Flashes of promise amid flashbacks

Best shot was Chee Soon Juan’s. After Michael Palmer of the People’s Action Party (PAP) said that the way his party approaches the problem of the poor was to be provide targetted assistance and that the PAP did not believe in across-the-board subsidies, Chee interjected, reminding the audience that it’s a different story for ministers — they get their form of across-the-board subsidies. Chee was referring to the highest salaries in the world that Singapore pays cabinet ministers.

This was among the rare cutting responses I heard in the two-hour forum held at the National University of Singapore on 23 March 2011, with four political parties represented on the panel. Besides Chee of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)  and Michael Palmer, there was Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party (WP) and Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party (RP). It was moderated by Joshua Thomas Raj.

Unfortunately, many of the points made through the session were similar to those made in the 2006 election and earlier. We seem to be rehashing old ground, and it led me to wonder if this could only mean we’d get the same old result when the polls close.

The theme given to the speakers was: What’s at stake?

Sylvia Lim argued for voters to recognise the importance of a stronger opposition presence in Parliament. Her chief point was this: In case the ruling party declines in competence, where is there an opposition party which can take over the reins of government? In her usual honest and modest self, she told the audience that the WP is not ready, and to be ready, it would need greater parliamentary experience and depth of resources that follow, and that can only come when voters vote the Workers’ Party in wherever they stand for election.

She also took aim at the PAP’s claim that the next generation of leaders, including a future prime minister, would likely be among the batch of new candidates they are currently introducing. Yet, she said, the PAP do not place rookie candidates in singe-member constituencies, but embed them in 4-, 5- or 6-man teams for group representation constituencies (GRC). Is a GRC a good method for inducting a new prime minister, she asked, her question underlining the impossibility of knowing whether this man really had people’s  support.

Michael Palmer (PAP) said what’s at stake this coming general election was that the next leadership would emerge from among PAP’s candidates. He brandished this oft-repeated PAP point without any attempt to deal with Sylvia’s earlier point about impaired legitimacy when candidates stand in GRCs. Palmer quickly went on to talk about how the next parliament will see different dynamics, with at least 9 non-PAP members (whether non-constituency — NCMP — or fully elected) and 9 nominated members of parliament.

Sylvia probably sensed that Palmer was trying to tell the audience that there was no need to vote for opposition parties because they were assured of NCMP seats. In later comments, she rebutted this, pointing out that NCMPs had limited voting rights, and therefore their views could be dismissed by the government.

Jeyaretnam largely read from a prepared text. Among his chief points was that there was no reason to fear disruption as a consequence of voting in opposition parties when there is an efficient civil service in place. In any case, the track record of the PAP government is “increasingly called into question” and that RP has played a small part in that process. For example, RP argued for the longest time that the previous economic strategy was flawed, relying on cheap imported labour instead of increasing productivity and only now has the PAP come around to the same view.

People, especially the younger ones, have today made the connection between high levels of freedom and a high standard of living, Jeyaretnam said, citing the uprisings in the Arab world. In Singapore however, there is still a climate of fear.

When it came to Chee Soon Juan’s turn to speak, he was given an opening applause a little more enthusiastic than other speakers got, complete with whoops and catcalls.

Major issues for this coming election, Chee said, include the cost of living and housing prices. But foremost was this question: What does it mean to be Singaporean? He cited a survey done by the Singapore Polytechnic wherein 50 percent of respondents aged 15 – 29 indicated that they envisaged emigrating if they had a chance and 37 percent said they felt no loyalty to Singapore. Recalling Sylvia’s conditional statement about what might happen if the PAP declined, Chee said they already have. “If they have not been able to create a society with a sense of belonging, asking questions like ‘What am I defending?’, you have a problem. It’s not about GDP anymore, not about infrastructure. . .  it’s about where your heart is.”

Singapore has not yet been tested by great adversity, “but when we are, what will we find?”

“The one thing we need right now is to let Singaporeans back into the political process. If they feel they have a say, they will stay.” Elections alone do not make a democracy, he argued, pointing to wider provisions and liberties that are needed to give form to it.

In a nutshell, their positions were these:

WP: Unless you vote strongly for WP, Singaporeans can’t secure their future because we’ll never have a second line of defence (a government-in-waiting) should the PAP falter.

PAP: Vote strongly for the PAP to secure your future because the next generation of leaders are in the present slate.

RP: We have ideas which even the PAP has adopted.

SDP: Singapore is already in trouble and the situation cannot be corrected unless SDP’s message about genuine political participation is translated into parliamentary representation.

* * * * *

Some 75 minutes were devoted to question time. Questions fell into four rough baskets.

  • Questions about intra-PAP dissent (including over Lee Kuan Yew’s views on Malays and Muslims), representation and the party whip;
  • The climate of fear;
  • Roles opposition parties can play, how they differentiate themselves;
  • Importance of bread-and-butter issues versus civil liberty/democracy issues.

Questions about intra-PAP dissent (including over Lee Kuan Yew’s views on Malays and Muslims), representation and the party whip

The actual question that led to the first basket was why the PAP did not want a by-election to fill a vacant seat when Ong Chit Chung died early in the term of the 2006 Parliament.

Sylvia Lim, replying first even though the question wasn’t actually directed at her, took the opportunity to criticise the GRC system for precisely this weakness. If there is no by-election, the constituents are unrepresented for the rest of the parliamentary term. But if the law should mandate a by-election then it creates an opportunity for one member of a GRC team to hold the rest to ransom by simply threatening to resign. Either way, it is undemocratic.

Palmer replied that a by-election is not legally required under the law, and in the case of Jurong GRC which was one man short as a result, the constituents in Ong Chit Chung’s part of it was “ably represented” by the remaining Members of Parliament (MPs) of the GRC team. What went unanswered was Sylvia’s point that because of the limitations in the number of questions a member of parliament can ask, the voters of Jurong GRC were shortchanged by having disproportionately fewer MPs representing them.

Regarding Lee’s comments about Malays and Muslims, Palmer stressed that he completely disagreed with him. Having spoken to many Muslim MPs and non-Muslim ones of his generation, they too did not share Lee’s views. Palmer conceded that this incident has “dented the relationship” with the Malay and Muslim communities, ground has to be made up and that he and his fellow PAP MPs continue to work at it.

Within the PAP, one gets to express dissent “a lot of the time”, e.g. in parliamentary speeches when PAP MPs openly disagree with certain facets of policy,  but when it comes to party solidarity, “you have to represent the party.”

“At the end of the day, you join a party for a purpose,” Palmer stressed, without clarifying what that purpose might be in his case.

Jeyaretnam took the opportunity arising from the question about Lee’s remarks to talk about the Reform Party’s policy of inclusiveness. “We believe in treating everybody as a Singaporean first”, saying that he would want to abolish the race classifications we see on our identity cards. He argued that we should stop seeing Malays and Muslims “as a fifth column”. The PAP, he observed, tended to use this perspective “as a way of binding the majority to the government”, with the implication that “only PAP can ensure the security of Singapore”.

The climate of fear

Was Jeyaretnam’s harping on the climate of fear self-defeating? Paul Thambiah asked. Although the question was directed at Jeyaretnam, the subsequent discussion almost upset Chee’s applecart.

Jeyaretnam elaborated on his point by mentioning Singapore’s history of detention without trial and politically-motivated defamation suits. Palmer then said that we had laws for a good reason. Chee then took issue with the way these laws were used, highlighting his own experience being a subject of defamation suits, and made bankrupt.

In the same vein, Chee was too quick to go on the attack over media bias by Mediacorp and Channel NewsAsia. He complained about being erased by them.

I didn’t think it was the smartest move to talk about himself, especially with a young audience who did not live through the (defamation suit) period in question and therefore might have a limited understanding of context. Chee came very close to reinforcing a notion (that’s never far away) that he and the SDP were in politics as a kind of personal vendetta. He needs to restrain himself and not be goaded into a discussion of the personal.

Sylvia Lim saved the day by turning the subject towards the secrecy of the ballot. She said her party was “confident that votes are not traced”. Her party has a little brochure that explained the process of vote counting all the way to incineration, but nonetheless she felt more public education was still needed.

Roles opposition parties can play, how they differentiate themselves

Sylvia Lim recalled how in 2006 the Health Minister had proposed, just before the general election, means testing for those who wanted to enjoy the subsidies that came with C-class hospital wards. The Workers’ Party spoke out strongly against it during the campaign as the party’s view is that “health care is an essential public good”. As a result, the Health Minister held back on its implementation, but two years later, the government quietly reintroduced it.

Opposition parties can have an effect — that was her point — but this effect is not great because power is extremely unbalanced in Parliament. What role opposition parties can play is seriously limited by the licences denied and other strictures designed to curtail their reach. To have a more effective role, there has to be a better balance of power in Parliament, as an insurance policy against the ruling party.

As for differentiation, Sylvia highlighted the three key concerns of her party: civil liberties, social justice and labour rights. The 2006 manifesto is currently available on the Workers’ Party website and the new, updated manifesto will be ready soon.

The SDP, Chee said, has put up plenty of material discussing issues on its website. There is their economic manifesto It’s about you and their shadow budget. Opposition parties needed to move away from being “personality-based, devoid of issues”. SDP has made a conscientious effort to put up ideas for thought.

Jeyaretnam pointed to a crux of the matter as he saw it: Either you believe in competition or you don’t, not just in the marketplace but in politics too. He also noted that many large companies in Singapore can be traced back to Temasek Holdings. As for what the Reform Party stood for, he pointed the audience to their party website.

One specific question was pointedly asked of Chee. It was this: Why did he believe that total democracy was the way to go?

In reply, Chee said, “I don’t know what total freedom is, and it is not what we are asking for.” However, he pointed to the greater level of freedom that Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP could avail themselves of in the 1950s, to push the British colonialists out. All he and his party were asking for was to restore the same level of freedom, without which we might still be singing God Save the Queen today.

What has happened in the years since, Chee noted, was that the PAP has hijacked the guarantees in our own constitution, with the result that people are victimised when they speak up. As one example, he cited the experience of Vincent Cheng who wanted to help low-paid, exploited workers in Jurong factories and was detained without trial and beaten up as a consequence.

Importance of bread-and-butter issues versus civil liberty/democracy issues

It was only at the end that one bread-and-butter issue was raised: public transport costs.

The Workers’ Party’s position, said Sylvia Lim, was that public transport should not be run by profit-oriented companies and this point is addressed in greater detail in their manifesto.

By contrast, Jeyaretnam had a different take. He pointed to insufficient competition. Currently, public transport is run by pseudo-privatised government- or National Trades Union Congress-linked companies. Perhaps in some sectors, it may be difficult to inject competition (due to big economies of scale, high fixed costs, etc) in which case tougher regulation would be needed.

Chee took the opportunity to talk about the cost of living in general, giving examples of Singaporeans who are homeless or who live in poverty, even as ministers give themselves 30 months’ bonus. The SDP would want to ensure a minimum wage, retrenchment benefits, but first, there is a need, he said, to have a system of free debate, in the absence of which, “how are people going to represent the disenfranchised?”

Michael Palmer ridiculed Chee’s reply. Where the government had a targetted assistance scheme, all Chee would do for the poor was to talk about it.

Alas, after scoring this point, Palmer walked into danger himself, saying that the PAP did not believe in across-the-board subsidies, and allowing Chee to pounce as described in the opening of this article.

How important were bread-and-butter issues? Raj, as moderator, asked. Sylvia Lim shared with the audience her experience doing door to door visits in Aljunied and elsewhere in the evenings. “Based on the people who were at home, they seldom bring up civil liberties.” She allowed however, that the younger family members tended not to be answering the door, but inside their rooms on the internet or wherever. So, while her sense is that bread-and-butter issues dominate, she will not discount that civil liberties are important to some people.

* * * * *

As you can see, there aren’t any new issues in 2011 that were not already in play in 2006. Yet, we got a glimpse that all parties had much more to say about specific issues than there was time for. Perhaps, indeed, as Chee said, there is a movement away from personality politics towards the development of  ideas, with possibly exciting insights and proposals among them. If so, Singaporeans are not going to do justice to this evolution, and not doing justice to ourselves, if we simply have one-off forums lasting just two hours covering generalities without engaging in more detail.

It would be much more enlightening if we had a series of debates each focussed on a different area, e.g.

  • Economic strategies, cost of living and income gap
  • Housing, education and healthcare
  • Civil liberties and inclusiveness
  • Security, national service, population policy and  immigration

Best of all, they should be televised. Isn’t that what any national broadcaster is supposed to be for?

28 Responses to “Flashes of promise amid flashbacks”

  1. 1 prettyplace 24 March 2011 at 00:07

    Sir Alex,

    You have hit the nail on the right spot once more.

    I think, Dr Chee’s point on belonging and Singaporeans should have been better elobarated and discussed.
    What will Singapore be in the next 20 to 25 years with the PAP alone & with alternative voices.

    Why are oppositions not drawing a picture of Singapore’s future with them in it?
    (I am not sure, maybe I need to phrase the question better.)

  2. 2 Klingon 24 March 2011 at 03:39

    Dear PrettyPlace

    “Why are oppositions not drawing a picture of Singapore’s future with them in it?”

    Well the electorate has to give them a chance before they can draw substantial picture of themselves in the Sporeps future. Hence alternative parties are seldom viewed as major players in nation building. This, inspite of the fact that some their ideas have been poached by the ruling party. Also if it was not for the opposition’s presence I wonder if the ruling party would be attentive to the needs of the bottom 30% of the nation. WP and CST have done reasonably well in PP and Hougang. Sporeans must give alternative parties a chance. We have benefited from the alternative parties in Spore but te electorate are fearful and selfish and refuse to give them bigger space in Spore politics.

    The “opposition” (I prefer “alternative”)are not an alien race. They are Sporeans who have done their NS and who have pledged their allegiance to their nation. Sporean electorate expect too much from opposition parties and are basically extremely fearful of change. So dont expect the alternative parties to draw a substantial place for themselve in Spore future when the electorate are bound by their fear of change.

    I respect the ruling party but am not their blind devotee nor do I believe that they have what it takes care of ALL sectors of society.

    • 3 prettyplace 24 March 2011 at 12:59

      well said however, what I meant was for this forum and for this particular audience.
      I have to agree with Alex, that most of it was the same arguments. On myths and constraints but no drawing for the future, except for Dr Chee who touched on the note of belongingness.

      I think another idea of ‘citizen responsibility’ should have been touched on as well,since almost all Singaporeans have personal responsibility, but they lack ‘citizen responsibility’ towards Singapore.

      How can this be brought forward is important too, especially from this particular audience.

  3. 4 blacktryst 24 March 2011 at 06:25

    Alex, Thank you for sharing this article. I have not had the chance to participate nor view this debate held in NUS but your sharing of the debate is very informative. I have now a better grasp of how each parties stand not only for the general elections but also what values they stand for. From this article, I personally have the the following viewpoints.
    The WP, bless Sylvia, is a credible opposition party but has a strange self belief that some outside force is going to shake the political governance of Singapore into chaos but that the WP can then swoop in as a knight in shining armour. That seems self defeating when they should have been focusing on creating the change in governance by them, the opposition force.
    The RP seems sadly bereft of any charisma or Public Relations skills. No offense to Jeyaratnam but he must understand that very few people will take the time and effort to look up the website just to read the party’s manifesto when there are millions of distractions on the internet these days.
    The PAP is of course a well oiled political machinery. Mr Palmer basically reiterates every party line he was fed. Furthermore, he basically divulges that in the PAP, individualism and alternative viewpoints are simply not tolerated within the party. Therefore, from this debate, I have not gotten at all who is or what is Michael Palmer. He appears just to be a spokesperson, a parrot if you will, of the party.
    Mr Chee is nevertheless a man with the same values that i share. He is certainly a man of great charisma. Although it seems that the SDP is basically Mr Chee and company instead of an actual unified party but i could be wrong. I have not read their economic manifesto from header to footer but they have gotten the right gist of what I believe. The economy should be about us. For far too long, the economy engineered by the PAP seems to have forgotten the local citizenry but favours foreigners instead, from foreign companies to foreign workers.
    I finish this comment with a quote from Mr Chee, “How are people going to represent the dienfranchised” How indeed with hardly any freedom of debate and an overpowering governing political party?

  4. 5 Tan Tai Wei 24 March 2011 at 08:48


    You cautioned that Chee at one stage was in danger of portraying his politics as personal and revengeful.

    Even if so, his encounters with those wielding power, and the purported injustice of it all, surely have fundamental significance for us all as citizens.

    For, we too are citizens, and would seem to be subjected also, de jure, to the injustices. And so, the “climate of fear”!

  5. 6 anony 24 March 2011 at 08:56

    I agree with moving away form personality politics. Chee is not a martyr. The more he pushes himself to the forefront, the stronger the likelihood of him being seen as an extremist. Sporeans do not take heart to radical ideas or flashy demonstrations which he is particularly fond of.

    The more conservative & the more moderate views win the votes. After all, Chee’s party scored the lowest among all opposition parties in the last GE.

    • 7 R 24 March 2011 at 12:53

      SDP scored the lowest in the last election because of over a decade of negative portrayal by the government’s mainstream media.

      One cannot proclaim that it is solely because of the SDP’s ideological stand because there are parties in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea who have the same ideologies and do well because there is a free and independent media to help balance out the views from which public opinion can be formed.

      In Singapore, public opinion about Dr Chee and SDP has been shaped and manipulated to what it is today. However, when I bring my friends and family to meet him and the party, their opinions change dramatically.

  6. 8 Lim Meng Yong 24 March 2011 at 09:37

    Thank you so much for this great article!

  7. 9 chazza boags 24 March 2011 at 09:45

    after reading your take on this, i have to agree with you that more debate is needed. it would also add an imperative for opposition parties to develop their own ideas in a more cogent fashion. it would also be an opportunity for the ruling party to develop and clarify their ideas but it seems that they are more than comfortable using justification as explanation.

    even though i often disagree with the positions of the SDP and the RP, i am extremely heartened to see that they have a clearly defined ideological position. the other parties seriously need to develop one unless they’re just there for cathartic effect.

    the WP, as the largest opposition party, also needs to clarify its stance as whether it merely sees itself as part of “check and balances” or whether it intends to form the govt in the long-run. Sylvia mentioned that this is contingent on how many WP MPs the electorate send to parliament. i don’t feel this is sufficient.

    ultimately, parties should present themselves coherently to the electorate – do they see themselves as “checks and balances” to calibrate the workings of the PAP-govt, as a party with its own coherent ideology seeking to form a govt, or simply as a cathartic outlet for the people who resent the PAP but materially benefit from the system.

    in addition to your potential debate topics, i would like to suggest labour policy. as a singaporean i am appalled that no party in my living memory has ever challenged or even suggested reworking the employment act, the trades union act and the industrial relations act.

    also add the topic of foreign policy. it may not have immediate concern to the electorate but from this people can gauge the many other qualities of the party and their candidates.

  8. 10 Alan Wong 24 March 2011 at 10:15

    Using the same line of thoughts and arguments, why is it that no one has ever cautioned PAP to move away from its very own form of personal and vengeful politics centred on the demands of one powerful man alone ?

    In fact over the years, it seems to be getting more and more involved in its own form of money politics that only ‘practised liars’ (to borrow your phrase) would be unashamed to indulge in, isn’t it ?

    What kind of future lies ahead for Singapore when one fine day, this powerful man dissappears from this political scene ? Now that they have made the ultimate prized collection even more priceless and powerful, what kind of politicians would PAP be attracting in say next decade or so ?

    Another type of ruthless ones desperate enough to cling to power for another few decades ?

  9. 11 Vernon Voon 24 March 2011 at 10:51

    I have always been a great fan of the WP. But its lack of support for the repeal of S377A betrays its claim to be the party of social justice.

    Even more disappointing is its admission at this forum that it frankly has no resources or credentials to form an alternative government, and what Sylvia said comes close to an outright admission that the WP is simply a “checks and balances” party.

    • 12 HELLO 25 March 2011 at 00:53

      I agree. I do like some of WP’S views but..One of the focuses of WP is always claiming is civil liberties, and for that I’m bothered that they choose not to have any positions in any gay-related issue.

      Not even asking for same-sex gender right to marry, but to repeal 377a. Or at least show support. What civil liberties WP?

      SDP has been largely misrepresented I believe..I’m turning 22 this year, and I’ve grown up remembering bits and pieces of watching the news, and hearing the adults in my family talk about the SDP(mainly Dr Chee of course). And I was brought to believe, in my childlike naivete, on how scary this Dr Chee is regarding his “extremist views” and what a “nutcase” he is in trying to destroy my precious Singapore…

      But now,I do find some of his views refreshing and it’s actually in line on certain issues me and my friends have been talking about. I find that he can attract the younger voters and should be focusing on attracting them.

      Specifically..”(SDP) called on Government to repeal Section 377A, saying that the law “discriminates against a segment of our population and that discrimination, in whatever form, has no place in society”.


      “It would be much more enlightening if we had a series of debates each focussed on a different area, e.g.

      * Economic strategies, cost of living and income gap
      * Housing, education and healthcare
      * Civil liberties and inclusiveness
      * Security, national service, population policy and immigration

      Best of all, they should be televised. Isn’t that what any national broadcaster is supposed to be for?”

      Damn right. I do not see any good in having to find each parties opinions on the different areas mainly over the INTERNET before anyone can even make an informed decision for their votes. Obviously, this is already obsuring a majority of the votes especially for our ageing population who do not use the internet that much.
      Pray, tell how are citizens making the decisions on who’s getting their votes? Media-controlled publications? Do they even know that some of this opposition parties’ opinions may be in line with the issues they are always complaining about in hawker centres about the govt?

    • 13 dZus 29 March 2011 at 16:43

      I think you misunderstood what Ms Lim said. She did not say WP does not want to form an alternative to the government.

      “.. WP is not ready, and to be ready, it would need greater parliamentary experience and depth of resources that follow.. ”

      She’s a realist, it might not sound pleasant to the ears but I see nothing wrong with her frank assessment.

      As for S377A, again its pragmatism at work. In the US 2004 election, John Kerry, the democrat presidential candidate had to publicise going for a hunting trip to show he’s not against gun ownership as most democrats are known to be.

      Singapore is, no ifs, no buts, a conservative dominant society. Even if the repeal of S377A is more a human rights issue, to the man in the street it will be portray to them (likely with glee by our nation building media)that any party that supports its repeal as pro-gay and not pro-family. And that realistically ends any chance for that party in the coming election

  10. 14 Rajiv Chaudhry 24 March 2011 at 11:39

    Alex, you do Kenneth a disservice.

    In his response on the Malay/Muslim issue, he clearly and quite unequivocally said that RP as a liberal party did not distinguish between citizens on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation.

    You have said previously that the RP had not clearly stated its stand on LGBT issues. Now that Kenneth has publicly stated the party’s position on this matter, I hope you will acknowledge (and hopefully applaud) it.

    • 15 yawningbread 24 March 2011 at 15:40

      In what way have I done him a disservice? The question was about Malays and what I have reported captured not only the essence of what he said but also two unique remarks he made. I hope you are not suggesting that unless I have reported here ad verbatim every word he said, it would be tantamount to a disservice.

      Yes, KJ said his party would not discriminate on grounds of race, religion and sexuality (he didn’t say sexual orientation), but with limited space any editor would have to choose between reporting the motherhood “no discrimination” statement, or reporting on a unique statements he made. Those two specific and unique statements were about abolishing race on identity cards and about Malays being seen as fifth columnists by the ruling party. Any good editor would forgo boring motherhood statements for sharper statements, which anyway better illustrate his thinking on the subject.

      • 16 Rajiv Chaudhry 24 March 2011 at 16:10

        Apologies, I should have phrased my comment a little better.

        In your article of 9 May 2010 you said you were not “fully satisfied” with Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s reply to your question on where the RP stood on the question of equality and LGBT issues in particular. I was hoping you would have highlighted this aspect of his reply at yesterday’s forum and dwelt on it a bit, seeing that it holds particular interest for you.

        In any case, I accept that the question was not on gay issues but on Malay-Muslims, also your very pertinent point that space constraints preclude the inclusion of every little point that comes up at a forum of this sort. Overall, I think you captured the essence of the exchanges – thank you.

  11. 17 hahaha 24 March 2011 at 11:49

    Alex, repeating the topics of 2006 do not mean they got no new ideas. It’s really how those topics are being brought forward and if they hit the raw nerves. 5 years have passed, and it clearly speaks volume how competent is the ruling party if 5 yr old issues are still hot topics!

  12. 18 sku 24 March 2011 at 13:57

    thank you for sharing this article with the rest of us who could not be there in person.

  13. 19 market2garden 24 March 2011 at 21:20

    “YB Article – Jeyaretnam largely read from a prepared text. Among his chief points was that there was no reason to fear disruption as a consequence of voting in opposition parties when there is an efficient civil service in place.”
    This was exactly my posting in TR last December – Dislodging 1 or 2 Full minister-MP by winning 1 GRC shouldn’t be an important issue to the voters because we have reasonalby good and efficient civll service. And full minister has the historical record of managing 2 ministry.
    I would like to suggest to APs and AP Leaders to find every opportunity to emphasise this point – Newsletters, Rally, TV Broadcasting, Party videos, forumm walkabouts, mass events etc.

  14. 20 Loh 24 March 2011 at 23:20

    Thanks for the great write-up, Alex. I wonder though, why did Dr Chee received more enthusiastic applause than the other 3 speakers? I ask this because I know that generally, people do not like Dr Chee’s tactics. They either say he’s too radical or he’s too extreme.

    Would you say it’s true that the audience in the forum (which I assume to consist mainly of young university students) perceive him differently from the general public?

    • 21 yawningbread 25 March 2011 at 13:33

      Obviously, the audience was a self-selected one and those who chose to attend (>90 percent students) were disproportionately (a) interested in politics and (b) interested/sympathetic to opposition parties. Yet, why were they more demonstrative of their support for one opposition party compared to the other two? I think, for the better-educated Singaporean (which obviously university students are) the more abstract civil liberties arguments that SDP champions resonate more strongly. The Workers’ Party and the Reform Party too have civil liberties on their agenda, but in the case of the former, they tend to downplay it on the stump and it may therefore be perceived as half-heartedness; as for the Reform Party, they’re still relatively new. Furthermore, Chee has underdog status, which always gains sympathy.

      The problem of course, as you have noted, is that a huge number of Singaporeans come to politics with pre-formed ideas (either loving or hating the PAP, and generally buying the mainstream media’s demonisation of Chee even then they hate the PAP), and as is typical of the average human, he is an intellectually uncurious animal. He does not go out to question his own ideas, or to find out more, out of fear that the more he finds out, the more he proves himself mistaken — a good example: look how few people question their own religious beliefs. So the average Singaporeans stays within his comfort zone of political views even when those beliefs are poorly founded on facts.

      It’s like this: the average Singaporean has subconsciously bought into the demonisation of Chee by the mainstream media. Yet this same Singaporean, if he is a PAP-hater, loves to demonise the mainstream media. In doing so, he considers himself immune from the effects of the mainstream media, proud that he can “see through the propaganda”. It’s very hard for him then to admit that he was not immune, that in fact the mainstream media had moulded his view of Chee. So he will thump the table and insist that Chee is a really bad guy, even when he curses the PAP and the mainstream media.

      • 22 prettyplace 26 March 2011 at 13:03

        from what you mention in the last para,
        it looks like Dr Chee needs to communicate his views better and brigde this gap. i hope he takes note.

  15. 23 Gazebo 25 March 2011 at 01:24


    Classic censorship at play again here. See part 10 of the video. Dr. Chee’s rebuttal to Palmer’s nonsense was completely left out of the video. Classic.

    • 24 yawningbread 25 March 2011 at 13:18

      Yup, it came just after Palmer finished his reply, but conveniently RazorTV ends its video snippet just before that. I believe the SDP might have a video of it, because they seemed to have a videocam recording everything, so perhaps they will be uploading that moment on their site.

  16. 25 ape 25 March 2011 at 02:54

    My goodness. Did you guys read the Straits Times online? Political parties clash at NUS forum on GE 2011… one day after YB yet not saying anything. Furthermore, did I read wrongly where ST stated Dr Chee is a NCMP?
    Anyway, I think what Sylvia said about WP not ready to take over is a sensible stand. How much do anybody know what is being discussed in the Cabinet? What information or data do the ministers have that help them set the directives? Without these insights, I think any other party will have a hard time settling in should there be a sudden swing. Kenneth seems optimistic in this sense as he believe that we have a very good civil service so there should not be any problem. I guess what WP wants is to have more opposition MP such that PAP, although have the majority seats but falls short of 50%, such that PAP is forced to form a coalition with another party.

  17. 26 Loh 25 March 2011 at 15:13

    quote – “typical of the average human, he is an intellectually uncurious animal. He does not go out to question his own ideas, or to find out more, out of fear that the more he finds out, the more he proves himself mistaken” – unquote

    Very well said, Alex. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  18. 27 kokanaden 26 March 2011 at 03:41

    I feel obliged to point out that the last person in the list of pictures of those who asked questions is not a student, but a lecturer in the Political Science Department.

    Thanks for the succinct and (mostly) balanced summary.

  19. 28 anon 26 March 2011 at 18:30

    I agree with moving away form personality politics. Chee is not a martyr.

    Dr Chee and JBJ had undoubtedly made a lot of personal and material sacrifices by refusing to be silenced by the govt when they speak up in spite of the undemocratic, dictatorial and bullying methods used by the govt in its attempts to cow them into silence.

    How many among us, ‘pragmatic’ as we would like to plead in our ‘defence’ can come even close? It would be churlish if we would not even acknowledge what they have done. If we would not even admit that we know we are like the frog in a pot of water that is slowly heating up, but were afraid to jump out lest we land ourselves in the boiler.

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