Two People’s Action Party (PAP) members of parliament whose retirements were reported in the Straits Times, 2 April 2011, are notable for a simple, depressing fact: no citizen has ever cast a vote for them. They have reached the end of their parliamentary careers without ever having to face a contest at an election.
These two are the mugshots of Singapore’s broken democracy.
Ho Geok Choo served as Member of Parliament (MP) in West Coast GRC for two terms, being a candidate for the PAP in 2001 and 2006. This group representation constituency went uncontested through both general elections.
Koo Tsai Kee did even better (or worse, as you may wish). He went through four general elections without facing a contest, in Tanjong Pagar GRC: 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2006.
Ho Geok Choo also represents an emerging problem in Singapore: political dynasties. She is what in China would be called a “princeling”, being the daughter of another MP, Ho See Beng. I am not keeping tabs on this so I do not have an exhaustive list of who is the son or daughter of whom. Perhaps an interested reader would take this on as his personal project and contribution to Singapore history and compile a list? Off the top of my head, I know that new PAP candidate Desmond Lee has been reported to be the son of former cabinet minister Lee Yock Suan, while the son of retiring MP Ong Ah Heng (PAP, Nee Soon Central) has been spotted doing the rounds of Sembawang Group Representation Constituency.
The candidates the PAP intends to field in the Sembawang and Nee Soon GRCs came into clear view on Sunday, with a surprise inclusion: current Nee Soon Central MP Ong Ah Heng’s son, Ong Teng Koon.
The 34-year-old commodities trader accompanied Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, the anchor minister for Sembawang GRC, on a walkabout in Woodlands on Sunday.
— Straits Times Breaking News, 7 March 2011. MP Ong Ah Heng’s son is potential PAP man
Not far from Ho Geok Choo’s Pioneer constituency, Grace Fu is the incumbent MP at Yuhua which she is expected to defend. Her father, James Fu, while not a PAP politician, was once the Press Secretary serving Lee Kuan Yew.
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None of these names are causing as much tizzy as Tin Pei Ling right now. At 27, she is expected to be the youngest among PAP’s candidates. I’m not going to wade into the controversy (but you may want to read this analysis on The Online Citizen) except to suggest that far from discomfitting the PAP, it may actually work to their advantage. Firstly, it boosts her name recognition, but perhaps much more importantly, the controversy is a useful diversion. It deflects attention from one PAP candidate at the other end of the age scale, a full 60 years older than Tin.
In any real democracy, having an 87-year-old candidate would be an embarrassment.
One that comes to mind is Strom Thurmond (born 1902, died 2003), who stood for election (and won) as Senator from South Carolina to the US Senate in 1996 when he was 94 years old. Thurmond was best known for his unreconstructed views defending racial segregation long after American society abandoned the idea. I guess this is what one gets with gerontocratic candidates.
A Straits Times journalist thinks that the 87-year-old may well retire at this election, but I have seen no sign of it. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
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Another Straits Times journalist almost got a tongue-lashing from me yesterday. He called, hoping for some comments for a piece he was writing about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the National University of Singapore’s Ministerial Forum (4 April 2011). My first reaction to him was that I didn’t want to oblige with any comment. “You guys,” I told him, quite indignant, “devoted four full pages to that speech in today’s edition and you want to have more articles tomorrow?
“I am not going to help you generate more content.”
Eventually I relented and gave him some morsels; I tend to feel sorry for mainstream reporters.
Lee Hsien Loong’s chief point in his speech, which the mainstream media is now trying to whip up into towering Truth, was that Singapore does not have enough talent to afford a two-party system. What claptrap. How is it that Denmark (population 5.5 million), Finland (5.4 million — next door to nuclear-armed Russia), Norway (4.9 million), New Zealand (4.4 million) can afford to be multi-party democracies, when we boast like them to be a First World country?
If Lee still holds fast to his view, then he should examine his definition of talent. Maybe he finds very little because his definition is highly restrictive. Maybe “talent” by Lee’s reckoning is actually little more than willingness to toe the Lee line, working hard at increasing income inequity, institutionalising racial divides and breeding elitism. If that is the case then I am rather glad we do not have enough of such “talent”.
Oddly, Goh Chok Tong suggested to the media the day before that the PAP had too much talent and might face difficulty finding enough executive positions for them all.
Limiting ministers’ Cabinet terms to two on average so as to facilitate leadership renewal. That’s a possible future scenario painted by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong for the People’s Action Party when it tackles the issue of new blood in the leadership.
“If [PM Lee] has five new men who can make it as a minister, then he must decide where to post them … That’s a real problem. We must have vacancies for people,” said Mr Goh
— Today newspaper, 4 April 2011, Shorter Cabinet terms for ministers?
In his university speech, Lee said he disagreed with his cabinet colleague and predecessor as prime minister. “Over the weekend, SM Goh expressed his personal view that perhaps in future, ministers should serve only two terms. But I think that’s not possible, simply because of the numbers. We are not able to generate the talent. . . ”
Isn’t it interesting to see the PAP chiefs disagreeing even before the campaign has officially begun? Does it not suggest that whether they have enough talent is less a statement of honest appraisal than a tactical stump-speech device to either impress voters (as Goh seemed out to do), or scare voters into voting for the PAP (as Lee preferred to do)?
Possibly, just possibly, by a wild shot, perhaps Lee had to quickly quash Goh’s remarks because he spotted a comment I posted on Facebook the afternoon before his speech. I wrote (4 April 2011, 2:25 p.m.):
PAP wants its minister-quality candidates pruned
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told Straits Times that the PAP has too many candidates with ministerial calibre, and will need to start pruning them. What does this mean? It means voters can happily vote out some PAP teams in GRCs, chucking out some ministers in the process, and still be confident of having enough “talent” in the administration.
As reported by the Straits Times, 4 April 2011, Goh said the days of cabinet ministers serving several terms may be numbered, because in the interest of self-renewal, space is needed for new blood. “You want to bring in new people who can be given responsibilities, (then) you have to create space in the Cabinet for new people coming in. So a time will come, when ministers will not serve more than two terms, generally speaking, so we can have new blood coming in.”
Great, so the PAP has more “ministerial talent” than they know what to do with. Then let voters decide which candidate deserves to hold cabinet portfolios. Voters shouldn’t lose sleep over voting out the PAP in your constituency and chucking out a minister or two in the process; after all, the PAP themselves said they’ve got plenty more at hand.
I think I’ll go along with what Goh said. They’ve got plenty and I’m sure an even longer queue waiting for a their turn at million-dollar salaries. Time to vote some out.
The name Papsicles is one that I’m going to use in the run-up to Polling Day, for articles about the PAP. As for the photo beside, although I referred to two PAP biggies above, it is purely coincidental that there are two monkeys in it.