Tag Archive | "Terence Lee"

F-word was no big deal

F-word was no big deal

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Harmless speech by a NTU valedictorian blown out of proportion by sensationalist media and moral police.

By Terence Lee

“WE FUCKING did it!”

I can’t imagine how that swear word, spoken at the end of a valedictorian speech by Trinetta Chong in Nanyang Technological University, could create such a media circus and capture the attention of the entire nation (almost).

The news report made the front page Lianhe Wanbao, a trashy Chinese tabloid, followed by The New Paper, well-known for twisting facts and misquoting interviewees. Soon, people all over the Internet were yakking about it.

I was there when it happened, as one of the happy graduates donning the silly gown and mortar board. I honestly wasn’t offended by the speech and — gasp — I even felt it was appropriate and resonated well with the students.

(Wan Bao headline: Caucasian professor supports vulgar-mouthed girl. Quote: Using the F-word was not a big issue)

Save for the speech and the moment my fellow cohorts went up to receive their transcripts, I found the entire ceremony dreary and overly formal. At the beginning, the professors walked in line at an excruciatingly slow pace to the sound of regal music —  five minutes was what it took to get from the back of the hall to the stage.

The national anthem played twice, once at the beginning of the proceedings and another at the end, like assembly in secondary school. How nolstalgic.

It took some crazy students to shake things up with their on-stage antics and make the event less like a ceremony and more like a party. And the speech brought the event to its appropriate climax.

Not everyone was pleased, of course, and Wan Bao capitalized on this with their report questioning the use of the swear word. Predictably, some parents complained, which was not entirely unexpected. Some members of the public chimed in too, complaining about how inappropriate it was.

What we’re seeing is a clash of values: Between a dressed-down faction less accustomed to arbitrary rules of behavior and our buttoned-up, more traditional peers and predecessors who are used to obeying such regulations and seeing it enforced. We saw it manifested in the ceremony itself. Clearly, the attendees have divergent visions about what a convocation is about, and both the student body and university administration tried to define it in their own terms.

The speech encapsulated what people like us have been feeling for a long, long time: That we feel constrained and helpless in a regimented society governed by arbitrary rules that make no sense; and that we admire that someone, who even for the briefest of moments, dared to rebel.

The difference is in some ways generational, with the the younger, millennial generation  much less tolerant of customs and traditional rules. Perhaps the younger folks have come to see how hypocritical many rule enforcers really are.

Our generation has witnessed how religious authorities, particularly certain Roman Catholic priests, have time and again succumbed to predatory sexual behavior despite their own strict code of conduct.  Or cue politicians who preach one thing but do another. Or our local media, who in this instance sensationalized what was essentially a harmless incident into the Greatest Moral Crisis of the Century — all for the sake of feeding their fat, overweight, coffers.

There’s no mistaking the fact that us millennials  do have morals, but instead of one code of conduct, we have codes of conduct.

We’re a generation that is more tolerant of differences, but less tolerant of conformity. Standing out is the new cool, which was why we gave the valedictorian a standing O. We are far more adept at seeing beyond the rules of society, and peer into its soul. In other words: Authenticity rocks, hypocrisy doesn’t. Honestly, has The New Paper done any better by using ‘f**king’ as opposed to ‘fucking’ (or f*cking, for that matter)? Is there really any difference at all? Who defines these rules anyway, and who is to say what is right and what isn’t?

So far, reactions by my peers to these media reports have been defiant. And judging by the reactions on the Internet, it looks like most people of my generation don’t really think it’s a big deal either. In fact, the speech and media coverage that followed probably inspired more swearing.

Beyond just being great fun, I felt the speech encapsulated what people like us have been feeling for a long, long time: That we feel constrained and helpless in a regimented society governed by arbitrary rules that make no sense; and that we admire that someone, who even for the briefest of moments, dared to rebel.

The sad reality is that many of us would most probably leave that spirit behind the moment we step into the workforce and become part of the very system that we find so restraining, or when we raise kids of our own and find ourselves needing to enforce rules that our kids will one day fight against.

Or we could choose to do otherwise.

So is there global warming or not?

So is there global warming or not?

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New NASA data contradicts computer model’s predictions on global warming, author claims.

By Terence Lee

An alarming climate change protest. Photo: ItzaFineDay / Creative Commons

The alarming thing about the premises of global warming is that it is supposedly based on solid science and competent research. But alarmingly, much of public opinion is based on nothing but faith in science and the scientific establishment behind them, which sometimes alarms us for the wrong reasons.

Now, in an article on the Forbes blog, James M. Taylor, the senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News (which has been accused of being right wing), highlighted an alarming research study that seemingly casts doubt on what we assume we know. It turns out that climate scientists may have been working on flawed computer models after all.

He wrote alarmingly that “the study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.”

He goes on: “In short, the central premise of alarmist global warming theory is that carbon dioxide emissions should be directly and indirectly trapping a certain amount of heat in the earth’s atmosphere and preventing it from escaping into space. Real-world measurements, however, show far less heat is being trapped in the earth’s atmosphere than the alarmist computer models predict, and far more heat is escaping into space than the alarmist computer models predict.”

How alarming.

For non-science specialists like me, these articles just add to the confusion. Perhaps an unalarmed scientist would like to enlighten us on what is happening.

Why public toilets are unfair to women

Why public toilets are unfair to women

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Bad toilet design, for one, but also social and cultural reasons.

By Terence Lee

Photo: LYDIA / Creative Commons

WOMEN in many countries face a perennial problem: Long queues at the toilets. Blame it on biology: While men can pee standing up, women who attempt to do create a stinky puddle of mess.

We men suffer too when the toiletry needs of women are not met. We’re forced to wait and carry their Kate Spade bags, filled with a weird assortment of “essential” stuff like makeup kits, tissue paper, and soft toys.

An unnecessary inconvenience really, when we should all be spending the time on shopping — for more Kate Spade bags.

Which is why the problem of inadequate toilet facilities for women deserves the attention of legislators, architects, and bureaucrats, which are positions dominated by men, by the way.

The good news is, Homo Sapians have come a long way from their barbaric past.

Clara Greed, a professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of West England, writes: “…Women’s right to urinate has not been as easily accepted, certainly not in the open and often not in any sense of public space…the lack of toilet provision for woman…was no oversight but part of (a) systematic restriction of women’s access to the city of men.”

Things are certainly changing. In developed countries, female lavatories are de rigueur, although long queues are still an unresolved issue in some parts of the world.

Take Singapore as an example, a developed country with an advanced economy, where public facilities are topnotch and well-maintained (at least the places where tourists visit). But toilets still stink, and the queues are still long. Cinema lavatories, especially, often look as if a Sale is happening right inside.

Says Cherissa Ong, a 23-year-old recent graduate: “After a movie, I desperately needed the toilet because of the drinks I consumed. I ran to the toilet only to be greeted by an extremely long queue. After I did my business and came out, I saw that the woman behind me was still queuing. I wonder what they do in the cubicle?”

Rasyida Sam, a young corporate communications executive, faces this problem often too: “I’m especially impatient when it comes to long queues at the toilet, especially if it’s during the peak hours or when I’ve to rush…sometimes I just decide to ditch the idea of waiting in the queue and hold my pee. Truth!”

The recalcitrant toilets they cited include the ones outside the cinemas at Junction 8 and The Cathay, as well as within shopping malls like Bugis Junction and Plaza Singapura.

Women spend about 79 seconds in the loo, almost twice more than men, who clocked out at 47 seconds.

Granted, some developers in Singapore do display some enlightened feminist sensibilities.

Suntec Convention Centre and The Singapore Expo feature extra toilets for women, although long queues still exist whenever at events like IT fairs (Singaporeans are crazy about gadgets).

Newer cinemas like Kallang Leisure Park and the newly renovated Shaw Theatres Lido boast cavernous toilets with a jaw-dropping amount of cubicles. In Kallang, the loo right outside the cinema has 15 toilet seats. At Lido, I was told the female toilet there has some 20 cubicles.

So, Singapore is on its way towards “potty parity”, although more creative solutions exist to mitigate the problem.

But before we go further, let’s resolve a question that’s been haunting men since sex separation occurred in public lavatories: Why such long queues?

I’ve touched on the architectural reason: Toilets just aren’t big enough for the ladies.

Here’s another: A bevy of studies in the 80s showed that women spend a hell lot of time in the toilet (not that we need research to know that). But Anh Tran, then a Cornell undergraduate, found that women spend about 79 seconds in the loo, almost twice more than men, who clocked out at 47 seconds.

What is not as black-and-white is what accounts for the difference. But we can hazard a few guesses. Biology matters, for sure, but so do social and cultural reasons.

Women are commonly thought to treat toilets as a social experience; where friends bond over the sanitary pad.

Men, on the other hand, find talking in toilets taboo. The strong, silent types have a decidedly utilitarian approach: Unzip, pee, zip. Sex acts revolving around the glory hole, where a man puts his penis through a hole in a cubicle for another man to suck off, also feels somewhat detached (unless you later find out it was your dad’s dick in your mouth).

Perhaps social pressure for women to look good results in extended toilet stays. The loo, in sociologist Erving Goffman’s language, is our backstage area where we preen ourselves for the world. Men only need to fix their hair, but women… has to do whatever they do in there.

Lastly, the female gender’s role as primary caregivers to children is a factor. Women have to breastfeed and change diapers. They are also more likely to lug children around with them.

There are many creative solutions to the lack of potty parity, other than simply building bigger toilets for women. We just have to look to advanced European countries like Netherlands and Sweden, which are paradises for feminists.

The first solution involves changing women’s toilet behaviour, by enabling them to pee standing up. Devices existing out there do just this: They’re called she-pees, or she-wees, which are basically water-proofed cupboard funnels which you place under the vagina.

Can this humble contraption bring potty parity?

Singapore-based liquid waste management company QoolEnviro has even imported a similar contraption, the P-Mate, from Netherlands, where women happily use urinals to pee (see our product review here).

Granted, behaviour change takes time, and Singaporeans are not exactly queueing up to buy the device.

The second solution, already widely implemented in Sweden, involves installing permanent unisex toilets in public areas.

This arrangement has many benefits: Demand for toilet usage is more evenly distributed across all cubicles, awkwardness generated when transgendered people use lavatories is eliminated, and self-contained unisex toilets (like portable loos) are more efficient when it comes to cleaning.

Furthermore, we’re more familiar with the concept than we think. Airplane toilets and portable loos are unisex, and we accept their existence.

Of course, installing them in a shopping mall requires a paradigm shift. Some women understandably, are uncomfortable with the idea.

“Some men can’t aim. Do I need to elaborate more?” says Cherissa.

Rasyida, on the other hand, having seen how such toilets are implemented in Sweden, embraces the idea: “If we have unisex toilets where one specific cubicle has everything including the sink and mirror, it could be a feasible concept. Much like the handicap toilet.”

As for me, well, I’m all for unisex toilets — if it cuts down the time I spend waiting for my girlfriend.

Read more toilet articles here.

A toilet experiment

A toilet experiment

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Why staying in the public toilet for hours and observing urinal usage qualifies as an intellectual exercise.

By Terence Lee

Photo: MICHAEL COGHLAN / Creative Commons

GUYS, ever encountered someone who stared at your dick while you peed at the urinal?

I’m not talking about those discreet sideway glances, which we’re all guilty of (admit it). I’m referring to blatant stares that make the uncomfortable act of exposing your genitals to the world even more unbearable.

Chances are, that douchebag is probably a sex pervert (see story about one such encounter). Or someone with severe ego issues.

We find such acts disturbing or even immoral because toilets, like it or not, are governed by unwritten social norms. Toilets are social places, just like the rest of society; they are used and designed by people, and therefore reflect mainstream norms and beliefs.

An example of such a norm is what I would call the “one-urinal-spacing” rule. Here’s an illustration:

Dr John Paul, an American Sociology professor, asked students to pick which urinal they would pee in when they encounter a scenario similar to the above. He found out that most guys chose the leftmost one.

Why? Here’s how one student put it: “You have to give yourself space between you and some other dude; otherwise people will think there is something wrong with you.”

But I wonder: Does this apply to Asian — and Singaporean — males too?

Anecdotally, the answer appears to be ‘yes’. But my curiousity got the better of me, so I decided that I had to find out.

Here’s what I did: I conducted a non-scientific experiment where I stayed for extended periods of time in a public toilet one afternoon. A sample size of 50 was collected — not urine samples, mind you.

Rather, I sought 50 observations: In a scenario where Guy A could choose an urinal right next to Guy B or one further away from him, what would Guy A choose?

Simple enough? Not quite.

Major disclaimer: I did not violate anyone’s modesty. I did not take any pictures, nor did I attempt to establish contact with my subjects. Believe me, the whole experience left me quite uncomfortable and possibly traumatised (the sacrifices I make for journalism!).

Picking the right toilet was tricky. Since I had to stay in the toilet as discreetly as possible for minutes at a time to not arouse suspicion, it had to be properly air-conditioned otherwise I’d die of heat exhaustion. Also, the bigger the toilet, the better, since that affords me more discretion without alerting the cleaners.

Getting the right crowd was important too. Too many people, and you’re left with no empty cubicles. Too few, and you’ll end up suffocating under the putrid smell of human waste due to the extended staycation.

I sought a few rather pleasant toilets in a swanky shopping mall. But trust me, even if the decor is spiffy and the cubicle walls sound-proof, bad odour still travels farther than the spitter-spatter of shit leaving the bowels.

That made my two-hour rotation in the three toilets very unpleasant. First and last time, I swear.

But the results confirmed what the American sociologist reported. Out of 50 observations, only three chose to pee right next to a guy when given a choice. One was a young boy in an orange tee-shirt, who can be forgiven because he was probably ignorant of social rules. Another looked like he was in a hurry; an acceptable excuse.

Which leaves only one guilty offender.

So it does appear that Singaporean guys do respect private space in the public toilet, salvaging what little modesty we have left. As far as I know, none of the guys I observed consciously or blatantly violated another man’s privacy.

But what explains these unwritten social rules?

Dr Paul, in his paper, says that a lot of it has to do with society’s notion of masculinity. Boys are taught from young to avoid any behaviour that questions their heterosexuality, such as playing with a Barbie doll, or putting on makeup. Staring at someone’s peckers, therefore, could be perceived as a sign that one bats for the other team.

Toilets in Ancient Rome had no cubicles. Photo: THE MECHANICAL TURK / Creative Commons

Oxford University archaeologist Zena Karmash, in the book Toilet: Public restrooms and the politics of sharing, raises another possibility: Staring at an act of excreting was considered shameful even in Ancient Rome. Hence such a cultural convention seems pretty universal, and applies even today.

While archaeological evidence indicates that public toilets have no walls to separate toilet seats, much of the facility is shrouded in darkness, giving users privacy. Also, Romans are taught to discipline their eyes and avoid compromising glances, especially in public bathhouses where everyone is naked.

Zena notes that these concepts of shame and disgust could have an evolutionary origin, since avoiding human waste is a sure way of maintaining hygiene and increasing survival chances in a disease-ridden world.

Whatever the case, the next time you visit a public toilet, remember that if you want to live long enough to have progeny, please respect another’s privacy — and private parts — at the urinal.

Getting a black eye from hypermasculine gorillas who are insecure about their sexual orientation is just not worth it.

Read also: Talking about toilets

Read more toilet articles here.

Coming soon: Talking about toilets

Coming soon: Talking about toilets

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In the next two weeks, we’ll be poking at the topic of public toilets from all angles. Be prepared for loads of fun.

By Terence Lee

A toilet in Alcatraz. What did the prisoners do in there? Photo: TON HAEX / Creative Commons

NEXT to our bed, the office, and eating places, the toilet is probably the place where we spend the most time, although studies show that women spend almost twice the length of time in the lavatory as men.

Fortunately, women live longer too, which more than makes up for the time they spend preening in front of the mirror and fussing over tampons.

Let’s do a rough calculation: Assuming that a typical male spends fifteen minutes a day in the toilet, bathing, shitting, or masturbating, that works out to a total of 70 minutes a week, or 60 hours a year, or 200 days in a lifetime (assuming he lives till 80 years old).

For women, it could be a whole year.

So, if toilets are so important, why aren’t we spending as much time talking about it?

“You can judge the quality of a civilisation by the way it disposes its waste.” – American historian Lewis Mumford

In advanced economies, perhaps it’s because toilets are taken for granted.

In less developed countries, perhaps some places don’t even have toilets for someone to even begin talking about it.

Whatever the case, the New Nation editors decided that we should devote the next two weeks to it — a meagre effort at best, and surely not enough to turn toilets into a top ten dinner conversation topic.

But at least we want to start something.

So what can you expect? Plenty of toilet humour, for sure. And incidentally, we’ll feature discussions about social behaviour, gender inequality, the economy, health, and how all of these relate to the humble toilet.

Stay tuned as we bring you more good stuff.

In the meantime, check out our first in a series of toilet news!

Read more toilet articles here.

Singapore has world’s most enthusiastic police force

Singapore has world’s most enthusiastic police force

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Sure, its citizens love the police for keeping the country safe. But some of their actions come across as… bizarre.

Photo: DAVE CONNER / Creative Commons

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Police Force (SPF),  responsible for making Singapore a low-crime country (to the extent that it has to remind citizens that crime still happens in the little island), must be rubbing their hands in glee.

Lately, they’ve received press coverage on the scale of a publicists’s wet dream.

First, this Times of India report said that Google has ranked Singapore number one in the world per capita in terms of demanding that the Internet giant release certain information on individuals deemed criminal.

The question is: If Singapore is so crime-free, how come there are so many requests?

But nevermind. Google has said that they will comply as long as the authorities are following the rule of law in demanding information. Sounds reasonable? Wait till you hear this: Because Singapore has such a buffet spread of highly subjective and interpretive laws that restrict freedom of speech, any word perceived as mildly seditious could result in a hefty jail term and fine.

Which makes me wonder: How many of these people the police were checking up on really “criminals”. Or were they activists, politicans, and NGO workers?

Fortunately for most Singaporeans, their bark is often worse than their bite. But not if you’re a parking offender.

It’s stupid to skip an appointment in court just because you don’t want to pay your parking fines, sure. But, according to this report, the SPF decided to send out “30 police officers, several sniffer dogs, five police cars and four red Special Operations Command riot vehicles” to hunt the guy down.

Either the policemen must be really bored, or they know more than they’re letting on. Suicide bomber, maybe?

That’s not all.

In 2009, when a bunch of graffiti artists decided to spray some art on Singapore’s few LEGAL graffiti walls for the Palestinian cause, the authorities forbade them. Plain-clothed policemen even stationed themselves near the walls to ensure the rascals obey the government.

And two years before that, this local blogger documented that police took down information and videotaped a protest happening right in the heart of Orchard Road — involving Ultraman figurines.

Ludicrous as it sounds, Singapore is no China. But as much as I like a safe city, I sure am not appreciative of them policemen (and women) poking up the asses of upright citizens.

Go figure.

Know of a WTF News happening around the world? Tell us what you think of it and write to us at . Funny entries will be published.

Global niches

Global niches

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Solely focusing on hyperlocal content, in some cases, is the sure way to journalism hell.

Terence Lee

When New Nation first began, we envisioned it as a hyperlocal website — much in the vein of established Singapore players like The Online Citizen, Temasek Review, and Yawning Bread.

Heck, Shihan and I graduated from TOC, which is pretty much the most recognised independent current affairs group blog around today. Belmont had online journalism experience too, serving in an online campus paper where he met the love of his life.

With such a crowded field (since then many others — Satay Club, VFC etc — have spawned), we needed to differentiate ourselves, so we decided to go with an off-beat, tongue-in-cheek, rude and raunchy style — current affairs for the not-so-interested, the apathetic, and restless. We decided also to feature more lifestyle and finance content.

Well, we got flamed for it — by the folks at TOC no less. But that’s not the important point. For us, it was a matter of necessity: Being a TOC clone was a sure way to hell. In a crowded pond, the surest way to draw attention is to be different.

Fast forward to today. Our readership is almost double now post General Election than pre, although growth is slow.

And something else dawned upon me: Hyperlocal no longer seemed to make sense.

Hyperlocal works if you are the first-mover, a pioneer in a community underserved (or, if you have shitloads of money, like Yahoo!). When TOC went online, it was a wide open field: All the other fish had died or were still eggs. Now, there are too many publications and too little time: People have only 24 hours to spare.

When Shihan gamely approached Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, for advice on whether New Nation will work, he said no.

Reason? Singapore is too small a market. Amen to that. Of course, he said other things too, but that is for us to know.

I think Sivers made a very good point. Before the Internet existed, publications were limited by geographical boundaries. To be trans-national, you had to be rich enough to pay for shipping to get magazine into newsstands worldwide.

Today, the cost of starting and distributing content is much cheaper: You can even do it at zero monetary cost.

While this creates the problem of a long tail of Internet content that varies in quality, it creates another opportunity: The ability to distribute content to previously untapped niche areas that are unbounded by geographical limits.

They are what I call ‘global niches’.

Think goth culture. Or cosplayers. Or Little Monsters. These subcultures transcend nationality, because what they represent are values, ideas, and personalities, things which are easily transferable from one country to another.

Globalisation creates two phenomena: Homogenisation, where cultures melt into one, and heterogenisation, where cultures absorb elements from other cultures to form new ones. Both are happening at the same time.

And I believe this presents an untapped potential for publishers and content producers like ourselves: It is possible for a Singaporean to write something with global appeal without losing his/her local audience.

I suggested this to my fellow editors. I think broadly speaking, we embrace the idea of going international. But ideas are free, what matters is how we execute it. There are many challenges: How many global niches should we aim for, without losing ourselves? How do we retain reader loyalty with such a diverse crowd? How do we ensure our content gets picked up by the people we want to reach?

As a baseline, we still hope to reach out to Singaporean readers. We have amazing content planned that will continue to appeal to them. But starring at our naval isn’t going to get us anywhere in terms of readership and ultimately revenue. We need to aim higher.

Will the name New Nation continue to be relevant? When we began, I took the word ‘nation’ in its 20th Century meaning, that of a ‘nation-state’. We took the name from an old Singapore newspaper that no longer existed. That newspaper went defunct before the age of the Internet.

But perhaps our usage of the word has to evolve as well.

Does race, language, geographical distance, still matter today?

Yes, certainly. But their significance is diminishing.

Perhaps ‘New Nation’ can be a rallying call, a vision of an ideal future governed less by the colour of one’s skin than by the beliefs one holds.

In a connected world, that is certainly possible.

Is Singapore a renaissance city?

Is Singapore a renaissance city?

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Not quite, but it’s getting there. All the government has to do now is to become less of a control freak.

By Terence Lee

Crazy Horse is lame compared to nyotaimori --serving sushi on a naked women's body. Secret Cooks Club -- a private dinner club in Singapore -- organised one such session recently.

SOMETHING strange is happening in Singapore, the nipple of an island-state in South-East Asia that’s more well-known for caning naughty American brat Michael Fay and banning chewing gum.

It’s no longer boring.

For years, the liberal Western media have drilled into readers ad nauseam about Singapore’s human rights violations and strict government control on every aspect of their citizens’ lives.

Most recently, a German TV variety show ridiculed the country, claiming that Singaporeans with fever are barred from entering any building. “Singaporeans are not just crazy, they are tremendously crazy,” concludes the host of the show.

Singaporeans, predictably, went mad over it.

But I think being called “crazy” is a good thing. I’m sure Singaporeans will agree that being labelled as bonkers is a step up from “boring”. Remember that just a while ago, a local journalist was whacked silly by her countrymen for calling Singapore a stale place.

Perhaps we can attribute another trait to Singaporeans: Hard-to-please.

Think of it this way: People are more likely to visit Singapore if it’s a “crazy” place rather than a “boring” place, right? No harm swindling tourists of a few extra gazillion dollars just so they can ogle at exotic Asian women (which Singaporean man cannot get),  and buy a few kitsch souvenirs from exotic Chinatown (which locals find too plasticky).

These things aside, the perception towards Singapore amongst liberal Western know-it-all journalists are indeed showing signs of change.

Take this article by the New York Times, for instance, which talks about the expanding “cultural realm” in the island-state. Singapore has a developing art and indie fashion scene. And if you want food, there’s plenty, and in all varieties.

Another write-up, this time by the Guardian from the United Kingdom, expands on this theme, exploring Singapore’s “culinary renaissance”. Secret dinner clubs are thriving in Singapore, and one of them, Secret Cooks Club (which is no secret anymore), recently held a dinner with sushi served on a naked woman.

If that isn’t crazy and sexy, I don’t know what is!

There are more examples.

The Pink Nipple swells.

Just a few days ago, a record 10,000 supporters donned pink and turned up at the Speaker’s Corner to support the right for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender people to love and be loved. The event, called Pink Dot, culminated in the formation of a giant, well, pink dot on the field. In a country where homosexual sex is banned, such show of solidarity is astounding.

That same week, Echelon 2011, a fledging annual conference for tech startups, was held. Eager young entrepreneurs from Singapore and Asia converged at the National University of Singapore to display their wares and network with angel investors and venture capitalists from all around the world.

The highlight of the event was a competition where 11 startups from Asia pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges consisting of established entrepreneurs and investors. It’s no surprise who won: Lee Min Xuan, who co-founded Playmoolah with fellow Singapore belle Audrey Tan, impressed judges and the audience with her solid presentation and quick wit.

Just a flash in the pan, you say?

Not quite. Last year, local mobile security company tenCube was acquired by McAfee in a deal estimated to be worth about US$25 million, making CEO and founder Darius Cheung a very rich man.

And consider how Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and CD Baby founder Derek Sivers (both big names) have both made Singapore their home. I must say something is indeed brewing in the kitchen, and it smells really good.

That brings me to my next point: Singapore, as a renaissance city, is still a dish being cooked. It’s work in progress.

So far, the government has its hands in everything: Arts, media, business, and people’s sex lives. Yes, they care about who (or what) gets into your pants. No doubt, initial government support and funding is crucial to grow Singapore’s cultural and creative space. But letting go is crucial for maturation.

Already, this is slowly happening in the political realm, where laws governing politicking using social media were loosened. Just as importantly, no politicians were sued during the last elections.

But more can be done: Censorship of positive gay portrayals in the local TV channels still occur. In that space, gays are treated like bogeymen who are used to scare children. The Singapore entrepreneurial scene, while growing, can do with more mentorship and private funding.

As Singaporeans embark on a trip towards cultural and financial nirvana, I propose they smell the roses a bit more. Stop the car, pee in the bushes, shag your wives, and watch the sunrise together.

Alternative news websites like The Online Citizen and Temasek Review, while serving an important function in the country, whine way too much. They feed off the negative energy of angry Singaporeans, creating a vortex of discontent and pessimism.

And in the process, they forget that Singapore is in many ways the envy of the world.

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Presidential hopefuls can learn from Worker’s Party

Presidential hopefuls can learn from Worker’s Party

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White is out these days. Which is why pro-establishment figures won’t stand a chance in the coming Presidential Election.

By Terence Lee

Tan Kin Lian trying too hard to be David Copperfield.

WHEN the Worker’s Party swept into Parliament in May, it was largely because they hammered home their campaign slogan: “Towards a First World Parliament.”

Never mind that many of their policy proposals were lame: People were clamouring for more opposition voices in Parliament, and they got it.

And I hope Presidential hopefuls Tan Kin Lian, Tan Cheng Bock, and maybe even George Yeo and former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, were watching closely.

Because therein lies the key to riches, glory, power, and fame — maybe not riches, because the Presidential salary is expected to be slashed.

But here’s the deal: Whichever candidate that comes across as the most independent-minded and sensible stands a good chance of winning.

And not just that. He must be like the Rock — the People’s Champ. He must be perceived as the People’s President; an advocate for the voice of ordinary Singaporeans.

In other words, the Presidential hopefuls must strike a balance between lame dog S.R Nathan and mad dog Chee Soon Juan (version 1.0).

Why do I say this? Two facts to chew on:

1) People have grown more comfortable with dissident voices in Government

Very likely, this Presidential Election will be contested. The last time there was a dogfight for the position was in 1993 where Ong Teng Cheong ran against a reluctant Chua Kim Yeow, henceforth called The Other Guy.

Both Elections have one parellel: They came after a surge in Opposition support in the preceding General Elections.

In 1991, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) captured three seats in Parliament, and the opposition parties secured 39 percent of the votes. The SDP was still intact in 1993.

Ong Teng Cheong from a bygone era. Photo: LEE CHIN

According to Warren Fernandez, then writing as a journalist with the Straits Times, The Other Guy won a substantial 41.31 percent of the votes largely because of his independent streak. This despite how people got angry that his campaigning efforts were largely non-existent at the beginning.

“Opposition parties, which had earlier asked voters to spoil their ballots, began urging them to vote for Mr Chua instead. As polling day approached, the front-runner’s lead narrowed,” wrote Warren.

A few things here:

Ever since the People’s Action Party had a track record, they began harping on it like annoying insurance salesmen. Teng Cheong tried it, and the Men in White did it again in the last polls. But if the results were any indication, this track record will not always play sweet music.

The gap between the General Election and Presidential Election will only be three months at most, compared with two years in 1993. Which means the Men in Blue’s victory in Aljunied GRC is still fresh on people’s minds.

This could galvanise Singaporeans. George Yeo could benefit from his defeat should he decide to contest this time around. Tan Kin Lian, who is friendly with the opposition parties, would surely welcome an endorsement from them.

2) Less is at stake at picking a dissident President

Think Chiam See Tong’s by-election strategy, Presidential Edition.

Lee Kuan Yew is famous for invoking the bogeyman of Singapore politics — the freak election. What happens if the opposition parties win by a large margin, and form the Government despite their ineptness?

Fear-mongering, for sure, but not invalid. Technically, if everyone voted because they want more alternative voices in Parliament, disaster would befall Singapore. That’s because the Worker’s Party had said that they are not quite fit to rule.

No such concern for the Presidential Election.

The Singapore President has limited powers. The Cabinet will still be around even if you pick a rabid dog to fill the post, and so will the Prime Minister. Less is at stake.

Singaporeans will be less disincentivised from picking a dissident as President.

For sure, all the potential candidates so far are ex-PAP men. But all display some semblence of independent thinking. Right off the bat, Tan Cheng Bock portrayed himself as a vocal backbencher who was not afraid to say it like it is. He has the first-mover advantage in this campaign, although his support of the arrests of the so-called Marxist conspirators will disgust left-leaning voters.

George Yeo calls himself a “minority voice” in the “broad church that is the PAP”. He’s widely respected by moderate voices, and you can count on fangirl Xiaxue to campaign on his behalf again (not sure if that’s a good thing).

Tan Kin Lian’s claim to fame was when he organised a rally for investors of the High Notes and Minibonds investment products, which saw a turnout in the thousands. He’s the candidate that the opposition parties and supporters are most likely to endorse.

Tony Tan is, well, Tony Tan. Although he opposed the Graduate Mothers Scheme, his low profile in recent years will work against him. Should he decide to run, he has a lot of media schmoozing to do, although that won’t be a problem.

———

Already, online discourse has placed Ong Teng Cheong as the President by which the upcoming contenders will be measured against. That’s no surprise, considering his vocal opposition against the government, plus the fact that he was never given a State funeral.

Ironically though, the candidate that stands the best chance to win it all would be the one that can emulate The Other Guy’s campaign message: A “credible apolitical alternative”, they called him.

But scratch that “apolitical” bit; it’s an uncool term nowadays.




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Tip for the PAP: Build a church

Tip for the PAP: Build a church

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To win the next generation of voters, it needs to do something it has sucked at doing: Getting emotional.

By Terence Lee

Church.

I WILL never forget the day I attended the Worker’s Party rally at Serangoon Stadium, where the crowd of 40,000 roared in laughter whenever the speakers slammed the PAP, and where Singaporeans, led by the booming voice of Pritam Singh, recited the national pledge like they meant it. Putting it mildly, it was an awe-inspiring moment when we worshipped the sacred values that guide our nation.

It felt like church.

The only PAP rally I attended, which was in Yishun Stadium, was lame by comparison. There, nubile cheerleaders attempted to rouse wrinkly seniors to cheer, grassroots leaders sang praises of the PAP candidates for half-an-hour, and a small welcome party was planted to drape garlands on Shanmugam and Co. like they were kings.

And many in the crowd were not even true-blue PAP supporters. No pun intended.

Sure, there were small outbursts of spontaneity here and there, but it was nothing like what opposition commanded during their rallies.

The stark contrast signals an affective divide between the two camps. Sure, some of the opposition candidates are questionable, and some policy proposals downright ludicrous, but they have won the battle of attracting organic, ground-up support.

Even in the online sphere, the paragon of democratised participation, the discussion appears to be overwhelmingly anti-PAP.

So it’s pretty well-known that the pews for the Church of Lightning has been empty for decades, which means there are only two reasons why they are voted in again and again: Sheer technical competence and Lee Kuan Yew.

Sure, the PAP has to tweak and rethink some of its existing policies to win voters back. But more than that, it needs to win the hearts of both the online and offline community.

In the past, they had Lee Kuan Yew. With his charisma, intelligence, and iron-fist leadership, he brought Singapore out of the slums and inspired songs of praise. Schools were named after him, and even the uniquely Singaporean title of Minister Mentor was created for his sake.

Brutal as he may be, it’s hard not to like that son of a gun.

Fast forward to today. The Old Man has now stepped down from The Cabinet, leaving the son in charge. No doubt that PM Lee is an okay speaker, but I wouldn’t call him Obama-esque. But that’s okay, surely his party branding is there to pick up the slack?

Not really. Not when being “struck by lightning” has become a byword for the government’s heavy-handedness.

Sure, filling stadiums at rallies has never been an accurate way of predicting vote share. But it is a symptom of a deeper problem: Lack of emotional connection to the PAP.

Going forward, what the PAP has to do now is to win affection back from the 40 percent of Singaporeans that voted against them, and the untold numbers who voted for them only because the opposition sucked.

It’s time for the PAP to take a leaf from churches.

Religious entities excel at doing one thing: Building a strong network of supporters. A very successful one, City Harvest Church, attracts about 13,000 worshippers every week (despite its money-sucking practices, which makes it even more amazing).

Churches are successful at fostering strong emotive connections through music, social bonding, and preaching. They enforce moral values through weekly reminders at the pulpit, through monetary donatons and charitable work in social welfare organisations.

That is what the PAP needs. Instead of winning voters through facts and figures alone, it needs to encourage organic support in both online and offline communities, on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as well as in the kopitiams and neighbourhoods. It needs to address the moral issues that irritate voters, such as the unfair playing field in politics against the opposition, and the lack of a social safety net for the poor.

The PAP needs to carry a new message; a new vision. And they need to execute it. It needs to bring tears to my eyes, like George Yeo almost did.

Lee Hsien Loong, sad to say, cannot be the torchbearer of the new PAP because he is too tainted already. We need a new personality to front a rebranding effort; someone with a clean slate. Less boring old geezer, more Stevie Tyler authenticity (Chuan-Jin, I’m looking at you).

Relying on the Singapore brand like it did in the past will not do. As the last elections has showed, Singaporeans are now more comfortable with divorcing the Lightning from the Merlion. By voting in the Worker’s Party, they are comfortable with the idea that PAP/LKY is not Singapore, and vice-versa.

Sure, filling stadiums at rallies has never been an accurate way of predicting vote share. But it is a symptom of a deeper problem: Lack of emotional connection to the PAP.

Rallies also serve a useful purpose: It’s at such mega events that affiliations are reinforced, and thousands are inspired by the political pulpit.

In the next half a decade, the PAP will have to do a better job of becoming viral (not in the Tin Pei Ling way, please). For years, they’ve been saying that politics should be rational, calm, and measured. Yes, we need that. But voters are human beings: We need to be inspired, entertained, and engaged.

And when all the right buttons are pushed, that’s when we click that ‘share’ button on Facebook.

Our views on MM Lee and SM Goh’s exit

Our views on MM Lee and SM Goh’s exit

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Let’s be frank: We’re skeptical about their departure from The Cabinet.

By the editors of New Nation

Lovingly captioned from www.news.gov.sg

MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong called it a day as cabinet ministers on 14th May, 2011.

This is a momentous day, no? Honestly, we don’t know and we have yet to find out.

So does this mean both ex-PMs can no longer go around beating the other parliamentarians over their heads anymore? Or can they?

We can only wait to find out.

We have heard quite a bit from the mainstream media about what old, stuffy foggies have to say about this occasion.

Here at New Nation, the three editors with a combined age of 77 years old (which is only 10 years older than an average Straits Times reader), pick each others’ brains for the answer.

Here are our responses to four basic questions:

1. Where was I when I heard the news?
2. What does it mean to me?
3. Why now?
4. Is there an alternative meaning?

Lovingly captioned from www.asiaone.com

Terence’s response:

1. I was at home minding my own business. The first thing I remember doing after hearing the news was telling my dad about it.

2. I hope the move is just the first of many changes they’ll make. I think it’s an effective move, a sure crowd-pleaser for a population hungry for change. But the PAP cannot stop there; they need to dig deeper into existing policies and address issues Singaporeans are concerned about. Like skyrocketing HDB prices. Otherwise Singaporeans will move to JB.

3. I don’t find the timing at all surprising. The move is an admission that the two giants have lost touch with the ground. It’s just a pity they didn’t recognise this earlier; it’s like they have finally woken up from their slumber after being bitch slapped by a legion of Singaporeans.

4. The pressure is now on our Prime Minister to deliver change. Tactically, the move by the two Guardians of Singapura would force the government in a different direction. That’s because if Xiao Lee doesn’t deliver, the dramatic gesture would then look like mere tokenism, which wouldn’t sit well with the electorate. This is a moment that could define his legacy.

Belmont’s response:

1. I was in the car when my girlfriend got on and alerted me about it. That was about 630 p.m. (a bit late, I know) because I am usually woefully ignorant of anything earth-shattering as I still refuse to carry a smartphone.

2. The surprise of the announcement turned into skepticism in about three seconds. Why now? That’s the major question still bugging me since Saturday! Because does it really make a difference if both ex-PMs operated from outside the Cabinet? If Hu Jintao showed up next week bringing tea looking for His Leeness, it will still be official but in an unofficial manner, no? Business as usual in all aspects but title, right? Up till now, I’m still considering the shrewdness of such a move. This is politics so no one can ever take anything at face value.

3. The timing of such moves are always suspect because almost nothing in politics is not deliberate. Yes, the ground sentiment towards the PAP has turned foul in recent years, but both men could have ride it out, no? Reading the speculations online and the official explanation from the joint press statement released by both ex-PMs did not do much in sensing something else is brewing. Maybe I’m just paranoid.

4. I feel that His Leeness simply cannot exit this life holding onto the title of Minister Mentor because it just does not look good in his biography. What would historians say? They’ll say he is a tyrant. Or something like that.

Instead of controlling his people, SM Goh can now focus on controlling his weight.

Shihan’s response:

1. I stepped out of the shower and was watching a Taiwanese variety show while letting my hair dry. Partner’s mum broke the news to me and compared MM Lee stepping down to Japanese Ministers quitting after something goes wrong.

2. It means leadership renewal. Like really, instead of merely paying lip service. It also means that the PAP is finally taking voter sentiment seriously. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean anything much in terms of concrete change because the two fellas will still be serving as MPs, and will still command a sense of influence within the echelons of the elite. But a symbolic change is still better than no change at all.

3. Nao, because GE is just over and change just gave the PAP a big tight slap in the face. They have finally woken up their idea after a shocking 60% win and they’ve realised they somehow need to appease the masses. The online media has been building up MM Lee as demon without par so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s the first sacrifice. Also probably because he’s been making inchoate remarks to the international press the past few years and the foreign ministry’s tired of cleaning up his piss.

4. An alternative meaning to the retirement of MM Lee and SM Goh? Maybe MM Lee just wanted to retire and the cabinet didn’t want SM Goh to be promoted to MM. Might as well retire the both at once.

What are your thoughts on their exit from The Cabinet? Do share with us!

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Man kept out of two elections because he was homeless

Man kept out of two elections because he was homeless

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In 2006, he was barred because he did not have a residential address. This time around, he cannot vote because his name was struck off the register of electors.

Text and Photos: Terence Lee

Nick (centre), has his wife and friend for company. And the cats too. It's obvious that the decor of the house is bare bones: the floor is pure concrete, and the walls thinly painted. But Nick is fairly satisfied with his living environment. "It's actually quite spacious," he says, "nowadays even the HDB flats are getting smaller."

WHEN Nick Chan, 41, moved into a rental apartment in Dakota Crescent with his wife Katai, a Singapore permanent resident from Thailand, the house already had a furry resident.

Nick, of course, is referring to Ah Lai the orange cat, whom he was patting. The cat is one of five felines that regularly visit his small apartment for free meals.

The couple thinks they have something in common with this posse of cats, which also includes, Patches, Dopey, Stripey, and Hairball (the only female of the group).

“These cats are strays, like us, so we take care of them,” he says.

Every General Election, some Singaporeans will be left out on Polling Day, either because they are homeless, overseas, or in prison. For the homeless, some are fortunate enough to have their poll cards sent to the shelter they reside in. Others are excluded because they do not have a residential address.

 

A few days ago, Mountbatten PAP candidate Lim Biow Chuan dropped by to pass him these handouts: a box of cooling pads, and some cleaning wipes. Despite the gesture, Nick is still unhappy. "Why is he visiting me only now? What about the last five years?"

Forced to sell his house after a divorce in 2004, Nick had nowhere to go, except to live in his shop in Katong Shopping Centre. He sold comic books, a trade he still continues today. Although profit margins were negative, he got by on odd jobs and income from his wife’s work as a hairdresser in Golden Mile Complex.

He has a diploma in Information Technology from 20 years ago, but it was deemed worthless by employers.

At the lowest ebb of his life, he thought the very least he could look forward to was voting in the 2006 General Election. “I thought voting could give me a voice.”

But a call to the Elections Department brought him back to reality. It turned out that because he did not have a residential address, he was denied his voting rights. Although he was pissed at the limitations, he decided to let it slide.

“Poor also cannot vote, lan lan,” he says. At least I can vote in the next elections, he thought.

Tough luck.

Last Saturday, he was puzzled why he did not receive his poll card while all his friends got theirs. He called the Elections Department again, and the ensuing conversation outraged him.

They got married seven years ago in a simple ceremony. "I pitied him, that's why I chose him," joked the wife Katai. They got together when Nick was living in the shop. The small photo of the boy, above, is the wife's son who is residing in Thailand.

His name was struck off the register because he did not vote in 2006, but he claims he wasn’t informed about this. Worse, it was already too late to register for the coming elections, since the government had already issued the Writ of Elections.

But Nick swears he wasn’t at fault.

“They told me that they did send a letter to my place, but the address they sent to was an apartment I stayed in for only one month!” he says. He has never seen the letter.

“Why is it that five years ago, when I called, they didn’t tell me to register?” he quizzed the officer on the other line. But the civil servant kept insisting that he should have been told.

“I felt cheated, and worse, they seem to be saying I’m the one at fault,” he adds.

When Nick continued to press him, the officer decided to check his address on the computer system. It turned out that his Dakota residence was already reflected. Soon after moving to his new apartment four years ago, Nick ensured that he changed the address on his identification card.

“Why is it that after I ask them to check, they managed to find out my correct address? So why didn’t they send me another letter to my new address to ask me to register?”

In the end, the officer told him to reinstate his name for the Presidential elections, due in August. But he says it’s not the same, since he has no problem with President Nathan.

“He used to visit my comic shop before he became President,” he says, “he’s a nice gentleman.”

Nick believes the Elections Department can do a lot more to get voters involved in the political process. Asking voters to check the register of electors in the newspapers is hardly enough.

“What happens if I don’t like today’s copy of the Straits Times? Wouldn’t I miss the announcement?” he says. He wonders if the reason why the Elections Department does not spend much attention in reaching out to the homeless is because of their dissatisfaction against the ruling party.

“We’re more likely to vote against the PAP after all.”

When New Nation spoke to at least three other homeless folk, however, all of them said they would vote for the PAP.

But Arthur, 55, may not get to vote too. He is a construction engineer by trade who has exhausted much of his savings in a $300-a-month rental apartment. In the end, he was forced out and has been seeking refuge in a shelter for the past five months.

When he called the Elections Department on 2nd May, he was told that his polling station would be in Boon Keng, even though he cannot remember which constituency he’s in. But there’s a snag: He has not received his poll card, even though all voters are supposed to have gotten theirs by 3rd May.

The reason could be because he only changed the address on his identification card four weeks ago, which is way after the register of electors was finalised.“I really don’t know how am I going to vote,” he says.

 

Nick buys comics from places like the US, and sells them to interested buyers here. He stores these comics in his house.

On the other hand, Tay Teng Long, a 62-year-old former male nurse, will be voting on 7th May. He received his poll card through the mailbox located at the homeless shelter he resides in. “I’m perplexed though. The letter says I’m supposed to go to Marine Parade to vote, even though I don’t live there anymore.”

The address stated on his identification card is that of the shelter.Teng Long will be voting for the PAP, because he appreciates the $780 monthly pension he is receiving from the government. He used to work at Woodbridge hospital, a mental institution.“I don’t want to be ungrateful to the government, although I do think we need more checks and balances in Parliament” he says.

New Nation has contacted the Elections Department to find out more about their procedures. We have yet to receive a response.

For more pictures, click here.

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Confessions of the Virgin Voters

Confessions of the Virgin Voters

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New Nation presents a unique way of covering the elections.

By Terence Lee

Here's our first Virgin Voter graphic - the Schoolgirl Virgin Voter! Put this up on Facebook and make your confession.

THIS year, I will be voting for the first time, and so will my fellow editors (except Belmont, who’s an old timer). There are about 100,000 people like us; maiden voters who are about to catch the excitement of the polls.

While one of our writers has said that voting is like having sex, I disagree.

Voting is better than sex. Or chocolate. Why? Because while an average person is likely to do the dance countless times, contingent on the fact that he or she has the EQ to get laid, that same person may reach 80 and never get a chance to vote. Ever.

That’s especially true if you live in a constituency where no opposition dare to tread.

For the luckier ones, assuming we live till a 100 and the elections happen once every five years, we’d get at most 16 shots at the voting booth.

If I were you, I’d be super invigorated.

Therefore, we folks at New Nation want to celebrate the fact that we’ll be Virgin Voters. From today onwards, you’ll be hearing from many first-timers about their thoughts towards the elections, the candidates, and the proceedings.

Some of us will even be providing coverage of our respective constituencies, speaking to MPs, candidates, and voters. We’ll be attending rallies and walkabouts, giving you our unique take on the elections, through the eyes and dirty minds of a virgin voter.

Now, as you know, it takes two to tango.

While, we, the editors and writers of this humble online magazine, are eager to get off the starting block, we are counting on you, the reader, to contribute with us. Whether you are a virgin voter or a second timer, it doesn’t matter. And if you’re 60 and doing it for the first time, there’s no shame in that.

And we don’t care whether you’re pro-PAP, or anti-PAP, lesbian or straight, passionate or blah. Here’s how you can help:

1) Write for us. Or help with photography and making videos. Share your thoughts about the elections, and we’ll publish them. If you’d like to take this one step further and cover the elections in your constituency, do let us know too. Email us at [email protected] if you’re interested.

2) Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and share the gospel of the Virgin Voters with your heathen friends.

3) Share the pride of being a Virgin Voter using one of our unique Facebook display pics. We will be launching new ones every week on our Facebook page. Don’t like them? Why not create your own, and share it with your friends, and us?

Together, let’s make our first time a less scary one!

Key debates at Channel NewsAsia’s political forum

Key debates at Channel NewsAsia’s political forum

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Debate centred around economic issues; Opposition wins by a whisker.

By Terence Lee

On GST

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) assistant treasurer Vincent Wijeysingha advocated a zero-rate GST for basic services like food so as to alleviate pressure from lower-income groups.

In response, finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam came out robustly in defense of the GST system, saying that most of the revenue generated from the GST comes from the top 40 percent of Singaporeans. The money collected is then given back to the poor through subsidies and handouts. He says that the poor get more from these handouts than the GST they pay.

On a related note, People’s Action Party (PAP) member-of-parliament Josephine Teo claims that the government’s Inclusive Growth programme would benefit over 20,000 low wage workers.

Vincent’s suggestion sounds interesting but I wonder how robust it is compared to the government’s existing measures? I also have my doubts about whether the PAP’s current policies are sufficient enough to tackle insufficient wages experienced by the poor.

For instance, while Workfare acts as supplementary income for low-wage workers, much of it goes to the CPF instead of to the worker’s pockets. It’s a pity that the idea of minimum wage was not discussed much.

Result: Tie

On income of the poor

Photo: SILAS HWANG / Creative Commons

Vincent highlights a UBS report stating that the purchasing power of Singaporeans is actually comparable to Russia’s, despite being a “first-rate” economy.

Tharman counters by saying that the UBS report is flawed, without going into specifics. He then mentioned that Singapore’s median income is quite high compared to other countries.

Vincent responds by questioning the validity of median income as an indicator for the well-being of the poor. He then criticises the ministers for their million-dollar salaries, a dig that was ignored.

Finally, Tharman assures viewers that the PAP cares for the welfare of the people. He smartly reemphasises the benefits of the GST system and its trickle-down effect from rich to poor.

Result: PAP wins

On housing

Gerald Giam of the Worker’s Party and Vincent both echo the view that the HDB should be non-profit, something that Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan would claim is already the case. Gerald goes on to say that prices of HDB flats should be pegged to the cost of flats and not to the resale and private housing market.

Vincent took another tack on the issue, arguing that HDB prices are too high for the lower-income group because they spend too much money from their retirement funds on housing. That’s why they work until the 70s and 80s. Ownership to the home becomes a form of slavery.

“We’re asset secure but income insecure,” he says.

Neither Tharman nor Josephine addressed Gerald’s point. Responding to Vincent, he says that Singaporeans on average use 23 percent of their income to service their housing mortgage, a figure that hasn’t changed much over the years. However, he does not say how the figure is like for the poor.

The PAP reps’ response to the housing debate was not as concise as the GST and income level issues. Neither Vincent’s nor Gerald’s criticisms were successfully rebutted.

Result: Opposition wins

On foreign workers

Photo: KODOMUT / Creative Commons

There isn’t much disagreement between the political parties here: All admit that productivity must go up, while reliance on foreign workers must go down. While the PAP highlighted existing measures to achieve those aims, the opposition (Vincent especially) was quick to point out that the PAP was slow in realising their mistakes.

Vincent, in a ballsy but effective move, interrupted Melissa at one point and mentioned how the PAP was flawed in its measurement of productivity over the past 27 years.

Indeed, a study by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy indicated that Singapore’s productivity growth has stalled over the years, despite government intervention.

Surely, a sore point for the PAP.

Result: Opposition wins

Other issues

On healthcare, Singapore People’s Party second vice-chairperson Lina Chiam’s assertion about the lack of hospital beds was countered by Tharman’s mention of statistics: Occupancy rate for hospitals is only 85 percent. Of course, this figure should be scrutinised further. Lina went on to say how healthcare costs can be reduced by discouraging medical tourism.

She then goes on a tear by highlighting a smorgasbord of other issues: More critical thinking in schools, better political education for students, more recognition for single mothers. Despite her incoherence, the ideas she mentioned are actually pretty good.

But the bad impression she made negates whatever good things she said.

Vincent, being typically SDP, highlighted exorbitant ministerial salaries and persecution of Opposition figures in the past, although he did not press the point home to the extent where it would challenge entrenched views. These issues were not addressed by Tharman and Josephine, which meant the debate was mainly centred around the economy.

Result: Tie

Final score

PAP: 1; Opposition: 2

I must disclaim that I am effectively pro-opposition. That’s my bias. So I felt the Opposition did better in this debate (whether Singaporeans vote for them is another matter). What’s clear is that Vincent is the star striker amongst them all.

For an assessment of the individual candidate’s performance, click here.

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