Fearfully Opinionated

March 29, 2012

Racism, Hate and Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 1:49 am

I’m temporarily coming out of retirement to write one last post, one that I have been thinking of writing since the Donaldson Tan episode, but never got around to do so until now.  This will probably be the most important post I ever write on this blog (most unfortunately I am writing while being sleep deprived – I do apologize for any incoherence).  This post is about Shimun Lai and Sun Xu. It’s also about Trayvon Martin and Robert Bales. It’s about Yawning Bread’s homosexual activism and anti-gay Christians. It’s also about you and me.

Before you read any further, I strongly encourage you to click on the link below and read the article written by American blogger Dan Pearce (i.e. Single Dad Laughing).  I believe this article will most likely be the most important article you read today (way more important that what I’m writing now), and may even be the most important article you ever read.  I kid you not.  This is a must read (especially for Christians):

“I’m Christian, unless you’re gay” – Single Dad Laughing

Mr Pearce has very eloquently described one aspect of the human condition which we often fail to admit to ourselves, although we’re often quick to point it out in others: we have an innate tendency to look down on others.  There are many words to describe it: arrogance, condescension, pride, self-righteous, guai-lan…but they all really reflect the same attitude: “I’m not the same as you.  I’m better than you.” And if we’re quietly observant about ourselves, we find that it permeates all our relationships and our thoughts about other people.  People like Indians. Foreigners. Homosexuals. Christians. Non-Christians. Ex-convicts.  Current convicts.  Future convicts. People who aren’t smart enough to enter university/JC/a good secondary school.  People who have “louzy jobs”.  People who support the PAP.  People who rant on TRE.

There are of course, very plausible psychological or anthropological explanations for this.  People are actually insecure. They feel feel weak, powerless. Hence they seek affirmation. If the world doesn’t give affirmation to them, then they find ways to give it to themselves. Such as by comparing themselves against the nearest person they observe, and telling themselves: “I’m so glad I’m not like that person. I’m clearly better than that person”.  They feel better about themselves. It gives them confidence. Confidence gives them ability to face life and to live life. Eventually it becomes a habit, a philosophy of life. [Btw, I’m sure this is a gross over-simplification behind such human tendencies, although I do think there is some truth to this explanation]  This meta-narrative also sheds light on who tend to be the nice guys (those who mitigate their innate tendency to condescend): usually the ones whom come from strong supportive families, or are part of a loving community, or have a network of deep personal friendships built on trust.  These are the people whom are the least insecure, who have the least reason to affirm themselves…because they don’t need to.  [I’ll return to this later]

Racial and religious harmony have always been “celebrated” in Singapore.  When Singapore was founded, our leaders wisely realized that Singapore’s heterogeneous makeup will likely create divisions and eventually conflict.  Our leaders were wise because they saw the natural tendency for those who are alike to flock together and condescend on those who are not-alike.  However, our leaders were unwise in thinking that having a mantra of “racial and religious harmony” will solve this problem (or perhaps they were less ambitious, all they wanted was no riots).  “Racial and religious harmony” is a message.  There are people who buy and don’t buy into the message.  Perhaps the message could be better expressed, or made to sound less authentic by appearing less politically motivated.  Nevertheless, a message doesn’t change the heart of a person, unless the person agrees with that message.  Making people something agree with a message, even a good correct message, is something our government hasn’t quite been able to do, perhaps for a while now.  But an unseen consequence of such messaging is that we create new divisions: people who buy-in and people who don’t.  New divisions create new avenues to condescend with each other, new routes for conflict.  Perhaps we see this most clearly in America.

Some of us look to America and see a utopia.  This is a place where they believe in true freedom.  Where the government really truly and genuinely believes in human rights (like free speech), and not just politically motivated polemics.  Where people can be united under a common understanding that they all have equal rights as a citizen.  But if so, why do hate crimes still persist in America?  And more surprisingly, many times the hate shown to those who commit hate crimes are even more appalling than the original crime itself (mainly because it has been amplified by group behavior).  How did this happen?  How did a nation built on such solid foundations of equality like America end up being so messed up?  Because our tendency to condescend doesn’t go away when we believe in a message.  Our tendency to condescend doesn’t go away when we believe in human rights.  If anything else, we find someone else to condescend…usually those we disagree with.  Our disagreement justifies our condescension.  George Zimmerman may or may not have condescended Trayvon Martin.  But definitely plenty of Americans condescended Zimmerman.  This spawned allowed “don’t fight racism with racism” to trend on twitter significantly yesterday.  And if you read those tweets, you find that plenty of Americans condescended the Americans who condescended Zimmerman.  The cycle of condescension doesn’t end.  Shimun Lai condescended Indians.  Those who called her racist condescend her. And if I were to be honest with myself, I probably condescended those who called her racist, for failing to see their own condescension.  At the end of the day, the irony was on me.

So how does one break the cycle of condescension? How does one truly fight racism or xenophobia or hate? Does the solution lie in messages and principles like “inalienable human rights” or “racial and religious harmony”? I think we have seen that fail spectacularly, both in America and in Singapore.  Does it lie in laws, censorship, and legal enforcement?  This certainly appears to be an up and coming trend in Singapore.  But as Cherian George points out, that path only leads to further mistrust, further segregation, further conflict.  I think Dan Pearce realized what the solution is.  The only remedy to hate…is love.  The only real way where we can stop condescending each other, is when we actually start to care about each other.  When we actually start to believe “yes, Indians may smell differently from me, but so what? They are still real people with real feelings with real experiences and if I really get to know one of them they may be the most amazing friend I have” or “yes, these PRCs talk really loudly on the MRT and I honestly am irritated by that, but so what?  Are they deserving of my hate because they come from a different culture, they are here in pursuit of a better life, and if I really get to know one of them they may inspire me with the most amazing stories of perseverance and determination that I have ever heard?”.  Can we learn to stop justifying our condescensions, and to start seeking ways to love, care, respect, understand and appreciate each other?  The most amazing thing about overcoming our tendences to condescend, and replacing it with a desire to love is that love pays forward.  Parents who bring up their children in a nurturing and loving home where they don’t feel insecure tend to have children who are loving and kind to their siblings and friends [again, gross over-simplification of parenting process (e.g. the role of discipline), but I believe the general idea is sound].  A school principal who understands his true calling not to be the seeking of promotions, recognition and status, but rather to love his teachers by empowering them to do their jobs well, is a principal who inspires teachers to loves students, who grow up to inspire others.  Just like condescension starts a cycle of condescension, love has the potential to start a cycle of love and amazing positive outcomes …. if only you can get past your condescending tendencies.

In the same way, I see this as the greatest mistake of Alex Au in his activism for gay rights.  Yawning Bread may be (hands down) the most intelligent, articulate, internet savvy, social-political analyst of our generation, and I have nothing but great admiration for him as a blogger.  I also admire his determination and perseverance to seek justice for the disenfranchised, be they domestic helpers, foreign workers or homosexuals in Singapore.  However, he has clearly shown that he thinks very little of Christians, including those who have genuinely tried to reach out to him in love on his blog.  Of course he feels he is justified in his condescension.  His reasons behind this justification may very well be correct and good reasons (definitely, in general Christians treated gays very unjustly).  Nevertheless, what he ends up doing is really perpetuating a cycle of condescension.  If only he sought for Christians to get to know him as the intelligent, humorous, and amazing person that he truly is, if only he allowed Christians to love him and found ways for him to love them back, he could have done so much more for barriers to be broken and for stereotypes to be torn down.

To be fair to Mr Au, even if he wants to, it’s probably incredibly difficult for him to do so, given how Christians have treated him in the past. In the same way, if I were to be honest, I don’t really think in general we, the people of Singapore, really are capable of overcoming our tendencies to condescend, that we can become a people who are truly and genuinely interested in understanding, respecting and appreciating those who are different from us.  I do believe part of the blame does lie in our system, which by virtue of its meritocracy, is necessarily competitive and individualistic.  After all, there is little incentive to be co-operative, altruistic and loving in a society like Sinagpore’s. [This is another irony: meritocracy, the great principle envisioned to prevent Singapore from being divided along racial lines, actually fuels our insecurity and drives us further apart.]  But part of the blame must also lie with the people, for choosing to buy in and failing to see how meritocracy is alluring but ultimately broken (which we are starting to get a sense of now).  But if I do really think that Singaporeans are not capable of overcoming their condescension, if I think that Singaporeans are hopeless people who will never learn to understand the true value of becoming a nurturing and supportive community, then am I not guilty of the same condescension? (Again!)

I’ll conclude by trying to explain what I don’t mean.  I don’t mean that we cannot be realistic in our assessment of Singapore society.  We must, if we want to have any hope of progressing from where we are today.  I don’t mean we cannot point out evil, wrongdoing or the condescension of others.  We can, and we should.  But we should strive not to do so out of a spirit of defensiveness, because defensiveness is the condescension that the other party is unenlightened and doesn’t know where you’re coming from.  Similarly, we should strive not to do so out of a spirit of ‘I-am-here-to-educate-you-on-how-wrong-you-are”, because that is being self-righteous and just going to perpetuate another cycle of condescension.  But it does mean that you can state your case as kindly, humbly and patiently, and at times being willing to suffer abuse.  This is what Martin Luther King Jr understood when a white man continually assaulted him, and he told his supporters that they should not touch his assailant or retaliate on him.  Will this be easy? Of course not.  Will we succeed at this even if we tried our very best?  Probably not all the time.  An experienced but happily married couple (maybe not many left in Singapore) may explain it this way: loving someone is pretty darn difficult.  But if you are persistent, patient and selfless in your love for one another, it can work out wonderfully.

Jesus once taught, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Many Christians use this as a rebuke on hypocrisy (and rightly so), but I think they fail to appreciate the full wisdom of this teaching.  Jesus never said that we cannot remove the speck from our brother’s eye.  Instead, he said remove your plank first, and then you will see clearly –  only when we realize our own shortcomings, how imperfect we are, and how much we are equally prone to condescension as the person I am disagreeing with, only when we have a more humble attitude towards others, will we be able to perceive the situation more clearly.  Only then, are we qualified to remove the speck from our brother’s eye  – only when we are humbled, are we enabled to correct another person in a loving and patient way.

Thank you for reading.  God bless you all.

[PS. Firstly I will like to apologize; I have really no time to vet and proof read this post, hence it may contain typos and be incoherent at times.  Hopefully the message still gets across.  Secondly I want to apologize if I am unable to find the time to moderate/reply to comments.  Lastly, I know some of you will read this as one tremendously self-righteous rant.  Thank you for taking your time to read this anyways.  This are my last regards, I really really am going to retire for good.]


September 5, 2011

Singapore Bloggers Roundtable

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 1:39 pm

This blog is still discontinued, but I am currently embarking on another project:

The Singapore Bloggers Roundtable is a multi-blogger platform for various social-political bloggers to engage each other over social-political issues, or simply go to singaporebloggersroundtable.wordpress.com to check it out.

May 6, 2011

Final Thoughts and Goodbye

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 1:30 am

Dear readers of my blog,

I know that I had restarted this blog for barely a month, but I regret to inform all of you that I am discontinuing this blog and I henceforth retire from social-political blogging.  I will explain my reasons why at the end of this very long post, but first I would like to share some final thoughts on the elections, politics and the socio-political blogosphere.

1. Facebook is the future for socio-political commentary

Over the past 2 weeks, I have been surprised by how much good political commentary I found through facebook.  These are 7 of the best articles I have read on facebook, and if you haven’t read them, I strongly recommend that you do (as well as the comments):

2003 Interview with Ngiam Tong Dow by Straits Times via Online Citizen
Response to “A letter to my friends on the General Elections” by Ben Leong
What’s so bad about another PAP-dominated Parliament? by Donald Low
What an informed voter should really know by Fish Koh Jie Yu
My thoughts on GE2011 by Darryl Yong
Regardless of the election outcome, I am worried for Singapore by Lee Seng Wai
The Dilemma for our Democracy by Darryl Yong

I am not saying everyone should agree with the above 7 articles.  In fact, I believe the 6 gentlemen who wrote them would have differences and disagreements among themselves.  But I am saying that we should read through what each article is saying, think through their propositions and arguments, let these views challenge our own beliefs and assumptions, before deciding whether or not to agree or to disagree.  [Note: the very last article is highly abstract and difficult to understand]

But I think that facebook is not just a better source of political commentary, but I believe that facebook and twitter would soon make our social-political blogosphere obsolete and redundant.  I won’t try to explain why I think so, but I think this is a good direction to move towards.  Facebook has a much more significant reach, has an element of peer filtering (the best articles get propagated the most), and conversation you see at facebook is usually of much higher quality than the ones you see in our blogosphere.

2. The PAP screwed up their  GE2011 campaign

I saw PM Lee’s apology as a realization that their previous political strategy has pretty much bombed and it needed a new approach.  PAP’s continual denial that they had ever made mistakes in their policies, the continual use of upgrading carrots, the pretension that GRCs and gerrymandering is not meant for their own political gain, the smear tactics and poorly thought out offensive strategies against opposition candidates, and the threatening of the electorate. These all work against the PAP’s cause because voters (especially the younger generation)  feel as if the PAP does not treat them as dignified individuals that the PAP is arrogant and looks down on them.  I think halfway through the campaign PM Lee finally notices this negativity (as if for the first time), and the fact that it took them a couple of years to figure this out (the ground has been feeling this way for a while) is telling in itself.  [Read also, Cherian George’s take on PM Lee’s apology] But most of the PAP candidates are really political n00bs (never had a contested fight before), their inexperience show, and also I suspect the PAP has largely been complacent due to its previous landslide victories and was genuinely caught off guard by the negative ground sentiments.  Although I think it has helped his party, PM Lee’s apology may come too little too late.   Many will look back at GE2011 and remember the PAP as a disorganized, self-contradictory and bullying party, and feel even less inclined to vote for them in subsequent elections.  Expect the PAP to have less gerrymandering, smaller or no GRCs, and a more humble approach in the next GE.  But that too may be too little too late.

[Btw PAP, astroturfing on my blog is totally NOT COOL. Also, for those of you naive enough to think PAP doesn’t astroturf read this.  Btw, opposition parties might astroturf too, so yeah. Don’t believe everything you read.]

3. The desirability of a two party democracy

I had the opportunity to talk to some civil servants to get them to understand in greater detail how our current government system works, as well as reading the articles by Ngiam Tong Dow, Ben Leong and Donald Low (all 3 were relatively high ranking civil servants; while we are at it I believe this guy is also an ex-civil servant, but I won’t say why I know.)  The picture they paint is quite interesting.  They all believed that the civil service, and the effectiveness and efficiency of policies would be severely handicapped by the presence of strong second party (i.e. in a two-party system).  To understand why they say so, there is a need to have some kind of understanding in the policy making process.  Policies are made in general to balance two things – the overall welfare of Singaporeans, and political capital (i.e. people happy and will vote for you).  A good policy decision is one which increases both.  But sometimes, a Minister needs to choose between two options, one of which would increase the welfare of Singaporeans but at a high political cost (let’s call this option A), the other does not increase the welfare of Singaporeans much but at a lower political cost or for political gain (let’s call this option B).  The Minister is much more likely to choose option B in a two-party system, because if he chooses option A, the people would become unhappy, and the opposition could use this opportunity to force him out of Parliament during elections.  Hence, this is what they mean by having a two-party system results in more “populist” policies (i.e. policies made to make people happy and but ultimately does not benefit the welfare of Singaporeans).  Our civil servants (particularly those in the senior ranks) are quite wary of this, which is why most of them would support a strong PAP mandate.

That is not to say all civil servants are pro-PAP.  Some young civil servants are idealistic at heart, and wish for a more democratic Singapore.  Other civil servants have no problem with the system, but I believe are not too keen on certain political leaders whom they know and have worked with personally.  And there are critics of the system like Donald Low and Darryl Yong, who say that the system works well now, but may be a catastrophically poor  system in the future and hence the sacrifice in the effectiveness and efficiency of the civil service might be worth it regardless.

4. Predicting Election Results

Originally I wanted to make predictions on the outcome of GE2011.  What’s the chances of it being 87-0? What’s the chances the opposition capture 3 GRCs and several SMCs? What implications would it mean for Singapore if either scenario happened (or an outcome in between)? I realized that there really was no way for me to predict, because it is close to impossible to get a good feel of ground sentiments.  Yes, the PAP is pissing off the younger generation, but how significant is that? Only 28% of the electorate is aged 35 and younger. The blogosphere is highly anti-PAP, but how representative is the blogosphere? Many well written pro-PAP articles have been floating around on facebook, including one from Xiaxue herself.  What do the aunties and uncles on the street think?  Are they embittered by the PAP’s iron rule, or are they swayed by upgrading carrots?  How about the 40-plus middle income person who has a stable job and two kids.  Is he unhappy about the increased competition from foreign workers, or is he glad that the PAP has managed to attract investors and companies to Singapore hence giving him his job?  Sure tens of thousands appeared at opposition rallies and the PAP had to bus senior citizens and provide free food to them for their own rallies, but this happened in GE2006 too but PAP still won.  It is quite impossible to measure ground sentiments, and hence predict election results.

5. The writing on the wall

But guess what, I think it doesn’t matter at all.  Yes, I said that the results of GE2011 does not matter at all.  Why? Because I think no matter how GE2011 pans out (even in a 87-0), the PAP is very likely going to fall after 2 GEs (circa 2021), and maybe even in the next one (2016).  And I’m not the only person who thinks this way.  PAP’s poor GE2011 campaign has forever hurt their image and credibility in the eyes of many young voters.  Furthermore, there appears to be a growing dissent among young voters where it had become very fashionable to be anti-establishmemt, and in general PAP has handled this generation poorly.  Even among the older generation, Singaporeans had become more and more demanding over the years, and the government had not been able to manage the expectations of such Singaporeans well. Ngiam Tong Dow likens this to the initially feeding peanuts to a monkey whom you control, but eventually feeding bananas to a gorilla who controls you.  The PAP has also been largely ignoring the younger generation’s cries for increased social equity (i.e. more justice and fairness), as compared to just economic growth.  All this does not bode well for the PAP.  Perhaps the most significant factor would be the looming US debt crisis.  Nobody knows for sure how this is going to turn out, but if Singapore’s economy is affected badly, Singaporeans lose their jobs close to GE2016, public sentiment would not be kind to the PAP.   Lastly, the opposition parties have been able to attract strong candidates, and the PAP struggles to in its party renewal.  More and more young, intelligent and capable individuals would join the opposition cause due to their more globalized outlook in life and hence more democratic leanings.

6. Three Scenarios for the Future

So what happens after the PAP falls in 2021? I can imagine three possible scenarios:

(a) PAP/WP two-party democracy

Most think this would be the most likely outcome, particularly if WP wins Aljunied GRC but SDP and RP fails to win any GRC.  If WP can win a GRC, many would be inspired to take up the WP cause.  By 2016 or 2021, WP might have enough resources or quality candidates to field a slate of candidates to compete for simple majority, and the power to be the executive cabinet.  SDP might remain in the political scene, but would remain a small party which cannot compete with either the PAP or WP.  WP’s governance would be responding to the PAP’s faults, meaning that they would likely have more socialist policies to benefit the poor, and probably push for more liberalization of human rights.  The PAP remains a significant party due to it’s large influence it had, and would champion free market capitalist policies, which would be supported by the middle and higher income sectors.  This is not very different from the PAP being the Republican party, and WP being the Democrats. However, just like it is in the US, an incumbent in a  two-party government (especially by a newbie WP cabinet) would likely fail to please the electorate especially in harsh economic climates, and we would likely see a regime change every 5 years, not unlike the US elections.

(b) PAP/WP/SDP 3-party system

I think that those who think the WP would eventually crowd out SDP are underestimating Dr Chee Soon Juan’s craftiness and leadership.  Yes he did many foolish things in the past (everybody was a n00b once), but it is not by luck that he is able to build SDP up to what it is today after the immense difficulties he faced in the 1990s.  Furthermore, SDP and its clear-cut platform on pushing for liberal values and rights have a stronger appeal to younger and more globalized Singaporeans compared to WP’s more measured and centrist approach.  Hence, coupled with PAP’s declining popularity, the future could see 3 major parties battling it out from GE2015 onwards, especially if SDP and WP both managed to capture one GRC this elections.  This is not unlike PAP being the Tories, WP being the Labor Party and SDP being the Socialist Democrats in UK today.  In this scenario, a coalition government is possible, and if so, I could imagine WP allying with PAP rather than with SDP to form a coalition.  A coalition is quite possibly the worst case scenario for Singapore, where the civil service will become seriously inefficient trying to serve two (or more) different masters, and there might be infighting within the cabinet.

(c) WP/SDP 2-party system

I think the PAP has problems with renewal.  Should the fall of the PAP come swiftly and suddenly, and PAP be caught off guard, the PAP may suffer a steep decline due to its inability to attract young blood (quite hard to parachute ex-generals into PAP if you are not incumbent).  PAP may still exist as a small party, but the two heavy weights have shifted to WP and SDP, with the WP taking on policies similar to what PAP had been doing, but the SDP pushing for greater liberalization and being more socialist.  In this scenario, WP becomes the Republicans while SDP becomes the Democrats.  The PAP…would be kinda like the Federalist Party.

[Addendum: It has been a popular meme for some years that the PAP would splinter and faction into separate political parties upon the passing of MM Lee.  Personally, I don’t get this impression at all, and I think the younger PAP politicians are too cookie cutter alike for this to happen.  But power struggles might always happen, so it wouldn’t be a total impossibility.  Should such a scenario occur, it would not be unlike the splitting of the Democratic-Republican Party into the Democrats and the Whigs. ]

No matter which result, the PAP’s single party hegemony is likely gone for good, and likely along with it, the kind of economic success Singapore has seen over the past 50 years.

7. Towards a more mature electorate

To me, the most disappointing thing about this GE is neither the PAP’s massive screw ups, nor the lack of substance of the opposition parties.  Both are understandable – the PAP are bureaucrats by nature and political n00bs, and the opposition parties (other than WP) are n00bs period, and unlike the PAP they they haven’t got the civil service to do the data analysis and policy formulation for them.  The most disappointing thing to me,  has been the electorate.  We have not shown much desire to think and choose carefully, and often deciding on our allegiance due to how our emotions are being stirred rather than what would make the most sense.  Look, Ms Nicole Seah has some admirable qualities such as her courage and her compassion, but is she really MP material now?  Why do you all like Ms Seah so much?  Is it not just mainly because she’s opposition plus she’s young and pretty? Do you have the view that you don’t care who you vote for as long as it is not PAP?    But don’t you realized that voting an incompetent opposition candidate into Parliament would hurt you as much or even more than having an incompetent PAP candidate? On the other side, yes Geroge Yeo is nice man and you don’t want to vote him out. But do you realize that BG George Yeo being a nice man is quite irrelevant to whether or not he is a good Minister or him doing a good job in Parliament? But the electorate’s immaturity too is also understandable – for most of the “apathetic youth” and for many first time voters, GE2011 is the first time you’ve been “politically awakened”.  So we are n00bs too.  Can’t blame us if we fall for the opposition’s rhetoric hook line and sinker.

Look, if there is one thing which can save Singapore from political turmoil, it is the electorate (not the PAP).  The electorate has to become more informed, more discerning, less tolerant of gutter politics and less tolerant of lies and rhetoric.  It would be good if we can have a website like this too.  At the end of the day, the electorate is not going to be homogenous or unanimous.  We will have different values and different things we view as important.  Some of us might value human rights more, but others might value a free market and a stable economy.  But we can all strive to be more politically mature together.  Don’t let the PAP get away with a crappy election campaign like they just did.  Don’t let the opposition goad you into feeling angry so that you will vote out of anger, but not realizing that they’re not proposing solutions to the problem either.  Always seek out opposing views and try your best to understand them before deciding to disagree.  Do you know that some economists say minimum wage ends up hurting the people more than helping them? You may not agree with these economists, but you better find out why they say so and figure out if they are right or wrong before you decide that minimum wage is a good because it sounds good.  In fact, you should be extra suspicious of policies that sound good because that’s likely to be a populist policy, and you need to listen carefully people who oppose that policy.  Yes, politics is emotional, and it’s not wrong to express emotions when talking about politics.  But make sure that your emotions are supporting a carefully deliberated and considered conviction, and not the other way round (conviction supporting your emotions).  If not, you will be manipulated time and time again by politicians who just want your vote, but don’t really want to benefit the welfare of the people.

8. Who should I vote for?

Fortunately for me, I am in Tanjong Pajar GRC.  I am actually glad I don’t get to vote, since I don’t really want to force myself to make a decision between BG Chan Chun Sing and a bunch of joker opposition candidates.  But most of you do have to vote.  I don’t think you’d really want my advice, but in case you do, this is how I advise you vote:  try to perceive the quality of the candidates and vote based on that, and nothing else. Ultimately what’s the most important is that you have the best people put in Parliament, regardless of their parties. But why nothing else?  Because firstly, don’t believe in anything you hear during rallies (on either side) because that’s usually all rhetoric, posturing, lame and tiresome analogies, or (in the case of some PAP candidates) sheer lousy speeches. (But lousy speeches doesn’t mean that they make poor MPs or ministers, although it definitely lowers their credibility.)  And secondly,  for the opposition,  half the time the proposed policies are quite crappy, mainly because they are just anyhow giving suggestions that would appeal to the voters, and they don’t have the civil service to analyze the proposed policies for them.  But even so, it’s okay to vote them into Parliament if you think they are quality candidates, because the PAP is going to form the cabinet after this GE and the opposition candidates won’t have to implement stupid policies.  Nevertheless, quality candidates would be more likely to spot blind spots or shortcomings in PAP proposed policies, and act much better as check and balance.  Also, they will need the experience of 5 years being an MP, especially when it is quite possible that in 2016 or 2021 they may soon take up cabinet positions.

I know there isn’t much to judge “quality” on, since everybody is spouting rhetoric non-stop during rallies.  For the PAP ministers, you can judge them by their track record.  That means that Ministers you think have done a good job, deserve a thumbs up from you.  For me, that means I would likely vote for PAP and Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam if I live in Jurong GRC.  But that also mean that for Ministers that you think have done a bad job, deserve a thumbs down.  I won’t know for sure, but I think would strongly consider voting for the opposition if I lived in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Holland-Bukit Timah or even Tampines GRC (even though I think the NSP team is kinda dubious).  How about for opposition candidates? You have no choice but to base it on superficial impressions.  Does the person appear to have integrity? Does the person display intelligence and logical reasoning? If the candidate blogs, read their blogs and what they write on facebook.  Listen to their speeches, see if they make sense. Have they displayed leadership and good decision making abilities based on their CVs? Don’t worry if their proposed policies aren’t totally correct, but be wary of those who just appeals to your emotions without proper reasoning (e.g. those who evoke your feelings of animosity towards foreigners).

How about Aljunied?  The GRC system sucks, so you got to take it by a team-by-team comparison.  For that reason, no matter how much you think BG George Yeo is a good Minister, if you think the WP Team in Aljunied on a whole has better quality candidates than the PAP team, you should vote for the WP team, regardless of municipal issues or fear of losing BG George Yeo.  Overall Singapore benefits since better candidates are elected into Parliament.  But likewise, if you think the PAP team on a whole has better quality candidates than the WP team, you should vote for the PAP team, regardless of what First World Parliament mantra.  Like it or not, we’re going to get a two-party democracy eventually, and I believe its not for the better (but it is still inevitable).  How about Marine Parade?  Of course vote for who is more chio lah. The same reasoning applies.

9. The end of FO’s journey

From young, I grew up with anti-PAP sentiments.  My mother was staunchly pro-opposition, and she had more influence over me than my father, who was pro-PAP (you can try and imagine my family was like).  When I started blogging in 2006, I too started out as an anti-PAP blogger, and started blogging mainly because I wanted to jump on the flame Wee Shu Min bandwagon.  However, through my blogging journey, I have gone from anti-PAP to slightly pro-PAP, to slightly pro-opposition, to downright confused and now, indifferent.  If there was one thing I learned, it was that I knew very little, and I needed to always ask questions to seek new insight, and to continually question my previously held convictions and subject them to review.  I believed throughout that process I had become a better thinker and a better blogger.

But throughout this journey, I have asked myself why do I keep blogging, if I am not going to be partisan and vent.  I originally thought I blogged for the selfless reason for promoting rational and civil discourse in the blogosphere. But I would be a fool for believing that – where is the rational and civil discourse? Come on, nobody wants to discuss anything with me. Commenters just want to agree with me, or call me stupid when they disagree with me.  Then maybe I thought I blogged because I wanted to provide new insight, because I always blogged something I knew other people wouldn’t have blogged about.  But very few cared if my views didn’t reinforce their already held beliefs.  Or maybe I blogged because I wanted to encourage critical thinking.  But who am I kidding, critical thinking in the blogosphere? Then recently, I finally figured out the real reason why I blogged. I blogged because I secretly think that I’m better at blogging than most people, and wanted to prove it.  I blog, because I think I’m damn good. I blog because….I am arrogant. (woo, I should join the PAP!).  And what a fricking stupid way for me to spend my time (I spend on average 4 hours typing each post).   Hence, I have made the decision to retire.  There are more important things in life that I needed to do (like my full-time job, for example, or even, finding a girlfriend). And honestly? This blogosphere needs one less self-absorbed blogger who thinks he has all the right answers.

I bid all of you farewell, especially those whom I have come to regard as friends.  I will still be contactable by email, and I would still love to engage and discuss social-political issues over another medium (email, facebook, or over coffee) if you are so inclined to do so with me.

Cheers =)

April 30, 2011

Why Mas Selamat is not DPM Wong Kan Seng’s fault (but people may expect him to step down anyway)

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 6:38 pm

[Addendum:  I have changed my views about this issue.  Read comments for more information]

I found this exchange on facebook on Mas Selamat and DPM Wong Kan Seng that I want to comment on.  Facebook user A (a former civil servant and currently an educator) first wrote:

Mas Selamat’s escape was obviously a mistake, but is it Wong Kan Seng’s mistake? People expect their Minister to be doing guard duty huh?

Civil servants are paid to do a job. In this case, it was someone’s responsibility to ensure that no one escapes from  detention and the person who had operation control over the incident needs to take responsibility. Well, the Superinterdent did get dismissed, which is what I had expected, given I was formerly Assistant Director (Discipline). The principle is very simple. A person can only be responsible for a mistake if it was reasonable under the job scope of the person to have prevented the mistake. If Wong Kan Seng decides to periodicallly go to the detention centres to inspect the security of the toilet, I would be concerned. Very concerned. Mas Selamat’s escape was a failure on the part of the Civil Service (ISD) in particular and has little to do with political leadership. For some reason, people don’t seem to understand these principles of accountability.

I find the citation of this incident to score political points by the Opposition particularly objectionable. I do have a sense of fair play (explained below). It is my belief that blame should be apportioned fairly.

And in reply, Facebook user B said:

I am perplexed by [A’s] literal interpretation of this issue. He seems to equate “responsibility” purely with causal responsibility, which means someone was directly involved in effecting some consequence. I honestly don’t think Wong Kan Seng was causally responsible, but he is responsible in a different sense: as Co-ordinating Minister for National Security (damn, I love that title), he represents the group accountable for Singapore’s security. Since [A] is an educator, maybe this analogy is appropriate: say I am a school principal. Paedophiles break into my school and nearly violate some children. It is clearly my responsibility to face up to criticism – even if I didn’t personally leave the gates open, or was the one taking off my pants – because I am the head of that institution. Perhaps it is he who does not understand principles of accountability?

And since this is an important part of the argument too, this is the defense of PM Lee on why DPM Wong was not responsible.

I am going to say upfront that I agree with A that DPM Wong has no moral obligation to step down due to Mas Selamat’s escape.  The reason why is clearly articulated by both A and PM Lee, that DPM Wong wasn’t morally or professionally responsible for the escape.  Other people were, such as the superintendent of the detention center, and these individuals would have to be held responsible, which we were told they were.  One might argue that DPM Wong was still responsible, because he is the boss of Director of ISD, and the Director is the boss of some middle manager (probably a deputy director], and this middle manager is the boss of the superintendent who is at fault.  So if the superintendent is not doing his job properly, this implies that the middle manager is not doing his job properly (since his job is to ensure that the superintendent does his job], and this implies that the Director is not doing his job, and we follow up the causal chain to DPM Wong.

One problem with this argument is that DPM Wong has a boss too, and that is PM Lee, so we have to insist that he steps down as well, which few are willing to go that far.  But the real problem with this argument is that we are using some abstraction of “is not doing his job properly” in a very non-practical way, and not in terms of practical job scope.  While it is the middle manager’s job scope to ensure that the superintendent has been diligent in his job, it is not the director’s responsibility.  It is not practical for the director to go to his middle manager and ask him: have you checked if superintendent A has done XYZ job? have you checked if superintendent B has done XYZ job?  The director has other things to do. Instead, it is implicit that the middle manager has to ensure that his superintendents are doing their job, and take action (including reporting to the director) if they have not.  Since in this case the superintendent obviously has not done XYZ required (make sure windows and fences are escape proof, sufficient security personnel, etc), the middle manager is directly implicated by not ensuring the superintendent has done his job.  But it is no longer reasonable to implicate the director, unless you go the argument of “the director has hired the wrong guy to be the middle manager”.  While still plausible, this is a totally different argument.  Is the middle manager a man who is constantly lazy at his job and usually slipshod in his work?  If so, then yes the director made the mistake in hiring him and should be implicated.  But if the middle manager is a somewhat competent at his job, but a moment of carelessness lead him to making this single critical mistake, then no the director is hardly at fault, although the middle manager still is. And actually, the director isn’t in charge of hiring the middle manager.  Such personnel decisions are usually done by the Public Service Division.

There’s a second argument why DPM Wong is responsible for Mas Selamat’s escape, and that is the “accountability” argument put forth by B.  The idea of accountability that is presented above is basically, if a certain institution of entity screws up in a big way, someone big shot enough has to be held responsible.  Take the pedophile example given above.  Say it was the security guard’s and the Operations Manager’s fault that the pedophile broke in.  Why do the parents expect the Principal of the school to apologize? Clearly the principle isn’t morally or professionally responsible for the break in (assuming we don’t adopt the “hired a louzy person argument” elaborated above)?  The answer is not because the parents think the principal is responsible, but the parents are angry and their anger will not be appeased unless someone big shot enough apologizes to them and make them feel better.  This is the same reason why we demand to talk to the manager when a waiter screws up when serving food.  In other words, this is about anger appeasement.  In the Mas Selamat scenario, there is political capital loss (i.e. people are angry over the screw up) and there is damaged reputation in international affairs.  If either of them are really serious, I believe PM Lee would force DPM Wong to resign.  But (probably because our citizens have poor memory and would stop being upset after a while) PM Lee probably thinks that the political capital loss is manageable, and our international reputation is already so high it can afford a few knocks. It is important to note however, that this is not a moral reason that DPM Wong should step down, but rather a political reason.  What Mr Chiam See Tong and the SPP are trying to do now is to stir up discontent over Mas Selamat issue such that the loss in political capital hits a deficit, and this results in DPM Wong being voted out in the elections.  A thinks that this isn’t fair play because DPM Wong isn’t morally responsible for Mas Selamat’s escape, but I think this is fair game because the PAP would likewise manipulate the electorate’s emotions for their own benefit.  (The “BG George Yeo is a nice guy” movement is a case in point.) Electoral campaigning can get dirty, and it works both ways.

There is one other argument for DPM Wong to resign, and that is knowing that a dangerous terrorist like Mas Selamat is in detention, DPM Wong should have made it his job scope and his responsibility (even if it wasn’t his usual job scope) to pay special attention to the security of the detention barracks since there was such a dangerous criminal being housed there.  Why so? Why is this terrorist really so important that DPM Wong needs to personally make a security check on the premises?  The answer for DPM Wong is no, he thinks Mas Selamat is actually not that important (bearing in mind he has no reason to believe that the security wouldn’t be checked adequately by his subordinates already). But shouldn’t it be so? Shouldn’t a terrorist be so important that DPM Wong needs to be extra extra sure?  The answer to that is “how important is important enough?”  I have two comments to make in reply to that question.  Firstly, the yardstick to measure “how important is important enough” should be “will you lose your job if you don’t do it and something goes wrong?”.  In other words, this is going back to the second argument above.  DPM Wong doesn’t think it is important enough.  However, if the people think that it should be important enough (i.e. it is a bigger deal than DPM Wong believes it is), then he would (theoretically) lose his job for his mis-estimation of importance by getting voted out in elections.

My second comment is this: personally I don’t think that the capturing of a terrorist like Mas Selamat deserves DPM Wong to carve out time from his schedule to make a trip down to the barracks to personally inspect its security.  I think, baring in mind his total job scope, he should have other more pressing matters to attend (and he had subordinates who should have made sure).  But, why does the populace seem to think otherwise? This may be because of the PAP government has a strategy of constantly reminding us of the danger of terrorism and making it part of the “we are a small and vulnerable country” story.  While there certainly are important pragmatic reasons in putting up videos on “how to spot a terrorist” on MRT stations (i.e. terrorist attacks are bad, and public awareness will reduce the chances of it happening), we also cannot deny that the intentional creation of fear is also a PAP political strategy to keep itself in power.  Therefore, should the SPP convince the electorate at Bishan-Toa Payoh to vote out DPM Wong, it might ironically be because of the PAP’s own strategy.

[Addendum:  With regards to public housing, I do think that the job scope of the Minister of National Development is to ensure that there is sufficient and affordable housing provided to Singaporeans.  I’m no expert at housing issues, but I heard many people smarter than me say that the current system is broken.  If that is indeed the case, this is indeed part of the job scope of Mr Mah Bow Tan, and he cannot deny responsibility for this. The key difference between this case and DPM Wong is the idea of professional job scope.  It is the professional duty of Mr Mah to ensure that housing is available and affordable, but it is not the professional duty of DPM Wong to ensure that the detention center has sufficient security. Also, I am not saying that voters in Bishan-Toa Payoh should vote for the PAP and not the SPP.  There are many other reasons (other than Mas Selamat) to vote the SPP into Parliament (e.g. greater opposition representation, belief that Mr Benjamin Pwee and Mr Jimmy Lee would make good Parliamentarians, Dr Ng Eng Hen does not make a good Education Minister, etc.)]

BG George Yeo and voting in Englightened Self Interest

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 2:16 pm

At BG George Yeo’s first year as Minister for Information and the Arts in 1991 (his first ministerial portfolio), he mismanaged the loosening of film censorship in Singapore and the introduction of the R rating into cinemas. What resulted was the release of soft porn films (such as Amy Yip’s “An Erotic Ghost Story”) in public cinemas and a public outcry from the conservative majority. (I wonder if this episode in our past is the reason why the Cabinet has since been unwilling to liberalize legislation on issues such as 377A, but I digress.) This controversy happened just months before the 1991 General Elections, and no doubt contributed to the unprecedented loss of 3 seats to the opposition, including Mr Low Thia Khiang’s first election win, and starting his 20 year tenure as Member of Parliament of Hougang. I wonder if BG Yeo now feels a sense of destiny, that Mr Low (the result of his first mistake as a Minister in Cabinet), would come to challenge him in his home turf, in a battle which may not just force one of them to end their political careers, but change the political landscape of Singapore forever, just like in 1991.

I like BG George Yeo. I really do. He seems to be one of the only few PAP ministers who are personable yet intelligent at the same time, is well loved by the residents of his constituency, and he presents himself to be a really nice gentlemanly uncle. Watch this and don’t tell me you don’t think he’s a nice man. I have no insights into his ministerial ability, but I’m sure he must be quite competent over the past 20 years or so, or else he wouldn’t be given such an important portfolio as Foreign Affairs. As a result, just as Cherian George has put it, the Aljunied voters are but into a difficult bind this GE2011, and I don’t envy them one bit.

The stakes are incredibly high for the PAP in Aljunied GRC, and they cannot afford BG Yeo to make any silly political moves like what Dr Balakrishnan did with his “gay agenda” comment. Therefore I suspect that BG Yeo probably consults BG Lee, SM Goh and MM Lee and arrive at an agreed strategy before BG Yeo makes any public statement. This may account for why there is a slight time lag between each challenge by the WP on BG Yeo and his reply for e.g. when Mr Low asked BG Yeo if the government would back out of plans for Aljunied GRC if the PAP loses (on Friday morning), and Mr Yeo replying only late Friday evening. It appears that the agreed strategy is to play up BG Yeo’s “nice man” image (I read from facebook that he appears as a nicer man this year compared to 2006GE when some accused him of being arrogant for saying WP’s “suicide squad” would lose their deposit by having less than 20% of votes in Ang Mo Kio GRC), and to paint Mr Low Thia Khiang and the WP as ambitious bullies who are manipulating the residents of Aljunied GRC into choosing what is not in their best interests, and hence as people with an ulterior motive. I must agree that this is probably PAP’s best strategy to employ, and this will be a real fight for voters’ hearts and minds.

However BG Yeo says two things which are very interesting to put forth this argument. Firstly, he says that by making Alujnied voters go through an emotional dilemma to choose between him and the WP, Mr Low is not acting in “the spirit of democracy” . This I believe, is a poor choice of words. The current PAP-dominated system is certainly far less democratic than whatever the WP is proposing; the WP knows that, the PAP knows that and the people know that. [Note: I am not asserting that a “more democratic” system is necessary better than the currently PAP dominated system…this would be material for another post.] Sure enough, Mr Low throws this back at them at his rally last night. Similarly, I am expecting plenty of netizens to be outraged by the “spirit of democracy” comment, and there is little need for me to elaborate further.

A more interesting comment that BG Yeo made is his urging of Aljunied voters to vote in their “own enlightened self-interest”, and that they don’t “have to carry the whole burden of Singapore”. By saying this, BG Yeo appears to be implying that:

(a) voting for the PAP is in the self-interest of Aljunied voters, and that
(b) Aljunied voters may feel burdened to vote for the WP because it is in the best interest of Singapore on the whole to do so.

Firstly, it is political suicide for BG Yeo to assert (b) to be true, so making this implicit argument is already very risky for him. Secondly, if he is not careful, this argument may sound a lot of the “pork barrel” kind of arguments (e.g. “vote for PAP and get lift upgrading”) which, as Hougang showed in GE2006, turns the voters off.

Lastly, and most interestingly, is the choice of the phrase “englightened self-interest”. If you take a look at this wikipedia entry, you’ll see that this term is a principle in ethics which refers to choosing to do what is initially NOT in your own short term interest, but realizing that doing so is ultimately in your own long term interest. If you consider propositions (a) and (b) above as implicit in BG Yeo’s argument, then the WP can make the case that “enlightened self-interest” would dictate the voter to vote for WP, since “what is best interest of Singapore on the whole” will ultimately benefit voters of Aljunied compared to the short term interests of voting for the PAP.

BG George Yeo is in a tough position, and I am highly sympathetic of his predicament. I think he’s doing a pretty good job as it is winning the hearts of voters, but I think he has to choose better words to support his cause. Politics is difficult business, and one wrong move could cost the PAP not just a GRC, but change Singapore forever.

[From a comment on facebook: BG George Yeo can and should run for President should he lose in Aljunied GRC. I agree.]

April 28, 2011

What does Dr Chia Shi-Lu tell us about Ms Tin Pei Ling, the PAP and the electorate?

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 6:59 pm

Many appropriate questions have been asked about the late withdrawal of Mr Steve Tan, and similarly many good questions were asked about Dr Chia Shi-Lu’s walkover victory.  I want to make one point (which is not original, read from a comment on facebook) which is slightly different:  if PAP had a President Scholar Doctor as a reserve in their candidate field, why was Ms Tin Pei Ling fielded in front of him?

Only two possible answers:

(1)  The PAP genuinely thinks that Ms Tin Pei Ling is a superior MP candidate compared to Dr Chia.

(2)  Dr Chia is the superior candidate to Ms Tin, but fielding Ms Tin is a strategic move designed to greater benefit the PAP.

If (1) is true, then residents of Tanjong Pagar should get very worried.

It is much more likely that (2) is true.  Which begs two questions:  aren’t the residents of Marine Parade GRC (and Singapore in general) shortchanged of a better PAP candidate if a weaker candidate was intentionally fielded by the PAP?  How many other “strategic candidates” have the PAP fielded, when there are in fact better reserve candidates down the line?

I won’t answer the above two questions, but let’s do a short discussion on how Ms Tin was originally intended to be a strategic candidate (which obviously backfired).  Firstly she is young, and supposedly new-media savvy, so that she could connect to the younger generation (after the failed P65 attempts).  Secondly, she is from the private sector, and private sector candidates were already in disproportionally short supply, so she helps to make the PAP candidate pool more balanced.  Thirdly, she is female, same argument as above.  Additionally, she is bilingual, something which is harder and harder to find for PAP candidates.

Lastly, and don’t laugh, she was intended to be the “chio bu” vote-getter.  In GE2006, Ms Glenda Han of WP got consideration attention on the internet and mainstream media for being a chio bu, and many felt this helped to result in the better-than-expected performance of WP’s “suicide squad” in Ang Mo Kio GRC, so this isn’t exactly without precedence.  I also remembered articles about PAP’s Dr Amy Khor  being chio bu back in 2006.  [Yes, sometimes reading Straits Times can make you sigh].

As we now know, Ms Tin didn’t pan out very well as a strategic candidate.  And even if there are better reserve candidates, the PAP couldn’t possibly withdraw Ms Tin and replace her with Dr Chia, because that would make the entire PAP look even worse, and opens up questions regarding their selection process.  And to make things worse for Ms Tin, Ms Nicole Seah appeared on the scene and Ms Seah’s rock star following can almost be entirely attributed to Ms Tin’s unpopularity.

While it is quite comical to imagine the PAP big wigs discussing among themselves which young PAP candidate would be the most appropriate to send as the “chio bu”, the real tragedy here is what this reflects about what the PAP thinks of the electorate.  Would something so trivial (but sensationalistic) as a woman’s sexual attractiveness be able to sway voters on deciding something as serious and of critical importance as who should be representing the people as Members of Parliament?

Judging by our adulation towards Ms Nicole Seah, can we really say that they are mistaken?

April 27, 2011

Key differences in this general election (by Sze-Meng Soon)

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 9:41 am

[The author of this article is Sze-Meng Soon, an ex-Singapore Angle colleague, and is reproduced here with his permission.  Sze-Meng has also submitted a letter to ST Forum on home affordability and it can be read here. ]

Many of us employ the same successful strategies and tactics even when circumstances have changed. However, the upcoming elections have three key differences from prior elections which all candidates should consider for their election campaigning.

 The first difference is the visible daily signs of strain on physical infrastructure and social make up. Singapore has the highest population ever in this election. The Singapore Department of Statistics states that Singapore’s population was 5.07 million in 2010, up from 4.40 million since the 2006 election.  For the large majority of Singaporeans living in the heartlands who take public transport, shop at the suburban malls and use the public spaces which have been increasingly congested, the quality of daily living has been affected

 Singapore also has the highest absolute number of foreigners, and proportion of foreigners to citizen in this election too. In 2010, there were 3.23 million citizens and 1.84 million foreigners, compared to 3.11 million citizens and 1.29 million foreigners in 2006. Therefore, since the last election, the growth in Singapore’s population has been driven largely by foreigners, which has increased by 0.55 million. Simply put, for every 10 foreigners,  there are only 18 citizens.

 Many Singaporeans, including myself, welcome foreigners who choose to make a living in our country. Singapore has always been a land of immigrants. However, the rate of change is unprecedented with many more foreigners with unfamiliar behaviors, faces and languages around us adding to the congestion. 76% of respondents of the recent Mediacorp’s survey in March 2011 stated that influx of foreigners have resulted in greater congestion in our public transportation system and 54% believed that the influx has also resulted in the erosion of the Singapore identity.

 Given that the solutions of building up our infrastructure and tweaking our immigration policies will require long lead time, candidates must be able to convince the voters that they will be addressing these concerns through specific policies long after the election is over.

 The second key difference is that all constituencies are likely to be contested. In the 2006 General election, only seven out of the 14 GRCs were contested. For this election, almost all GRCs may be contested, including the SMCs that have always been contested. Many Singaporeans appear to be engaged, with a record number of 833,000 viewers watching the two recent political forums produced by MediaCorp. Therefore, the intensity of electioneering will likely be one of the highest in this election given the engagement with all the voters.

 Even as the electioneering heats up and emotions run high, candidates should and must remind themselves that their opponent is a Singaporean who has stood up to be counted. Joining politics is a difficult decision, given the level of scrutiny and loss of privacy in this small red dot. Candidates should refrain from engaging in personal attacks whenever possible. Treating each other with respect and dignity is not only the right thing to do, but also enhances the candidates’ moral authority to represent and lead fellow Singaporeans. The moral authority is especially important given that an MP is already well compensated. The estimated MP monthly allowance of $16,500 is more than three times of the median household income of $5,000 in 2010.

 The third difference is the explosion of online and social media usage. Social and online media will have a greater impact on the current election campaign than most have anticipated. The Institute of Policy Studies commissioned a survey in 2006 after the last General election which showed that only 33% agreed that the Internet is effective in shaping voter’s decision vs. 75% for newspaper. However, social and online media would likely pay a much more important role on voter decision in the 2011 election.

 2011 seems like a different era for social and online media, as iPhone, Facebook and Twitter were not present in the 2006 election, while YouTube was only just starting to be popular. Any candidate will be naive to think that online and social media usage is restricted to a niche group such as the tech-savvy young Singaporeans. Many of you may have noticed that smartphone and Facebook users include those in their 40s and older.

 The reach of Facebook is reflected by the estimated 2.5 million users in Singapore. Facebook is a game changer because almost no one is anonymous. In order to befriend others, you have to be who you are. Therefore, many are likely to be shaped more by their friends’ opinions, arguments and assertions than from traditional media sources, and also to influence all their friends directly. Most will also prefer to read relevant articles and videos recommended by their friends via their news feed. Almost all candidates have a Facebook page, but some are more successful in generating attention than  others. Since her introduction a week ago, National Solidarity party candidate, Nicole Seah, has managed to recieve 20,000 likes on her Facebook page.  The page is active, with comments made almost once a minute. Her replies captured on videos, posted on YouTube and RazorTV, and reposted multiple times via Facebook have been instrumental in driving her online popularity.

Given the extensive capture of information in the online and social media spaces in the past years, anyone can easily retrieve and share previous speeches, interviews and comments made by the candidates. Even during the rallies and walkabout, any smartphone user can record the candidate’s actions, and upload the video on YouTube and Facebook with his or her commentary by the time you finish reading this article. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan referring to a YouTube video to encourage voters to better understand the agenda of SDP candidate, Vincent Wijeysingha, will not be the first and only such reference during the campaign period.

 The ease of obtaining election news across different sources has kept all media channels more robust and balanced in reflecting different viewpoints. Mr. Low Thia Khiang has recently stated that the newspapers are more balanced in their reporting of the opposition due to new media. Alternative viewpoints and counter arguments are quickly made available in multiple sources. Toggling between the online version of this newspaper, websites of the political parties and The Online Citizen requires just one simple click, flick or touch.

 Most importantly, the explosion of online and social media usage provides the opportunity for candidate to help more Singaporeans make the best voting decision. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America, expressed this opportunity succinctly, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society, but the people themselves; if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

 To win more votes, candidates of this upcoming election should reconsidering their prior electioneering strategies and tactics given these salient differences.

April 26, 2011

RAdm Lui Tuck Yew walkabout double fail?

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 6:39 pm

Over the past 2 days, two personal anecdotes of RAdm Lui Tuck Yew appeared on the internet.  The first was an account of RAdm Lui visiting the condo residence of Mr Miyagi, and the second detailed the interaction between a resident of Moulmein during his walkabout and the subsequent email exchange.  If you have not already done so, you should read the second one.

To a voter, the kind of person (his personality and character) a candidate is, is usually far more important than what their credentials are, or what they profess to believe in.  Unfortunately most of us will never know what kind of people we will be voting for since we have little chance to interact with them personally.  That’s when personal anecdotes such as the above two are really useful – to allow us to peer behind carefully presented facades to have a glimpse of what the candidate is really like.  And when such anecdotes spread across the social media, a whole nation gets a glimpse.


It might have been harsh to label the walkabout at Mr Miyagi’s condo as a fail on RAdm Lui.  It reflects more poorly on his helpers and his entourage (or maybe the condominium managers) on not working out details before hand (these things need to be by-the-minute details) about what RAdm Lui is supposed to do, where is he supposed to go, there is a reception for him, etc.   Why wasn’t the management there to greet him in the first place?  Nevertheless, the following can be observed from Mr Miyagi’s account:  RAdm Lui appeared to be very efficient with his time, trying to cover as much ground in as little time as possible (while certainly understandable, but doesn’t rub off the right kind on impression on your voters).

This observation was also present in the second account of the Moulmein resident, although this account seems to reveal much more about RAdm Lui as a person.  Firstly, assuming the second account to be accurate, RAdm Lui failed to listen carefully to the resident and what he was trying to ask.  I suspect RAdm Lui was previously in some heated discussion with previous residents who were hardcore opposition supporters. This probably left him frustrated and although I can even empathize somewhat with his frustration, but he should not have lost focus on why he was there in the first place – to convince voters that he will serve them well as their MP.  Failure to listen carefully to a resident is a bad bad first impression in that regard.

Secondly, it appears that RAdm Lui is displaying the mentality of “I am here to gain votes” rather than “I am here to convince people I can serve them well”.  We can see this by his rather ill-timed rhetoric of “blame of the opposition” when the resident shared that he is looking forward to voting for the first time, as well as the “slow us down in our outreach” and “pragmatic way to deal with this is simply to disengage at an opportune moment” remarks in the email.  It appeared that he was there to cover as much ground in as little time, and he did not like to be delayed.  Perhaps most revealing is the fact that while he was prepared to argue the reasons why a resident should vote for the PAP or not vote for the opposition, but it appeared that it never occurred to him to prepare an argument on why a resident should vote for him as a candidate.  It did not appear that he believed in convincing the voter to get to know him as a capable person who is able to represent and serve his people well.  RAdm Lui failed to address this issue a second time when the resident wrote a very carefully thought out and worded email which explained he wanted to find out what kind of person RAdm Lui was.  Instead, the very brief reply (sent from iPad) probably indicated that he answered the email in a hurry and had many other things to attend to (probably not realizing that his email would soon go onto social media).

Lastly, it is particularly telling that he read the resident’s email as an apology and replied that “Dont worry, it didnt leave a sour note with me nor a poor impression of you.”  This was odd because, shouldn’t the walkabout be about RAdm trying to leave a good impression on the voters, and not the other way round? I understand that RAdm Lui was probably very busy and read the email in the hurry, but what kind of impression would you leave on your voters when you thought a voter was apologizing when it should have been you instead?

To conclude, this episode reflected very poorly on RAdm Lui, and I’m sure the Moulmein resident felt it too.  Accurate or not, he gave the impression that he was here to perform a necessary but mechanical duty – i.e. to win votes by “reaching out” to as many people in as little time as possible.  In effect, he appears to have forgotten what meeting his residents ought to be about – he was supposed to be there to convince people that he was the right person to serve them.  Rather unfortunately, he might have instead left the impression that the voters were there to serve him – if you are not pro-PAP inclined (and won’t vote for me), I couldn’t be bothered with you.  It wasn’t that long ago that PM Lee reminded the rest of the PAP that their role is to serve Singaporeans.

To be fair to RAdm Lui,  he was very likely running a tight schedule and dealing with residents who are vehemently against the PAP is not easy.  Not to mention, this would be his first time running in a non-walkover, so he is still relatively inexperienced in the process.  Nevertheless, I do feel that part of the job scope of being a MP is to always be patient and sensitive to the residents you serve.  Failure to do so, or failure to give the impression that you are willing to do so, can be very costly indeed.

The rest of the candidates out there, PAP or opposition, beware of screwing up on your walkabouts.  It may hurt your campaign more than you realize.

[Addendum: Here is a relatively interesting article by ST on walkabouts by candidates.]

Dr Balakrishnan gambles on a risky tactic in the political fight of his life

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 12:45 pm

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is in the fight of his political life.  This is his first contested General Elections; he had walkovers in both 2001 and 2006.  For the first time, he will be without the popular Mr Lim Swee Say at the helm of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC (Mr Lim has been moved to East Coast GRC). Dr Balakrishnan is also at one of the lowest points of his political career to date – there is a general perception that he has fallen off the speeding boat despite his promising beginnings, he has failed to establish rapport with his constituents,  and is the center of issue after issue after issue that Singaporeans are unhappy with (also read this).  And his opponents in GE2011 will be some of the strongest opposition candidates to ever contest a GRC – Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, Mr Tan Jee Say, Dr Ang Yong Guan and Ms Michelle Lee Juen.  Much has already been described about these SDP candidates elsewhere so there little need for me to belabor the point that this is significant competition for Dr Balakrishnan’s team.

Is Dr Balakrishnan rattled?  I cannot say because I know not the man.  But he and his team have decided to play a very risky tactic by first by slinging not very clear accusations about the SDP team (more on this later), and then finally calling out Dr Wijeysingha’s motives for entering politics.  Since then, Dr Chee Soon Juan had released a video “categorically”  denying that the SDP has a “gay agenda”.  I’m not very sure if that was a good move by Dr Chee (since his party openly supports the repeal of 377A), but Alex Au thinks the SDP are right (if I understand him correctly) mainly because the “gay agenda” is a scare tactic and not a true representation of what gay activists wish to push for.

But back to Dr Balakrishnan.  As Alex Au has pointed out, Dr Balakrishnan’s original accusation was actually regarding Mr Tan Jee Say, a Christian who is linked to City Harvest Church and hence (Dr Balakrishnan assumes) is anti-gay. Dr Balakrishnan insinuated that Mr Tan has not done “due diligence” in choosing to join the SDP who also fields Dr Wijeysingha (who has links to gay activism, and as is publicly known by now, probably a homosexual himself).  What Dr Balakrishnan does not want to do is to appear anti-gay himself (note: I believe Dr Balakrishnan attends a Methodist Church), and that is mainly the reason why his initial accusations were so unclear.  He understood Web 2.0 well enough to know that netizens would soon dig up the video in question, expose Dr Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation, and arrive at the same conclusions about Mr Tan (btw, Alex Au similarly calls out Mr Tan to clarify his intensions for joining SDP).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, all netizens are interested in talking about is Dr Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation (and totally fail to understand Mr Balakrishnan’s argument about Mr Tan), and what I believe happened is that he and his team changed tactics to focus attention on Dr Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation instead, and question his political motives (i.e. pushing the “gay agenda”).

It is understandable why Dr Balakrishnan would attempt this tactic.  There is still a conservative “middle ground” who is likely to be very emotionally adverse to any whisper of the “gay agenda”.  By accusing this of Dr Wijeysingha, Dr Balakrishan would instantly win himself some votes by playing into homophobic sentiments.  Dr Balakrishnan’s team has also (rather insidiously, in my opinion) insinuated that the SDP is advocating pedophilia (lowering the minimum legal age of sex to 14), and this will cause even more fear and potentially swing more votes.

Since this is already out on the mainstream media, I think it is inevitable that the conservative vote would swing to the PAP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.  If this wins Dr Balakrishnan the elections, he may very well claim these tactics were justified (pragmatism – ends justify the means again).  Nevertheless,  I think this is a very risky move, and here is why.  Firstly, the pedophilia insinuation is a low blow, a clear cut opportunistic misrepresentation of opponent for one’s own political gain.  Since this insinuation is easily refuted,  Dr Balakrishnan’s credibility has already dropped among the netizens who saw through this.  If the SDP should push this counter-argument through to the mainstream media (a risky move in itself), they can damage Dr Balakrishnan’s credibility even further.

Secondly, playing the “gay agenda” card intentionally polarizes the Singaporean community into conservatives and liberals.  While Dr Balakrishnan claims that Dr Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation is “not the issue” so that he does not come across as homophobic,  the liberal community is not likely to buy that at all since they would be politically savvy enough to know that Dr Balakrishnan is intentionally stirring up homophobic sentiments just to gain votes.  Whether or not Dr Balakrishnan is homophobic is besides the point, the point is that he has set back the hard work of the liberal community in trying to change perspectives about homosexuals and transforming Singapore to be a more inclusive society, and they will be pissed at Dr Balakrishnan for sacrificing the welfare of the community (as they understand it) to gain votes.

Pissing off the liberal community is not a good idea.  While the PAP assume that the “middle ground” is dominated by conservative-minded folk,  this majority should be much reduced in the upcoming elections due to the increase of young people aged 30 or younger who are much more likely to more globalized and liberal-minded.  The gain in swing votes might be less than Dr Balakrishnan envisioned it to be.  Also, the liberal-minded folks are those that go no-holds-barred (I believe Sammyboy and Temasek Review need no introduction), and they will claim the high moral ground that Dr Balakrishnan engaged in gutter politics first.  [Incidentally, I know of someone who knew Dr Balakrishnan’s daughter personally.  From what I heard about her, I would advise Dr Balakrishnan to tell her to stay indoors and never talk to anyone from the public until the elections is over.  But this is what I mean by no-holds-barred.]  And by the way, Dr Balakrishnan better prepare some defense about the YOG budget.  If his election strategy is merely continual silence on YOG and to continually attack SDP on the “gay agenda” issue,  he will appear to the general populace (even the conservatives) to be guilty of hiding something and being vindictive.  I have already found a Christian blogger who is unhappy with Dr Balakrishnan’s tactics, based on religious grounds furthermore.

Lastly, the liberal community does not forget, particularly the gay activists.  Most of us believe it is only a matter of time when the conservative majority would eventually concede to the growing number of the liberal-minded, 377A would be repealed, and everybody would be more inclusive of the gay community in general.  When that day happens, the liberal-minded (by then the majority) will remember that Dr Balakrishnan tried to stand in their way back in 2011, and they will not be kind to him then.  In fact, I believe they will not be kind to him ever, from this GE onwards until the end of his political career.  For a Minister who seems to be struggling to rise up the Ministerial ranks as compared to some of his Super 7 peers, is this the price he is willing to pay just to swing some votes for this election?

[Just to throw a bone out there: MM Lee has said that he has no qualms with a homosexual Member of Parliament. ]

[Addendum: found another Christian view supportive of Dr Vincent Wijeysingha.]

April 25, 2011

Should Mr Chiam really be running for elections?

Filed under: Uncategorized — fearfullyopinionated @ 4:08 pm

By now most of us have seen Mr Chiam See Tong on television.  If you have not, check out the interview TOC did with SPP while they were on a walkabout (in Toa Payoh I believe).  It can be observed that Mr Chiam is definitely physically impaired somewhat – he moves slowly, has a very significant hunch, and mumbles when he speaks.  I have heard it said that the mainstream media is intentionally showing much of Mr Chiam on TV to leave a lasting impression on voter’s minds on how frail he looks and hence discourage them for voting for Mr Chiam.  And then there was this article on Straits Times (print edition) which sort of said that Mr Chiam is kind of suffering from Parkinson’s Syndrome, and that he is exercising regularly to stave off the effects of Parkinson’s.

Before I continue, can I make a request if there are any doctor’s or medical experts reading this to help shed some light on Parkinson’s Syndrome?  I tried to do some research, but I am hardly a medical expert and I find information on the internet to be not very conclusive.  What I found:  when Parkinson’s is caused by a stroke, it is a special kind of Parkinson’s known as “Vascular Parkinsonism” which can cause the patient to degenerate very suddenly, unlike normal Parkinson’s Syndrome which is typically a gradual decline.  I cannot find anywhere that says regular exercise helps to stave off or is useful for the treatment of Vascular Parkinsonism.  Also, it appears that while tremors (the trembling of arms) is the most commonly known symptom of Parkinson’s Syndrome, only 30% of patients display tremors on onset, and usually develop it later as the condition degenerates.  The lack of tremors is the defense used by Mrs Lina Chiam that her husband has yet to have Parkinson’s Syndrome.  Question for the medical experts:  does it look like Mr Chiam have Parkinson’s or not?  If so, does regular exercise do anything to help?  Is his condition expected to get worse?  I understand that his doctors have cleared him to run for elections, but does that include serving another 6 year term as a Member of Parliament and all its associated duties?

The article is quick to point out that Mr Chiam’s mind is still “sharp and lucid”, and that his mental capacities are still fully functional.   Even if we grant that to be true,  his ability to communicate is surely hampered by his speech condition and this would affect his ability in running his estate and conducting MPS for his ward.  Furthermore,  his ability to make speeches in Parliament is also affected, as can be seen by his recent Parliamentary performances.  The point I want to make is obvious by now – certainly Mr Chiam’s ability to function as an elected Member of Parliament (for a full term of up to 6 years) is very much hampered if not totally compromised by his physical condition.  If that is the case, should he even be running for elections?  Should the people really vote for Mr Chiam if they are not certain if he able to represent them as a fully functioning Member of Parliament?

However, as it is often the case with politics, there is more than meets the eye.  Mr Chiam has assembled a very interesting team to contest Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, including ex-government scholars Mr Benjamin Phwee and Mr Jimmy Lee.  Why Mr Phwee and Mr Lee would choose to ally themselves with a clearly ailing Mr Chiam is an interesting discussion (and probably worth a post in itself), but it is clear to opposition supporters that they welcome this move and believe Mr Phwee and Mr Lee would be worthwhile candidates to put into Parliament.  In particular, I have been impressed by Mr Phwee, who has benefitted from all this airtime given to the SPP, which is truly ironic if the airtime was intended to make Mr Chiam look bad.

But even more ironic is this:  the teaming together of Mr Phwee and Mr Chiam is like an inversion of the teaming together of Ms Tin Pei Ling and SM Goh Chok Tong.  I have observed that even some ardent PAP supporters feel that Ms Tin is not a suitable candidate to put into parliament, but she rides on the popularity of a capable candidate like SM Goh to get elected.   (Although I know many will disagree, for the purpose of this argument, let us assume that SM Goh is a capable candidate for now.)  An incapable candidate (Ms Tin) rides on the popularity of a capable candidate (SM Goh) to get elected.  This is the famous “coattails” argument.

Compare this to Mr Chiam and Mr Phwee.  Mr Phwee is considered to be a capable candidate, while Mr Chiam is (in my opinion) not so capable anymore.  Nevertheless, Mr Chiam is still hugely popular (notice how people ranging from aunties to RI boys want to take photos with him) due to his years of opposing the PAP government, and is an  opposition figurehead seen to represent all who feel unhappy towards the PAP for any reason.  In this case, Mr Phwee, a capable candidate, is riding on the popularity of Mr Chiam (a popular but not so capable candidate) to get elected into Parliament.  This is an ironic inversion of the GRC system!

What I think the SPP is trying to do here, is taking a page out of the PAP book.  Surely Mr Chiam cannot function fully well as an MP, but the SPP will use his popularity to try and get Mr Phwee and Mr Lee and other members of SPP voted into Parliament.  It matters not that Mr Chiam is being “used” in this sense, or that the residents may not get an MP who cannot serve them as well; but what truly matters is that the SPP get into parliament.  The ends justify the means.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of pragmatism that the PAP is so proudly famous for.

Should the SPP successfully defeat DPM Wong Kan Seng and Dr Ng Eng Hen in the battle for Bishan-Toa Payoh (at the moment it does not seem quite so likely),  not only is this a significant victory for Mr Chiam, SPP and the opposition in general, Chiam can look MM Lee right in the eye and say “right back at you”.

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