No monopoly on ‘quality’ candidates

There’s a producer at Mediacorp whom I bump into every now and then, and every opportunity I get, I ask him when Mediacorp is going to remake itself into a normal media company. He knows what I mean: he knows I am referring to the extreme bias the broadcaster displays whenever it comes to local political reporting. In answer, I get protests that Mediacorp is not biased and that it plays fair. I don’t believe him and he knows I don’t believe him. And the matter is usually left there until the next time we meet when I needle him again.

The challenge I usually throw at him to prove me wrong is this: When are you guys going to invite opposition party representatives to talkshows on a regular basis to discuss issues of public concern? TV stations in other countries do this routinely, why not Singapore?

There are three important qualifiers: Opposition party representatives. Regular basis. Discuss.

I know that the producer is going to cite last Sunday’s Talking Point as proof that Mediacorp is a normal broadcaster. I will tell him I am far from convinced.

Why not?

1.  Not all parties were invited. The Singapore Democratic Party was not. Nor was the Singapore Democratic Alliance represented, though whether the latter were invited or not I do not know. By contrast, the People’s Action Party (PAP) had two representatives. Why should that be?

(But before you blame Mediacorp, consider the possibility that it might have been the PAP that demanded two representatives and the exclusion of the Singapore Democratic Party and its leader Chee Soon Juan as a condition for participation.)

2. A one-off talkshow does not constitute “regular basis”.

3. A 30-minute program (less, if one netts off commercial breaks) does not constitute “discuss”  in any meaningful way.

I’m not going to be commenting much about what was said in the program. You can watch it yourself and form your own opinion:

* * * * *

The pity is that it was aired on Channel NewsAsia. How many people watch Channel NewsAsia? It has acquired such a bad rep over the last two decades, hardly anyone I know watch it regularly anymore. Nonetheless this would have been an opportunity missed, because most Singaporeans don’t get any chance at all of hearing opposition leaders speak, and this was a rare moment.

Don’t get me wrong: These leaders have not been shy about speaking. But our mainstream media so thoroughly denies them regular exposure, most Singaporeans only know of opposition leaders (if they can even name them, which is highly doubtful in my opinion) through the filter of warnings not to be associated with such “dangerous” characters. Most Singaporeans don’t know them; they only know of them. Like how we don’t know what it feels like to have our hands burnt in a fire, we only know of it and we have been told enough not to try.

For the apathetic Singaporean, watching Goh Meng Seng (National Solidarity Party), Kenneth Jeyaretnam (Reform Party) and Eric Tan ( Workers’ Party) speak in that program would have been an eye-opener. They are not rabid, they are not demonic, they do not shrilly demand the destruction of our middle-class life. They do not fit the caricature that our government’s propaganda machine draws of the opposition. They come across as moderate, reasonable and earnest men. And so would Chee Soon Juan and Vincent Wijeyasinghe of the Singapore Democratic Party and Chiam See Tong and Desmond Lim of the Singapore Democratic Alliance had they been on the show. I can tell you that because I have met them, I have spoken with them, and they are not a lot different in terms of demeanour and intelligence from the three who appeared.

This is not to say that Indranee Rajah and Michael Palmer representing the PAP on the show are not intelligent or well-versed in the necessary facts. They are. And you can see they are personable and they can think on their feet too. My point however, is that Goh Meng Seng, Jeyaretnam and Eric Tan are not that different; you’d be hard put to say they are not in the same class in terms of intellect, command of facts and dedication to duty.

Yet many Singaporeans are afraid to put these opposition representatives into parliament. They buy into the propaganda that only the PAP has “quality” candidates, propaganda that can only be sustained if the media blackout is kept up. Because once you see them up close and hear them talk you will know you’ve been lied to all these years. Interestingly though, now that Channel NewsAsia has hardly any viewers left, they can relax a bit and let three of them (but not Chee Soon Juan) appear on the telly, secure in the knowledge that nobody would notice and thus have their minds changed.

Will our parliament be poorer if we had fewer PAP members in there and more opposition members like the three we have just seen? I don’t think so. Will Singapore be threatened with decline and economic crisis if these three men and more were voted into parliament and given a chance to continue the debate there? I don’t think so. Quite the reverse. I think we will all be richer for it.

16 Responses to “No monopoly on ‘quality’ candidates”

  1. 1 Gazebo 1 March 2011 at 03:26

    LHL: “We don’t want a random process where somebody has no experience and is an unknown quantity. It may be nice for a change but he comes in and either runs your GRC and you don’t know whether he’s going to deliver, or more dramatically, if he comes in and runs your country and you don’t know what he is and whether he is going to deliver,’ he added.”

    Frankly, I would rather an unknown quantity than the known quantity of WKS and company.

  2. 2 Rex 1 March 2011 at 04:38

    I don’t begrudge CNA giving the PAP two representatives. After all, it is a given that the Opposition representatives would all be focusing their fire on the PAP, and a 4v1 situation would be ridiculously lopsided.

    However, it is regrettable that once again, the SDP has been excluded from talk show. I agree with you that most likely, the PAP has made this a condition of their participation. I think their fear is that after spending so much time tearing the SDP down, it would not do to let the public see that CSJ et al are actually not raving lunatics, but reasonable, articulate and intelligent people.

    The question is: Why this particular fear of the SDP and not other Opposition parties? In my view, this is because the SDP is the only party that refuses to obediently colour within the box that PAP has provided. The SDP is not afraid to reject the PAP’s unfair laws and resort to civil disobedience. However, the key to the PAP’s continued power is its ability to make up rules that benefit itself and cripple the Opposition. Therefore, a party like the SDP that directly challenges the source of the PAP’s power is a great threat, and must be dealt with ruthlessly.

  3. 3 Criticalist 1 March 2011 at 04:39

    I think people tend to forget that when you’re voting in someone, you’re voting in a Member of Parliament, not a Minister. There are mediocre PAP MPs in Parliament, who would probably never amount to any substantial ministerial portfolio. Then there are the ministers. And it’s quite telling that in a large party like the PAP, they have to resort to a handful of party members to hold multiple ministerial portfolios, rather than having a larger representation?

    Don’t confuse the two. You’re not voting in a minister, you’re voting in an MP.

  4. 4 Gard 1 March 2011 at 09:07

    Suppose you are the benevolent monarch of Singapore. Assuming the number of MPs is a fixed pie, which PAP MPs would you sacrifice to bring in these opposition figures? And the government would argue, isn’t the NCMP enough to have the opposition heard? How much opposition can you stomach before electoral paralysis gets in the way of implementing hard, unpopular policies?

    • 5 Stringsofmoments 1 March 2011 at 14:11

      The above questions by Gard are good ones. But more importantly, they highlight certain things that have been obscured.

      1) An educated and informed populace.

      2) Independent and as much as possible, objective forms of media.

      3) Transparency of public information.

      4) And supplemented with the 3 above, mechanisms that differentiate between constructive (rather than destructive) discourse, actions and communication.

      In the end, there should be a political culture engendering the mutual respect across political ideologies and affiliations. And that could begin by ceasing to call the opposition, “opposition”. Isn’t everyone a possible opposition to a proponent of any argument? The label is both tautological and reductionist.

      To the Criticalist,

      I don’t think there should be any MP who is “mediocre”, both on absolute terms (i.e. by way of qualifications, open-mindedness, dignity, respect for others, compassion, diligence) and relative terms (comparing between MPs and Ministers). What might differentiate between MPs and Ministers can be qualities such as leadership, intellect, charisma. But does having less leadership, intellect and charisma make one less able to serve Singapore? I don’t think so.

      a) Intellect need not be a natural attribute. It can be achieved through diligence too. And who is to say that anyone has a monopoly on knowledge (note: not mere information) as the title of this article suggests?

      b) A critical follower complements and even, strengthens a good leader. Of course one may be sensibly critical, critical for the sake of being critical, and critical based on personal/emotional terms. I think an answer to this is to be factual, yet leaving the room for interpretation and mistakes (from both the critic and the criticized).

      Only then can we encourage a platform of sharing that does not discriminate against earnest (albeit perhaps less-informed) viewpoints and one which does not encourage social closure (e.g influential, reputable people getting any advantages and/or favorable assumptions over others who are more ordinary)

      c) A lack of charisma can always be mediated through open and sincere communication that precedes appropriate actions (on the ground over time).

      On another note, I do agree that Ministers should be a notch above MPs. However, as Ministers should come from the ranks of MPs, all MPs and Ministers should be equal in certain values that contribute towards making Singapore’s political system open and dynamic. It is only with this that Singapore society can truly be reflexive, self-critical and ultimately, empathetic. When the foundation is good, roots can grow well and the growth of wellness will follow.

      “One should not vote someone for an MP thinking that he/she might become the next Minister. It should be based on trust, respect and credibility that has been earned.”

      A final point is this and that is related to the assumption that Singapore society is apathetic. What all these candidates, PAP and non-PAP and their online and offline respondents have shown is that such an assumption may be slowly losing relevance.

      Singapore society may seem like a sea of calm compared to riots and passionate calls for change occurring all over the world. But a possibly worse crime than thinking that apathy is prevalent is to think that apathy is permanent.

      • 6 Gard 2 March 2011 at 09:34

        Partly, I was raising a rhetorical question. Why would a benevolent monarch require opposition figures in his court, who are no better than his loyal subjects? A monarchy which styles itself after the Chinese emperors or Indian maharajas have to maintain the (image of) sanctity of the office. Why have opposition hindering your grand design? Why have media asking uncomfortable questions?

        Oops, there goes the need to have an educated and informed citizenry. A docile, conforming populace is easier to control.

        For example, have the mainstream media mentioned anything about 47.1% of residents aged 55 years and above working more than 45 hours workweek? Or 41% of residents earning below $1500 in gross monthly income working more than 45 hours workweek? ($1500 would be somewhere close to the lowest 20th income percentile.)

        For these group of people who bought into the monarchy’s Grand Design years ago, they can be forgiven for feeling sorry for the Swiss if this is indeed the ‘Swiss standard of living.’ (See OECD Employment Outlook 2010 for the actual Swiss working hours.)

        Today, the monarchy is promising you and your children the Cheaper, Better, Faster future. Does this excite you more than the ‘Swiss standard of living’?

  5. 7 anony 1 March 2011 at 10:01

    I thought GMS put up a good show against Michael Palmer on the GRC disadvantage that it is the individual’s worth that is of primary importance than race itself. Well done!

    I know this will never come true but a televised debate between PAP vs Opposition parties will set the record straight on who is worthier to serve you in parliament. Wishful thinking. Maybe never.

  6. 8 1 March 2011 at 11:33

    The balance in the talk show was not 3 Oppo vs 2 PAP given the obvious bias of the show host, Debra.

    With the advent of the alternative media, some of us have the opportunity to see that the opposition parties have sensible, intelligent and capable people who are concerned enough about the country to do their part.

    Disagreeing with the Emperor and dynasty in power dose not render them unpatriotic. We need to recognise the Grand Narrative that currently engulfs the people for what it is

  7. 9 Souk Lan Lim 1 March 2011 at 11:59

    Talking about CNA, you said “It has acquired such a bad rep over the last two decades”.

    2 decades?? It’s only been around since 1999.

  8. 10 Alan Wong 1 March 2011 at 15:32

    I personally think that among the opposition members, CSJ is way above the rest in terms of intellectual arguments. It’s no wonder he is such a threat to PAP that they have to fix him up so that he is disqualified from contesting. If he had indeed been invited for the talk-show, any mediacorpse personnel with half a brain would know that they would be asking for their heads to be chopped off by the authorities.

    As we have witnessed during one of the court trials, even LKY has to hide behind his lawyer when questioned by CSJ. If only we have had some opposition MPs who have half his passion and charisma, it would have indeed given the Clown Prince and his PAP running dogs a run for their money.

  9. 11 Ahboy 1 March 2011 at 16:07

    I think we all need to know that under the system, NCMP has no voting rights whatsoever in parliament. An NCMP can talk, can argue, can debate policies but at end of day when there’s need to vote for or against policies in the parliament, this is where only real MP elected by people will have the rights bestowed under constitution. Forget about PAP MP voting against their own party, it will not happen. Ruling party’s ploy is to create a facade of different voices in parliament by having many NCMP to give public an image that there is opposing voices in parliament. Do u want unpopular policies like ministerial salaries to go through smoothly without meaningful debate because incumbent has majority in the house? Or do you prefer such issues to be thoroughly and rigorously debated and perhaps stalled or delayed? It is time to reduce their majority support in parliament. they are wary of having more elected opposition MP in parliament where PAP can no longer enjoy 2/3 majority. With sizable number of opp MP, Policies that are detrimental to country and singaporeans can then be meaningfully debated, scrutinized, and various ministry (ministers) can be held accountable for their actions or inactions.
    As a first step, we need more non-PAP MP in parliament, not NCMP. And that can be achieved only once in five years through the GE. Once more opp representation exist in parliament, GRC can be reverted back to what it originally was, and you won’t have nonsense of secretive redrawing of boundaries every five years at their pleasure with no justification.

  10. 12 Hmmmmm...... 1 March 2011 at 17:11

    The bias of the hostess was so blatantly obvious and repulsive 😦

  11. 13 TKS 1 March 2011 at 19:43

    CSJ ? Really ? I won’t say he’s untrustworthy but he’s definitely far too glib for my liking.

  12. 14 anon 1 March 2011 at 22:36

    Debra Soon has always been a pap proxy. Her bias is not new for I have seen it in many other episodes of TP. The fact that so many proxies exist tells you how kiasu and insincere the govt is. It is incapable of giving any one his due so long as they hold a different viewpoint or made any criticism.

  13. 15 High flyer = quality? 2 March 2011 at 10:54

    Actually it is not that the opposition is not of good quality lah.

    It is just that they are not high flyers in the (or rather GLC linked) corporate or government sector. But then is it probable they are from these sectors? Very unlikely for current ones, and maybe for ex ones.

    But in materialistic Singapore, people are judged for their quality, talent, status etc by their financial net worth and earning power, eg those million dollar doctors, lawyers etc. There are not many of these people so if something is rare, it must be of value and quality lah. Or so the reasoning goes.

    And ordinary Joes and Janes earning a few thousand dollars per month, there are so many of them. So can we say they are also of comparable quality too compare to the high flyers?

    And the irony is, majority of voters, who are most likely ordinary Joes/Janes, also didn’t vote in their own kind but preferred PAP quality types.

    But will it be different this time round? Maybe we will know in a few months time.

  14. 16 czure 2 March 2011 at 22:08

    Michael Palmer speaks of the GE as a report card and a game. His use of metaphors is telling of what he truly cares about.

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