Go with a smile!

Saturday, April 23, 2011


It’s a funny thing. The elections are upon us again. In 2006, there were dark mutterings about Singaporeans turning against the PAP. Now, things are even more interesting. There are more capable people joining the opposition. I am personally acquainted with 1 candidate from the SPP. And another from the PAP.

From the SDP, Vincent Wijeysingha is the son of my former RI headmaster. Teo Sung Leng is one of the detainees from Operation Spectrum. I actually picked up her book at the NLB book exchange. The SDP also had managed to rope in James Gomez. And in a great coup, Chee Soon Juan actually roped in Tan Jee Say, who used to be Goh Chok Tong’s secretary.

This is a remarkable turnaround for Chee Soon Juan, because his political career was considered to have been finished. Very few Singaporeans identify with the SDP because they think that they are too westernised and politically liberal / leftist. We still remember that hunger fasting stunt. We still remember how he would heckle after Goh Chok Tong in a hawker centre. (Never mind that his question, “what the fuck are you doing with our foreign reserves” is actually quite a legitimate one.) We remember his protest marches and we found them quite silly, especially as you can probably not gather a bunch of 50 people and march down 1 street before getting stopped by the police. But in my eyes, this looks like a remarkable political resurrection.

Some other political parties have met their crises. Kenneth Jeyaretnam seemed to be an up and coming star when he started the Reform Party a few years back, but now a lot of the people in there have defected. Probably they didn’t think that party had a good future. Also Chiam See Tong, putting aside his remarkable political longevity, seems to be a quarrelsome bugger who has been kicked out of both the SDP and the Singapore Democratic Alliance.

From the National Solidarity Party (formerly part of the SDA), Nicole Seah seems to be one of the more impressive opposition candidates. At least, for her age, much more impressive than Tin Pei Ling, whom the Straits Times inexplicably put on the front page twice.

There is the general feeling that change is in the air. I remember 1991, when a great change was in the air too. There was a lot of uncertainty about the future. The Cold War had just ended, and the USA had won. Now, in an even more dramatic turn of events, the USA, Europe and Japan, the economic powerhouses of the world in 1991, are in really really deep shit now. The problems had been steadily building up over the decades.

1991 seemed to be a turning point for the opposition. They had 4 people elected into parliament, which was an all time high since 1965. 2 of them are still there: Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang. My father took some form of perverse pride in this. He would tell me that Hougang, and to a smaller extent, Potong Pasir had a large proportion of Teochews. The implication being that all Singaporeans were kiasee with the exception of us Teochews.

Lim How Doong shot himself in the foot by mouthing off “don’t talk cock” in parliament. And the PAP won that seat back. To be fair to them, the PAP did stage a big operation and tried to win back those 4 seats by pulling out the stops and promising that their town council would be so much better than when under SDP. Cheo Chai Chen lost his seat, because of the tumult that took place in the SDP in the years immediately following 1991.

Things are different this year. You can feel it. 2006 was novel in the sense that the opposition party was not merely fielding people you could consider the “man in the street”. This year, they took it one more step forward, and there are a lot of opposition candidates of fairly high caliber. A few former scholars are in here. A few high ranking former civil servants.

2006 was one of the first few years that keeping blogs was a fashionable thing. Now, only hardcore nerds like me update their blogs every week. Back then what was exciting was the novelty of the idea that the internet could influence the elections in a big way. In 2001 not enough people had the internet to make a difference. More significantly, that was web 1.0, where social media was almost non-existent. Nobody published their own stuff. That changed in 2006. And more significantly, 2011 will be the first election in which a lot of people have Facebook.

I think that Facebook is a game changer. Now, when I log onto Facebook, I see that a lot of my friends are making a lot of comments about the opposition. One of the tricks that the PAP has used, over the years, to keep themselves in power, is to create the image of the opposition as marginalized outsiders. Well, when so many people talk about the opposition on facebook, that illusion is slowly but surely being blown out of the water.

Significantly, the Straits Times has actually been a little more even-handed in their coverage of opposition members. Although they are still the mouthpiece of the PAP. I think there might be a sense that PAP's repressive ways of doing things may no longer serve a good purpose. Yes, it had its value when you were trying to weed out communists. It had its value when you knew you had a good system, and you just had to have things done in a certain way, you had to do it efficiently and you didn't want there to be deadlock. But when you used this awesome executive power to entrench the interests of an elite few at the expense of the many, when you used it to cover up your mistakes, and when you used it simply because the idea that all people are equal, and have an equal voice is simply abhorrent to you, then there is something wrong with the system.

Giving feedback is something that is - well it's been said that a customer's complaint is a sort of gift. So I think some people in the government wanted to hear what exactly people were upset about. They wanted to listen to the opposition a little more. So there is progress after all.

Anyway, if you want to know why ppl are upset about the gahment, there's a fairly succinct summary over here.


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