, the question for voters is, why did it take so long? Why did the leader of the PAP not rein in his party members and allowed them to inflame an already frustrated electorate for a week, giving the other political parties free political ammunition to fire at the PAP? The PAP could have easily taken the wind out of the sail of the other political parties with an apology much earlier.

Lee’s apology coming after one week of political campaigning and less than four days to polling hinted at a strong possibility that the PAP is indirectly acknowledging it might have grossly misread the sentiment on the ground. Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong alluded to this point, saying that he is unable to tell how young voters feel about the PAP, and the number of these Gen-Y young voters are significant.

There is no doubt that the other political parties will use Lee’s apology to score political points. Seven days of intensive attacks by the other political parties produced a result that five years of PAP rule since 2006 could not: an acknowledgement of some failure on the part of the PAP to listen to Singaporeans. If seven days of political hustings can wake up the PAP slightly to give an apology, the other political parties may say, imagine what can be done if these parties are voted into parliament for five years? If Singaporeans were to soften their hearts and give the PAP overwhelming support again, the PAP might drift off into slumber again.

The appeal to the electorate for a wake-up call to be given to the PAP has already been issued by Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party, who pointed to the 1991 general elections as evidence of how voting other political parties into parliament can improve the lives of Singaporeans.

Considering how Singaporeans have been chided by a prominent PAP leader and told to “repent” if they do not choose the PAP, this apology from the PAP’s secretary-general is certainly surprising, and it must be have been hard to say sorry and to ask for a second chance. Whether the apology cuts any ice with the electorate depends on the voter’s answer to one question:

Can I trust the party who created the problems in the first place to solve the problem and not create worse problems for the next five years?