March 23, 2017

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by Lim Weixiang

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Malaysian protesting at Merlion Park. (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

A large group of Malaysian Chinese dressed in black gathered at Merlion Park last night to protest against the results of the recent elections in Malaysia. They carried “Ubah” (meaning ‘change’ in Malay) placards – the clarion call of the opposition movement in Malaysia. “1758” spoken in Mandarin means “To Ubah Together”.

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Traditionally, Opposition parties’ rallies have been well attended but not necessarily translating into votes. So has been the case for Punggol By-election 2013.

Despite the hubris and gung-ho attitudes of the speakers from the Workers’ Party (WP), the Reform Party (RP) and the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), I’m sure they are not lulled into a false sense of security. Make no mistake, apart from the Hougang By-election 2012, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has always competed as the defending champion.

Is there any hope then for an Opposition victory? If one follows the online chatter, such hope seems quite slim. The general consensus is that multi-cornered fights will dilute the Opposition vote and hand PAP the victory. Many point to the recent Presidential Election aka Battle of the Tans, as proof – where the supposed PAP endorsed candidate Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam narrowly beat out Dr Tan Cheng Bok due to the ‘interference’ of Mr Tan Kin Lian and Mr Tan Jee Say.

Such a theory has 2 fundamental premises (a) all Opposition votes will only go to Opposition parties (b) all PAP voters have and always will be PAP voters. An analysis of the overall GE2011 result immediately disproves the theory.

In GE2011, the total popular vote of the PAP dropped to a historic low of 60.14%, a 6% point drop compared to GE2007. Such a massive swing could only come from PAP voters voting for the Opposition, so much for (a) and (b)!

So what does this mean for Punggol By-election 2013? While certain events are likely to happen (RP and SDA will not win), the critical outcomes are still up in the air (WP or PAP to win? Will Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam and/or Mr Desmond Lim retain their election deposits?).

Another thing is certain. It will be such a nail biting race to the finish line, it would unnerve even the most cold blooded of gamblers to bet on the results.

Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.
– The Architect, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’

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An online rally instead of one held at an open field sounds like a good idea – you save money on logistics, you reach a potentially vast audience and you get to rehearse as many times as you like to sound your best.

Unfortunately, for the Singapore Democratic Alliance, their online rally is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. In the two videos aired yesterday evening, Desmond Lim looked like a man constantly reading a script and his poor grammar completely distracted from what he had to say – which unfortunately, wasn’t much in terms of substance.

To make things worse, motivational speaker Harminder Pal Singh acted as the host of the two videos and his animated eloquence only served to magnify Lim’s lack of oratorical skills. One wonders if the SDA had reviewed the videos before releasing them into the wild.

The SDA is going to get what it wanted – a video that is going viral on social media. But not in the way it intended.

SDA’s first online rally videohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmNvgSO-I2A

SDA’s second online rally videohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPh_IkKjzVo

*UPDATE – 22 Jan 2013, 10am*
SDA’s third online rally videohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riMQWG_Pj3g

*UPDATE – 22 Jan 2013, 12pm*
SDA’s fourth online rally videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=V-iI96ndwCE

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FIRST, a confession. I am relying mainly on MSM news reports and my FB feeds to get news of the by-election. I read so much about the candidates offering practically their lives to get elected. I know so much about their backgrounds. I know what they want to do for those lucky Punggol East people. I suppose this is what a by-election is about.

But I wonder about why no one is talking about the big stuff or impending big stuff. I don’t mean the usual complaints about high transport, health and housing costs but the stuff that people are talking about and want to hear about. And I don’t mean general stuff like whether we need more opposition voices in Parliament. (BTW, I thought SDA’s Desmond Lim paid a huge tribute to the Workers’ Party by calling it a dominant party. He wants to be the third voice in a two-voice Parliament. Diversity of views, I suppose.)

Anyway, here is my own list of ‘missing’ issues:

(a) Why is no one talking about AIM, that PAP-run company that does the town councils’ books? Is everyone waiting for the National Development ministry to finish its report – and then comment? Is it the worry about incomplete information which might get them into trouble? I know WP withdrew its motion and I praised the move. But you know, I think any political party can speak about the subject at a time of election – especially whether town councils are ‘political’ associations. And give its own take about the ‘fundamental nature’ of town councils which even the PM wants studied.

(b) No one is really getting into Palmergate, at least not the way Yaw Shin Leong’s character was dissected in the Hougang BE. Maybe because he’s too popular with residents to be raised as an issue? Then what about the more general qualities expected of a political representative? I mean, the seat fell vacant because of his indiscretion. So how come there’s no comment on it?

(c) The immigrant issue. I suppose more childcare centres, covered linkways and bus services are ‘safe’ topics. But what about this nagging, niggling problem we have about the foreigners in our midst? Companies say they are suffering because of the squeeze on foreign labour, NGOs think that the G doesn’t treat foreign workers right. And some of the comments being heard are outright xenophobic or racist. We still need foreigners, never mind the $2billion Population package announced yesterday that won’t have us replacing ourselves any time soon. So where do the parties stand on the immigration issue? Too hot a topic?

(d) Then there are the constitutional challenges coming up pretty soon, such as on the PM’s right to call or not call a by-election, which must surely be something parties can take a stand on? Or is it because they think they might run afoul of the court? Surely, this is something that also falls within the political arena?

(e) Now, there’s a row between pro-Section 377a and anti-Section 377a on the criminalisation of homosexual acts. I hope the politicians are not so busy campaigning that they do not notice the heightened tensions and some hysteria online. Religion is getting political. What a dangerous mix which I thought the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act was designed to separate…or am I wrong? Questions are coming up on freedom of expression – both pro-gay and anti-gay. Politicians are being courted to take sides. So many issues here …or is this considered too explosive a mix to bring to the public’s attention? Maybe, again, everyone is waiting again for the court to rule.

Anyway, that’s just my one cent worth. Maybe what the voters really really want to know is exactly when (give exact date please) Rivervale Plaza will be fully ready.

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It’s been a busy political weekend. Hands have been shaken. Fliers distributed. Speeches made. Now, what can anyone make of this? Has there been a “joining of issues’’? Are there new promises/pledges? Is this a national or a local election?

It’s local.

That’s because every candidate is talking about making Punggol East a better place to live in. So, more childcare places, more bus services, one more coffeeshop, quicker completion of Rivervale Plaza. PAP’s Koh Poh Koon has also thrown in facilities for the elderly and a covered linkway. You would think those 30,000 voters are living in slums the way physical upgrading is being promised…

If the constituents really want those things, I guess they should vote for the person whose party is in power. Really. Let’s be frank. It’s the PAP which can get stuff done faster, simply because it holds the reins on everything and has the pushing power. Not to mention a grassroots network which remains intact whichever party represents the ward. This is the problem – or advantage – of BIG government.

The opposition has offered some carrots too, along the same lines as the PAP. But you know what? Quite a lot would depend on whether the G machinery would crank along with their wish list.

On the local front, what REALLY can the opposition promise? I suppose it will have to do with town council operations then. The Workers’ Party can at least say that it has the experience. So far, the Reform Party and SDA seems to be offering a portion of their MP allowance! But what can an opposition-run town council do that a PAP-run town council can’t or won’t? How different is the WP town council from the PAP town council – besides being behind in the collection of arrears? By the way, this “defect’’ can be viewed as being compassionate/kind or tardy/inefficient. I am not even touching AIM – in fact, no one is!

I suppose it’s tough now to assess how the PAP runs the Punggol East ward per se, since the town council covers a far bigger area than just Punggol East. But it would be good to know that the opposition has looked over its books and can offer some concrete suggestions knowing what sort of money or manpower the town council has.

Hmm…lower service and conservancy fees? More frequent cleaning of open spaces? More hiring of those within the constituency? Price checks on products/food being sold in the area? A subsidy for the elderly who cannot afford basic products? Tie-ups with NGOs and charities? Because the opposition is by definition not the Government, it should have on its side a whole bunch of supporting characters/organisations who are willing to lend a hand on the local front. I haven’t heard of any.

As an aside, this whole “who will harder for you’’ is getting quite funny. So the PAP wants the vote so the WP will work harder; and vice versa. Then there is the “we will work hard for you anyway, regardless of…’’ sort of campaign theme. I have got to say that on this “work harder’’ front, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat should know that you always need competition to spur you to do better. Ask any student.

Likewise, PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking about the by-election effect, talks about how constituents shouldn’t have this idea that they would have BOTH the PAP and an opposition politician working the ward if they went for the opposition. I suppose that was one of the original attractions of the by-election effect.

But I doubt that voters are thinking in those terms – of having two nannies. It’s more of having their cake and eating it – PAP in power, opposition in Parliament. Now, whether those 30,000 voters feel this way would depend on whether they think their ward would suffer “physically’’ if they went for the opposition. I haven’t heard any threats yet from the PAP about withdrawing services (Let me reiterate, I am not talking about AIM here)

Therefore, it’s also national.

And it’s getting pretty strange. You can see how far the Workers’ Party have come from the JBJ days. The Reform Party, helmed by JBJ’s son, is actually the old Workers’ Party. You have Low Thia Khiang practically speaking on the PAP Government’s behalf – exhorting the people to give the G time for policies to change and bear fruit, even as the WP keeps a close watch on it. I gather die-hard opposition supporters aren’t too happy with it. What WP thinks is a moderate, conciliatory stand is being taken as, well, “PAP lite’’.

Again, as I said in an earlier post, I wish the opposition would give its parliamentary record to the people. I am not even asking for a restatement of policy positions, but what it did in its “watcher’’ role. We need to know if they are effective watchdogs or just there to sit pretty. We’re not forgetting those former Singapore Democratic Party MPs of the past, who said nary a word and if they did, didn’t make much sense.

Anyway, the G has been rolling out stuff pretty quickly. Like an expanded rail network for which it hasn’t done any engineering studies – and therefore cannot tell you what it will cost. Then so many flats are coming up to woo people who want to own one plus cooling measures that no one is sure will work or not.

In the meantime, things are breaking down – the NEL stoppage on Nomination Day, the M1 cellphone system conking out… Not the G’s fault, but contributing to a certain sourness on the ground. Plus, the price of fish maw and abalone is ridiculous! How to celebrate Chinese New Year like that?

Anyway, Polling Day is Jan 26.

A lot can happen between now and then.