Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Bombastic Scare Tactic

This is not the first time that the former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has used his bombastic scare tactic to deter Singaporeans from moving towards a two-party system which he warned as being fraught with dangers. He is a past master in sophistry which he uses consummately in this instance to try to demonstrate that Singapore is exquisitely governed by a PAP one-party system and that Singaporeans will only rock the boat at their own peril by "electing weak and ineffective governments".

He tried to gloss over Western criticisms of the systems of government in Singapore and China and misleadingly asserted that they sprung out of "preconceived ideas" the West has about multi-party democracy. It is interesting to note here that he seems to equate the system of government in Singapore with that of China. China is a one-party Communist system of government where there is hardly any democracy or suffrages as known to the democratic world. Singapore is a democracy with election by citizens of a government every five years. What kind of grotesque mind has this man Lee Kuan Yew in trying to mislead Singaporeans that the systems of government in Singapore and China are identical? He also tried to portray a similarity between the PAP and the CCP claiming both have comparable cultural backgounds and work on the basis of pragmatism. Can the non-Chinese Singaporeans be amused by such tendentious comparisons?

By his arguments which he purports to speak on behalf of the PAP Government, the PAP seeks to perpetuate a one-party hegemony and draws on the Chinese experience as a guide. Therefore, any talk of a two-party system by the opposition is anathema to the PAP. And so begun a pernicious campaign of scare tactics by the former MM Lee Kuan Yew to castigate this system and to deter Singaporeans from ever entertaining any idea of this PAP-abhorred two-party system.

As shown by the General Election in May, the writing is on the wall that Singapore electors are disillusioned with the PAP one-party hegemony and have shown their disgust with the PAP by voting in a Workers' Party (WP) team in the renowned Aljunied GRC. However one looks at it, it is not unreasonable to assume that, with the wheel of history moving forward, a two-party system is not something that is intangible whether in the near or distant future.

This reality has sent a blue funk to the PAP leaders, especially LKY, that the hitherto somnolent Singapore electors have awakened from their slumber. They have very discerning eyes - the Chinese call it "snow-clear" (雪亮) (meaning very clear) - and they will be able to see through the machinations of the PAP leaders, delivering them a more telling blow in the next GE. It may not lead to an alternative government, unless there is a significant surge of talented candidates in the opposition, but may see a significant increase of successful opposition candidates sufficient to form a two-party system. Will the former MM Lee Kuan Yew have sleepless nights over this electoral evolution? It would mean that from now on he will intensify his heinous campaign of scare tactics to make sure that this nightmarish eventuality will not materialise.

The wheel of history is progressive and not regressive.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are The 3rd Generation PAP Leaders Not Really Self-serving?

We often hear of smooth-talking politicians professing vehemently that they are dedicated to serving the people but in the end most of them are more motivated by enriching themselves. There is no dearth of such self-serving politicians, especially in the third world.

Singapore is proud of its first generation PAP leaders who were sincere politicians dedicated to serving the people, especially the poor, without any unwholesome thoughts of enriching themselves in the process. They were quite contented with the modest stipends they got for their ministerial pay. And there was an almost complete absence of any corrupt tendency among the ministers in spite of their modest pay. They were elected by the people for the people in the true sense of the words. And there was no lack of their political zeal in transforming a backward Singapore society to a more developed one where poverty of the lowest rung was reduced to a considerably manageable degree. We think that their names can go down in Singapore's history as remarkable selfless nation builders.

The second generation PAP leaders inherited the legacy of the first generation in remarkable condition and for the first few years the tradition of serving the people was carried on. Then in the middle of 1990s the Prime Minister hit on a brainwave that in serving the people they must not overlook the opportunity of enriching themselves from the country's wealth. So without any tinge of compunction, an astronomical scale of salaries of two or more millions a year each was introduced to reward the so-called impoverished ministers. All these merrily came out of the taxpayers' money, Can the taxpayers demur?

Now this introduction of astronomical ministerial salaries gave an entirely different perception to the lofty ideal of serving the people. The people were now served by ministers motivated by a whopping salary and the distinction between greed and service was hardly palpable. So we now had a provider of service to the people without a soul and was merely a mercenary. This caused a lot of unhappiness to the people who had voiced their vitriolic criticisms on the ministerial salaries but they were unable to sway the intransigence of the PM. The people's wrath, however, continued to fester.

Then came the third generation PAP leaders who continue to carry on blithely the astronomical ministerial salary tradition and their so-called service to the people which we must now view askance. As long as their motivation is their whopping salaries, the distinction between greed and service to the people is at best indistinguishable. As one citizen puts it, a blind PAP leadership is trying to lead a sighted people. As the Chinese saying goes: the people's eyes are snow-clear (雪亮)(which means very clear) and they can easily see through the disingenuity of the PAP leaders. They are just biding their time until the opposition can come up with a viable alternative governmental slate of candidates. Or they can show their disapprobation by delivering a more telling anti-PAP result in the next general election.

PM Lee Hsien Loong had a premonition and had very wisely ordered a review of the ministerial salaries. We will wait and see whether the outcome is drastic enough to meet the people's expectation. The most absurd is the President's salary which should have been included in the review. He draws $4.2 million a year holding babies, attending Istana open houses and receiving foreign dignitaries. When asked by a wag what he has been doing all these years as a President, he was at a loss for words for a reply and sheepishly asked his enquirer to read his memoirs (as yet unpublished). His is just a ceremonial role and it is suggested that $500,000 a year is more than adequate for his office.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Refreshing Candidate in the Presidential Election

We have been presented so far with three prospective candidates who have past connections with the PAP. One was a deputy prime minister, deputy chairman of GIC and chairman of the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). Another was a PAP MP and the third a PAP branch office-bearer. So the electors were actually presented with a Hobson's choice. Now we have a fourth prospective candidate in the person of Mr. Tan Jee Say who has no past connection with the PAP and is a refreshing entrant in the presidential fray.

Mr. Tan Jee Say was a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate in the General Election in May but failed to capture the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC in which he contested with his party comrades. He is said to have resigned from the SDP to contest the presidential election as an independent candidate. He has creditable credentials and there is every reason that he will succeed in getting qualified as a candidate.

Mr. Tan Jee Say stands out as a candidate truly independent of the PAP Government. In this way he stands a very good chance of garnering the anti-establishment votes. The other three candidates - Dr. Tony Tan, Dr. Tan Cheng Bock and Mr. Tan Kin Lian- will have to contend with one another for the pro-PAP votes. This is likely to be the scenario because the current electoral mood is still to shun the white (白色忌讳)(the white meaning the PAP) and may target candidates with past PAP connections.

The election of Mr. Tan Jee Say as president is likely to cause consternation to the PAP Government. Mr. Tan knows that as president he has very little executive powers except custodial responsibility on national reserves and he has to work within the constraints of the Constitution. For the first time in Singapore's history, PAP leaders will have the discomfiting experience of dealing with a president with opposition background. And there will no longer be a yes-man at their beck and call. Six years is a long time and there will be no guarantee that during this lengthy tenure of the president there will be complete harmony between the president and the PAP Government. So if Mr. Tan Jee Say could be disqualified as a candidate it will save the PAP Government untold discomforts, if not displeasures, in having to deal with a self-assertive and independent president. With the PAP any bizarre scenario is not an impossibility.

If Mr. Tan Jee Say is indeed elected president, it will be a celebratory occasion for true Singaporeans. It will show the political awakening of the people who dare to display displeasures to the so-called PAP democratic rule. In fact this is a continuing phenomenon from the General Election in May which witnessed the PAP's first defeat in the reputable Aljunied GRC and reduction of its total votes to 60.1%. There is no reason not to expect this electoral mood to continue in the presidential election.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Can The Proposed Fare Hike Be Justified?

It has become a regular routine for the SBS Transit and SMRT to apply for increase of bus and rail fares every two or three years ostensibly to cover increased operating costs. It therefore does not come as a surprise for these two public transport operators (PTO) to apply for the maximum increase of 2.8 per-cent for bus and rail fares due, according to SMRT, to rising fuel prices and manpower costs. The sharp reaction from the commuting public to the proposed fare hike is something to be expected. They cannot understand the whim and fancy of the PTOs in proposing fare hike at this juncture when cost of living is on the rise thus increasing their burden of livelihood, especially the lower-income group. And ironically you have a comical Transport Minister saying blithely that it is not unreasonable for the operators to earn fair returns from the sizeable capital investments required to sustain their operations and to invest in future public transport needs.

In answer to the Minister's point, he may be aware that for the year 2010 SMRT made a profit of $162 million and SBS Transit made a profit of $72 million. Would he not agree these were fair returns since public transportation is a public good and should not be profit-oriented? If it is operated strictly for profits at the commuting public's expense, then the Government should sincerely consider the Workers' Party's (WP) proposal for a National Transport Corporation to oversee and run major transport services. Such a transport body would not be driven by profit but would operate on a cost-recovery basis. Just because the proposal comes from an opposition Party, in this case the Workers' Party, it should not be viewed as an anathema. The way the Transport Minister dismissed it off-hand by saying the proposal "might seem like a very attractive idea but it has serious downsides in reality" is not very helpful in wanting to solve a complex public transport problem. His thesis on the "serious downsides" appears to be his own version of the negative effects of the nationalisation of the public transport. Whether the Minister's arguments will be accepted by the commuting public is a moot point. He should therefore seriously reconsider his hasty conclusion of the WP's nationalisation proposal for its feasibility and eventual adoption in the public interests.

Be that as it may, the immediate problem facing the commuting public is the PTOs' fare hike proposal. The Public Transport Council (PTC), helmed by Mr. Gerard Ee, says it will review the current fare adjustment formula which is valid until next year and will bear in mind the interests of commuters and long-term viability of the PTOs. It is hoped that the PTC should consider, for a start, whether under the current adverse cost-of-living circumstances there is a need for any fare hike since the PTOs have earned fair returns in 2010 and will be expected to do the same this year. The proposed maximum increase of 2.8 per-cent for bus and rail fares will be an onerous burden on the commuting public, especially the lower-income group when they are already shouldering adverse cost-of-living burden. There is a Chinese saying: Lift up high your esteemed hand (to help) (高抬贵手). All eyes are now on the PTC on which is placed the public hope that it will come up with a solution equitable to the commuting public.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How Independent Is Dr. Tony Tan?

Dr. Tony Tan is well known as the PAP spin doctor. He was Chairman of the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and was in fact the propaganda chief of the PAP Government. In addition he was the Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC). Not to mention he was at one time chairman of the PAP. So when he announced on 23 June that he was stepping forward in the presidential election as an "independent" candidate, it was greeted with great incredulity bordering on the comedy or ludicrousness.

Dr. Tony Tan is not apolitical and could not be unaware of the political ground situation where the electorial mood is said to be inimical to the PAP. He is a smart Aleck and knows that as a PAP-endorsed candidate he will be disadvantaged by the considerable anti-establishment votes. So he hits on the idea of presenting himself as an "independent" candidate and hopes by this masquerade he can get the support of the anti-establishment voters. To give substance to his declaration as an "independent" candidate, he divests himself of his positions of deputy chairman of GIC and chairman of the SPH hoping in this way to convince the electorate of his "independence".

Dr. Tony Tan can succeed only if he thinks that Singaporeans are so naive as not to be able to see through his scheme. The voters are not going to believe that divesting himself of his PAP positions is going to make him any more independent than a PAP wallah. Emeritus SM Goh Chok Tong has openly stated that Dr. Tony Tan is eminently suitable for president. PM Lee Hsien Loong has asserted that Dr. Tony Tan will be a unifying figure for all citizens and will bring honour and credit to Singapore. So to all intents and purposes, these PAP leaders have endorsed Dr. Tony Tan as a PAP candidate, however tacitly, but nevertheless an endorsement. So where is the independence?

So willy-nilly Dr. Tony Tan will go into the presidential election not as an independent but a PAP-tacitly-endorsed candidate. He will have to contend with two so-called independent candidates in the persons of Dr. Tan Cheng Bock and Mr. Tan Kin Lian. Of the two contenders Dr. Tan Cheng Bock has shown to be an independent-minded person with better credentials. The electorial mood now is to shun the white (白色忌讳)(the white meaning the PAP) and Dr. Tan Cheng Bock should be able to garner the anti-establishment votes. But he may not have a smooth passage because of the candidature of Mr. Tan Kin Lian who may inadvertently act as a "spoiler". The pro-PAP votes, as expected, will go to Dr. Tony Tan and any votes for Mr. Tan Kin Lian can only come at the expense of Dr. Tan Cheng Bock's anti-establishment votes with disastrous effect on the latter's election success. The civilised thing for Mr. Tan Kin Lian to do, in the higher interest of the political unity of the people, is to withdraw from the contest so that it becomes a straight fight between Dr. Tony Tan and Dr. Tan Cheng Bock. Mr. Tan Kin Lian will win the gratitude of the people of Singapore in this way.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The "People's" President

The so-called publicly-acclaimed President S.R Nathan finally announced on 1 July that he would step down when his second term runs out on August 31. Even when Dr Tony Tan announced his intention to contest the presidential election as an"independent" on 23 June, the comical President S.R Nathan was still keeping his intention close to his chest, mysteriously promising to reveal his intention in two weeks. It was obvious even to the most gullible that President S.R Nathan was bluffing to subject the public to his sense of suspense as to his re-election intention when any such intention would be put paid with the entry of Dr Tony Tan into the presidential contest. Although Dr Tony Tan's independent status is questionable, his standing in the PAP easily eclipsed that of President S.R Nathan and therefore any intention of the latter to contest against the former is out of the question. That no one, not even members of the opposition, had the heart to call S.R Nathan's bluff shows a measure of tolerance that public has for his antics.

In his statement, President S.R Nathan acknowledged both the Singaporeans who had criticised him and those who had shown him "affection and kindness". It is intriguing that a former senior minister of state and some PAP MPs called Mr. S.R Nathan a People's President in spite of the fact that he had acknowledged that Singaporeans had criticised him. It is interesting that only PAP members called him that and those intoxicated PAP members should access the internet to have a measure of the netizens' criticisms of Mr. S.R Nathan as an unpopular president. In addition the curses of the president from taxi drivers should send shivers down the spine of Mr. S.R Nathan. Taxi drivers are by nature loquacious and they do not need much encouragement to open up about the iniquities of the PAP leaders. In view of such an adverse reaction, would it not be a travesty of the noble title to call Mr. S.R Nathan a People's President? So far, only PAP members have called him that or have sung him praises.

In the history of Singapore's presidency, only two past presidents had been acknowledged by Singaporeans as People's Presidents. One was the late President Wee Kim Wee who was really adored by Singaporeans. The other was the late President Ong Teng Cheong, who was especially adored by the Chinese-educated. President Wee Kim Wee's relationship with the PAP Government was a smooth one with no hiccup. But President Ong Teng Cheong's serious tiff with the PAP Government over his request to examine the national reserves resulted in unhappy ending. The Government's vindictiveness extended to the withholding of a state funeral for the late President Ong Teng Cheong when he passed away.

President S.R Nathan has accumulated enormous wealth from the taxpayers' money. If he still has any compunction about his prodigious wealth, he should seriously consider about donating a meaningful amount to some deserving causes. The Chinese believe that this will be rewarded by heaven, especially in the afterlife.