Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Straits Times Conundrum

Since when has it been acknowledged that The Straits Times is a neutral paper which is conscientiously objective in its reporting on the opposition, especially during the hustings. The paper is strictly under the control of the Singapore Press Holdings whose chairman is a former minister of the Government, a spin doctor anyway one looks at it.So how can one run away from the impression that the mainstream media (MSM) is an all embracing propaganda organ of the PAP Government, of which The Straits Times is a prominent member. The paper is so accommodating that any letter to its forum page critical of the Government politically is unceremonously consigned to the trash can.

In its editorial under the guise of "Opinion" entitled "Fallout from the Hougang showdown" today (29 May) the Straits Times attempts to wriggle out of the Workers' Party (WP) secretary-general Low Thia Khiang's charges that the mainstream media was used as a "political tool" by the ruling People's Action Party. It tries to dismiss them as unwarranted and unfounded designed for political effect. Can the Straits Times honestly say that it had not slanted its reporting on the Hougang hustings to portray the WP in an unfavourable light? Mr Low had taken the trouble to show the slanting of certain reports both in the Straits Times and the Lianhe Zaobao to belittle the WP. Photographs were juxtaposed in  such a way to show the WP in a comical situation.

There is no doubt that the PAP campaign in the Hougang by-election was aided and abetted by the mainstream media, especially the Straits Times, the PAP Government's propaganda organ, despite its vehement disavowal. But it did not reckon with the indomitable spirits of Hougang voters who were not only not swayed by the MSM onslaught but were steadfast in their loyalty to the Workers' Party.

There is a lesson to be learnt by the MSM from their questionable reporting of the Hougang hustings. They may owe allegiance to their political masters but the wheels of history only move forward and Singaporeans are getting more discerning in their political surroundings. So the MSM should be more circumspect when dishing out PAP propaganda to the public. Since the disappointing performance of the PAP in the last General Election in May 2011, PAP leaders have introduced a "new normal" in Singapore politics. But the Hougang by-election fiasco has shown that the PAP performance since the GE in May 2011 has not met the expectations of the electorate. PM Lee Hsien Loong may argue that Hougang may not be an ideal comparison. But he may not have reckoned with the indomitable Hougang spirits which could be like a small spark lighting up a prairie fire. While the PAP may try to do its darnedest to stop this political tsunami from inundating them, the opposition on the other hand will not remain idle in matching the might of the PAP. The prognosis is that a few more GRCs may fall into the hands of the opposition in the GE in 2016.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Significance of the Hougang by-election results

Even long before the Hougang by-election was called, it was a foregone conclusion that the PAP would be defeated and could be by a bigger margin than in the General Election (GE) in May 2011. And so the PAP candidate Desmond Choo went into the fray as something of an underdog. He had some of the PAP big guns, prominant among whom was DPM Teo Chee Hean, giving him sterling support in his campaign in the vain hope of turning the tables on the Workers' Party (WP) candidate. Even PM Lee Hsien Loong came out to canvass votes for Desmond Choo.

Despite all their eloquence in appealing to the Hougang voters to vote for the PAP candidate for an improvement in their livelihood, it became obvious that their blandishments had had little or no effect on majority of the voters.Even the strenous efforts by DPM Teo Chee Hean to discredit the character of WP candidate Png Eng Huat failed to strike home the effect.When the by-election results were announced officially , Desmond Choo only managed to gather 37.9 per cent of the votes. This is slightly better than the 35.9 per cent he obtained at the GE in May 2011 if it could be of any credit or encouragement to him. Of course the PAP leaders could not show disappointment to the detriment of their standing and they had willy-nilly to put up a bold front that it was an improvement of Hougang voters' support.

The WP candidate Png Eng Huat was obviously riding on the strong personal loyalty of Hougang voters to their former MP Low Thia Khiang and emerged as the winning candidate with a convincing 62.1 per cent of the votes. It was a slight dip from the 64.8 per cent obtained by former MP Yaw Shin Leong in the GE in May 2011 and this was played up by WP detractors. In fact, a bigger margin of victory was expected but that it did not materialise could be a credit to the vigorous campaign put up by the PAP whiich is their only consolation in defeat.

PAP big guns took pain to emphasise when the by-election was called that this was a local election strictly about choosing the MP who can best help its residents solve their problems and not a national referendum. Knowing that the final result will be against them, they had followed strictly in their campaign as a local election and avoided falling into the trap of being pursued as a national issue. On the other hand, WP leaders drummed on the emphasis that Hougang by-election was a national issue.

The PAP may find to its discomfort that this is not the end of the matter.Right-thinking Singaporeans, especially Hougang voters who voted for the WP candidate, will regard the result of the Hougang by-election as a referendum on the performance of the PAP since the GE in May 2011.PAP leaders can pooh-pooh this phenomenon at their peril because they will regret it when the next general election comes along in 2016 and Singapore voters show their wrath. The PAP Government may not face the danger of falling, but opposition, not necessarily WP alone, making inroads into a few more GRCs may be the order of the day. Hougang voters may be local in character but their indomitable spirits are alive and will spread to other constituencies.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A much- diffident PAP in Hougang by-election

The general public perception was that it was going to be a prolonged wait for the Hougang by-election to take place given the enigmatic attitude of PM Lee Hsien Loong on the subject. It could have been a divine awakening on his part that prompted him to make the much-awaited announcement of a by-election in Hougang SMC. President Tony Tan Keng Yam issued a writ of election on 9 May setting Nomination Day for 16 May and Polling Day on 26 May. That PM Lee's sudden change of heart caught the public by surprise is not an exaggeration. There could be considerable speculations on his change of heart but foremost is probably a sense of realisation that putting off the by-election sine die is not in the long term interest of the PAP politically.The possibility of the court action brought by Madam Vellama Marie Muthu, a Hougang voter, challenging his "unfettered" discretion being ended up in his disfavour could not be ruled out.

This by-election announcement is indeed a welcoming piece of news to Singaporeans, especially Hougang voters. The PAP and Workers' Party (WP) lost no time in introducing their respective candidates for the by-election. Three opposition parties have declared that they will stay away from the hustings, virtually making it a straight fight between the PAP and WP. PAP's candidate is 34 year-old Desmond Choo, a deputy director at NTUC Industrial Relations Unit. WP's candidate is 50 year-old Png Eng Huat, a businessman.

Mr Low Thia Khiang, WP secretary-general, as a former MP of Hougang SMC had been nurturing the Hougang constituency for the past twenty years to make it into a WP stronghold. Therefore Desmond Choo faces an uphill, if not impossible, task in trying to wrest the Hougang SMC from WP. As if to pre-empt any attempt by the opposition or other interested parties to equate this by-election as a referendum on the performance of the PAP since the General Election in May 2011, DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam stressed at his press conference on 10 May to introduce Desmond Choo that this by-election is a local election strictly about choosing the MP who can help its residents solve their problems. As if by collusion a PAP spin doctor in the Straits Times wrote a commentary under the title: Poll is not a referendum on either PAP or WP. She asked the question whether Hougang is just a local election and answered by saying it is certainly not a national referendum on the performance on either PAP or WP. Earlier she had said it is not a referendum on the performance of the PAP since May 2011.

It is not difficult to understand why DPM Tharman and the Straits Times Review Editor went to some length to emphasise that the Hougang by-election as a local election and not a national referendum. The former WP MP Yaw Shin Leong won the Hougang seat by a wide margin of 64.8 per cent of the votes in the GE in May2011 and the general feeling among Singaporeans is that the PAP may lose by a bigger margin. Hougang voters' anger over PM Lee's procrastination in holding the by-election may be a relevant factor. Whatever DPM Tharman and the Straits Times may assert to the contrary there is nothing to prevent Hougang voters who vote for the WP candidate and other right-thinking Singaporeans to regard the by-election result as a national referendum on the performance of the PAP since May 2011.This should not distress the PAP unduly because in the unlikly event that the PAP candidate secures victory against the general trend of opinion, this will in turn become a referendum on their good performance.