Shambles in Tanjong Pagar, oiled machine in Yuhua

It concerns me very much that the news story by the Online Citizen Why SDA team missed deadline may give a poor impression of opposition parties in general. It would be grievously unfair.

I too was an assentor, but for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and my experience with them could not be more different from what happened with the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) team at Tanjong Pagar group representation constituency described in the above-linked article. Hence, I am going to relate below, in diary form, my experience, which I believe is a lot more typical of the long-standing opposition parties like the SDP, the Workers’ Party and the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

I would hate it if Singaporeans came to believe the shambles at Tanjong Pagar represented the organisational quality of the rest.

Going by The Online Citizen’s story of the Ng Teck Siong team’s abortive attempt to lodge their candidacy for the 5-man  Tanjong Pagar group representation constituency, one gathers that among the many weaknesses were these:

1. It was not really backed by any party, but more a solo effort by Ng Teck Siong, erstwhile chair of Reform Party, then chair of Socialist Front, and after the Socialist Front decided it would sit out this election, crossed over to the SDA barely days before Nomination Day. He cobbled together a team with Nazem Suki, who had appeared on Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point a month back representing the SDA, and three other persons whose names do not ring any bell with me.

2. Up to the 11th hour, the team didn’t have the funds to put down an election deposit and had to make an appeal over the internet for loans.

3. Up to the start of the nomination time window, the team did not have, or did not know whether it had the necessary proposer, seconder and six assentors, all of whom have to be resident in the constituency. Again an internet appeal was sent out only a day before.

4. Because it didn’t have names ready, the forms were not prepared in advance.

5. Ng Teck Siong himself arrived about half an hour late and there was some difficulty connecting up with volunteer assentors whom he had not met with before.

6. Forms had to be filled and they had to be endorsed by a notary public.

7. Ten minutes of precious time was wasted because Ng stopped to talk to the media.

Eventually, by the time the forms reached the election officers’ table, it was 35 seconds past the closing of the nomination time window.

* * * * *

Now, let me tell you how my side went.

First, let me say this: I am not a member of the Singapore Democratic Party. My position is that whichever reputable opposition party comes to contest my ward, I will volunteer to be an assentor; I aim to promote democracy and to give fellow citizens in my constituency a chance to vote. This time, it so happens that the SDP is standing in my area and that is how I became an assentor for them.

Nomination Day minus 13: I dropped by at SDP’s office during one of their Open House evenings, and there they took down my identity card number, my address and a contact phone number in their list of available assentors

ND minus 7 (the day the writ of election was issued): Someone from the SDP called and identified himself as the coordinator of assentors, asking me to reconfirm that I would be available. I said Yes.

ND minus 4: The same coordinator called again and asked if I had family members or friends in Yuhua, my ward. They needed 2 – 3 more assentors just in case. The rules say that for a single-member constituency, a candidate needs at least four assentors, but experienced parties always ensure they have six or seven, in case anyone drops out at the last minute. I told him that unfortunately I had no family. After I put down the phone, I thought of a friend who lived nearby.

I then called this friend (let’s call him Arthur) I’ve known for ten years and who lived in the block opposite. He readily agreed, in fact he sounded excited. I passed his name and number to the SDP coordinator.

ND minus 3: I found a friend of a friend who also lived in my area, and called him. He too readily agreed (my friend had told me he probably would because he’s not very PAP-friendly) but fifteen minutes later, there was another call in which he changed his mind. Apparently, his wife was not comfortable with the idea. By that time, it seemed that SDP had found enough assentors (including spares) and there was no need to worry.

ND minus 2: The coordinator’s assistant — wow, now he has an assistant too — called to advise that somebody could come to Yuhua tonight, going to each assentor’s door to let us sign the necessary forms. I said I’d only be home at 10 p.m., and so the time was fixed accordingly.

That evening indeed, another assistant came by in a taxi with a form to sign. All the necessary details had been typed into the form beforehand back at the office. I could see on the form the entire list of assentors complete with their ID numbers, and the candidate clearly had a comfortable number of them. After I signed the form, the assistant’s assistant went to the next assentor’s home and so on through the night.

ND minus 1: The coordinator texted and emailed me to advise when and where to meet. Although the nomination centre would only open at 11 a.m., we were all asked to meet at 9 a.m. They needed to be sure well in advance that everybody was present. He also asked me if I needed transport in which case he would send a car over. I said no need. The designated location was an obscure coffeeshop deep among residential blocks. I wondered about that.

Nomination Day 9 a.m: About twelve to fifteen people gathered at the coffeeshop. Candidate Teo Soh Lung and the leading organisers were already there. Arthur arrived soon after I did.

Why this coffeeshop? I asked, and was told that this obscure location was deliberately chosen so that the media would not find us. They had obviously done their reconnaissance beforehand.

A whole new set of forms was produced. Candidate Teo explained why we had to sign them all over again. “The old forms you signed the other night gave my occupation as ‘lawyer’, but on further thought, I decided that a more accurate description would be ‘retired lawyer’ since I no longer have a practising certificate,” she said. “I don’t want to make an amendment on the old forms just in case the PAP objects to it; safer to reprint new forms and sign all over again.”

We all did. She even had a Commissioner of Oaths sitting (and sweating) with us through the two hours at the coffeeshop just in case there were any last minute changes and he was needed to endorse them. There weren’t any.

Nomination Day 10 a.m: A phone call came. It was party leader Chee Soon Juan saying he was on his way and requesting we not move out of the coffeeshop till he arrived.

Nomination Day 10:30 a.m: Chee  Soon Juan arrived and thanked everyone for their support and assistance. A thoughtful gesture.

Nomination Day 10:45 a.m: The group started walking to the nomination centre about 5 to 7 minutes’ away.

Nomination Day 10:55 a.m: We arrived at the nomination centre. Although Teo had never stood for election before, she (and the group) was guided by someone called Lawrence who appeared extremely experienced and familiar with the process. He made sure she walked in pole position for the cameras, but not stopping for any interviews. Upstairs, he guided everybody where to sit and what to expect. He even pointed out the different exit doors and explained which door would lead where. Most importantly, we were not to bungle our way through one particular door which would lead onto the balcony where speeches were made (and on which cameras were constantly trained); we’d look like fools if stepped out there unwittingly.

As soon as the nomination time window opened, the papers were submitted without a hitch. It was quite anti-climatic.

* * * * *

In a recent talk he gave, political researcher Derek da Cunha stressed the critical importance of party organisation and logistics. Having plenty of volunteers was a huge advantage.

I hope my inside story gives you a glimpse of what is required and the immense difference between well-oiled and experienced parties like the SDP, the Workers’ Party and perhaps the NSP on the one hand, and last-minute bean sprouts on the other. The latter make the news because disasters are more newsworthy than smooth, silent successes. But in the case of successes, lack of reporting  tends to invisibilise the careful planning and hard work behind a political campaign.

Once again I will say, even though my readers may be sick of hearing it from me: Not all opposition parties are the same.

27 Responses to “Shambles in Tanjong Pagar, oiled machine in Yuhua”


  1. 1 ThePasserby 28 April 2011 at 01:10

    I made a comment in your earlier post about this. From what you said here, it seems Uncle Yap omitted that bit about Mr Ng Teck Siong wasting time with the media.

    • 2 medialate 30 April 2011 at 00:47

      Yes, the media is guilty of delaying Ng Teck Siong and his team. Uncle Yap kept hurrying Mr Ng to head to the Nomination Room but he stopped to talk to the media.

  2. 3 Amazing 28 April 2011 at 03:05

    SDP has truly lived up its mark. Very organised and meticulous party which must have came from Dr Chee’s strong & unfaltered leadership. A party leader, who has previously confronted Singapore leaders head on and walked the streets under rain and shine to promote human rights, has emerged stronger and vigilant.

    Your detailed description of SDP going through the tedious process of organising themselves and its volunteers right up to the polling day has shed a very positive light and perspective on them.

    SDP is indeed the party worth voting for.

  3. 4 Anon 28 April 2011 at 03:26

    I think we are better off with this happening to Tanjong Pagar. It is not as if they are running to win. The eagerness of the election officials to disqualify the team makes for a bigger story. Heck, maybe it was planned to be that way.

    Now, let us wait for the CCTV and see what time the form was submitted to the Election officials and see whether the video by Uncle Yap was telling the truth.

  4. 5 jax 28 April 2011 at 04:42

    “Invisibilise”?

  5. 6 CK 28 April 2011 at 05:42

    “Not all opposition parties are the same.”

    Even if they were the same, the result will not be different.

    87-0.

    “In every election cycle, it is at about this stage that pro-opposition optimism starts to climb. It reaches delusionary heights during the campaign itself and almost always comes down to earth with a crash the morning after polling day.”

  6. 7 Voter 28 April 2011 at 08:08

    Thank you Alex for this wonderful insight.

    I had written SDP off and I must say I underestimated their ability to comeback and mount a challenge.

    I watched the team’s speech on the net and they sounded very fiery. I wonder if it is too much of a shock for the public. Kudos to Chee for his never-say-die chutzpah. Holland-Bt Timah is a real fight. SDP is up against a bunch of lightweights. Hope the SDP doesn’t screw this up. Godspeed!

  7. 8 anony 28 April 2011 at 08:27

    Alex, you left out Reform Party alliance team in AMK. Just like Tanjong Pagar, it was a last minute appeal by Alex Tan, of SPP, loaned to Reform Party who went to TR Facebook to appeal for funds. I said last minute becos he only had about 2 to 3 hours before he had to go to the bank and he was short of $32,000, that was the day donation certificate had to be submitted.

    Miraculously, the funds were raised but then another hurdle was in his path becos he needed assenters, proposers etc. Again another urgent call the day before & a few hours before heading to Nomination Center.

    So, if AMK Reform Party could do it last minute rather haphazardly I would say, I am quite sure SDA Tanjong Pagar could have too if they were as determined as AMK Reform Party to see it through.

  8. 9 Netina 28 April 2011 at 09:41

    Thanks Alex for this! Gave us a really good glimpse of the whole nomination process. I really appreciate it.

  9. 10 Tan Tai Wei 28 April 2011 at 11:08

    Exactly at what precise point of the handing over did they define “submission” of the forms? How was that clocked?

    Obviously, there could not be the necessity for queuing, nor even of immediate personal handing over at a counter (for a split second delay in the process of handing over or receiving would make all the difference, since that lateness was timed to the exactness of 35 seconds).

    According to a well-known blogger, the team had arrived (at the counter?) in time, and the “delay” was due to their speaking to an officer there.

  10. 11 T 28 April 2011 at 11:24

    /// Anon 28 April 2011 at 03:26

    I think we are better off with this happening to Tanjong Pagar. It is not as if they are running to win. The eagerness of the election officials to disqualify the team makes for a bigger story. Heck, maybe it was planned to be that way. ///

    No, if they were contesting, they will be able to keep the Tanjong Pagar team busy, and prevent the MM from “kachauing” and helping other weak PAP candidates.

    On second thought, maybe MM’s involvement may not be a positive, and can backfire.

    • 12 Anon 28 April 2011 at 20:12

      Now MM can’t just sit there and do nothing right? Perhaps this is an open invitation for MM to go to help out other places? Interesting point.

  11. 13 arbeit macht frei 28 April 2011 at 11:48

    kudos to the SDP for having some well-oiled machinery to back them up. i hope more people will see the substance and more importantly, the sincerity, behind their cause. will also have to agree that the regrettable SDA display at tanjong pagar was less than exemplary…one has to wonder if they were even really interested in contesting in the first place. nonetheless, there are upsides to be taken from the sorry episode as well. the way netizens and the wider public responded to the last-minute pleas for help is certainly heartwarming. even public figures like pam oei, selena tan and neo swee lin (i’d include daniel sassoon as well, since i remember him from the old livionia days but i’m not sure if everyone is familiar with the local music scene) had the courage to stand by their convictions and walk the talk. it demonstrates that singaporeans aren’t just an apathetic, money-faced bunch of acquiescent yes-men, but people who are eager not just for change, but also to be involved in the formal political process, in whatever way they can contribute. your vote counts. elections counts. politics count. an active and engaged citizenry has to be a fundamental building block of the future we’re fighting for. and it’s a goal we will reach one day, i’m sure, judging by whatever else is unfolding.

  12. 14 Michael 28 April 2011 at 12:16

    A day after Nomination Day, and this commentary in the Today Paper caught my attention. “Could we have a ‘freak’ result?” written by an Assistant Professor of Law at the SMU.

    The good professsor suggested that an election result with the PAP losing power altogether a “freak’ result. You probably would have read such commentary at one time or another, ‘freak’ reault if PAP loses a Minister when it loses a GRC and variations of that sentiment.

    It is not pre-destined that the PAP must win in every election. Why should such an outcome be freakish?

    Let me tell you what is freskish:

    1) I lived in Tanjong Pagar GRC and it is freskish that I had not voted in the general election in last 20 years.

    2) A doctor introduced as one of the candidates for the Tanjong Pagar GRC walked into the Parliament on Nomination Day without a single vote cast, without any speech made, without anyone knowing who he is, what he stood for. That is freakish.

    3) An octogenarian too old to even walk unassisted said he wants to serve me for the next five years. That is freakish.

    I don’t get to vote again for GE 2011. The last time that I had cast a vote during the general election was for Mr. Ong Leong Boon, a PAP candidate for the Kim Seng Constituency in the 1980 GE. That is 30 years ago. In Singapore we have a ‘freak’ democracy more than anything else.

  13. 15 Well 28 April 2011 at 12:18

    One way or another, you and SDA achieved the same thing: making the task of filling in name, ic, address, occupation on a piece of paper sound like rocket science.

    You filled in a form, turned up on the day and submitted it. This diary is like one of those ads for a pen where “twist cap” is listed as a feature.

    164 assentors did it without a hitch. Form filling is “invisibilised” for a reason.

  14. 16 chua 28 April 2011 at 13:05

    No one else has noticed that the The online citizen piece is a bit weird? The folks quoted in the piece were never stated as nominees, seconders, assentors or nominee’s witnesses. Seems more like a piece written to defuse more outrage how 139,000 votes in Tanjong Pagar became disenfranchised. I was there… I didn’t not see NTS spending 10min talking to the press. I saw them going into the nomination hall (2nd floor) at 11.35. Everyone else had to wait on the ground floor.

    Suffice to say, if you were there at SCGS, you would have seen a lot more that was never shown or reported online. ‘Cest la vie. It just seems silly that you want to let the PAP set the terms of the debate (oh, the opposition cannot organize), when they had to move Baey to Tampines GRC literally at the last second out of Tanjong Pagar. The bussed in PAP supporters had badges which still showed the original 5 candidates.. with a certain one blacked out. Then throw in a total newbie who hasn’t even been introduced….

  15. 17 chua 28 April 2011 at 13:09

    You have your taxpayers money at work with those videos of your meetings. You have someone working fulltime for Vivian deleting the facebook negative comments, coz that really has been a fulltime job. There’s enough paid trolls, some bound to be more sophisticated than others.

  16. 18 georgia tong 28 April 2011 at 13:12

    Thanks for sharing. It shows that ‘experience’ does matter. It helps opposition parties to better organise themselves and aware of all the possible ‘administrative’ pitfalls.

    Glad to learn about the good leadership in SDP.

  17. 19 Senang Diri 28 April 2011 at 13:13

    Hi Alex

    I was there at Jurong Junior College.Had sometime on my hands and popped in around 12 noon.Its the 1st time I have been to an election gathering.These are some quick observations/comments :

    1.It was a sea of white.The place was swarmed by PAP supporters .Only a very small group of SDP supporters.

    2.Had to wait until around 1.30 pm before anything stirred.Totally boring.

    3.The Jurong and Yuhua PAP supporters seemed most organized and vocal.West Coast PAP seemed to be disjointed- a sign of being uncontested for ages.

    3.One wonders who these PAP supporters are .Maybe you can pen an article on day .Some observations:

    – Yuhua had a significant number of burly Indian guys .What kind of background do such people come from?

    -There seem to be an obvious number of young PAP supporters who are obese.Why ?

    -Are there a lot of ” property agent ” kind of people who become PAP supporters?( Imagine getting your picture taken with the a Minister in charge of the HDB etc ) .

    – How many of the PAP supporters at JJC are graduates ? How many are businessmen and entrepreneurs who do business in the GRC/SMC ?

    Finally I noticed that Fool Me Hard was the only PAP MP who did not speak at JJC.Iswaran was quite fiery and came across as an overweight Indian Muslim guy -but confidant and all geared up for battle.

    The Boon Lay MP came across as another ” Ah Beng General “.He will fit in nicely as a partner for the unimpressive ex Army General .He seems to be a TOTAL MISFIT for Boon Lay ( elderly,poor…).Geok Choo must be really upset with the top brass at the PAP.

    In fact,I overheard some comments from a Boon Lay resident – that the new ex Army General cannot be compared to the likes of ex Generals like Winston Choo etc

  18. 21 dfauraven 28 April 2011 at 15:22

    I never made the same inference of whatever occurred in the Tanjong Pagar fiasco to that of the other opposition parties. In fact, I questioned the SDA Tanjong Pagar team on why they cannot settle the administrations of the nominations when other parties can do so without a hitch. That said, your account gave us a very good glimpse on how other opposition parties are taking this elections very seriously by preparing way before hand and not be stingy on their resources to ensure that all elements in the nomination processes are ready and prepared. While I have no affiliations to any parties, I am definitely very glad that the oppositions have proven their calibre and quality. I look forward to the most exciting GE that I have ever encountered, with an open mind and ear on what the opposition has to offer.

  19. 22 Questioning 28 April 2011 at 17:31

    Did you forget to mention some other “weaknesses”, such as systemic weaknesses? What kind of place allows only an hour to pass in forms, filled out without a single error or omission? Does a few seconds of tardiness really justify depriving over a hundred thousand citizens of their right to vote? Has it always been this way? Were political aspirants in the 1960’s also required to meet strict conditions to appear on a ballot? Do you think to-the-second punctuality necessarily translates to leadership skills? Requiring attention to minor beaurocratic detail is more suited to recruiting prison guards or military officers, is it not?

  20. 23 Eye opener 28 April 2011 at 17:37

    SDP has a good team and well planned logistics in this respect. I hope they keep up the good work and expand their ground further by winning this election. We have a good insight into all these planning and hard work which give us more confident to vote for an efficient party like SDP. I am also quite certain, WP and NSP are no less efficient in their own ways too.

  21. 24 Dustin Lau 28 April 2011 at 18:42

    Please forward this to all residents in Tanjong Pagar GRC. Someone has pledged funds and there is an ongoing conversation with the Elections Department.

    There is a chance Tanjong Pagar GRC may still be contested but we need residents to join up and organize ourselves.

    Please message us on facebook for details and an invitation to the private group. Click the link to my account at http://www.facebook.com/luminoir

    Will the SDA team win? We don’t know. But we’re going to make sure the PAP Tanjong Pagar GRC team earn their exorbitant salaries.

    No walkovers for 2011.

  22. 25 Alan Wong 28 April 2011 at 19:50

    What I don’t understand is why is the nomination window period set exactly at 1 hour ?

    Why can’t they make it such that there should be plenty of ample time for mistakes to be discovered, corrected and then properly submitted ?

    To begin with, politics isn’t an exact science but why are they making it appear like there are so many constraints to discourage potential candidates from being nominated ?

    Really beats me.

  23. 26 Xmen 29 April 2011 at 03:18

    I completely agree with Questioning and Alan Wong. In what other democracy do you have only a one-hour window to file nomination paper and also risk disqualification with even a slightest error?

    You should be outraged that such a system exists to deprive electorate of their constitutional rights and representation. Which is more important, voters’ right or red tape?

    Let the voters decide.

    • 27 Robox 30 April 2011 at 22:25

      “In what other democracy do you have only a one-hour window to file nomination paper and also risk disqualification with even a slightest error?”

      I had intended to respond to Questioning and Alan Wong, echoing their views; Xmen has now thrown his weight behind their arguments.

      I have said this before: Many aspects of the Singapore’s political and electoral systems don’t factor in the human, human processes nor the human condition. This example illustrates it amply.

      Indeed, I would argue that it is also anti-democratic because, if democracy necessitates the maximum participation by the electorate in the political process, then what these rules do is quite the opposite: they are clearly intended to weed out the maximum number of people who might participate in any democratic exercise.


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