In the battle for votes, posters and prayers count

Two things struck me when I looked at my Facebook home page this morning. The first was a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) blogpost titled Are SDP posters being taken down? which began thus: “A resident at the Yuhua SMC alerted us to a lorry that was removing SDP posters (pictured) while leaving the PAP’s alone.” It goes further to say that a similar report came from Bukit Panjang where Alec Tok is contesting on behalf of the party.

It so happens that a few days ago, while walking the street near my home in Yuhua, I had taken a photo of a lamppost with People’s Action Party (PAP) and SDP posters. Seeing that report, I rushed out of my home (wearing my T-shirt inside out without knowing it!) to that same place to check if the SDP poster was still up. I’m glad to report it is, as are other SDP posters along the street (though I don’t have ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of the others).

May I suggest that concerned citizens should do likewise? Take ownership of the few lampposts outside your front door and snap pictures with your cellphone of posters on them as of today. If any poster goes missing, snap the lamppost again. We need to do our part to ensure a fair electoral contest.

* * * * *

The other thing that struck me was also an SDP blogpost. It reported a pastoral message from Archbishop Nicholas Chia of the Roman Catholic Church. On the face of it, it is a neutral message, but its choice of references leaves one wondering about where it is pointing. For example, its second paragraph says:

When Jesus returned to Jerusalem, he was greeted first by adoring crowds waving palm branches, and then, as we know, the mood turned. People became suspicious of this Man who was speaking against the establishment.

A little further on, the seventh and eighth paragraph says:

When considering the issues and the candidates that will represent us in the upcoming election, we as Catholics must reflect on our duty to use our free vote to further the common good while remaining true to the Christian values that Jesus has taught us. Human rights and the dignity of the human person must be respected.

We must also ensure that the poor, the elderly and the marginalised in our society are cared for. Finally, we must protect the beautiful world that God has given us by addressing the impact that our actions have on the environment.

(emphases mine)

As most will know, for the longest time the SDP has been unrelenting in its message about the need to respect human rights in Singapore. It is precisely this dedication to the cause that has got its leaders into trouble with the PAP government, a “stigma” that still makes people shy away from them, much like how “People became suspicious of this Man who was speaking against the establishment.”

Focus on the Family Singapore, a local extension of rabidly rightwing American political Christianity, is still jumping up and down over the gay issue. In an article on its website titled Values-based voting, it says:

. . . we have put together questions to assist you in this decision-making process. We hope you will find them helpful as you choose the candidates who best represent your beliefs, convictions and values.

And then it asks readers to judge candidates on several criteria, among which are:

Does the candidate support/oppose. . . . the traditional view of marriage?

. . . the expansion of avenues for vices (eg, gambling, prostitution)?

. . . the belief that human life begins at conception, and should be protected until natural death?

Yes, you saw it. It urges voters to  support candidates who are against the supposed “gay agenda”, casinos and a ban on abortion.

On the first issue, it must be dismayed that a poll taken by the New Paper (published 26 April 2011) of “100 people of various ages, races and religions” found that more than three to one had no issue with it. The question asked was “Would you mind if your MP is gay?”  76% said they wouldn’t mind.

Ah, but not all evangelicals think like Focus on the Family, said a friend who emailed me.

In the heat of last week’s attack by the PAP on SDP’s Vincent Wijeysingha, an email was circulated in which one guidance statement said:

Pray against tearing down of personalities during this General Election, but instead to focus on policy issues.

Then, in an oblique reference to the failings of Vivian Balakrishnan’s Ministry for Community, Youth and Sports, (MCYS), another guidance statement said:

Pray that the MCYS/ NCSS will not only be concerned of the quantity of work but the quality of work provided by the social service sector.

Balakrishnan was leading the smear campaign against Wijeysingha, but his ministry has long been criticised for being niggardly with social assistance. NCSS stands for National Council of Social Services, which comes under the same ministry.

* * * * *

A friend of mine accompanied a candidate on a constituency walkabout recently (I won’t name the party as it is not relevant to the story). Walkabouts are part of the retail politics that can make a difference in the campaign. At this walkabout was a new volunteer, who asked my friend whether any of this party’s candidates were Christian.

My friend named a few.

She replied: “It comforts me to know that there are leaders of faith in the party.”

19 Responses to “In the battle for votes, posters and prayers count”


  1. 1 Lukov 2 May 2011 at 15:43

    Speaking of Vincent Wijeysingha, where I find his speeches some of the most engaging & inspiring thus far: Is it just me or has the state media downplayed them, preferring just to get his take on the cohesiveness within SDP?

    • 2 Robox 2 May 2011 at 22:18

      @lukov:

      “Is it just me or has the state media downplayed them…”

      I’ve noticed the same. In fact, I’ve also noted that Vincent Wijeysinghe’s name has often been left out as part of the SDP’s “A” team.

      I’m charging racism as well, along with homophobia.

  2. 3 Magi 2 May 2011 at 15:49

    Focus on the Family Singapore registers itself as a charity organization. I’m unsure whether it states itself as non-political.

    Therefore, is it legal for FOTH to post this sort of guideline?

  3. 4 H 2 May 2011 at 17:55

    Speaking of Vincent, I would like to share this. It’s unrelated to this essay on prayers. But please bear with me.

    One PAP incumbent just visited my household. After the handshakes and greetings, I took the chance to confront him about the Vincent/Vivien scandal.

    I must admit his response wasn’t as filmsy as I expected. Perhaps I’m not the only one who have asked him this. To summarize, he began by saying Bala is his own person, with his own views. But we (I presume he refers to we as the PAP) will take caution never to encroach on the lives of individuals.

    Unfortunately for him, he ended up by reminding me about the readiness of society. I reminded him how subjective that is, especially when people like Balakrishnan has such access to younger people and community education. Our exchange ended very quickly after with another handshake, and the requisite “please support the PAP.”

    He was articulate, I give him that. In sharp comparison to the PAP volunteers surrounding him who looked so awkward and embarrassed. My personal feel, he disagrees, perhaps quite strongly, with what Balakrishnan did. He could also be truthful, when he claimed he feels everyone is equal. As a result of this short episode, while he hardly changed my views about the PAP, he at least lessen my deep discomfort about them.

    This by the way, is what I’ve always hoped the PAP to do. Proper, adult conversation. Not the constant brand of name calling, accusations, doomsday forecasts rained down speech after speech. I sometimes wonder whether they realize the opposition rallies are so packed, not because people necessarily supported the opposition, but because they get to hear what they want to hear from the opposition. People crave the sensation of believing they are heard, and that their concerns are thought upon. Not just reacted to by a standard reply.

    Of course, I doubt the PAP would change its communication protocol within the week. And there’s still that possibility of the White Sea coming here. Hopefully though, there would at least be a reduced margin for PAP and some people in them could start reconsidering their methods.

  4. 5 Denise 2 May 2011 at 19:10

    Hi Alex,

    It is the Scottish elections here in Edinburgh and polling day is on the 6th May. What a contrast it has been! In a mature democracy like UK, debates are held on screen, protest are held, campaign promises being delivered to voters… Alas I am not able to vote in the Singapore elections, I am able to do so in the Scottish elections as a member of the commonwealth countries.

    Here, there are the Nationalist wanting independance, the Labour party wanting a return to power, Lib Dems wanting relevence, the Conservative staking whatever is left of their support in Scotland.

    More or less the same topics are pandered about, jobs cuts in public services, the finances of governance, local issues, voting reform… Very boring.

    This is what a first world mature democracy is like, voting is not complusory, serious issue still draw vigourous debates and voters turn out, the wheels go round…

    I have been following your blog and the steady updates, and I dare say, mostly unbiased commentary but neverthless peppered with agenda, which is appreciable.

    From the various election videos of opposition rallies, I have never seen a more motivated opposition. WP, SDP especially are very organised, very focus, tightly knit organisation, each held have its placed in political spectrum, as you rightly noted in previous post, if I recall…

    The candidates and their background are in fact better than what is offered to me here in Scotland! There’s an infection to their readiness and sincerity to serve, the recognition of urgentness to seize control before a train wreak. Repent for voting them? You are joking…

    What I don’t see is a mature electorate, one who recognise civil disobedience is a matter of course in the promotion of democracy, one who readily accept cash payment from their government and sees no wrong or not wonder, one who perference of governments is down to whether their estate will be upgraded. One who still fear the freak results…. This leaves the anticipation of the election result as another anti-climax…

    • 6 drmchsr0 3 May 2011 at 16:27

      The so-called electorate in Singapore is hardly a mature one.

      While one should not complain about free money (indeed, who should? Money’s hard enough to come by nowadays), people SHOULD be questioning the reasons behind the payout. I have my suspicions, but I’m not going to complain about something the Government has done in recent years, claims of vote-buying notwithstanding. And in any case, free money is NOT going to swing how I vote in the long run.

      I recognize the power of civil disobedience and it’s ability to promote democracy, but I too see how it can be abused to BLOCK democracy. Not to mention that such an ability can be and has been abused in recent times (Westboro Baptist Church heckling at soldiers’ funerals, Yellow Shirts closing down one of Thailand’s important International Airports, to name two). I liken civil disobedience then to the Japanese katana; deadly when used right, and best kept sheathed. Where better methods exist, we should keep this powerful tool sheathed, if only to hint at what the people are capable of doing.

    • 7 chua 3 May 2011 at 22:31

      Well, I was talking to an Ah Pek at my market today. He only spoke hokkien, while I replied in mandarin. He says, he got $800, how much is it worth over 5 years on a daily basis? I worked it out mentally and said 40 cents a day.

      Ah, he says, they are giving me 2 toilet breaks a day (each entry costing 20 cents).

      Moral of the story – Not all Singaporeans are stupid, even if they didn’t have an opportunity for much formal education.

  5. 8 laïcité 2 May 2011 at 20:40

    It worries me that some people might not be able (or willing) to differentiate between religion-specific values, and religious values that can be universally translated across all beliefs and creeds.

    Believers should recognize that whilst they have every right to hold religion-specific values (like the belief that homosexuality is immoral or whatever), it would be wrong to try an use such values to justify the implementation of policy in a secular country. If organizations like FOTF try to play up the importance of voting along such “Christian values”, liberals and secularists will undoubtedly fight back and I’m just afraid that secular-religious relations in Singapore will never be the same again.

    On a side note, is there any particular reason why PAP’s policies have been so sympathetic towards some conservative causes, such as 377A, but not towards others, like limiting abortion rights (thank god!)?

  6. 9 Zhen 2 May 2011 at 20:55

    Thank you, Alex, for continuing to provide critical analysis even as the rest of the social media is starting to get caught up in herd behavior and emotional hype.

    I think that the battle has moved beyond posters and prayers. If you see PM Lee’s latest press conference, the PAP has moved from defensiveness, threats and personal attacks and have started to elaborate on their policies on education and healthcare. Policy issues, I would argue, is where PAP’s strengths are. Meanwhile, the Opposition is sounding tired by continuing to dish out anti-PAP diatribes and idealistic concepts like a first world parliament. Its messages attract some voters, but repels I think the older middle-class.

    The Opposition needs to start selling its policy proposals to persuade voters that there IS a better path for Singapore’s future. WP’s housing proposal in its manifesto seems rather quiet after a promising start. Voters need to be convinced that they are going to be constructive as co-drivers in Parliament, not just a distraction, as some Opposition parliamentarians had been in the past.

    • 10 Chalk 3 May 2011 at 01:33

      @Zheng: Yes, I agree. And this is how they (PAP) will win the elections. Let the other parties race ahead and run out of steam halfway and then they roll out all their impressive policies (the swing voters get tired of hearing the same diatribes all the time). Of course the Opposition cannot compare nor put up policies like that because they have not been in government. This is where in the few days leading up to 7th May is where the PAP will take back the initiative as Goh Chok Tong has declared they will now do. Never mind the large turnouts. Nothing the Opposition can say and do will matter because, unfortunately, all their policies and ‘budgets’ put forward remain theories only and can be readily shot full of holes. The PAP, on the other hand, can mount a strong defence simply because of their ‘track record’ of governance where GDP, FDI and all that are rolled out ad nauseum.

      Remember that the PAP were not in power for 50+ years without learning a trick or two. Remember, to most Singaporeans, things have gotten tough, but not to the extent of them becoming desperate enough to say, “Hell, let’s go try something new.” They will continue to stick with whatever is familiar because it gives them a sense (however false) of security and an anchor while events whirl around them and things spin out of control. Most (swing) voters are middle-of-the-ground voters and they don’t really care who is in charge nor are they particularly keen on knowing the full details. Many just want to hear numbers and assurances and go with whoever is in power. They just want to be able to get on with life, marry, have a family (maybe), buy a car, buy a house, and hope to make it rich by buying stocks, toxic assets or the second home. Doesn’t matter if things are slowly heating up around them like the proverbial frog-in-the-pot, they will simply think that it will not happen to them. And this is why I really hope for the Opposition to make a strong presence in the Parliament, but I will not be holding my breath.

      • 11 Anonymous 3 May 2011 at 04:43

        If majority of the voters keep repeating their apathy by only voting for the PAP in every election after 2011, then Singapore will take at least 20 to 30 years before the PAP loses a significant amount of power.

  7. 12 sloo 2 May 2011 at 21:01

    Does MCYs contribute to FOTF?

    • 13 Connie 3 May 2011 at 17:20

      I think they do for some programmes. When I asked I was told that programmes that meet with MCYS objectives are given funding.

  8. 14 ThePasserby 3 May 2011 at 00:11

    I’m sure everyone has seen the Election Roundup on Channel News Asia. The last news item was about the defacement of PAP posters in Aljunied GRC.

    I strongly recommend all opposition parties to make police reports of vandalised posters of theirs. Some of NSP’s Steve Chia’s posters were stolen while others were torn down.

    We can’t allow PAP to monopolise this game of garnering public sympathy.

    I was at NSP’s rally at Mountbatten. Nicole Seah found herself shut out of the toilet at Mountbatten CC. Other NSP volunteers have reported the same thing. It seems that a staff there forbade people donning the orange polo T-shirt of NSF from using their toilet. Granted that NSP had their own portable toilets at the rally site, but still.

    It’ll be interesting to see if they allow PAP volunteers in whites to use the toilets. If so, it’ll be too blatant a display of the collusion between the PAP and the community centres.

    • 15 yawningbread 3 May 2011 at 00:34

      You wrote: “I’m sure everyone has seen the Election Roundup on Channel News Asia”

      Actually, some of us don’t watch CNA unless we HAVE to🙂

      • 16 Soojenn 3 May 2011 at 21:07

        Yes, why pay to watch CNA, especially when one is overseas… I think most of us don’t watch CNA un less we have to.

  9. 17 Magi 3 May 2011 at 00:46

    Sloo:

    Check this out. I remembered there was an uproar when this happened years ago.

    http://popagandhi.com/anotherlife/200/plu-press-release/

    Vivian Balakrishnan should already be the minister in charge back then.

    May I highlight to you too, in LKY’s Hard Truths, the MM specifically mentioned Vivian Balakrishnan as opposing the theory of homosexuality being genetic.

  10. 18 Elizabeth Rajoo 3 May 2011 at 23:36

    I agree with Denise, the electorate here is not mature, they are still caught up with materialistic concerns rather than sincerely wanting a change and engaging in healthy and balanced debates over issues that concern the country and citizens. Little wonder that we are not creative or innovative, these traits demand a certain risk taking propensities to succeed in a worthy cause or passion. We are often schooled in all these skills, but fail to apply them in our life.
    The other problem is that change is strangled because of monopolistic control over many basic needs like housing, jobs and making ends meet. We are always busy chasing all kinds of upgrades ranging from houses to cars and country club memberships. This seige mentality has prevailed despite our claims that we are a first world country and have an annual GDP that outgrosses many large countries with rich resources in terms of returns. It is like the “famine and feast” condition, just because we experienced a famine once, we often gorge on food just in case that past misery might revisit us. And the success that is lauded is the success that the ruling party deems to be appropriate. Yes, there is also a monopolistic view on success often determined by one being a member of brand name schools with stellar grades and bank balances with multiple zeroes. The rest are considered failures and go unrecognised. Just refer to the print version of today’s Straits Times, Ng Eng Hen claims that Singapore children welcome the competition from foreign students this with a picture featuring primary school kids who can’t spell the words “competition” or “foreigners”, let alone understand the concept.
    Even as I write this, I have read on forums that after the election and with a clean sweep for the PAP, netizens with critical views would be taken to task. Fear mongering is a nice concept for intellectual academic discussions, but it controls citizens and makes them cower with nervous anxiety.
    After 52 years of conditioning, we are no more a confident nation with an assured self-esteem that is comfortable with failure and celebrates the lightness of being foolish or hungry. That is why some churches catholic or protestant are guided by self-righteous bigotry that claims a moral authority on homosexuality and how deviant it is and want to expunge and deride it with scriptural authority and politicians exploit it to the boot often with complicity of church members. In my sadder and peeved moments, I ask myself, Jesus was single and is often portrayed like an effeminate blonde in many pictures and paintings, therefore, is it right for me to conclude that he too could have been a gay despite his immaculate conception? I stand corrected.

  11. 19 Poolssible 4 May 2011 at 08:24

    Yesterday, I noticed two SDP posters taken down in Woodlands. Directly opposite block 739, on Woodlands Circle, at a bus stop just before LightHouse Evangelism Church. I personally touched this poster the day before, adjusting it to face the bus stop. Now it is gone.

    Further away, on Woodlands Avenue 6, another poster was torned down. Its remains lying on the ground, facing up. Don’t know who would want to do such despicable acts. Only once every five years and such disgraceful acts of vandalising against opposition posters have to take place!


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