June 26, 2017


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by Bertha Henson

THE weekend has been full of pre-GE news. We bring you some highlights.

Overheard in a coffee joint…

Pamela Li (stirring her latte): Oooh… did you hear that the Workers’ Party wants to field 28 candidates? That’s five more than last time. I wonder where they’re all coming from… You think they will get another returnee like that hopeless inarticulate Chen Show Mao?

Olive Lo (on her third espresso): The Workers’ Party should get more women! Yay to Sylvia and Li Lian! I wonder if they have Kate Spade going up against Tin Pei Ling in MacPherson. Heeeheeehee.

Pamela (adds more sugar): Don’t be such a b****. She’s apparently quite good on the ground. All the big shots have endorsed her. And she’s pregnant. All the mothers will line up behind her…

Olive Lo (downs her espresso): Aw…come on. It’s awful for the PAP to field her in a single-seat ward when she’s so heavily pregnant! You think she would be able to do all that walking on swollen feet?

Pamela (milky foam on her lips): You talk as if you know what being pregnant is like…Anyway, I just want to see some of those new faces… Ooooooh! I forgot! There’s Darryl David! Oh wow! Cutie pie! Yes! My former poly lecturer and host of the Pyramid show! My mom remembers him!

Olive Lo (sips water): Ya…and pulling on the PM’s coat-tails in Ang Mo Kio…and that loser from Punggol East as well, that Dr Koh Poh Koon! Why doesn’t he go against Li Lian again in Punggol East? I tell you…these PAP men can’t beat the Opposition women!

Pamela (checks her phone): What are you talking about? The PAP fields a lot of women. There’s this Joan Pereira now in Tanjong Pagar GRC. Very nice looking and active with the elderly it seems.

Olive Lo (spitting out coffee): Gimme a break! Another former civil servant…

Pamela (gets wi-fi connection) : Anyway, I think it’s very good that the new PAP candidates have started to come out to be introduced. Not like in the past when their names are like some sort of official secret! New blood! People who identify with the aspirations of the younger generation…that’s what we need! Not like that Seow Khee Leng! Running again! At 75! And which party now? Democratic Progressive Party? Should be regressive party!

Olive Lo (checks phone): Hmmm? What? Aiyah, maybe he wants to show he has stamina. Very brave. I also think it’s very brave of Kenneth Jeyaretnam to take on the PM on his home ground.

Pamela (text messaging): Hmmm…what did you say? You think he can beat PM? The last time, he took only like 30 per cent of the vote or something! And that SDP says it wants to contest Bukit Batok. Because it contested there in the GE before last! What sort of logic is that?

Olive Lo (checking Facebook): SDP? Ya. It said on its Facebook that it’s so odd that Bukit Batok had vanished and then it now re-appears. Kenneth Jeyaretnam should ask for Anson to re-appear. I’m sure he can follow in his late father’s footsteps…

Pamela (takes a selfie): Whatever…Anyway, we will all be voting now. Definitely no walkover! Yay! Did you hear NSP wants to hold talks on Friday with all the opposition parties on which seats to contest? You think Low Thia Kiang will turn up? He sort of fancies himself as the leader of the Opposition, but he isn’t leading. Probably too busy with his malfunctioning town council.

Olive Lo (posting on her timeline): Don’t say things like that about my hero…He’s soooo macho! I’m going to all his rallies to hear him! Actually I wonder why we haven’t heard from Chiam See Tong or his wife? Another wonderful Opposition woman! Yay Lina!

Pamela (shares selfie online): Don’t be so silly. Lina Chiam lost the last time to Sitoh…shows that Potong Pasir has had enough of opposition…Anyway, that DPP guy Ben Pwee is looking at the place too.

Olive Lo (reads tweets): Whatever…so long as it’s still in the opposition. Hey, my hero Low wants to take East Coast and Marine Parade as well apparently! He wants to rule the east! The east is going under the hammer! How do they say it? Huat?

Pamela: (answers personal message): What? Huat? I bet you my Prada bag that he won’t succeed. This is supposed to be a watershed election. First election without LKY. And you know what that means, there will be the LKY dividend…

Olive Lo (thunderstruck): Actually do you think the PAP will give real dividends to win our vote? My credit card bill is overdue.

Pamela: You mean you will vote PAP if it gives out money…?

Olive Lo: Depends how much…By the way, how much do I owe you for the espresso?

Pamela: It’s all right. My treat. I just took my salary from the ATM…

At the next table sits the swing voter. He is unhappy with his coffee which can’t compare with the one in his favorite kopi-tiam. But there wasn’t any coffee shop nearby and he had to make do with this. All these coffee joints and cafes which young people patronize…where do they get the money to pay for such expensive coffee, he wonders. The two young ladies don’t know what it’s like having to raise a family and run a household. Let them enjoy their coffee, he thought as he got up to get ready to pick up his children from school.


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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long speaking at a PAP election rally during the Punggol East By Election.

by Daniel Yap

Singapore moves one step closer to a General Election with the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report published today. The report outlines 13 Single Member Constituencies (SMCs), six four-seat Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), eight five-seat GRCs and two six-seat GRCs.

New Electoral Boundaries overlay

What’s changed?

No. of seats8789
4-seat GRCs26
5-seat GRCs118
6-seat GRCs22
Electors per MP27,021.527,651.4

Key highlights:

  • The opposition wards of Aljunied, Hougang and Punggol East remain largely unchanged
  • One in six voters will find themselves part of a different electoral division; in 2011, nearly twice as many voters experienced this
  • New/resurrected GRCs: Marsiling-Yew Tee (four seats) and Jalan Besar (four seats). Jalan Besar was dissolved in the 2011 General Election.
  • Downsized GRCs: Chua Chu Kang, East Coast and West Coast (from five seats each to four seats each.
  • Dissolved/absorbed GRCs: Moulmein-Kallang (four seats)
  • New/resurrected SMCs: Bukit Batok, Fengshan and MacPherson
  • Dissolved/absorbed SMCs: Whampoa and Joo Chiat. In Joo Chiat, PAP’s Mr Charles Chong beat out WP’s Mr Yee Jenn Jong by just 388 votes in 2011.
  • There has been a shift towards smaller GRCs and more SMCs, continuing the trend from GE 2011.
  • Most GRCs had boundaries redrawn, while most SMCs were left as they were
  • The time between the publication of the electoral boundaries report and the dissolution of parliament and the issue of the writ of election has ranged from one day (2001) to nearly two months (2011). It is up to President Tony Tan to decide when to dissolve Parliament.

The committee had submitted its report to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, and the Government accepted its recommendations today. The committee members are chairman Tan Kee Yong, secretary Lee Seng Lup, and members Dr Cheong Koon Hean, Mr Tan Boon Khai and Ms Wong Wee Kim. Here is PM Lee’s announcement of the electoral boundaries:


Tell us: when do you think the election will be called?


Featured photo by Shawn Danker.

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by Yen Feng

THAT’S the “most dramatic, almost rhetorical” question posed by businessman Ho Kwon Ping in an essay titled “Things that could make the S’pore crockpot boil over” in today’s ST. The headline could be better, but the essay itself is pretty good – albeit a bit long. If you have some time, read it. If not, here’s a quick run-down of what the writer says:

We can all look forward to celebrating SG100. But whether we’ll be happy, or “spiritually exhausted, geriatrically challenged, and chronically disagreeable” remains a question.

The country will survive. Not too much to worry about our neighbours or even the environment, for that matter. No “apocalyptic demise” for us, but we could be headed for a “slow-motion” demise: “languishing in the ranks of second- or even third-tier city-economies, bordering on irrelevance in a global economy, surviving but not necessarily thriving”.

Geez, what a bummer. So here are the three areas Mr Ho believes we need to keep our eye on to get us to a better, less bum-like future:

On the economic front: Higher productivity

Avoid being stuck in a “high-cost, low-productivity” trap, as so many other older, developed economies have become. After reducing the number of low-skilled foreign workers, our productivity has not only stagnated but declined.

Bottom-line: “If, in the next few years, the productivity drive does not gain momentum, and disruptive technology displaces more people than creates jobs, Singapore’s journey towards sustainable, balanced prosperity may stall and we may get stuck in a high-cost, low-productivity limbo.”

On the social front: G is for Goldilocks

Expect more people like Amos Yee to challenge the G and test the limits of the law. Young people will grow to be more like their counterparts in the West, eager to confront and challenge so-called OB markers.

Bottom-line: “G will need to have the Goldilocks touch – not too hard, not too soft, but just right – in navigating a very emotionally laden terrain with disparate groups all clamouring for their own cause. Genuine tripartite in civil society-government-private sector relations will be very needed and sorely tested.”

On the political front: Keeping the PAP on its toes

Singaporeans still want the PAP to run the country, but have a “substantial and entrenched” opposition to keep them in check. It’s unlikely that a pendulum two-party system will emerge – unless voters come to believe that competency is not a main differentiator between the PAP and the main opposition party.

Bottom-line: “The battle lines will be not so much over ideological issues or even the necessity for a strong opposition – they will in fact be over the competency of the opposition.”


Do you agree with the writer’s views? Tell us in the comment box below or on our FB page.



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Photo By Shawn Danker
Singapore Parliament.

by Bertha Henson

I HAVE never liked the concept of Group Representation Constituencies, not since those days of 1987 when I had to cover the debates and parliamentary select committee hearings that led up to its introduction. I suppose some of it had to do with the fact that I am a member of the minority community. I hated to think that a non-Chinese would not be able to hold his or her own against a Chinese candidate. I hated to think that the Chinese voters would place race above the merits of candidates. I also hated to think that the perceived small-mindedness and supposed myopia of voters were being used as a cover for what I saw as the People’s Action Party’s barely concealed intent to dominate Parliament for as long as it could.

The G leaders, particularly former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, did their best to convince the people to face up to the realpolitik of race, even as they put strictures on talking about race at election time. I am not so sure that many people were convinced. If they were, maybe, it was in a very small way. Between two candidates of equal calibre, perhaps, they would pick their own kind. After all, this was a rationale for ethnic self-help groups that were in vogue then: that people would go to their “own kind” for help as they would be comfortable with them.

The spectre raised at that time was: What if the minority community suddenly find themselves without parliamentary representation? Would they start complaining and agitating….and goodness(!) would this be the start of racial politics? Better to tamp this down and have the non-Chinese get into Parliament by hanging on the coat-tails of the Chinese…I suppose the PAP G was also influenced by the way the Opposition parties were campaigning using dialects to win the Chinese-speaking ground. And also how it seemed that more were likely to make it through the electoral gate after Mr Chiam See Tong broke through in Potong Pasir in 1984.

The GRC system was meant to safeguard the interests of people like me. Yet I balked at the idea that one-man-one-vote for one candidate was really one-man-one-vote for a slate of candidates. So, depending on where you happened to stay, your vote could lead to one person entering Parliament, or three, four, five or six. Needless to say, the Opposition raised a hue and cry, especially since some were hardly able to cobble the requisite numbers or produce a minority candidate for a slate, and weren’t allowed to form a coalition to contest as a group either.

(In any case, the GRC system didn’t hold back three other opposition politicians, including Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Kiang, from entering Parliament.)

What started as three-member GRCs in 1988 morphed into four members in 1991. Then in 1997, five and six member GRCs appeared. A year earlier, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong indicated that he wanted to expand GRCs to facilitate the setting up of Community Development Councils, as well as, he said, to force the opposition to field teams with plans for the wards.

By the time 2001 and 2006 elections rolled around, four-member GRCs had disappeared all together, leading wags to ask when the whole country would become just one big jumbo GRC.

Then in 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament that “there are advantages to having bigger rather than smaller GRCs. They enable stronger multiracial teams to be formed which include MPs who have different backgrounds and skills, who can serve voters more comprehensively and effectively.” However, he also indicated that the downside of having a large GRC is that it is “harder for voters to identify with the whole GRC or with the whole GRC team”.

Two years later, in 2011, four-member GRCs made a comeback, in Holland-Bukit Timah and Moulmein-Kallang.

Today, PM Lee told Parliament that he had asked the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee to consider having smaller GRCs, to reduce the average size of such constituencies to below five members, and have at least 12 single member constituencies. There are currently 15 GRCs and 12 single-member constituencies or SMCs. The committee started work two months ago, he disclosed.

Non-constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong followed up with several queries in what seemed like an attempt to get the PM to reveal when the polls would be called. Would it be possible to say when the report would be out, or give a time-frame between its publication and the call for election? Could non-government members, such as representatives of political parties be part of the committee?

PM Lee did not drop any clues as to the date, which had ranged from one day to 29 days between the report’s publication and Nomination Day the past. While the PM said he would consider “outside expertise” for the committee, he didn’t think that bringing in political parties into the committee, as is the case in the United States, was an “entirely good idea”.

“What happens is they carve it up among themselves,” he said of the US example. “It’s a political deal. I think that’s not a good arrangement. I think it’s best we leave this to the civil servants to work at,” he added. But he was open to a suggestion that “outside expertise” be considered.

No questions were asked about the size of GRCs or the number of SMCs. It seems MPs were more concerned about the timing of the election than the electoral structure.

So what does the Parliamentary Elections Act say about single-seat wards? “There shall at all times be at least 8 electoral divisions which are not group representation constituencies“.

The number of SMCs have come down from 42 (1988) to 21 (1991) to nine for the next three GEs before moving up to 12 in the last GE. So how many SMCs will there be this time? And will non-Chinese candidates be fielded? It is worth noting that in the 2011 GE, the PAP fielded Mr Michael Palmer, a Eurasian, in Punggol East against Chinese candidates. He won although he had to step down not long after because of his marital indiscretions.

But the real breakthrough wasn’t a non-Chinese win in an SMC but an Opposition breakthrough in a GRC with the Workers’ Party taking Aljunied GRC. The old assumptions that voters would pick a party slate with incumbent heavy-weight ministers no longer held. Over the years, the opposition appeared to have got their act together to produce enough candidates, including a minority member, to win over a ward. The WP took 72,289 votes, compared to the 59,829 who went the PAP way.

Now the boot is on the other foot. The size of GRCs need not be a boon to the PAP, but a bane, as the PAP itself has discovered. In one fell swoop, five seats fell vacant, probably because of the pulling power of WP’s Mr Low. Not to mention the loss of two ministers. Now, you have PAP Organising Secretary Ng Eng Hen actually weighing the risk of losing office-holders in a GRC contest.

How many people remember the days when the big wigs helmed the biggest wards of six candidates, such as former PM Lee in Tanjong Pagar, former PM Goh Chok Tong in Marine Parade and current PM Lee Hsien Loong in Ang Mo Kio. There were as many as five such mega GRCs in the 2001 GE. In 2011, however, there were just two such jumbo wards, one in Ang Mo Kio, and one in Pasir Ris-Punggol, where DPM Teo Chee Hean is the anchor man.

The bigger question, however, is not about a more level playing field for politicians, but whether the stated rationale for GRCs still holds, to pull in minority candidates.

After more than 25 years of the GRC system, and 50 years of nation building, are we still as short-sighted and small-minded as to think of race as a key factor in voting choices? If that is the case, why are there so many questions being raised these days about whether Singapore is ready for a minority-race President or Prime Minister. Clearly, that date may come sooner than later – if the “system” or artificial structures don’t get in the way.

My hope is that the number of SMCs go up from the current numbers to at least 20 or so. My belief is that voters will pick the best man or woman whom they think can do a better job of looking after their needs rather than choose on the basis of political party affiliation, or the most charismatic man on the slate.

I rather like the old way of one-man-one-vote-one-representative. It seems fairer, doesn’t it?



Additional reporting by Arin Fong.

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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by Koh Wan Ting

LET’S face it, Madam Rosmah Mansor, aka Mrs Najib, wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak, is far from the most popular political figure in Malaysia.

Ever since the 63-year-old dubbed herself the First Lady of Malaysia back in her 2010 speech at the First Ladies Summit, many have come forward to highlight and criticise her alleged spendthrift habits and lavish lifestyle. Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew Hornery labelled her the “First Lady of Spending” after her extravagant splurge on clothes in Australia was made known, but more on that later.

This weekend, fresh allegations of Madam Rosmah’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal emerged after documents detailing multi-million ringgit deposits into her bank account were unearthed. Totaling RM2 million (S$713,000), the deposits were processed between February and April this year and were addressed to Datin Seri Rosmah, according to the Sarawak Report news site.

The report rides on the back of Madam Rosmah’s longstanding unpopularity among Malaysian citizens, who are no strangers to her taste for the high life.

Four years ago, it was revealed that a diamond ring worth US$24.4 million (S$32.9 million) was imported in her name from New York-based jeweller Jacob & Co. Following the outcry from the revelation, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, an anti-graft body, stepped in and their investigations concluded that the ring had since been sent back to New York. Nonetheless the whole incident left an indelible mark on Madam Rosmah’s reputation, throwing the spotlight on what many saw as her complete detachment from the lives and concerns of ordinary citizens.

One year later, accounts of Madam Rosmah’s excessive spending surfaced after she reportedly splurged AUD$100,000 (S$100,636) on clothes at a boutique in Sydney. Her entourage also spent $20,000 a night on penthouse lodgings. Fashion designer Carl Kapp was also flown to Malaysia for fittings.

Earlier this year, Madam Rosmah came under fire for her complaints about the rising costs of house calls from hairdressers and tailors. She was mocked for lamenting that she had to spend RM1,200 (S$450.39) on house calls by stylists to have her hair dyed and RM500 (S$177.90) for tailored dresses. In a nation with a minimum wage of RM900 (S$320.38), netizens took issue with Madam Rosmah for likening herself to a “housewife with no income”. One Twitter user said: “I hope to become a poor housewife of a civil servant just like you Rosmah.”

Madam Rosmah was made the target of online criticism yet again when a video that revealed an unidentified woman squatting down to help her slip on her shoes was circulated on social media last week. The prime minister’s wife drew flak on Facebook and Twitter pages where the 31-second video was uploaded, with some netizens blasting her for having received what they considered royal treatment. 

Even though Madam Rosmah’s aide Mr Rizal Mansor came to her defence, citing her knee problems as the reason she was unable to bend, the explanation found little traction with Malaysians online. If it is a makeover she wants, it may do her well to start with her public image.


Here some other prominent First Ladies that have been in the news just as much as their husbands. 

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by Vinod Ashvin Ravi

IN recent weeks, Madam Rosmah Mansor – the wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak – has commanded almost as much attention as her husband, amid ongoing allegations of corruption and barbs traded between the sitting PM and his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Latest developments reveal that investigators are scrutinising Madam Rosmah’s personal bank account for deposits of cash belonging to state investment fund IMDB.

Madam Rosmah certainly is not the only wife of a political leader with a hand in shaping her spouse’s political image and legacy for better or worse. Here’s a list of five other famous (or infamous) members – past and present – of the First Ladies’ Club:

  1. Michelle Obama (United States of America)
(Photo from Flickr user DFID – UK department For International Development)

As America’s first African-American First Lady, Mrs Obama has been hogging as many headlines as her history-making husband from their very first presidential campaign back in 2007. The Harvard and Princeton graduate has emerged through the years to become a role model in more ways than one. Throughout the presidential race of 2008, she was projected in the media as a fashion icon. In both 2007 and 2008, Vanity Fair magazine featured her among their selections of “10 of the World’s Best Dressed People”. Her sartorial elegance also gained her a spot – and praise – on People magazine’s list of best-dressed women in 2008.

Since becoming First Lady, Mrs Obama has also become equally well-known for her advocacy of poverty awareness, nutrition and healthy eating habits. Following in the footsteps of her Democratic predecessor Hillary Clinton, Mrs Obama has taken an active role in leading and shaping some of the programmes initiated by her husband’s administration. Chief among these is the “Let’s Move!” campaign designed to combat and reverse childhood obesity in the US by encouraging healthier food in schools, better food labeling and increased physical activity for children. She has herself voiced the desire to make this campaign her legacy as First Lady, and has not shied away from displaying her own physical fitness to set an example.

  1. Marie Antoinette (France)
marie antoinette
(Photo is a Youtube screengrab)

Marie Antoinette was the Queen of France between 1774 and 1792. She is perhaps best-known for being executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. However, her reputation among the French people had already been tarnished for several years prior to her death. She was popularly known as “Madame Deficit” because France’s financial crisis under the rule of her husband Louis XVI was blamed on her lavish spending habits and exuberant lifestyle. Having been born an Austrian princess, the French public never quite trusted her and accused her of being promiscuous and sympathetic toward enemies of the French monarchy. Antoinette’s name was further sullied by her alleged involvement in the ‘Diamond Necklace affair’. She was accused of willfully participating in a scheme to defraud the royal jewellers of the cost of an expensive diamond necklace commissioned by the King. This scandal has been historically regarded as a significant episode engendering public disillusionment with the French monarchy, eventually leading to the Revolution that followed.

  1. Jiang Qing (China)
jiang qing
(Photo is a Youtube screengrab)

Although she was the inaugural First Lady of the People’s Republic of China, Jiang Qing was in fact Mao Zedong’s fourth wife. An actress prior to the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, she later served as Mao’s personal secretary, headed the Film Section of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Propaganda Department, and was a formative figure during the Cultural Revolution. Her greatest influence was in the realm of culture and arts, where she fiercely advanced both Mao’s unique take on Communist ideology, as well as his cult of personality. She was also instrumental in forming the political alliance within the CCP known as the “Gang of Four”, which controlled numerous organs of power within the party through the Cultural Revolution. Her political fortunes dwindled rapidly after Mao’s death in 1976, and she was later branded part of a counter-revolutionary clique to which the bulk of the Cultural Revolution’s devastation on China was attributed. Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1983, Jiang Qing committed suicide by hanging in 1991.

  1. Peng Liyuan a.k.a. Mrs Xi Jinping (China)
Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan is visiting Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul on July 3. July 3, 2014 Changdeokgung, Jongno-gu, Seoul Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Korean Culture and Information Service Korea.net (www.korea.net) Official Photographer: Jeon Han This official Republic of Korea photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way. Also, it may not be used in any type of commercial, advertisement, product or promotion that in any way suggests approval or endorsement from the government of the Republic of Korea. If you require a photograph without a watermark, please contact us via Flickr e-mail. --------------------------------------------------------------- 중국(中国) 퍼스트레이디 펑리위안(彭麗媛) 여사가 3일 유네스코 세계문화유산인 창덕궁을 찾아 화동들로부터 꽃다발을 받고 있다. 2014-07-03 창덕궁 문화체육관광부 해외문화홍보원 코리아넷 전한
(Photo from Flickr user Republic of Korea)

Another performing-artist-turned-First-Lady is Peng Liyuan, wife of current Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Ranked by Forbes magazine as the 68th most powerful woman in the world in 2015, she is president of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Arts College and holds a civilian rank in the PLA equivalent to Major-General. Like her American counterpart Michelle Obama, attention is often drawn to her fashion sense and commitments to her nation’s education and health outcomes. She has come to be regarded as China’s most public First Lady since Jiang Qing, and promotes rural education and anti-tuberculosis campaigns in her country for the World Health Organization. In November 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin draped a coat around her shoulders at a Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit dinner, sparking a media maelstrom that eventually resulted in video footage being censored by Chinese state authorities. She is increasingly viewed as a source of soft power for China’s public diplomacy, credited with humanising the robotic and mechanical image of the ruling party.

  1. Imelda Marcos (Philippines)

Ilocanos celebrate the visit of Sto. Niño de Cebu and the 85th birthday of Congresswoman Imelda Marcos with a mass at St. William's Cathedral and a program at the Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena in Laoag City July 2, 2014. http://www.ilocosnorte.gov.ph/ http://www.facebook.com/IlocosNorteOfficial / http://www.facebook.com/ImeeMarcos / http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilocosnorte / media[at]ilocosnorte[dot]gov[dot]ph (PGIN CMO Photo/ Alaric A. Yanos)
(Photo from Flickr user Ilocos Norte)
Nicknamed the “Steel Butterfly” for her ability to survive numerous upheavals in life, Imelda Marcos is the wife of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The Marcos regime lasted from 1965 to 1986 and became known for its dictatorial tendencies, brutality, excessive extravagance and widespread corruption. Imelda was a model for magazines and newspapers before she met and married Ferdinand Marcos in 1954, then a congressman. As president Marcos consolidated his power over time – including the declaration of martial law in 1972 – Imelda became known for orchestrating lavish events using public funds to boost the image of herself and her husband’s regime. It was also reported that she used her immense wealth and power as leverage against public servants, including instructing military generals to perform in drag for a birthday party. Her travels were accompanied by extensive entourages and cost millions of dollars. She also purchased prime properties in Manhattan, a vast jewellery collection and more than 100 prized art pieces. Most notably, however, Imelda Marcos’ defining legacy is her collection of 3,000 pairs of shoes, most of which she is believed to have acquired during her time as First Lady.



There is another infamous First Lady that has been in the news lately.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons. 

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(Image by canopic via Flickr).

by Bertha Henson

THE Sunday Times had a four-page spread of articles on the coming General Election, which must be held by January 2017. It interviewed People’s Action Party Organising Secretary Dr Ng Eng Hen as well as various leaders of the opposition parties with the notable exception of Mr Low Thia Khiang, leader of the opposition and secretary-general of Workers’ Party.

Here are some glimpses on what the voter can expect from both sides of the political divide.

1. No more PAP parachutists?

A Red Lion parachutist at NDP 2014 (Image capture from Soh Mitchell Jun Yi ,YouTube).
A Red Lion parachutist at NDP 2014 (Image capture from Soh Mitchell Jun Yi ,YouTube).

The PAP is doing away with the practice of parachuting in its candidates into grassroots work at the last minute. There are some 30 “potential” candidates working the ground, and it seems to have firmed up its slate of five for Aljunied GRC which it lost to the Workers’ Party. But it’s unclear how this long easing-in process is going to affect civil servants and military people who intend to don whites. Won’t they have to quit their jobs first?

In any case, here are the five people in Aljunied:

Mr Chua Eng Leong, 44, is the son of former Cabinet minister Chua Sian Chin, and is PAP’s new branch chairman for the Eunos ward in Aljunied GRC.

Mr Kahar Hassan, 46, is a deputy director of infrastructure at railway operator SMRT and has more than 17 years of engineering experience in both the G and private sectors. He was a volunteer for 15 years at Tampines East CC before moving to serve at Kaki Bukit last month or so.

Mr Victor Lye, 52, is the general manager of a health-care insurance company and has served as a volunteer in Aljunied since 1999. Mr Lye has been a party member since 2001 and was a key activist with former Foreign Minister George Yeo in Aljunied GRC.

Mr K. Muralidharan Pillai, 44, is the head of commercial litigation at Rajah and Tann, as well as the chairman of the PAP Paya Lebar branch. Mr Pillai was previously the Assistant Superintendent of Police, where he focused on white-collar crimes.

Ms Chan Hui Yuh, 37, is the branch chairman of PAP Serangoon. She has had 12 years of experience as a grassroots leader, and is also a director of a construction firm.

2. No more heavy hitters in weak GRCs?

Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
MMA fighters exchange punches.

It used to be that candidates in GRCs were accused of riding into Parliament on the coat-tails of ministers. That was the big complaint of the Group Representation Constituency from the opposition, until the WP took Aljunied GRC, which had been anchored by Foreign Minister Mr George Yeo and Senior Minister of State Mr Zainul Abidin Mohamed Rasheed. Mr Ong Ye Kung, who was touted as minister material, also did not make it through the door. Now the PAP thinks it might not be worthwhile to field ministers or ministers-to-be in weak GRCs. It wants grassroots types who can run town councils.

Perhaps, it is thinking about the 1997 election when it wrested Bukit Gombak from Singapore Democratic Party‘s Mr Ling How Doong by fielding Mr Ang Mong Seng, and took back Nee Soon Central from SDP’s Cheo Chai Chen by placing Mr Ong Ah Heng as a candidate.

3. More private than public…
A private sign (Image by Richard Holt via Flickr).
A private sign (Image by Richard Holt via Flickr).

The PAP intends to field about 30 new candidates, and three in four will be from outside the public service and the armed forces. This marks a change from the the 2011 GE when only eight out of the 24 new candidates were from the private sector. Of the 16 public sector types, four made it to full ministers. They are:

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, 46, is Minister for Social and Family Development. Before entering politics, he served in the Singapore Army, rising to the rank of Brigadier-General.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, 45, is Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and the Secretary-General of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC). He served in the Singapore Armed Forces as a Major-General and served as Singapore’s Chief of Army from 2010 to 2011.

Mr Lawrence Wong, 43, is currently the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Ministry of Communications and Information. Mr Wong began his career as a civil servant at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and was formerly the Chief Executive of Singapore’s Energy Market Authority.

Mr Heng Swee Keat, 54, Education Minister, used to be the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) from 2005 to 2011.

Dr Ng said that the PAP wants to field a wider range of people to reflect Singapore’s diversity, and this approach has been welcomed by analysts who were worried that a “group think” would be perpetuated in the G if new blood were drawn from the old blood bank. But, it could simply be that the PAP can no longer afford to raid the two sectors lest they find themselves denuded of talent.

4. Voters will be partying a lot more…

People partying at ZoukOut 2014 (Image screen cap from ZoukOut 2014 First Light Aftermovie, YouTube)
People partying at ZoukOut 2014 (Image screen cap from ZoukOut 2014 First Light Aftermovie, YouTube).

Voters now have Singaporeans First, which was launched in August 2014, and, if its application made on May 15 is approved, also a People’s Power Party. That means that Singaporeans will have nine opposition parties to choose from in the next poll, beating the 1984 GE record of eight. But it’s still the same familiar faces all around. Mr Goh Meng Seng, formerly from the National Solidarity Party which stood in Tampines GRC, is behind the People’s Power Party (PPP) while Mr Tan Jee Say helms Singaporeans First. He contested under the SDP ticket in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC in the last election and was a candidate for the last presidential election as well.

Voters will have a few more rallies to attend this time around it seems.

5. Some places are more popular than others…

Popularity is a fickle thing (Image by duncan c via Flickr).
Popularity is a fickle thing (Image by duncan c via Flickr).

The opposition parties seem to be scrambling for the same wards. Among those eyed by more than one party are Tanjong Pagar, Tampines, Marine Parade, Pasir Ris-Punggol and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRCs; and the single seats of Whampoa, Mountbatten and Potong Pasir. The Democratic People’s Party, Reform Party, SDP and SingFirst – have indicated interest in or held walkabouts in Tanjong Pagar GRC. Why? Because Mr Lee Kuan Yew is no longer there and they think the ward will be a pushover?

Here are who’s left in Tanjong Pagar GRC, besides the above-mentioned Mr Chan Chun Sing, who takes care of Buona Vista.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, 40, in charge of the Queenstown area, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Singapore General Hospital. He is from the 2011 batch.

Ms Indranee Rajah, 52, takes care of Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru and Tanglin-Cairnhill wards. She is also the Senior Minister of State for Law and Education, and entered politics in 2001.

Dr Lily Neo, 62, runs Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng. The medical practitioner entered politics in 1996 and was elected to Parliament as a Member of Parliament (MP) in 1997.

6. But where will the boundaries be? 
Boundary Road sign (Image capture from Google Maps).
Boundary Road sign (Image capture from Google Maps).

All that walking around wards is going to come to nothing if the electoral boundaries are changed, opposition politicians noted. But perhaps some light will be shed as two MPs will be asking questions in Parliament in July about when the Electoral Boundaries Review Commission has been formed. Why is this important? Because whole GRCs have been split up in the past, disappeared or merged into other wards. The time between the publication of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee’s report and the calling of an election have ranged from one day to 56 days.

7. The fate of Potong Pasir

Potong Pasir Town Council (Image by Jnzl's Public Domain Photos via Flickr).
Potong Pasir Town Council (Image by Jnzl’s Public Domain Photos via Flickr).

After how many years, Potong Pasir returned to the PAP fold in the last GE. Its veteran MP Mr Chiam See Tong, 80, of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, had his wife, Lina, contest the seat. She lost by a mere 114 (0.72%) votes to PAP’s Mr Sitoh Yih Pin. Mrs Chiam is now a non-constituency MP.

It seems that SDA would like to wrest it back but others are also looking to take it, like the DPP.

8. The PAP gets touchy-feely

People getting all touchy-feely, giving out free hugs (Image by J3SSL33 via Flickr).
People getting all touchy-feely, giving out free hugs (Image by J3SSL33 via Flickr).

At the grassroots level, the PAP is moving away from mass events to more intimate, smaller meetings with constituents. MPs spend more time going door-to-door and engaging residents over social media. The party branches even shift their Meet-the-People sessions to various places. Opposition politicians will probably say it is just taking a leaf from their playbook. They too have been upping the ante at ground level with constituency visits that they broadcast through social media platforms.

9. The SDP gets professional

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Dr Chee speaking at the SDP election campaign kickoff.

Since SDP chief Chee Soon Juan was discharged from bankruptcy in November 2012, his party has been taking pains to spruce up its image. It’s been churning out papers addressing the concerns of the Malay community and future policies and professionalising its political work. For example, it came up with its own paper on managing town councils on May 16 while the WP leaders were under attack for mismanaging theirs. More recently, the party penned a quick piece in response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comments on the need for a “natural aristocracy” in Singapore.

10. And the GE will be held in….

PM Lee at the PAP Rally on May 3, 2011 (Image by Karen via Flickr).
PM Lee at the PAP Rally on May 3, 2011 (Image by Karen via Flickr).

Dr Ng didn’t give anything away except that the PAP is ready, which is the standard answer to questions of this nature. He said that if the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong decides to call the polls soon, “we shouldn’t hold him back”. “If he wants to go, we’ll be ready.” This is so odd. That call has always been with the PM. You wouldn’t think anyone could hold him back! That aside, the betting is that it would be held within six months, perhaps after PM’s biggest platform, the National Day rally, in August.

Tea, anyone?


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by Bertha Henson

Dr Ng Eng Hen, the People’s Action Party’s organising secretary has described the relationship between Singaporeans and the PAP as that of an “old married couple”.

Here’s the story:

Tan Ah Seng, 59, looked at the toilet roll. The wife has bought that deluxe, superior multi-ply roll again. He’s been telling her that a normal toilet roll will do but she insists on the top-grade, which costs three times more. And yet, she still complains about the allowance he gives her every month. He could hear the wife’s movements in the kitchen. He knows the drill, half boiled eggs and white bread again. It’s been the same breakfast for the 35 years. Same ole, same ole…

He flushed.

He opens the cupboard and puts on the usual corporate attire of white shirt and tailored pants. Time for work. He hopes the trains work today. Yesterday evening, he got an earful when he came home late because the wife couldn’t believe that Singapore’s trains break down. She wants him to get a car. When, or how, did she get that way, he wondered. Thirty five years ago, she was the ideal soul-mate, who agreed with him on everything, even to the point of sterilising herself because he thought they should stop at two.

He smiled.

Their two sons have done them proud, he thought, although he was regretful that they stopped at one kid each. As for the wife…

He hears her calling for him, and braces himself for another nagging session about her allowance. She thinks he’s keeping money away from her, forgetting that he was merely saving for their old age. In fact, he wants to downgrade to a studio apartment arguing that it was too big a place for them now that the boys have moved out, but she wants to continue living in the maisonette. That was the cause of another blazing row. He ended up sleeping in a hotel that night. When he came home in the morning, she seemed chastened. She even let him have two cups of kopi-o, instead of restricting him to one.

He sighed.

There she goes again, asking if they could get a live-in maid because she can’t cope with the housework. Doesn’t she realise that he is 59 and there’s that young punk looking to take over his job? He dips his bread into the egg, refusing to answer her.

“Old man, are you deaf? Why don’t you ever listen to me? Live with me for so long you take me for granted is it?’’

“Aiyoh, what you want me to do? I keep telling you we can move out if the house is too big for you! Why don’t YOU listen to me instead!’’

He took up the newspapers to read. He is internet-savvy but he thinks there are too many crazy people online. In fact, he thinks most of them should be sued. He wonders if the wife goes on the Internet while he’s at work. Is that why she is getting so cranky? These days, she doesn’t even call herself Mrs Tan. She goes by her maiden name. Why? Was she ashamed to be his wife?

He pursed his lips, smeared with egg yolk.

Okay, fair enough. He hasn’t been spending much time with her. He needs to re-capture that old intimacy. He remembered how her eyes lit up when he bought her a bouquet of roses the other day. The trouble is…roses die and that glow on her face only lasted while they lived. How to please her? My goodness, he thought, is their marriage in trouble? Not after all this time surely?

He shakes his head, continuing to read about the latest court case. This Roy Ngerng…very bad. The wife thinks he’s cute though. She likes how he is asking for CPF to be returned to the people, (“You should get your own money back,” she had told him!). And she doesn’t like the idea that he has to work till he’s 62. It doesn’t matter how many times he told her that he’d rather work as long as he can, even past 62, than stay stuck at home with her. (Of course, he never tells her that.)

The phone rings.

He hears her answer it and then…silence. This is happening too often, he thought. Is she seeing someone? Can’t be. She’s 55. Then again, younger men, including foreign men, have been known to prey on older women. Good thing the bank account is in his name then. He isn’t about to give her the second key. But who is that on the line??

He grits his teeth.

He would punch anyone who touches his wife. Let him try seducing her, he thought to himself. He’s looked after her for so long, attended to her every need, he was the breadwinner, the hardworking husband, the good father…how can she even think of someone else?

He calms down. It was unworthy of him to think this way. Their fates are tied. They’ve been through so much together; they have a shared history. No one can change that. Yup, they can’t revise history.

The wife returns, face aglow.

“Who was that?’’ he asks nonchalantly.

“Oh just someone from church…,’’ she replies.

“Who?’’ he asks.

“Janet lah,’’ she replies, looking away from him.

He took up his briefcase. All’s fine. The wife is going to play mah-jong and doesn’t want him to know. He decides not to kick up a fuss.

As he went out the door, she reminds him to get another roll of toilet paper, deluxe, superior, multi-ply.

He nods.


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Photo By Shawn Danker
Roy Ngerng escorted by family and friends leaving the Supreme Court at the end of his hearing's second day.

by Wan Ting Koh and Arin Fong

BLOGGER Roy Ngerng stunned the court today when he launched into an emotional tirade describing himself a victim of persecution, then broke down and had to be declared unfit to continue the trial. “Let us be honest, we all know that I am being persecuted …the PM said he is waiting to sue, ” he said while he was being cross-examined by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.

“You, Mr Singh, are trying to pin me down by saying that what I said about the government was about the PM. I do not hate the PM, but I believe that we need to speak up for the people if the PAP would not take care of them. That’s always been my concern…what I say about the government and the CPF is a completely separate thing,” he said.

The hearing, which ended today, was to assess the amount of damages Mr Ngerng would have to pay the Prime Minister for having defamed him in a blog post which accused him of misusing CPF funds. Mr Lee Hsien Loong wants “substantial” damages. His lawyer, Mr Singh, had noted that political leaders had received $250,000 to $400,000 in the past.

The tipping point took place when Mr Singh was questioning Mr Ngerng about his financial situation. Mr Ngerng, who is unemployed, admitted to depending on his parents for funds. He had also sought financial assistance from the Media Legal Defence Initiative, based in London, which had given him $10,500 to help him defray part of his legal costs. He had also received a sum of $110,000 from crowdfunding.

Mr Singh referred to the amounts in legal fees Mr Ngerng had paid, suggesting that “the sensible thing” for Mr Ngerng to do was “not to aggravate injury”. But Mr Ngerng continued to repeat the defamation through a YouTube video made accessible to a few people.

He accused Mr Ngerng of “using foreign organisation to pressure the court” by appealing to international human rights efforts and painting himself as a victim of the defamation suit.

Citing the letters that Mr Ngerng had submitted to the court from the International Commission of Jurists and Centre for International Law, Philippines, Mr Singh claimed Mr Ngerng was implying that if “the court were to award high damages, it would run afoul of international human rights laws… and tantamount to judicial arrest”. This showed he had “no contrition and no remorse or sincerity”, he told the court.

However, Mr Ngerng stuck to his guns and maintained that his efforts to speak up about the G’s alleged misuse of CPF funds are separate from the defamation suit. Socio-legal history has showed, he said, that there have been instances where defamation cases have been used by political parties to silence opposition.

This was when he launched into his tirade and lost his composure. No one else in the room spoke, and the only sounds heard were the incessant clacking of keyboards and sniffles from Mr Ngerng’s assistant beside him.

After the break, Mr Singh submitted new evidence on Mr Ngnerg’s most recent online activity. Mr Singh told the court that on June 30, the day before the hearing, Mr Ngerng had written a blog post which he said, raised further questions about his sincerity and remorse.

The blog post, entitled “Tomorrow, My Hearing with the Singapore Prime Minister Begins for the Defamation Suit” portrayed the Prime Minister as an abusive, tyrannical leader, said the lawyer.

Here is the specific excerpt that Mr Singh referred to:

“It is wrong that our children are unfairly persecuted just for criticising a man whom the government is trying to protect. It is wrong when our children and ordinary citizens are being persecuted when those close to the ruling party are allowed to go scot-free. We cannot allow such abuse of power to continue, to threaten the very lives of the citizens. We cannot allow such unfairness and inequality to persist in our society. We have to fight back and take a stand.”

If read in its entirety, Mr Singh said, the article expressed Mr Ngerng’s insincerity over his apology because instead of accepting that Mr Lee was “entitled to sue and vindicate his reputation”, Mr Ngerng implied that what Mr Lee was doing was “wrong”, “unfair” and an “abuse of power”.

Reiterating his words yesterday, Mr Singh concluded: “You say one thing and you do another. Your apologies are meaningless, tactical, and insincere because they do not reflect what you actually feel”

Mr Ngerng vehemently denied the accusation, contending that Mr Singh had taken his words out of context. “Context, context, you took it out of context,” he said. The “children” in the blog post, he said, referred to teenager Amos Yee who was convicted for making offensive remarks against Christianity and for circulating obscene imagery. “It is wrong to take it out of context. In none of this did I mention PM Lee… if you’re the one who is unable to look at things in context, I can’t help you.”

Mr Singh concluded his cross-examination by referring to Mr Ngerng’s use of the word “persecuted” earlier in the day. “You came to this court believing that this suit had been commenced by the plaintiff to persecute you for speaking about CPF… and you came to give this court a false impression to avoid or reduce damages.”

Both parties have been given until August 31 to file their written submissions.


See our coverage of the best of the trial:

Day One

Day Two

Day Three


Featured photo by Shawn Danker.

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You’ve heard from the PM on the stand – now hear what he has to say about Singapore in the hot seat – during an interview with CNN host and The Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria. The dialogue was held as part of the opening of this year’s SG50+ Conference at the Institute of Policy Studies. The theme: At 50: What Lies Ahead.

Now we know it’s tough trawling through MSM to hear what the PM had to say about politics, society, and the limits of free speech – so we’ve done that for you. Here are some excerpts, culled from stories today about yesterday’s dialogue:

On politics…

“In most other countries, the governments do not develop policies which are meant to help everybody equally. If you’re a Republican, it’s quite clear who your policies are meant to help… If you’re a Democrat, you also know what your constituency is, and you take care of your constituency. But in Singapore, a government’s job is to look after as large a proportion of the population as possible, while still giving people the incentive to vote for this G, so that they will get some benefit from it. And if we take the view that if you voted against me, I should help you first as that shows my largeness of spirit, then I think you will go extinct as a government.”

“We are a multi-party liberal democratic system. The outcome is not what you would like to see, but that is what Singaporean voters have decided.”

“I prefer strongly not to. This is a job which needs a young man, people with energy, people who will be there and can connect with young people, and will fight the battles with (them), not for five or 10 years but for 20, 30, 40 years to come. And you need somebody of that generation.” – asked if he would continue to lead Singapore for next 10 years.

On society…

“I think we must have a balance. We want people who stand up; we don’t want people who scrape and bow. But if you don’t have a certain natural aristocracy in the system – people who are respected because they have earned that – and we level everything down to the lowest common denominator, then I think the society will lose out.” – rejecting a suggestion that Singapore would benefit from a culture that challenges the authorities.

“I have a multiracial mix (in population) but I have a mix where everybody has benefited from the system, where everybody has a stake and can see that it is working for us. And it has prevailed so far.”

“You don’t expect to go back to how you were in the 1960s. Yet, it is not natural that you stay in this place. Is it to be expected that a population of 3.5 million citizens and maybe a million foreign workers will have the best airline in the world, the best airport in the world, one of the busiest ports in the world, and an education and healthcare and housing system which gives us a per capita GDP higher than America or Australia or Japan? It’s an entirely unnatural state of affairs and one which we should count our blessings for – if not every day, at least (at) every election.” – about the G’s “paranoia” to remain successful

“The problem is not gone. Religion has become more prominent (and) everybody’s more conscious of their identity.” – referring to the potential fault lines of race and religion in society

On law and order…

“I spent six hours in court. If this were an orderly place, would I have to do that?” – elaborating on his point that Singapore is not as orderly as outsiders seem to think.

“It’s right and proper that there should be ways for a defamation to be examined, determined whether it’s true or false, and if it’s false, that there should be proper damages and redress…

You can say and discuss anything you like, but you can’t defame anybody you like. If you can’t redress defamation, then how can I clear my name when somebody defames me?” – on the limits of free speech in Singapore

“You can give offence even without intending to, so when you intend to give offence, I think you have to act against it.” – on race and religion sensitivities



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