Tag Archive | "Chiam See Tong"

Chiam See Tong croaks a reply to the White Paper

Chiam See Tong croaks a reply to the White Paper

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Opposition granddaddy Chiam See Tong of the Singapore People’s Party has come out of forced retirement to comment on the 6.9 million population White Paper. Ok, maybe not so much as comment as to record a recruitment video for his party’s 2016 campaign.

Still, one can’t help but feel touched that the 78-year-old still cares for national issues despite not holding a position in parliament (as opposed to say, the prodigal son, formerly known as the Son of Punggol).

If like us, you struggled to decipher what he was croaking about before closing the Youtube window after 30 seconds, fear not. Here’s the whole transcript for your perusal, which should take no more than half a minute to scan through.

By the way, despite sounding like a geriatric Batman with throat cancer, Chiam’s pronunciation was surprisingly, clear enough for the Youtube captions to make sense (as opposed to Desmond Lim’s awful online rally speech).

Full transcript:

chiam see tong

I am Chiam See Tong, Secretary General of the Singapore People’s Party.

I am appalled that PAP targets to increase Singapore’s population from 5.3 million to 6.9 million.

This 6.9 million is a huge figure.

In fact surpassing Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Norway and Finland.

When Singapore became independent in 1965. The PAP policy was to have growth at all costs.

For that, they needed to import a lot of foreign workers. And that did not prove very popular with local workers.

In the second phase, it was the same policy. Continue with importing foreign workers. And that did not prove popular with the people of Singapore.

Because many of the jobs that were held by Singaporeans were taken away by foreigners. Especially the PMET jobs.

Now we have the white paper of population and that really shocked many of us.

Can you imagine a small island of Singapore with 6.9 million people? It will put tremendous pressure on all our infrastructure. Especially housing, as Singapore is a small country and land is limited.

The targeted population of 6.9 million is purportedly to come into fruition in 2030. And that is the day where Singaporeans will sudden the pressure of high population, truly high population in Singapore.

You may ask what is the solution. I think the best solution is to open the doors for more Singaporeans to give more of their ideas.

Singapore is purportedly to be a democratic country. For that purpose, we have to invite more Singaporeans to join the opposition so they can give more ideas to the government. You can add checks and balances.

I’m sure when you open the flood ages, many more Singaporeans will come forward. With brilliant ideas, and the problems can be solved easily. On the part of the SPP, we shall surely be willing to give more ideas to the government. When we are called upon to do so.

I call upon Singaporeans to join the SPP.

And together, we can solve most of the problems that PAP have been finding it difficult to do so.

They are at the moment dragging their feet and calling for help.

Come and join me and I would like to see you in 2016. Be brave, come forward and speak up. We must have more voices in parliament.

To make this a truly democratic place.

Full video:

Lee Kuan Yew: Not easily ditched

Lee Kuan Yew: Not easily ditched

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As much as The Cabinet wants to maintain a distance, His Leeness could still spring a surprise at an inopportune moment.

By Belmont Lay

It's about time for His Leeness to leave The Cabinet.

SO, what does it REALLY mean for His Leeness and SM Goh Chok Tong to leave The Cabinet?

Honestly, I don’t know and I won’t pretend like I do.

But I’m game enough to hazard a guess.

And truth be told, anyone’s guess is just as good because quite apparently, no one knows what on Earth stepping down entails (because it has never happened before, and hence, shows you the extent of the problem in the first place), although it is driving everyone into a tizzy.

But before we move on with the topic, let’s do everyone a favour and recap who said what.

First in line, Chiam See Tong (bless his soul) claims to be “surprised”. So, he doesn’t exactly know what happens next but his sentiment is shared by 2 million other Singaporeans.

Just so he is famous, his natural reaction becomes news. But that’s ok.

Nothing new here.

Moving along, PAP’s Halimah Yacob says that Singapore is ready to surge ahead without the two ex-Prime Ministers.

Ok, sounds about right, because maybe she knows something we don’t.

Then again, not. This sentiment is probably shared by one million other Singaporeans, especially those who have felt this way since 1959 and who have voted for the Opposition for as long as there were elections (or opposition candidates).

Nothing new here either. So maybe we should check up on the younger folks from the incumbent.

In the all-white corner, Baey Yam Keng feels that rookie MPs like him will finally get a chance to speak out against policies that were implemented during the two ex-rulers’ regime.

Because since they are now gone from The Cabinet, His Leeness and Goh can’t give him a tongue-lashing of a rebuttal.

But sadly, no one agrees with him on this one because everyone knows that wearing all-white means there can be no disagreement.

Because if you were to ask all the PAP MPs if there is groupthink, they will all say “No!” – in unison.

Therefore, never mind that Baey is in the business of public relations. And never mind about the groupthink. And never mind about the irony.

We have the son of a firebrand calling his bluff: Kenneth Jeyaratnam thinks stepping down now is a public relations exercise and all hogwash.

And this view is probably only shared by one thousand other Singaporeans – those who still believe that Kenneth is channeling Joshua Benjamin, his father.

So never mind Kenneth too, because we need someone astute who can give us something piercingly insightful.

And on comes Dr Vincent Wijeysingha (who is awesome) as he welcomes the news of the retirement from The Cabinet as long as such steps to relinquish power is not cosmetic and more widespread, especially in government-linked sectors.

His thinking is so brilliant and so far ahead, I actually thought it is the most enlightening thought of all.

And his running mate, Tan Jee Say, even suggested calling for by-elections in Tanjong Pagar and Marine Parade GRC, because voters voted PAP on the assumption that His Leeness and SM Goh will live as long as there is a Singapore left to serve the constiuents.

Amen.

Finally, there is even a bear that reckons stepping down is really all arsed.

He can be inside or outside The Cabinet, it doesn’t really matter. His Leeness can easily ditch the title and the salary. But can The Cabinet easily ditch him?

So, to re-iterate, what can any sane Singaporean with an average IQ, take away from all these?

As you can tell by now, the answer is nowhere in between: It is all over the place.

But, well, one can always take a cue from the most quotable quote that sears right into the brain without having to exercise any critical faculties.

We shall bring on Halimah Yacob again.

The Jurong GRC MP said it best with her description of His Leeness: “Singapore is Him and He is Singapore.”

Wow.

Even though I’m here pulling faces, I kind of feel that she might just be right.

His Leeness might have been taken out of The Cabinet. But surely, there is no way The Cabinet can be taken out of His Leeness.

Simply put, as Halimah has mentioned, He is essentially Singapore.

The fact is that His Leeness is influential, omnipotent and omnipresent. And will be for as long as he is alive and kicking.

He can be inside or outside The Cabinet, it doesn’t really matter.

His Leeness can easily ditch the title and the salary.

But can The Cabinet easily ditch him?

So, here’s the point of today’s missive: His Leeness gives the phrase “old age creeping up on you” a whole new different meaning.

Literally. All 88 years of it.

When you least expect it, he might just sneak up from behind and beat you over the head with a stick.

Just ask George Yeo.

But just don’t ask if the blunt force trauma was intentional or unintentional.

Because uncertainty is the mother of all warnings.

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Tyra Banks yells at Lee Kuan Yew

Tyra Banks yells at Lee Kuan Yew

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Mending a broken Potong Pasir

Mending a broken Potong Pasir

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Sitoh Yih Pin remains silent while police try to disperse petitioners in Potong Pasir.

By Fang Shihan

Sitoh Yih Pin has some very large shoes to fill

THE show ain’t over till the fat cat sings. It’s been 3 days since Potong Pasir was lost to PAP man Sitoh Yih Pin and still, the former opposition bastion seethes with indignation. It’s not difficult to see why this would be the case: Sitoh won by a mere 114 votes, or 50.36%.

The winner could have been either party had the 242 spoilt votes been properly cast. Or if the rumors that after including overseas voters, the winning margin was only 79 votes, were true.

Potong Pasir’s split along political loyalties – between the Chiams who’ve served the longtime residents for a good 27 years, and any PAP man who’ll dispense infrastructure upgrades like Santa Claus.

Since the ol’ fort fell, various pages have been set up on Facebook in support of Chiam, including one petition calling for a re-election (http://www.facebook.com/PotongPasirPetition). The petition has nearly 14,000 likes at this point.

Beyond a Facebook page, the organizers have also called for residents to sign a physical petition at Block 108, where Chiam’s Meet the People’s sessions used to be held. This message spread via Facebook as well as SMS.

According to one resident, Tim (not his real name), a crowd of less than 50 people were peacefully gathered outside the office around 630pm on Tuesday. The crowd consisted of residents, former residents and supporters of Chiam who had travelled down to sign the petition.

Yet when he tried looking for the petition, all he saw was a piece of paper was pasted on Chiam’s table, stating that the petition was cancelled for the day.

photo courtesy of Faris Mokhtar of Yahoo News

This was apparently because the police had been visiting the area every half hour, asking the crowd to disperse since 4pm. There was no riot van (the big red one) present but 8 white police vans and a few traffic police motorbikes were spotted.

When New Nation called one of the organisers at 815pm, she denied that the petition was seized, though the campaign was now restricted only to the residents of Potong Pasir. Non-residents were advised not to come down.

Now with the facts established, you’re probably wondering: what’s the fuss about? Elections are over so shouldn’t people move on?

Put it this way. Sitoh Yih Pin is a difficult man to like. Especially if you’ve been a longtime resident of Potong Pasir. After the results were announced, he thanked the residents for giving him a “strong mandate of more than 50%”, and subsequently went on to deride Chiam supporters by saying “for those who didn’t vote for me, please cooperate” in another speech.

No transcripts of these juicy bites can be found so you’ll have to take New Nation Man’s word for it. Because he watches a lot of local TV.

Residents who were present during the 2006 elections would also remember the street lamps that were built, and then left unrepaired when Sitoh lost the battle, leaving in a huff. Even longer-term residents would recall the NTUC supermarket that was yanked from the estate when the constituency fell to Chiam, and the bus services that were discontinued.

If you’ve been in Potong Pasir your whole life, you’d hate the PAP for their discrimination, and you’d worship Chiam for his village chief attitude towards even the most menial of things, like clearing the rubbish with the residents.

But the votes have spoken, and 50.36% of Potong Pasir has voted for Sitoh to be the next chief. The man has some huge shoes to fill, and nearly half the local population to charm over.

For a start, he’ll get some massive street cred by doing his MPS at the ramshackle void deck that Chiam has been using. Then maybe follow up by chillin’ at the hawker centre with a cold beer before overseeing the cleaning of rubbish personally. Unlike other PAP constituencies, merely kissing babies just doesn’t cut it in the former opposition stronghold. Respect must be earned.

If that’s not enough, Sitoh could also extend an olive branch by enlisting Chiam as consultant-at-large. After all, like George Yeo in Aljunied, the man has years of experience running the town and would be an invaluable resource. This could potentially save Sitoh from a lot of embarrassment as Chiam knows what flies in the town (keeping S&C charges low, keeping the kampung spirit, rustic environment and unique identity), and what doesn’t (multi-million dollar shopping centres, promenades and facelifts into facelessness).

More importantly, Sitoh must understand that wounds must be healed. He has not spoken a word since yesterday and one can only assume he’s waiting for the tide to blow over before plonking his ass in town, expecting all to be hunky dory.

The silence sir, is haunting.

Vote out of belief, not fear

Vote out of belief, not fear

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Virgin Voter Dannon Har observes that some of his peers, who work in the public sector, fear voting for the opposition because it might stunt their career prospects.

Proud of being a Virgin Voter? Put this as your Facebook display picture! Enhanced from photo by STEPHANE TOUGARD / Creative Commons

I WILL be voting for my very first time this coming elections. I’m feeling a flurry of excitement coupled with apprehension, and I hope dismay won’t follow after I’ve done the deed.

What brings out such a mixed bag of emotions is that giant question mark bobbing above my head saying: “Does my vote really matter?”

As an average youth living in Meritocratic/Autocratic Singapore, I wonder if my vote will make a difference when opposition giants like JB Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong have failed or attained limited success?

Needless to say, the PAP government has been in power since day one. Those who have tried to step up and challenge them have been deliberately quashed under their iron fist.

I’m certainly not exaggerating: Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew admitted as much in his his series of interviews with the Straits Times.

Despite our turbulent political history, what disturbs me much is the indifferent, laidback, nonchalant attitude of many of today’s youths. What disturbs me even more is some of their ignorance or misconceptions.

To be fair, there is a notable rise of youth participation in Singapore’s political scene. Even though there’s plenty of nonconstructive rants online, the fact that more youths are voicing out is at least a sure sign of a diversification of views.

Yet many young Singaporeans only seem to care about the food on their table.

With an overbearing corporatist culture constantly looming over our heads, I fear becoming just another cog in the machine. And I know I am not alone in this.

Singapore’s citizens are described as consumerist, materialistic, and pragmatic. These are now our defining attributes as Singaporeans.

The drastic fall in Total Fertility Rate is a clear sign to me that we are thinking more and more in economic terms, putting all other concerns second place.

In a Straits Times article I read, a lawyer said regarding the reason for not having children: “It’s a question of opportunity cost, and I can’t afford the downtime from my career.”

Political sentiments in Singapore often reflect our materialistic culture.

During sessions of coffee shop talk with peers my age, they tell me they are going to vote for PAP this coming election, as they feel pressured to do so. But Pressured? Pressured by what?

The presence of such fear is a shock to me – regardless of whether there is any truth to it. Why should there even be fear of going against the ruling party – as distinct from the state – in a democratic society?

Apparently, there is an onset of fear about going against the grain. On the ground, there is fear that voting for an opposition party would result in indirect repercussions of some sort.

I hear of comments that are utterly ridiculous. Some tell me that since they work in the public sector, they had better vote for the PAP lest they get stunted career growths and diminished pay packages.

The presence of such fear is a shock to me – regardless of whether there is any truth to it. Why should there even be fear of going against the ruling party – as distinct from the state – in a democratic society?

Such ideas are plainly absurd. Then again, nothing surprises me anymore.

Other comments I’ve heard include feelings of gratitude for what PAP had done for us in the past. With this argument, some think we should continue voting for them since they have done so much for us.

They further add that the good track record is testament that they’ll do as well if not better in the future.

But I say that if a party’s recent track record is any indication, then recent hot potato issues like immigration, housing prices, and ministerial salary among others would indicate that the time for change has come.

I will be voting in Tampines GRC this coming election, where PAP veteran and minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan will be contesting.

He may not be very popular, based on online sentiments, but how many votes will actually swing in his favor simply because of PAP’s dominance?

My personal belief is that each and every contestant should be judged based on what they are really offering on the plate instead of party affiliations or worse, empty promises.

Sadly, the political game is often reduced to a shallow popularity contest rather than a substantial analysis of political manifestos.

In deciding who to vote for, I realise that jumping onto the same bandwagon as everyone else simply displays a lack of forethought on my part. I am given a mind for a reason, and that reason is to reason.

I can’t let others decide for me whom I’m going to vote for.

But I am not blindly advocating western ideals in Singapore, as each country is different and should be run differently. A system that works in one place may not work in another. I’m clear on this.

My beef is with people refusing to stand up for what they believe in, when they should be voicing out their concerns for a future they want to see happening in Singapore.

Seriously, if we look closely enough at the PAP government’s current policies and scrutise it, can we confidently say that we are able to sit down and stay passive?

At 23 years old, I am ready to do the little I can to express my personal beliefs, perspectives, and values in the political realm. It is my own conviction to eliminate indifference among Singaporean youths, starting from myself.

So to all my fellow Virgin Voters out there, be daring enough to do what you sincerely think is right for the sake of our own generation’s future.

And to all experienced voters out there, good for you if you have not compromised your ideals. But if you have and are thinking of voting ‘safely’ time and again, do not for a moment think that others will do the fighting for you.

As Dr Chee Soon Juan once mentioned, “Democracy cannot be wished for, it must be fought for.”

Dannon Har, 23, has studied in neighborhood schools all his life. He is currently majoring in Sociology and minoring in Communications at SIM University while interning at a prominent business news organisation. He spends his free time clearing his school assignments hanging out with his better half who keeps his humanity from dispersing as he chases the Singapore dream.

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Vote for the opposition: PAP will not lose

Vote for the opposition: PAP will not lose

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong needs to have more faith in the political system his dad built.

By Fang Shihan

Like it or not, PM Lee has plenty of supporters. Photo: SINGAPORE YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES / Creative Commons

IN HIS dialogue with 12 Singaporeans who supposedly represent various sections of the population, PM Lee remarked, as a reply to a question about having a level political playing field, that it cannot be equal.

He also noted: “If you ask the people in Potong Pasir, whom do they want to make the government of Singapore? I think they’ll say they want a PAP government, so too in Hougang. But then you ask them who do they want to vote for, they’ll say Mr Chiam or Mr Low. In other words, they’re counting on someone else to vote for the PAP, so they can get the luxury to vote for Mr Chiam or Mr Low….”

Replying to a question of why opposition wards get bumped down the upgrading queue even though opposition voters are Singaporeans too, he replied that this is to incentivise residents in opposition-held wards to vote for the PAP.

Quite frankly, PM Lee has nothing to worry about. Wearing a pink shirt as a lucky charm all the time is actually quite unnecessary.

While there are plenty of keyboard warriors and TV critics out there who will make a song and dance about voting the opposition (and some have their minds made up, judging by the comments posted online), the PAP is in no serious danger of losing just yet.

Opposition supporters, go ahead. Enjoy your luxury of ticking the box under “Worker’s Party” or “Singapore People’s Party” because MM Lee has put in place a robust system to ensure the continued longevity of his son’s party.

We have the lazy voter to thank. Not just your usual ‘politically apathetic youth’, but also the contented Malay welfare recipients, the uncles and aunties who’ve lived in walkover wards their whole life and couldn’t give two hoots about the new opposition candidates, and the white-collar baby boomers who’re too busy keeping their salary in step with rising COE prices. People who wouldn’t bother reading political information, and consider the elections only marginally more important than the season finale of a soap opera.

But one has to applaud PM Lee for his honesty. He does not resist taking jibes at the opposition and their inability to provide upgrading services, simply by being the opposition. This time, at least, he has more tact and no longer claims to ‘fix’ the opposition, unlike 2006.

Political constructs built with the purpose of keeping the incumbent authoritarian party in power do not disappear overnight. Lazy voters especially, only take the path of least mental resistance, towards the only party they’ve been familiar with their whole lives.

If you’re the biggest bully in the playground, and your father happens to be the contractor who built the playground, there’s no point pretending to be humble.

Each and every fixture in the playground has a purpose, and this is for the good of all who have a stake in it. Non-Constituency Member-of-Parliament schemes? A good transition for opposition politicians to break into ‘real’ politics. Nominated Member-of-Parliament provide more substantive debate than NCMPs?

But of course! That was by design. Using public infrastructure as incentives for the public to vote for the incumbent? Ah-bor-den? Without the PAP, you wouldn’t even have public infrastructure because politicians would be too busy tearing each other apart to take care of you.

The PAP system was built so well that the best losing and nominated opposition MPs can speak but not vote on budget and constitutional matters. This results in a wayang for public entertainment, without the government policies being actually affected. Lacklustre entertainment as it may be, with MPs falling asleep in parliament, this wayang provides fodder for political conversation yet spares the lazy voter from thinking too much, or taking time off from more important matters.

Why? Because it’s only talk, no action. Don’t need to worry.

Unlike our neighbours up north, so frequently cited as an example of freedom gone wrong, Singapore has little chance of becoming an actual democracy even though PM Lee might actually have a chance of losing. Political constructs built with the purpose of keeping the incumbent authoritarian party in power do not disappear overnight. Lazy voters especially, only take the path of least mental resistance, towards the only party they’ve been familiar with their whole lives.

So why fret? Root for the quiet kid building his sandcastle in the corner. He doesn’t have that many friends, and the bully doesn’t need you anyway.

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Yes, we (look like we) can

Yes, we (look like we) can

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Will the image of a Singapore politician change in the next General Elections?

By Justin Zhuang

A WEEK after a bear was sighted at Ulu Pandan, another bear was out on the loose at Bukit Panjang. This time around, no one panicked when they saw it – some stopped to take pictures, while children even went up to touch this brown bear.

Unlike the earlier sighting that turned out to be a publicity stunt for Philips Electronics gone wrong, this one got the right attention and seemingly done the impossible: getting Singaporeans to openly embrace the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) – in the form of their new mascot, Danny the Democracy Bear.

Photos: SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Two years ago, in the place of Danny would have been the political party’s secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan, who instead of wearing a cute red t-shirt printed with ‘I ♥ SDP’ would have had one hand painted in angst with ‘Democracy Now’.

But like the Ulu Pandan ‘bear sighting’, this old image of SDP only attracted the attention of the authorities to hunt them down, and made Singaporeans hysterical.

Danny the mascot marks a change in strategy for SDP.

Once notorious in the eyes of the public for being a nuisance through its campaign of civil disobedience in the last decade, it seems the SDP now wants to win over the electorate by replacing its fiery brand of politics with something more friendly and fuzzy instead.

Such ‘branding’ of politics is hardly a recent phenomenon, but it’s something less talked about in public as most politician would rather stick to their policies and programs.

In the 2008 US presidential elections, however, it came to the forefront with Barack Obama’s successful campaign that showed how branding, graphic design, and popular culture could propel a relative newcomer like him to victory.

Since then, much has been written about how Obama successfully cultivated his branding and projecting an image down to the right font that sold himself to becoming the President of America.

In Singapore, the tight laws and regulations governing political expression have restricted the marketing efforts of political parties, which have been rudimentary at best.

One of the most successful ones is the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) white-on-white uniform that became iconic when a recent history book about the party was titled, “Men In White”.

Men in White, 1988. Picture: NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SINGAPORE

This uniform with a party pin instantly bestows any wearer the status of a PAP member and its associated symbols of purity and integrity. In recent years, other parties have also put in similar efforts to cloth themselves in their party brand.

The Workers’ Party (WP) goes with light blue shirts in line with its history of standing up for blue-collared workers, while members of one of the newest parties, The Reform Party, are often seen wearing yellow shirts.

Other efforts to brand a party have turned up in pins, newsletters and posters, though its quality varies vastly.

For instance, when one looks through the archival collection of election posters over the last four decades, one can see why the PAP has been so successful in elections.

Most parties have been contented with plastering their posters with their candidate’s photo and name, the party’s logo and name (often in all four official languages), and even a plea to ‘Vote for…’.

People's Action Party, 1980. Pictures: NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SINGAPORE

Worker's Party, 1980.

In contrast, the PAP’s posters look disciplined, clear, and distinct. The party has also consciously designed its campaign posters, juxtaposing images and text to visually communicate its slogan and messages.

One reason for such professionally designed materials is probably how much resources the PAP has access to, although one also has to take into account that election rules limit the budget for each candidate.

PAP, 1980.

PAP, 2006

PAP, 1988. Pictures: NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SINGAPORE

But, of course, a poster alone cannot win you an election. If it did, the 1980s election posters of then WP’s J.B. Jeyaretnam were not deserving graphically to break the PAP’s monopoly of Parliament.

Neither were the SDP’s posters of 1991; the year when the party helped the opposition win the most number of seats since 1963. It wasn’t visually attractive materials that helped these two politicians win a seat in Parliament, but it certainly mattered how the public saw them.

The late Jeyaretnam with his fiery rhetoric was seen by many as a symbol of the ordinary man’s rage against the PAP machine, winning him two successful election victories.

A much more lasting image appeared in the 1991 elections in the form of then SDP’s secretary-general Chiam See Tong.

His party won three seats that year as Chiam had successfully sold himself in the previous elections and won it for the first time. His character and style showed how politics could be quiet and gentle, in contrast to the fiery battles between Jeyaretnam and PAP’s Lee Kuan Yew, winning over a new generation of voters.

SDP, 1984. Picture: NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SINGAPORE.

This heralded the arrival of the new image of a Singapore politician, including the likes of WP’s Low Thia Khiang and PAP’s new leader Goh Chok Tong.

In the 1991 elections, Goh tried unsuccessfully to re-brand the party, promising a ‘open and consultative style of government’, but they still lost an unprecedented number of seats.

Perhaps, the no-nonsense politics of Goh’s predecessor was still synonymous with the PAP in the voters’ eyes. Proof that this new image of the Singapore politician was established can be seen in the fortunes of SDP since the 1997 elections.

By then, Chiam had left the party after falling out with his protege, Dr Chee. While Chiam went on to start the Singapore Peoples’ Party and continued his reign in Potong Pasir in the last decade, SDP went down the route of civil disobedience under Chee and has yet to receive popular support.

But it can be argued that the SDP has been the most innovative political party under Dr Chee. Beside cuddly bears and demonstrations, it was the first party to put up Internet podcasts before it was found to contravene elections rules. Now it publishes regularly on its website, Facebook and even produce its own videos.

The SDP has successfully caught the attention of the public, but translating it into votes and projecting the ‘right’ image of itself has been more difficult.

So what will be the image of a winning politician in the next general elections? With a Singapore electorate that is more cosmopolitan and sophisticated, it is no longer enough for a party to do nothing to take care of its ‘image’ but to build upon it.

As compared to Obama’s campaign, the political parties in Singapore have taken a very conservative view of branding and marketing themselves, if they even bothered at all.

They’ve stuck to the politics and kept it straight, and perhaps rightly so. After the 2006 elections, the PAP tried to engage the new generation of voters with its ‘P65’ Members of Parliament.

Born after independence, this new slate of MPs were supposed to be cooler, and they tried to hip-hop and blog their way to the hearts of Singaporean youths. Probably because it was an establishment project, it was an ‘epic fail’. The P65 blog has since been revamped and the P65 tag is less used now.

So will SDP and its Danny the Democracy Bear tank too? Will the electorate see it as a gimmick and even a joke? And can the image of a raging Dr Chee ever be replaced by a fuzzy bear?

Photo: M LEE

After the last two decades, the quiet and gentle politician may no longer be enough to engage an increasingly apathetic electorate.

Obama’s win has shown that a new generation is waiting to be roused, entertained, and even educated – if you’ve got the style. This is something that is missing in our politics here today.

It’s no longer just about substance, but in our image world today, you have to look like you have it too.

United PAP, divided Opposition?

United PAP, divided Opposition?

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More work needed to increase credibility of the Opposition.
By Terence Lee

Chee Soon Juan (left) and Chiam See Tong talk after being presented with appreciation gifts by The Online Citizen, organiser of the Face to Face forum. The two had an acrimonious past while working together at the Singapore Democratic Party.

Chee Soon Juan (left) and Chiam See Tong talk after being presented with appreciation gifts. The two had an acrimonious past while working together at the Singapore Democratic Party. Picture from THE ONLINE CITIZEN.

LAST WEEK’S Face to Face forum, which gathered all the major opposition parties into a hotel ballroom, was fascinating in many ways. Rarely do you find them gather in such posh settings, under air-conditioning that actually works.

I am more accustomised to see them hawk party newspapers at the food centre near Bedok MRT and shouting party slogans in their polo-tees.

Images of Chiam See Tong, secretary-general of the Singapore People’s Party, conducting his Meet-the-People Sessions at the HDB voiddeck comes to mind too.

The forum was orchestrated down to the minutest detail – including how the opposition members came in, which seats they occupied, and the time allowed to ask and answer questions. The format of the Q & A session was deliberate: Choo Zheng Xi, moderator of the forum, told me that it’s same model used for the US elections.

But the event seemed like a kick-ass public relations exercise for the Opposition.

Chiam, the most seasoned of the group and the first to come through the front door, was promptly greeted with warm applause. As he sauntered up the stage, he was helped to his seat by Goh Meng Seng of the National Solidarity Party.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, whose arrival at the political scene once led to Chiam’s ousting from the Singapore Democratic Party, shook hands with his former mentor. Chee exchanged pleasantries with Chiam, displaying no sign of animosity.

There’s no doubt who was the star that night. Although Chiam’s voice was sometimes weak and muffled, the audience hung on to his words and heckled when he poked fun at the PAP. Although past his prime, his piquant wit was still on display.

…given the similar ideologies and outlook of these political parties, I am surprised more isn’t done to promote common causes between them.

The event painted a picture of a united opposition front, and Chiam is the leading advocate of that unity. His formation of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), a conglomerate of three political parties, represents his crowning achievement in bringing together disparate tribes.

But conflict had erupted around the totem pole. Late last year, rival factions from the Singapore Malay National Organisation, or PKMS, took their infighting literally to the streets. Five people were injured.

This year, a spat between right-hand man Desmond Lim and himself became public. Chiam attempted to oust Lim as the sec-gen of the SDA, but the Supreme Council of the Alliance rebuffed him by voting that Lim serve out his full two-year term.

The Alliance’s inability to keep their house in order has hurt the Opposition’s image, especially among those with a mild interest in politics. The PAP, on the other hand, have presented themselves as a cohesive fighting team. You don’t see Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan strangulate National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan in public.

Internal dissent, if present, is either congenial or unpublicised. Perhaps the presence of strongman Lee Kuan Yew and an obliging mainstream media helped.

Such public spats wouldn’t matter if this is the United States, where senators and representatives frequently clash with one another and vote against party line. But here, disunity is seen as a sure sign of weakness.

Seen in this context, the forum became a perfect opportunity for the Opposition to rehabilitate their image. And they took full advantage of it.

Speaking to Goh and Gerald Giam of the Worker’s Party, I seemed to get the sense that all is well and dandy within the Opposition. Oh, we’ve never gotten along so swimmingly well, they said. They mentioned as proof about how cross-party talks occur frequently behind the scenes – an uncommon occurence in the past.

Goh added that no singular platform for the Opposition is necessary, and avoiding three-cornered fights is a sufficient form of cooperation. Diversity is good, he said.

But given the similar ideologies and outlook of these political parties, I am surprised more isn’t done to promote common causes between them. Lower ministerial pay, greater civil liberties and political freedom, a stronger social safety net, and greater transparency in governance – these are pillars around which a common platform can arise.

Perhaps a flexible arrangement that takes into account the differences in the factions while spelling out the similarities would work. Putting up a common, broad manifesto would be a good first step. Establishing cross-party research teams to develop alternative policies is a possibility, and so are issuing joint press releases to denounce certain government policies as the situation calls for it.

These small, but workable ideas could help convince a skeptical electorate that the Opposition is worth voting for. When all the streams flow as one river, you hear the deafening rush of water.

Government to blame for Singaporean’s housing woes: Opposition

Government to blame for Singaporean’s housing woes: Opposition

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HDB’s housing policy skewered at townhall meeting between opposition party leaders and ordinary Singaporeans.

By Terence Lee

What Mah Bow Tan would have said

We can be sure the minister would put up a spirited defense for HDB if he was there. Looks like imagination will suffice. Below is a summary of what he probably would have said:

HDB has good reason to resort to market-based pricing.
“A cost-based system means that the same price would be charged for different flats in the same project, regardless of their location, floor, direction, and other attributes. It would be unfair for the buyer of a second-floor unit to be charged the same price as a 40th-floor unit with an unblocked view, because the latter would clearly fetch a much higher resale value.”

HDB’s financial reports show that the housing agency has been losing money.
“Some have contended that with the market-minus pricing, the HDB is making money from Singaporeans. This is quite wrong. Every year, the HDB publishes its audited financial accounts. In these accounts, the HDB’s proceeds from the sale of new flats are shown to be far below what it costs the HDB to build them. Over the last three years, the average loss on the sale and development of HDB flats was about $600 million a year.”

HDB flats are affordable.
“Whichever objective measure we choose, it is clear that there are enough HDB flats within reach of today’s homebuyers. They range from smaller, no-frills flats in non-mature estates to premium flats in mature estates, catering for different aspirations and budgets (see table above). I hope buyers choose carefully, taking into account their budgets and aspirations. Housing affordability is decided not just by the options offered by HDB but also the choices of homebuyers.”

For deeper reading

If you want to understand the issue better.

Pricing flats according to their value. By Mah Bow Tan for Today.

Are HDB flats affordable? By Mah Bow Tan for Today.

Housing minister’s frustratingly incomplete sales job, part 1. By Alex Au for Yawning Bread

Housing minister’s frustratingly incomplete sales job, part 2. By Alex Au for Yawning Bread

HDB Annual Report : Deficit has doubled – really? By Leong Sze Hian for The Online Citizen.

IF THE Housing Development Board (HDB) was a lady, then she must have felt dejected. Opposition party leaders let rip yesterday at the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) for over two hours, with the HDB bearing much of the criticism.

Curious timing indeed, considering how National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan was just recently left out of the ruling party’s Central Executive Committee for obscure reasons.

Exciting theatre might have resulted if he, or at least a Member of Parliament (MP), was there to defend her. But while one MP did express interest in attending, he was “unable to seek clearance”, said Mr Choo Zheng Xi, co-founder of The Online Citizen, the current affairs website that organised the event.

Not to say that the meeting, dubbed the “political event of the year”, wasn’t exciting enough. Turn by turn, opposition leaders lampooned the government in response to a question from the floor on HDB pricing.

More transparency, please

Mr Chiam See Tong (Singapore People’s Party), Dr Chee Soon Juan (Singapore Democratic Party), and Mr Chia Ti Lik (Socialist Front) expressed concern about the apparent lack of transparency in the government outfit’s financial accounting.

“We need to make sure that the HDB remains a zero-profit venture,” said Chee, adding that this can be achieved if they reveal the exact breakdown of development costs for HDB flats.

Chiam, an old stalwart of the opposition force, was more biting in his criticism.

Wary of what he calls “paper subsidies” issued by the government, he illustrated how the HDB prices flats at $3 when it is in fact worth only $1. They then sell the flat to Singaporeans at $2.50, calling that a discount.

“We’ve all been hoodwinked to believe that the govt is helping them with housing but actually they are not,” he warned.

Another common criticism raised by the opposition leaders was the supposed lack of foresight by the HDB, which led to the rapid rise in resale flat prices earlier this year.

Said Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam (Reform Party), who graduated with Double First Class Honours from Cambridge University: “They’ve done a poor job of managing supply. Over the last ten years, house-building has tapered off while population has grown enormously.”

The government’s immigration policy, which saw a massive influx of foreign workers and expatriates into the nation, was a major factor in the population growth, charged Mr Gerald Giam (Worker’s Party).

Offering solutions

In order to mitigate the high costs of flats and make them more affordable for Singaporeans, Giam advocated that these apartments should be fully paid with a 20-year housing loan instead of the usual 30.

“The price of new HDB flats should also be pegged to the median income of Singaporeans rather than price of surrounding flats,” he said.

More solutions were offered by the other political parties, although insufficient time was devoted to explaining these alternatives in great detail. The audience, consequently, were left with little chance to consider whether these policies were half-baked or solid.

Chia, for one, promoted the idea of create a separate category of flats for young couples and needy Singaporeans which has a lower price scale and a shorter lease period which further drives down costs.

Jeyaretnam, on the other hand, saw merit in allowing residents to own their flats indefinitely so that they can enjoy the profits reaped from rising property values. But Mr Goh Meng Seng (National Solidarity Party) does not favour this approach.

“You do not use home as investment; you use your property as an investment,” he said.

In addition, Goh added that couples applying for resale flats should not receive housing grants because such practices inadvertently raise prices by fueling demand.

Implementing something like that though could be tricky, considering how unpopular such a policy might become. But he is undeterred, believing that politicians are responsible for selling difficult measures to the skeptical masses.

Giam agreed that unpopular policies are usually flawed ones.

“The government’s immigration policy was bad, but they had this dogma that they must bulldoze an unpopular policy through Parliament. They did not consider that if many people voice out, then it may be wrong,” he said.

Do share with us whether you agree with the Opposition’s proposals on lowering HDB flat prices.

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