Parachute politics in Singapore

Posted on 26 March 2011

PAP brings in two new citizens as candidates for the upcoming elections. Will this move cost them?

by Terence Lee

Photo: PETER TAYLOR / Creative Commons

POLITICAL parties here have the nasty habit of springing surprises at the eleventh hour. Candidates are announced only weeks before Polling Day, and right now we do not know where most of them are contesting.

Recently, we were blessed to know that Tony Tan and Hazel Poa parachuted from a wobbly Reform Party jet and into the arms of Uncle Meng Seng, secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party.

He announced with great fanfare that his prized catch will be contesting in Moulmein-Kallang GRC, but even that is now uncertain.

Blame it on the short electoral time frame imposed by a government who would rather get on with business and leave behind messy politics, and messy opposition parties unwilling to reveal their cards early.

But the PAP recently gave parachute politics new meaning: Two of their new candidates, Dr Janil Puthucheary and Foo Mee Har, are new citizens. Janil, a paediatrician at KK Children and Women Hospital, came to Singapore in 2001 but only became a citizen in 2008. Mee Har, the global head of premier banking at Standard Chartered Bank, also became a citizen the same year.

Netizens have roundly criticised the commitment of these candidates, but Janil seems to be hardest hit because – gasp – he did not serve National Service. They also questioned whether new citizens like them truly understand the concerns of native Singaporeans.

I, for one, would not judge so quickly. It’s just like meeting someone at a speed dating event – don’t expect to know someone well within five minutes, let alone through a pithy soundbite or newspaper article. An atas Singaporean who has lived here for fifty years may have never interacted with the poor even once in their wasted lives, whereas a new citizen, concerned about the well-being of his or her adopted society, would volunteer at Meet-the-People sessions.

So time is no indicator of empathy.

But I wonder if everyone thinks the same way? Judging by calls for Dr Janil to pick up the SAR21 and shout “arty, arty, arty!”, maybe not. And I suspect this is a vulnerability the opposition parties will exploit during the hustings. Expect them to call out Janil for not being committed to, or understanding the country enough. Mee Har will not be susceptible because she has been in Singapore since 1989.

Citizenship, to some, is a fleeting concept. So is National Service. Why expect Janil to serve NS when many of us are happier without it? There is no point in making him suffer like us.

So, given the anti-foreigner and anti-immigration sentiments pervading Singapore nowadays, I cannot vouch that they will be readily accepted by voters.

But I can be wrong.

If I were them, here’s what I’ll do: To ensure that I get into Parliament, I would play it safe. Don’t start a blog, or have a Facebook page. Don’t make any controversial statements, or be overly aggressive. Toe the party line, at least until I get elected, or become a minister. Let the anchor Member-of-Parliaments I am contesting with do the heavy lifting. That’s what GRCs are for, ain’t it?

The other alternative would be to portray themselves as the rebel in the camp, but that seems unlikely to happen, given how kosher they have been in their interviews.

They should also keep harping on their credentials. Many Singaporeans who don’t really care much about politics will be hypnotised by the fact that Mee Har is some bigwig at a big bank. And don’t forget: apathetic Singaporeans have a significant influence on voting results (as Belmont astutely pointed out), since voting is compulsory.

The only way for opposition parties to counter this would be to put on the pedestal someone more impressive, maybe the CEO of a bigger bank.

Ultimately, whether these two candidates will be a boon to the PAP depends on where their parachutes land. I suspect these characters will appeal to wealthier, cosmopolitan types – Singaporeans who spend plenty of time abroad to work or study. Much will also depend on how the opposition candidates attack their credentials, and how they deflect them. Soon we will know whether both candidates truly understand the concerns of Singaporeans.

Citizenship, to some, is a fleeting concept. So is National Service. Why expect Janil to serve NS when many of us are happier without it? There is no point in making him suffer like us.

So, in an increasingly cosmopolitan Singapore, it will matter less how much time a candidate spends in the country, and more how a candidate makes the most of his or her time here.

This post was written by:

- who has written 81 posts on New Nation.

Terence is an online media nut that is obsessed with writing and publishing on the Internet. Recently, he took up photography to expand his repertoire, and hopes to learn videography soon. He has worked in both online and print publications such as The Straits Times, Today, Mind Your Body, The Online Citizen, and Funkygrad. He is currently the assistant editor with SGEntrepreneurs, a website that covers entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia. Terence can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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  • mackinder

    A well-travelled, cosmopolitan Singaporean is also likely to place greater emphasis on the primacy of ideas.

    Don’t forget that being wealthy and worldly also means they are less beholden to the “social contract”.

    • Belmont


  • Koh Kee Sen Matthew

    These new faces for PAP will just be “yes men” to the PAP. When the Party Whip is used, if they are elected, they all boil down to be the same as any uneducated person that sits in parliament; just cast the yes-vote for the PAP. Unless there is constitution to restrict the use of the “Party-whip” for “important bills” then, the education of all these PAP MPs will just be wasted and parliamentary sessions will just be formalities for “Pre-decided” Laws by the PAP. If an insufficient number of Opposition MPs get elected, then it would be equally ineffective to block any unpopular laws. Is parliament just a show?

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  • Joa

    A good article with a fresh perspective. I don’t agree with all those people slamming JP and FMH for being new citizens. Just because you are new doesn’t mean you are have no stake in Singapore.

    Indeed, I would argue that people who make a deliberate decision to take up Singaporean citizenship have a greater “buy-in” than people who just happened to be born here and are desperate to emigrate.

    • terence

      thank you. you made a good point that new citizens may have a greater ‘buy-in’.

    • Fox

      I don’t think this “buy-in” is a particularly difficult or onerous choice if you come from a third world country and if you have the education and financial capital to do well in Singapore where the well-to-do are favoured. Many of these people simply take up Singapore citizenship because of the convenience of having her passport and low taxes.

      There is no proof of commitment to Singapore and her people by JP or FMH. To put it bluntly: When the going gets tough, how do I know they would stick with Singapore. I will like to be shown some history of volunteer work prior to joining PAP at the very least. The downtrodden may someday be called upon to lay down their lives for Singapore. What have JP and FMH done for them? It is no great shake to join the PAP which is ideologically committed to favour the educated and well-off.

  • George Yeo

    By parachuting in at such short notice, the voters have no chance to test and try the calibre and quality of the newbies. This is all pre-planned and INTENTIONAL.

    We have all lost count of the number of occasions that the pap said stuffs like ‘the next pm or ministers and what not’ is in their latest batch of candidates. They have always said that and look what happened subsequently. What happened to those ‘special’ candidates? We all now know the records of such mps and ministers, need I dwell into their forgettable and even regrettable performance in parliament and outside?

    The behaviour of the ruling party is like the story of the BOY Who Cry Wolf. He did it once too often and nobody believe it anymore. That is how we should treat the latest hot air from the pap. This is the only way to teach the party not to take us for granted and to show respect for our IQ.

    • terence

      can we argue the same for the opposition? It’s not like I know who from the Worker’s Party is contesting in Nee Soon GRC right now… the problem lies with the whole process of the elections I think. It is way too short. Candidates are introduced too late, and voters have no chance to know them.

      • Fox

        The new PAP candidates can be assumed to favour this compromised electoral process. I’ve yet to hear of any PAP candidate who has offered the view that the whole process is too short. This much I know about the PAP candidates.

  • George Yeo

    We are definitely daft if we again buy this ‘future leadership in the batch’ crap once again.

    Take a look at the performance to date of the ‘leaders’ promised us in earlier GE. The likes of Vivian Bala, Lim SS, Raymond Lim, Ne Eng Hian, Khaw BW to name some.

    The only promise they have kept is to themselves and their party.

    • Jonathan Lee

      George yeo, you have my vote at the next elections!

    • Shihan

      And can the opposition politicians (aside from a few) do better?

      • Jonathan Lee

        lol, no.