Saturday, January 26, 2013

History in the making in Punggol East

Never in its more than fifty years of history has the PAP experienced such a humiliating defeat as in the recently concluded Punggol East by-election. Although the PAP candidate Dr. Koh Poh Koon had diligently emphasised during the campaign that the by-election was about local issues, the Punggol East voters have nevertheless unmistakably delivered a clear message that this is a referendum on the PAP's performance since GE 2011. PM Lee Hsien Loong and his millionaire ministers cannot continue to be oblivious to the massive anger of the people over the undemocratic policies of the PAP Government.

The PAP brought in an eminent colorectal surgeon to be its candidate thinking that his professional status would be an added advantage in winning the heart of Punggol East voters. As a credit to him,  he did not exhibit any of the PAP arrogance in his approach to the voters and in fact was quite down-to-earth in presenting his election programme to them which was aimed at ameliorating their livelihood and living conditions. But the PAP leaders did not consider it important that Dr. Koh was a newbie parachuted into the constituency which may have been a handicap in his effort to commune with the voters, especially the elderly women. With the PAP big guns coming in to give much needed support to Dr. Koh in his campaign, it would have been reasonable to suppose it would have improved his chances to win. Especially with PM Lee extolling Dr Koh's eminent qualities and promising that, if elected, he would make him a political office holder. PM Lee might have overdone it as this could have a counter-effect to the more down-to-earth Punggol East voters and cut no ice with them.

On the other hand, the Workers' Party (WP) candidate had the advantage of being familiar with Punggol East voters, having contested in this SMC in GE 2011. She had an inimitable knack of blending harmoniously into the heart of the Punggol East voter, especially the older women  who seemed to treat her like their loving daughter. Her election programme is in some way not widely dissimilar to that of the PAP candidate but she also brought in national issues which give the Punggol East contest the appearance of a referendum. In fact WP leaders who spoke at their election rallies stressed that the Punggol East by-election was not confined to only local issues. If the attendances at the WP rallies were any indication of the popularity of the candidate, they could have foreshadowed the outcome of the by-election. The attendances at PAP rallies paled in comparison.

This by-election defeat of the PAP is a great loss of face and prestige to PM Lee and the PAP leaders. The margin of defeat by 3182 votes or 10.8 per cent of valid votes is not insignificant. The WP candidate Lee Li Lian secured 16,038 votes or 54.52 per cent and the PAP candidate obtained 12,856 votes or 43.71 per cent. This is a microcosm of the election pattern that the PAP will face in GE 2016. The WP and the Singapore People's Party (SPP) are the only opposition parties with MPs in Parliament, the SPP having one NCMP. With opposition unity, there will be other credible opposition parties which could reprise the WP's performance in GE 2016.  WP conquest of Aljunied GRC in GE 2011 was an auspicious start followed now by an equally auspicious sequence in winning the Punggol East seat. The wheel of history only moves forward and the predominance of the PAP will fade with time. It may be just as well as PAP leaders are not unknown to be arrogant and to pay themselves humongous sums from taxpayers' money long enough to the disgust of Singaporeans, besides their other iniquities.

As predicted, both Desmond Lim of the Singapore Democratic Alliance and Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party lost their deposits with their very dismal performance. They were portrayed as spoilers who entered the fray to dilute the WP votes and were splitters of opposition unity. Desmond Lim could only manage to secure a minuscule 0.5 per cent of the valid votes while Kenneth Jeyaretnam secured only 1.20 per cent. Their future as politicians looks very bleak.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Case for Opposition Unity

The case for opposition unity is a subject which has been exercising the mind of opposition leaders for a long time and the consensus, until now, is that it is an indispensable element in the opposition's cause to dislodge the PAP from power eventually, or at least to clip its representations in Parliament by capturing a good number more of GRCs. So it comes as something of a major let down when Low Thia Khiang, Secretary-General of the Workers' Party (WP) sings a discouraging tune to the effect that "diversity within the opposition ranks made unity inconceivable". WP is rightly or wrongly regarded as the vanguard of the opposition parties and for its leader to make such a defeatist statement is mind-boggling, to say the least, and hardly conducive to the opposition's cause.

Mr Low Thia Khiang may feel that WP is now on the political ascendency and flexes his muscles to show that WP alone can match the political might of the PAP without any support from other political parties. Indeed, it is now the only oppostion party with eight MPs in Parliament, with one NCMP from the Singapore People's Party (SPP). Because of its Parliamentary strength, the WP is monopolising the limelight compared with other opposition parties. Could this predominance have brought about a sense of arrogance in Mr Low Thia Khiang to view with disdain the apparent disunity of the opposition parties?

Mr. Low Thia Khiang may be myopic in not being able to see that there is considerable opposition unity in place. GE 2011 was a very good example of such unity as it was a straight fight between PAP and an opposition party in almost all the constituencies except in Punggol East SMC where it was a three-cornered contest with the spoiler Desmond Lim of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) diluting the WP's percentage of votes. If there had not been unity and the Aljunied GRC turned out to be a three-cornered fight, the WP's dream of capturing the Aljunied GRC would have collapsed.

Similarly, in the current Punggol East by-election, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) showed remarkable unity by being the first opposition party to declare its non-participation. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) showed defiance in wanting to contest almost up to Nomination Day but Dr Chee Soon Juan showed exemplary courage of unity in the end by withdrawing. The SDP could be a formidable challenge to WP for opposition votes in Punggol East and its withdrawal leaves WP in a more comfortable position of having to deal with two feeble spoilers in Desmond Lim of SDA and Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party (RP). It would be a surprise it they could dilute opposition votes for the WP. Perhaps they could get some disaffected PAP votes if they could get any vote at all.

Dr. Chee Soon Juan had made a great sacrifice for the WP and it looks like Mr Low Thia Khiang has not the civility to acknowledge it, going by his ranting of opposition unity being inconceivable. For his unrequited noble selfless act, Dr Chee could not be blamed if he is seething with indignation. Dr Chee had even received approbation from the public, especially the netizens, for his selfless act but the WP, being the beneficiary, appears nonchalance, aggravated by Low Thia Khiang's disunity theme. Could there be a more glaring case of ingratitude?

Mr Low Thia Khiang should heed the famous saying: Unity is Strength (团結就是力量) if he wants to fulfill the opposition historical role of annihilating the PAP as the ultimate objective. The Aljunied GRC conquest in GE 2011 was a auspicious start and the Punggol East by-election could be an equally auspicious sequence. Mr Low Thia Khiang and his WP ignore all these auguries at their peril.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Very Noble Selfless Act

Very rarely one comes across a very noble selfless Act as displayed by Dr. Chee Soon Juan when he decided at the eleventh hour to withdraw the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) from the Punggol East by-election in the higher interest of opposition unity. The SDP had made elaborate preparations for the by-election including walkabouts, resident visits and the making of election posters which all showed that it was determined to enter the fray. It was a very great sacrifice on the SDP part to withdraw at the last moment which took many people, including PAP leaders, by surprise. Dr. Chee is not known to be a vacillating person in his political pursuit but the overwhelming criticisms, especially by netizens, of his principal role in breaking the unity of opposition parties in the Punggol East by-election could have had a salutary effect on his conscience. He himself admitted that SDP had heard the voices of Singaporeans who did not want more than one opposition party taking on the ruling People's Action Party so as not to split the opposition votes. Ironically, that message did not reach the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Reform Party (RP).

The Chinese have a saying on Dr. Chee's noble act: Superlative care of the great scheme (public affairs), sacrifice a small "me" and accomplish a big "me" (顧全大局,犧牲小我,成全大我)。By his magnanimous act, he will endear himself to Singaporeans in GE 2016, especially those who have never been comfortable with his so-called volatile character. Dr. Chee Soon Juan and his DDP will now be regarded with more respect by other opposition parties and even the PAP.

The Punggol East by election will now be a four-cornered contest by PAP, WP, SDA, and RP. On paper a four-cornered fight will be favourable to the PAP candidate Dr. Koh Poh Koon, as opposition strength is apparently split. However, WP's position is strengthened by the withdrawal of SDP  from the contest. There is no reason to rule out the 41 per cent vote the  WP candidate secured in GE 2011. SDA candidate Desmond Lim and RP candidate Kenneth Jeyaretnam are regarded as splitters of opposition unity and it will be a surprise if they can get sufficient votes to avoid forfeiture of deposits. However much they may try, they will not be able to dislodge any of the WP's 41 per cent solid votes to their favour. The ground situation in Punggol East,as is also in other constituencies in Singapore, is that there is general dissatisfaction with the PAP over its undemocratic policies with the result that there may be some quite considerable disaffected PAP votes. Desmond Lim and Kenneth Jeyaretnam certainly hope to be able to attract these disaffected PAP votes but it is more likely that they will go to the WP candidate Lee Li Lian.

Although PAP may feel that it is in a more advantageous position in a four-cornered fight, there is an even chance that WP may pip it at the last moment at the finishing line. The SDA and RP candidates are not even lightweight contestents and they are in the contest as what one would call spoilers. Especially Kenneth Jeyaretnam who started off as a promising politician but his inability to see the bigger picture in the world of Singapore politics may be his undoing.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Main Breaker of Opposition Unity

It does not take much intelligence to surmise that one of the main factors which prompted PM Lee Hsien Loong to call a snap by-election in Punggol East SMC is the glaring disunity displayed by opposition parties which will weigh heavily in favour of the PAP in the fray. The scramble that the opposition parties will engage in on Nomination Day falling over one another to nominate their candidates they think will be most acceptable to the Punggol East voters will be the most ugly sight to behold. With four opposition parties and one possible independent candidate scrambling for opposition votes to compete against the PAP candidate in the by-election, the result will be a foregone conclusion with the PAP candidate romping home comfortably. It does not take a prophet to prophesy such an eventuality.

There are still four days to Nomination Day on 16 January and it is still possible for the opposition parties to close ranks and allow the Workers' Party (WP) to nominate a candidate to wage a one-to-one battle with the PAP in the by-election. Punggol East is rightly regarded as WP territory by virtue of the fact that it was the main opposition party that contested in GE 2011 securing a credible 41 per cent of the votes. The ground is considered to be in favour of the opposition and the chances of an opposition (WP) victory are more than encouraging. The main obstacle to opposition unity seems to lie with the not unpredictable intransigent character of Dr.Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).  Even long before the by-election date was made public, Dr. Chee, typical of his hubristic style, announced SDP's claim of the right to contest the Punggol East seat. This sounded the first signal of opposition disunity. SDP has never contested in Punggol East and does it not make it an unconscionable encroacher of WP's territory?

In order to put up an erroneous image of the righteousness of SDP stand, Dr. Chee made several overtures to WP to try to negotiate a presentation of a united opposition candidate for the by-election. The latest SDP's proposal is presented as a radical idea that calls for the WP to work with it to field a single candidate under a joint campaign. Under its so-called "win-win-win" plan, the candidate would be from the SDP and represent the partnership in Parliament pushing SDP's policies. The person would also be chairman of the Punggol East town council, but the WP would take care of the day-to-day operations. Could anyone in his right mind have come out with such a preposterous and bizarre proposal? Quite rightly WP has not made any response.

Meanwhile WP is keeping its card close to its chest and has not even revealed its candidate at this stage. It is no doubt hoping the situation will change for the better before Nomination Day and that opposition unity will miraculouly become a reality allowing it to go into a straight fight with the PAP.  This is also what the majority of Singaporeans are hoping will happen for the sake of Singapore's future. Even without any of the opposition parties withdrawing, WP, because of its notable standing, will emerge in the contest as the highest scoring candidate and may in the event of a freak election emerge as the winner. Though not likely, but not entirely impossible, there may be an erosion of sufficient disaffected PAP votes to give the WP a surprise victory. A number of opposition candidates are likely to lose their deposits, among whom will be the SDP candidate. It will be a rude awakening of the SDP from its illusion that it has a strong standing among Punggol East voters. As a corollary, SDP will have credibility problem when it faces the electorate in GE 2016, all because of  the iniquitous antics of Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Continuing AIM Saga

The elaborate statement by Dr. Teo Ho Pin, Coordinating Chairman of the PAP Town Councils, in response to Workers'' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim's questioning of the sale of the computer software rights to Action Information Management (AIM), when she asked if it was in the public interest, cuts no ice with the public, especially the netizens. His statement has been published on the TR Emeritus website which elicited no less than 218 responses from netizens criticising or condemning Dr. Teo for his disingenuous statement designed to cover up the questionable sale of the PAP Town Councils' computer software system to a PAP-owned AIM with a paid up capital of $2 whose three directors are former PAP MPs.

Dr Teo attempted to justify the sale of the computer software by quoting for the first time  that a consultancy firm Deloitte and Touche Enterprise Risk Services Pte Ltd had been engaged to review the system and had found the system, built in 2003, was becoming obsolete and impossible to maintain. Deloitte and Touche had suggested centralising the software ownership with a third party taking over the software rights. A commentator with computer software expertise has commented that unlike a real machine, a computer software cannot get outdated. It is just a series of instructions to an operating system to perform a task. There are no rotating gears or other moving parts in a software which can suffer from wear and tear. So Singaporeans can draw their conclusion whether the sale of the computer software to a third party which turned out to be none other than the PAP-owned AIM, a $2 shell company, was in the public interest.

In this controversy, the WP started as an underdog but it has justice on its side. The way Ms Sylvia Lim has stood up to the political onslaught of Dr. Teo Ho Pin and his cohort is a credit to the indomitable character of the WP chairman. Dr Teo, with due respect to him, emerges out of this controversy as not so adept in trying to force through his arguments, probably by sheer display of PAP's superiority. He has no answer to the public perception of the impropriety of the sale of the computer software system to AIM, a $2 capital shell company with a skeleton staff and no computer software expertise. Ms Sylvia Lim suspected that AIM was exercising the rights of termination of the lease if there was a "material change" in the composition of the Town Council when it terminated the software lease to Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

It is as clear as daylight that Dr. Teo's elaborate statement lacks conviction and cogency. He has to try harder to convince Singaporeans of his ingenuousness in wanting to resolve this controversy equitably, especially to the WP. This controversy has been festering for some time now and it could not be beneficial to the PAP with an eye to the possible Punggol East by-election if it is allowed  to drag on indefinitely. What seems to be drawing public attention is the reticence of the PAP leadership on this controversy.