Accompanied by a large photograph, the Straits Times reported that Foreign Minister George Yeo and his fellow members of parliament for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency made a visit to the area (Straits Times, 19 July 2010, Aljunied MPs’ full-team walkabout creates a stir). One would have thought that parliamentarians visiting their own constituencies should be routine events. But evidently, the newspaper felt that it was extremely newsworthy, meriting 711 words (long by Straits Times’ standards) and prominent placement in the Prime News section, not the Home News section.
First, a small digression about the photograph the newspaper chose to use. Did you notice that, of all the people Yeo greeted, the newspaper chose to publish the one photograph that showed George Yeo shaking a fishmonger’s hand? See the picture at right, from the Straits Times.
This has political significance in Singapore. In the 1991 general election campaign, Seet Ai Mee of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) — same as George Yeo — was captured on camera wiping her hands right after she had shaken a butcher’s. The image fed into a rising sense that the PAP was filled by elitist leaders who looked down on ordinary people and, according to some political watchers, the incident contributed to her shock election defeat.
Years later, Seet explained that while she did clean her hands, it was because it had been a pork butcher whose hand she shook. The next constituent waiting to greet her was Muslim and she did not want to offend him by not cleaning her hands first. Unfortunately, in the nature of politics, her explanation did not resonate as much as the first impression, simply because people were already predisposed to see the PAP as elitist.
It does not surprise me then that, 19 years on, the effort to correct that impression is still underway, now with George Yeo pictured shaking a fish-monger’s hand. Of course he would have cleaned his hands after that — you yourself would, wouldn’t you? — but you can bet your mother’s life that the newspaper knew better than to take a photo of that moment.
Within 24 hours of the news story about Yeo et al’s ceremonial walk-about, the Straits Times piled it on more thickly. In the Forum section of its print edition (20 July 2010) two of five letters chosen for publication were laudatory of Yeo, and placed at the top of the page.
Full turnout of ward’s MPs was no surprise
YESTERDAY’S report (‘Aljunied MPs’ full-team walkabout creates a stir’) describing the full turnout of Aljunied GRC MPs at the Bedok Reservoir market comes as no surprise.
Having won by a narrow margin in the last general election, the Aljunied MPs apparently are not going to rest on their laurels and wait for the next round before they act.
Unlike the opposition parties, which appear with sound and thunder when the election looms, the Aljunied MPs have spared no effort in trying to improve the lives and environment of their voters, be it helping residents during the financial crisis or promoting community bonding and racial harmony.
Their efforts are sometimes taken for granted by the residents, but by and large, voters can see and appreciate the changes and benefits brought to them by the MPs.
I have no doubt that the Aljunied team led by Foreign Minister George Yeo will be returned to power again.
The MPs have been doing their homework and working hard consistently since the term started, and they certainly do not hope to score success with last-minute work.
He’s happy with the work of his MPs
WITH reference to last Thursday’s report (‘WP eyes ‘hot ward’ Aljunied, PAP team gears up), it is not surprising that Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim is eyeing the Aljunied GRC in the next general election, having won 43.9 per cent of the votes previously.
However, what is important is not the votes she garnered, but what she has done for the constituents of the GRC.
Her walkabouts and those of her WP colleagues involve selling newsletters and speaking with residents. What have they done to make a difference to the lives of residents there, such as helping us to solve our problems?
I have been a resident of Aljunied GRC for the past 10 years. I can see the vast changes and improvements to the living environment and the quality of life.
We enjoy many amenities, and our MPs work hard to improve our lives. They visit residents every week and tend to needy families with various assistance schemes. The neighbourhoods are vibrant and active.
The MPs are always on hand to help us. They have also delivered on their promises. I now get to use a gym at Kovan Hub to help me lead a healthy lifestyle.
I would not trade the quality of life under the present Aljunied leadership with one that is unknown and untested, no matter how seductive the opposition propositions.
Both letters are also noteworthy for the way their praises for the PAP members of parliament were contrasted with their views of Workers’ Party members who contested the same Group Representation Constituency in 2006, and who writer Thomas See accused of not having done anything to “make a difference to the lives of residents there, such as helping us to solve our problems.” Let me get this straight: They didn’t vote the Workers’ Party team, but they expect the Workers’ Party team to perform as members of parliament are expected to do, regardless of resources.
Even more astounding: The Straits Times considered such letters fit to be published.
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The late Goh Keng Swee was probably more responsible for Singapore’s post-independence economic growth than Lee Kuan Yew. He often took on ministries that needed changemasters to drive transformation — Finance, Defence and in the late 1970s, Education. In the book Goh Keng Swee – a portrait by Tan Siok Sun (Editions Didier Millet, First published 2007, paperback edition 2010) there is an interesting bit about his thoughts and fears on page 172:
It had always been GKS’s greatest fear that Singaporeans would one day become unthinking economic foot-soldiers totally bereft of imagination and creativity. A person who disdained mindless servility, he once criticised the “cult of obedience” in Singapore schools during his stint as the Minister for Education. And among one of the reasons he gave on why he eventually stopped visiting the schools was that “there was too much bowing and scraping and too much desire to impress”.
For a whole generation, our schools have promoted exactly this cult. I dare not even say that we have stopped doing so. And like viruses, these obedient foot-soldiers have infected nearly all the institutions of state and society. From editors to letter-writers, we see their handiwork everywhere today, carrying balls, telling superiors whatever they want to hear, rushing around doing their dirty work without questioning, bowing and scraping.