Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can there be a level playing field?

Was it any wonder that the PAP government was able to bulldoze through Parliament amendments to the Parliamentary Election Act (PEA) to increase NCMP from six to nine and a cooling-off day on eve of Polling Day? It was a foregone conclusion with the PAP's massive majority in Parliament. What chances the minuscule number of two opposition MPs and one NCMP had against the relentless aggressive onslaught of PAP ministers and MPs in trying to stem the PAP's might in bulldozing through the amendments?

Opposition NCMP Sylvia Lim was remarkable in her element in putting up a scintillating performance with two eloquent speeches, one on the NCMP amendment and the other on the cooling-off day that had PAP ministers in a discomfiture trying to match. Those who have not read her speeches are encouraged to do so in order to share in the oratory of her arguments against the two amendments to the PEA. The arguments were cogent and could have moved any sceptical audience in an assembly but unfortunately fell on deaf ears of PAP ministers.

Is the increment of 3 NCMP seats up to 9 seats a boon to the opposition as propagated by the government? A NCMP seat is awarded to the defeated opposition candidate with the highest number of votes in the constituency he or she contested. The government is in fact telling the voters that even if a PAP candidate is elected, the defeated opposition candidate can still enter Parliament as a NCMP. Thus guillible voters are hoodwinked into believing that it is safe to vote for the PAP candidate as the defeated opposition candidate is not deprived of a seat in Parliament. But the simple voter may not be able to have the cognition of the handicap faced by a NCMP. He or she has no costituents to represent and therefore has no status in his or her constituency. The NCMP cannot vote on certain important issues in Parliament besides other disabilities. In other words the NCMP is like a puppet apart from being allowed to make speeches in Parliament. Therefore, increasing the NCMP seats is just a charade of the PAP government to maintain or strengthen its massive majority in Parliament.

A cooling-off day on eve of Polling Day is another shenanigan of the PAP government to ensure its dominance on Polling Day. A total ban on electioneering on cooling-off day puts the opposition parties at a disadvantage as they are not able to make any last-minute appeal to voters in order to counter government propaganda against them. Nowhere in the democratic world is there such a precedent and for the PAP spin doctor to come up with this nefarious idea is the apex of perfidy. There is no guarantee that the crafty PAP will not take advantage of this cooling-off day to slip in anti-opposition propagnda in disguised form while opposition electioneering stands frozen.

These two schemes are introduced in addition to vote-catching measures that have been put in by PAP leaders. The upgrading of aging HDB flats inPAP constituencies as welll as in some opposition wards is just one example. The PAP leaders are doing all these as they are concerned about reports of favourable ground situation in favour of the opposition in a general election. They will try with everything in their power to prevent the opposition from making inroads into their political dominance. So can the opposition expect a level playing field?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Subtlety of Gutter Politics

Politics in many countries in the world where elections are held every four or five years to determine which political party should form the government of the day has one thing in common. The incumbent government will try everthing in its power to ensure its return to power in the election. So in the period before the election, the government can be seen to be offering sweeteners to potential electors in order to win their votes.

For instance in Singapore, reasonably-priced HDB flats are being built to deflect the ruffled feelings of potential flat-buying citizens who were intimdated by the frenzy of the overheated HDB flat market in terms of prices and availability. Another inducement is the upgrading of aging HDB flats both in the PAP constituencies and opposition wards. Currently, there is talk of the restoration of the employers' cut of the CPF to the workers. To complete the destruction of the opposition hope of ever coming close to capturing any PAP seats, whether single ward or GRC, will be the inevitable gerrymandering of electorial boundaries which will indicate how soon the General Election will take place. For the PAP it will be a case of head I win and tail you lose.

In spite of all these vote-catching preparations, it cannot be said that the PAP is not worried about the ground situation which is favourable to the opposition and is likely to improve with the approach of the General Election. The internet is full of exhortations to Singapore electors, especially the young voters, not to vote the PAP. The mainstream media is not overly friendly to the oppositiion but it can be assured of robust support from the new media, especially the redoubtable netizens.

Discomfited PAP leaders are scrambling to salvage the situation and to try to find a plan to break the spirit and solidarity of the opposition. Is it a co-incidence that a former president of the Reform Party chose this moment to pick up a quarrel with the secretary-general of the party Kenneth Jeyaretnam to present a sombre picture of disunity within the party? This is exactly what the PAP leaders hope to see happen to the opposition. Is this an act of providence to strengthen the hand of the PAP? Reform Party is the best bet to capture the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in combination with the Singapore Democratic Alliance. Is there going to be a domino effect on the opposition whether by providence or otherwise thereby snuffing out opposition chances in the General Election?

Whether by providence or not, the opposition, especially Kenneth Jeyaretnam, should tighten up their security to ensure that no mercenary is infiltrated into their parties to cause disunity. It is still not too late to do that now. There is a Chinese saying: To repair the pen after the sheep have escaped is not too late. (wang yang bu lao, wei wei wan yi)
Publish Post

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The god has spoken

The god has spoken. No one can be mistaken that this refers to the godlike figure in the person of the pompous Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. He was in his element when he delivered his bombastic discourse at the first Singapore Indian New Year Celebrations at Serangoon Road last Saturday on the highly distressing subject of immigration. He chose an Indian environment to address this subject because he could be assured of a docile and captive audience who could expect nothing short of his obsequious compliments to the Indian community. He was talking glibly about the better-endowed, educationally and financially, Indian immigrants whom the Singapore government was trying to attract. They do not present any major demographic or economic problem to the government. The Indian work permit workers are the ones giving some social and sanitary problems wherever they congregate.

The ones giving Singaporeans perennial social and political problems are the Chinese immigrants. Singapore has seen an overwhelming influx of Chinese immigrants since time immemorial and their presence is so ubiquitous that they can be found in such unlikely places as Indian restaurants working as waitors and waitresses. Singapore commuters find scant comfort in their public transport travels, be it in buses or MRT, where Chinese immigrants could cause crowding to an intolerable degree, sometimes worsened with hordes of Indian work permit workers.

The speed with which Chinese immigrants were able to obtain Permanent Resident (PR) status and citizenship had to be witnessed to be believed. The irony is that many of the new citizens and PRs were not really enamoured of Singapore. They regard China as more dynamic and grandiose in size, politics and economy and as their motherland where they belong. They were merely birds of passage whose aim of getting Singapore citizenship or PR status was to get employment and more importantly to purchase HDB flats which they could sell at a profit when they returned to their motherland for good. Have the Singapore leaders, especially MM Lee, awakened to the fact of pseudo-patriotism displayed by these Chinese immigrants? Were they not partly the cause of the phenomenal price increase of our HDB resale flats? Singapore prospective purchasers of HDB resale flats are the ones who bear the brunt of the deceitful behaviour of these Chinese immigrants. Even other Singapore non- flat purchasers join in the chorus of protest.

Then there is the question of employment. We have 30,000 PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Engineers and Technicians) who have been unemployed for quite a long time and we now have Chinese and Indian immigrants competing with the PMETs for limited employment opportunites. Is it not incumbent upon the Singapore government to give priority to our PMETs in finding them employment before the Chinese and Indian immigrants? Perhaps some of the Indian immigrants may have special IT qualifications and may be treated separately. Apart from the PMETs there is a large number of unemployed Singapore citizens needing government attention.

There is a well-known saying: Charity begins in the home.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Plausible Revelation

She did not marry me and became Temasek Holdings' Chief Executive Officer. I married her because she had the talent of a CEO. This was the dramatic revelation of PM Lee Hsien Loong in referring to his wife, Ms Ho Ching, in an interview with Mr. Phil Ponce, host of the Chicago Tonight on WTTW Channel 11 last Thursday. Apparently, this was said to pre-empt Mr. Ponce from popping the question of nepotism in the Singapore government.

At first glance, the startling revelation seems in order. But upon closer examination, it could hardly stand up to scrutiny. Like the Chinese saying: It simply breaks without being attacked (不攻自破)。 First of all, when did PM Lee first discover that Ms Ho Ching possessed CEO talent? Had she ever served under him before she married PM Lee so that her display of outstanding talent akin to that of a CEO in the course of her duty could not have been missed by the eagle-eyed PM Lee? If not, unless he had clairvoyant power and could have seen things where other people could not, it may seem a bit far-fetched for PM Lee to make that kind of claim.

If the claim of Ms Ho Ching being CEO-talented before her marriage to PM Lee is lacking in proof, then the question of nepotism in connection with her Temasek CEO's appointment as a corollary cannot simply be wished away. Singaporeans will be wondering whether, with her disastrous stewardship of Temasek Holdings involving colossal losses, Ms Ho Ching really has the talent for the post. The lack of accountability for these losses has not given confidence to Singaporeans, especially the taxpayers, that Temasek Holdings is in capable hands. The question uppermost in their mind, despite government's vehement denial, is whether Ms Ho Ching would have been appointed Temasek's CEO if she had not married PM Lee. This is still a moot point with Singaporeans.

The question of nepotism is not confined to Singaporeans. Singapore ministers going on official overseas assignments were often asked this question, maybe in a diplomatic way. Even the PM in American this time if he had not had the foresight to bring it up first. So in the world of politics, you can plead being above board in nepotism and corruption but you cannot completely eradicate cynicism shown by some of the sceptical citizens. And this can have a multiplying effect in certain circumstances.

Well, the die is cast. We will wait and see how the PAP will fare in the General Election which can be called as early as this year. They are likely to face a formidable realigned opposition with the avowed aim of denting the invincibility of the PAP.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Is the Opposition capable of epoch-making?

Is the opposition capable of epoch-making? The answer has to be a definite yes. The ground for the opposition is favourable and improving and the prognosis for making inroads into PAP domain can be said to be sanguine. Provided the opposition is united and avoid feuding one another in the hustings. There is already quite a steady flow of talented candidates with excellent tertiary qualifications into some of the more credible opposition parties and they are going to give the much-vaunted PAP election contestants a run for their money. The opposition should continue to woo more of the high-calibre candidates to join their parties in the time available before general election is called.

The to be applauded combination of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Reform Party (RP) in firing the first salvo in their quest in breaking the pernicious PAP stranglehold on Singapore with a combined walkabout in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC last Sunday is an encouraging beginning of what is to follow. That Mr. Chiam See Tong who heads the SDA and Mr. Kenneth Jeyaratnam, chief of RP, had chosen Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC to test the ground is significant. This GRC is the political stronghold of DPM Wong Kan Seng which he has helmed and has been uncontested since it was formed in 1997. Another GRC which the opposition is going to zero in on is the Tampines GRC which is helmed by the Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan. MM Lee Kuan Yew has tried to frighten Tampines voters that they would see their HDB flats go down in value if they did not vote PAP in Tampines GRC.

That the SPH-controlled mainstream media, especially the Straits Times, has given luke-warm publicity to the SDA-RP walkabout is not something unexpected. The opposition will be naive to expect adequate ardent coverage of their election campaigns during the hustings by the mainstream media. Their political masters, the PAP, will have the first call on them. All is not lost, maybe just a bit deficient, for the opposition parties as they will be strongly supported by the new media.

Where the new media stand vis-a-vis the PAP government and its leaders is not a mystery. They have been consistent in their vitriolic criticisms on the PAP government and its leaders for their unpopular and undemocratic policies. The netizens are mostly young voters and they have called on other voters, especially young voters, not to vote for PAP in the general election. It will be foolhardy for the PAP leadership to ignore this wave of anti-PAP sentiments by the netizens and their possible impact on the outcome of the general election. PM Lee Hsien Loong has tried to pooh-pooh these online criticisms as "astroturfing".

Well, PM Lee and his cabinet colleagues may feel confident PAP will be returned to power at the next General Election, but the capture of at least two GRCs and some single seats by the combined oppostions is a distinct possibility. PM Lee is welcome to continue to live in his fool's paradise.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Is the Straits Times above Astroturfing?

This is what is called astroturfing by the mainstream media, especially the Straits Times. The Straits Times in its editorial today was nauseatingly sycophantic in calling on the government to "turf out of consideration astroturfed views when determining policies".

But does the Straits Times genuinely believe that its propagandist organ is above astroturfing? The editorial described astroturfing as a manufactured product masquerading as the real thing: fake mail, phone call or digital campaigns orchestrated to appear like spontaneous "grassroots" responses. Is not the Straits Times answering to this description in its pro-government propaganda to the exclusion of constructive opposition and concerned critics' voices?

The Straits Times seems to be aping the Prime Minister in disparaging online criticisms of the government as fakes orchestrated to appear like spontaneous grassroots responses. Is not the echoing of his master's voice cringingly a form a astroturfing? Right-thinking Singaporeans have seen through the obsequiousness of the Straits Times. There are regular readers of the Straits Times who are digusted with its spineless character and give up reading the trash in the paper going instead to the internet for their local and international news.

It is precisely because of the dearth of genuine news about the political and financial mismanagements of the government which the mainstream media are covering up that there is a healthy growth of the new media to counter this journalistic abberation of the mainstream media. For example it was the new media which provided the news of the recent heavy financial loss of over US $1 billion by the Government Investment Corporation (GIC). True to their obsequious character, there was not a word in the mainstream media about this GIC financial disaster to the public. Although the public were apprised by the new media, there was very little they could do with no accountability by the "democratic" government. Would the Straits Times describe the dramatic disclosure by the new media of the financial loss of GIC as astroturfing?

Hovering over the mainstream media like a sword of Damocles is a body called the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). It is hardly a benevolent organ but a tightly-organised body that supervises closely any piece of pro-government propaganda that goes out from the mainstream media. Woe betides any exuberant journalist who does not toe the line. The next thing he knows is that he will find his rice-bowl dancing (a Chinese slang for dismissal). To ensure absolute obedience to its draconian policy, the government has installed a former deputy prime minister, who is also the government spin doctor, at the head of SPH. So how can one expect anything but astroturfing from the mainstream media, especially the bombastic Straits Times.