With Hougang loss, PAP’s recruitment suffers another blow

While the People’s Action Party (PAP) could probably live with not winning back Hougang from the Workers’ Party in the by-election held last Saturday, the most worrying consequence of that defeat would be its effect on the party’s ability to recruit new candidates for the next general election, due in 2016.

The shock loss of Aljunied group representation constituency in 2011 was already a seismic event. It signalled to anyone whom the PAP may approach that being chosen as a candidate is no guarantee of easy passage into parliament. For decades, smooth sailing could be taken for granted as, except for single-member wards Potong Pasir and Hougang, the PAP could coast to victory everywhere else. The loss of Aljunied had signalled that even group representation constituencies were not safe seats.

Now, not only are seats being lost to the opposition, regaining them is no easy matter. In the 2011 general election, the PAP’s Sitoh Yih Pin only managed to squeak  past Lina Chiam in Potong Pasir after opposition stalwart Chiam See Tong had suffered a stroke and decided to contest Bishan-Toa Payoh rather than defend his old seat.

The PAP’s defeat in Hougang with hardly a budge in vote share only underlines the fact that electoral calculations have now changed irrevocably.

Potential candidates approached by the PAP will be asking themselves whether the investment the party expects of them – in time, energy, loss of privacy, suffering possible attacks in new media – will pay off. What if the party places them in Aljunied or Hougang at the next election? Or some other constituency that suddenly becomes a hard fight, such as East Coast or Tanjong Pagar?

Hard search for talent

Already, the party appears to be having trouble getting talent for its future leadership.

Just prior to the 2011 general election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (also Secretary-General of the PAP) said Singaporeans could expect the next prime minister (i.e. his eventual successor) to come from the batch of new candidates the party was presenting. His reasoning was that that person would be in his forties in 2011, and after about ten years serving in the cabinet would be in his fifties. By then (2021), Lee would be nudging 70 years of age and should be retiring.

It sounded neat, though one is immediately struck by (a) the conceit that Lee and the PAP feels it’s a matter they control, and (b) the smooth conveyor-belt model he assumed.

It’s instructive to look at what then happened. Only four new candidates presented in 2011 made it to at least junior minister positions. They were Heng Swee Kiat (born 1961) who was made Minister for Education; Chan Chun Sing (born 1969) made Acting Minister for Community, Youth and Sports; Tan Chuan-Jin (1969), Minister of State for National Development and Manpower; and Lawrence Wong (1972) Minister of State for Defence and Education.

Even if the two ministers of state make it to full minister in a short time, the pace of renewal is still slow. There are 14 ministries even if we exclude the totally useless one (the “minister without portfolio” whose job is to hold the leash on trade unions). Four new faces at each general election means it will take 3.5 general election cycles (about 17.5 years) to refresh the cabinet entirely.

Having cabinet ministers stay for an average of 17.5 years is more a liability than asset. It’s easy to point to the value of experience, but this is likely outweighed by the human tendency to get highly defensive about one’s record and past decisions. What we will have is a government that is resistant to change. It will not even admit to errors, because it is they who would be responsible for those errors in the first place.

With recruitment of new blood getting harder, this trend may get worse.

More than numbers, the type of talent

Beyond the underwhelmingly few new faces inducted after the 2011 general election, there is also the question of quality, or the type of ‘talent’ being inducted. For example, a few persons who attended a recent closed-door dialogue session with Chan Chun Sing told me they didn’t come away with a good impression of the man. While I shan’t go into the specifics of what I was told, it was entirely in keeping with what I expected.

Chan is one of two new appointees coming from the military; the other being Tan Chuan-Jin. A military background brings dangers. The military indoctrinates its men and staffers with a certain perspective – that of Singapore being a highly vulnerable country always under siege.  The credo leans towards survival of the fittest, and softness tends to be equated with weakness and rot.

In an increasingly complex domestic and international landscape, such instincts can be self-defeating. This is not to say that people can’t unlearn what they have been taught, or that either or both of these men do not have the capacity and intellectual qualities to surmount their backgrounds, but at this point, the best we can say is: We haven’t seen any sign yet.

Lawrence Wong and Heng Swee Kiat come from civil service backgrounds. I have not met them in person, nor have I followed closely their careers. But generally speaking, civil service backgrounds can have potential. I have met many senior civil servants who genuinely do understand the issues and hold dissenting views of existing policies. But I have also noticed – again generally speaking – a timidity in pushing their own ideas forward. I reckon the civil service culture in Singapore over-emphasises collegiality and harmony. It’s not a culture that values leaders and change-makers. The minority who have these qualities will quickly become frustrated and leave.

Quitters, however, would be considered to lack the right team-player attitude, and will very unlikely be chosen by the PAP as election candidates.

What then after Hsien Loong?

What if none of these four prove themselves able to command the respect of their peers and win the confidence of Singaporeans? How will Lee Hsien Loong’s succession plan play out?

If they still insist on choosing an unsuitable leader from among the four, then either the PAP will suffer electorally, or Singapore will suffer from incompetence.

However, I can also see an alternative scenario: some other PAP cabinet minister, not from the 2011 cohort, saying: Why should the next leader be picked only from that cohort? Why not me? A messy intra-party succession struggle may well erupt. And that will be the moment when politics in Singapore takes another step to normality.

103 Responses to “With Hougang loss, PAP’s recruitment suffers another blow”

  1. 1 Lye Khuen Way 27 May 2012 at 19:28

    The PAP by their own admission decade back were already facing a renewal
    They blame the limited talent pool and our small population.

    Part of the trouble is that no one from the private sector, (real not GLC) were deemed suitable or none bothered to join them except lawyers and doctors.
    PAP excuse was the PAY.

    They then used that to up the Ministers ‘ compensation . We only came to have some accountability when Gerard Ee’s committee disclosed those extraordinary bonuses beside the high basic pay.

    My opinion is that along the way, the idea of being a PAP man or woman became a less than desirable mark of achievement.

    • 2 Saycheese 28 May 2012 at 01:13

      PAP passed over a better man, Ong Teng Cheong in favour of a seat warmer. They hope the one coming after LHL will be similar. Only problem is that the PAP may not be ruling.

  2. 3 ;ABC 27 May 2012 at 21:46

    Why is this a bad thing? Did`nt the first generation PAP leaders face the prospect of not only failing to be elected but losing out financially. As history has shown they were made of sterner stuff and made huge sacrfices to serve the people. They were the real politicians. Compare them to the present lot and you will see what the country lost.

  3. 4 Elite 27 May 2012 at 21:50

    Alex, you didn’t mention Tharman? Where does he fit in? He seems sensible or maybe not? Maybe a woman for PM? Halimah? Sylvia? If George gets a bit more experience mingling with ordinary folk in private sector or humanitarian orgs, he’s PM material? Agree about the generals. Best for them to stay in barracks. Show Mao for PM?

    It is time for our elite who has enjoyed the super good life and are super rich to start having a conscience and SPEAK UP. They’re letting the country become polarized and no one is willing to be the first to say: maybe we’re not going in the right direction. Selfish, selfish super rich elite. All the Ivy League education is wasted on them. They only care about their own individual career paths, their egos and status

    • 5 yawningbread 27 May 2012 at 22:55

      Tharman/Halimah were not new PAP candidates in 2011.

    • 6 The 28 May 2012 at 08:50

      Halimah is put up there to represent the Malays. Definitely not ministerial material.

      • 7 Not Represented 29 May 2012 at 15:47

        I’m sorry, she’s not there to represent the Malays. I don’t think the Malays elected her to be their representative. It’s rather safe to think that she’s there to appeal to the Malays.

        And you’re right, definitely not ministerial material.

      • 8 Danny 29 May 2012 at 17:36

        Come on, give her some credit. I believe she’s doing well in Jurong GRC along with Tharman.
        Having said that though, I don’t LHL is even PM material. Hence the state we are in now, after barely 6 years in charge. If he wins another term, I say we’re fucked.

      • 9 seorang 30 May 2012 at 10:08

        Halimah works very hard for the less fortunate in society. It is not just a 9-to-5 job for her. This is what I gather from people on the ground. This is also one of the basic requirements in a leader/minister, I guess.

  4. 10 For our future's sake 27 May 2012 at 22:11

    PAP has, through its own policies, been disenfranchise from most talented people. These talented people do not see eye to eye with PAP’s policies and hence, do not join them And it will take a lot of guts and self-sacrifice to join an opposition party.
    Inbreeding has been the way with the PAP, and it will remain so until Singapore collapses.

  5. 11 ape@kinjioleaf 27 May 2012 at 22:48

    It seems to me one question was left out of the Hougang By Election. Why didn’t any of the PAP candidates who lost in Aljunied during the last GE make a come back for Hougang? Was Hougang too small for them or PAP feared another defeat of his ‘high caliber’ members? Or perhaps, PAP MPs see their contributions too much of a sacrifice that the moment they’re voted out, they heave a sigh of relief that they can justifiably tell PM that they want to retire from politics?

    • 12 Boleh 27 May 2012 at 23:45

      Because the strategy that they had used in Potong Pasir worked. That strategy is to send a young rookie in – never mind if he loses one time, twice, thrice, etc. But if he wins, ah, strike lottery. If he doesn’t, no big deal because he or she can’t be that important to the PAP to be deployed in this way.

    • 13 Jack Ng 29 May 2012 at 16:17

      good jobs were given after they were being steeped down, why would they go back to the firing target anymore, and also, can they speak teochew?

  6. 14 Poker Player 27 May 2012 at 22:57

    I don’t know how much 2 sacrificial lambs cost. But 6 is going to be much more expensive. And at least one of the lambs has to be Ministerial caliber (and “compensation”) unless they want to write off Aljunied forever.

    And the lost GRC problem gets worse. How it works for them is that the “anchor” not only has to be Ministerial caliber – he/she has to be *incumbent* and *be* an actual Minister.

    I dare say that once they lose a GRC, they lose it forever.

  7. 16 Worst Singaporean 27 May 2012 at 23:45

    Just thinking out loud here: how about changing the constitution to allow non-elected citizens to be political office holders?

    • 17 Poker Player 28 May 2012 at 00:14

      They are called walkovers.

    • 19 RTT 28 May 2012 at 00:21

      Are there restrictions in the constitution which prevent Nominated MPs from becoming ministers?

      • 20 yawningbread 28 May 2012 at 00:52

        It doesn’t appear so to me. Clause 25(1) of the Constitution says: “The President shall appoint as Prime Minister a Member of Parliament who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament, and shall, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint other Ministers from among the Members of Parliament”

        So the question that then arises is whether an NMP is also a “Member of Parliament”. The Fourth Schedule to the constitution speaks of “nominated Members of Parliament” with a lower-case n for nominated, so it appears that NMPs too are Members of Parliament.

      • 21 Poker Player 28 May 2012 at 11:37

        (Groan…) I can see where this is headed. Top dog Minister-wannabe candidate loser in Aljunied GRC becomes the NMP Minister – another silly convention like the “Minister of the NTUC” …sorry – Minister without portfolio. Look at the bright side … if they are going to do this anyway, at least it’s a lot cheaper than an Upper Chamber.

    • 22 Worst Singaporean 28 May 2012 at 01:58

      Which could mean that appointing office holders through NMP was part of its design or even objective of the NMP scheme.

  8. 23 LXJ 27 May 2012 at 23:50

    I admit I’m biased against Chan Chun Sing because of his scholar-general background, but some people do report being quite impressed by him in person, even though he certainly didn’t come across well in the last GE (at least in the online media)

    • 24 still in reservist 29 May 2012 at 16:01

      the guy was my CO in my reservist unit and never saw him. And yet, I’ve already seen the new CO in that unit TWICE. i’m not impressed by the ex…

  9. 25 ad 27 May 2012 at 23:51

    SAF personnel wants to demand respect. They don’t know or don’t want to earn respect. I have had colleagues who were high-ranking SAF personnel who left and joined the private sector. All of them failed. They brought their “I’m right – you’re wrong” – “Shut up and listen” – table banging – raising voices – type of attitude and were quickly ostracised by their full-blooded civilain colleagues.

  10. 26 Alan Wong 28 May 2012 at 00:27

    Isn’t it kind of ironic that for the democratic country of Singapore, its citizens has the right to elect the President but not the Prime Minister ?

    Incidentally, why should our PM be the ONLY person allowed to choose his sucessor as the next PM ? Is this system of Government any different from a dynasty-controlled government and if this is the case, we might as well refer to our PM as the King or Emperor ?

    What if along the way, one of the PM makes a very serious bad judgement of character in choosing his successor and if the trend continues, the type of PM that will be appointed may get from bad to worst based on the theory of diminishing returns as opposed to one where the best man wins in a fight.

    With this type of selection in place, are we Singaporeans not being shortchanged considering the fact that they are paid the worlds highest political salaries and somemore can appoint the wife to look after the national investment funds ?

    • 27 Worst Singaporean 28 May 2012 at 02:09

      We vote for the PM through the GE, where the leader of the party with the majority seats after the GE becomes the PM and gets to form the government. The successor to the PM is dependent on the CEC of the ruling party, not necessarily the PM. For example, the previous Australian PM lost his job suddenly because someone from within his party challenged his leadership and garnered enough votes from within the party to oust him.

    • 28 Chee Ken Wing 28 May 2012 at 03:00

      It’s incorrect to say that citizens have no say on who becomes the Prime Minister. The citizens first elect members of parliament. The party that goes on to form the government will nominate its leader as the Prime Minister. Granted, this is somewhat indirect, but it is exactly the case in the UK.

      And countries that adopt their system of parliamentary democracy function likewise. You’d recall how PM Gillard of Australia unseated Kevin Rudd without having to go through a general election. That happened because the party with the parliamentary majority decided that Kevin Rudd could no longer lead the party.

      He retained his seat as MP, but stepped down as PM. The same could technically happen in Singapore. If there is infighting in the PAP that results in PM Lee losing the confidence of his party cadres, it’s curtains for him as PM.

    • 29 octopi 28 May 2012 at 08:18

      It’s not ironic. It’s the British system and we’re just following them. If you don’t like it, change the constitution. But I think people won’t like it when the PAP changes the constitution.

  11. 30 nick 28 May 2012 at 00:39

    I can imagine DPM Teo ask PM Lee, “why not me?” Hahaha… Perhaps he is just buying time to get his son, LHY into the parliament.

  12. 31 Alan Tan 28 May 2012 at 01:27

    allow me to give a bit of my own armchair commentary regarding the proverbial ‘4th Gen’ PAP leadership:

    As it stands, the pecking order appears to be:
    1. Heng SK – Full minister
    2. Chan CS – Ay Minister/MOS
    =3. Tan CJ & LWong – dual MOS

    I think it is exceedingly obvious that, of the four, TCJ has the most (in relative terms, of course) charisma and political nous. However, it appears he doesn’t command the trust of the old guard/inner circle as much as the likes of HSK and CCS. I suspect this could be either because;
    a) he has less of a ‘glittering’ academic record as HSK or CCS or,
    b) he is seen as too much of a reformer as compared to the much more conservative and technocratic HSK and CCS.

    It would be a pity if TCJ were passed up in favour of HSK or CCS, but I would not be at all surprised given the PAP’s preference of choosing data-crunching technocrats over anyone with a semblance of strategic vision or political acumen.

    Apart from the four, a few others will probably make into the 4G cabinet (I’m not saying they deserve to, simply deducing it as likely) – Josephine Teo, Baey Yam Keng and Ong Ye Kung (who will eventually be snuck in somehow). And depending on who they manage to bring in at the ’15/16 GE, anyone with some engineering, economics or management background will have to be fast-tracked through in the next cabinet.

    In any case, many of the current 3G ministers will probably have to stay on well into the mid-2020s. In fact, I suggest that, as a result of lack of talent + a crisis of a clear, entrenched hierarchy and leadership within the party’s 4th Gen + a much more uncertain political landscape by 2020, we could either have
    a) LHL overstay his welcome (if he hasn’t already!) well into the 2020s or,
    b) LHL hand over to a Tharman or Ng Eng Hen figure in the interim to steady the boat while he continues to be the power behind the throne in the same way LKY did for GCT’s 2nd Gen.

    Just my 2 cents. cheers.

    • 32 CK 28 May 2012 at 10:49

      How come nobody mentioned Teo Ser Luck as a potential? Oh wait, his last rally speech at the 2011 elections comes to mind – he’s more suited as a getai auctioneer 🙂

  13. 33 Rabbit 28 May 2012 at 02:01

    Temasek Holding has successor issue too, was it a coincidence? May be Mr Goodyear can shed some light as to why it was so difficult to assume leadership in this tiny island run like a “family busines”.

  14. 34 Tina 28 May 2012 at 05:02

    Lawrence Wong is a divorcee, not long after he got married Marriage didnt go beyond 3 years. Now “single” stays at Chancery Lane condo. Did you know that?

  15. 37 haha 28 May 2012 at 09:14

    I especially liked this sentence

    There are 14 ministries even if we exclude the totally useless one (the “minister without portfolio” whose job is to hold the leash on trade unions).

    The one who does nothing but whip the poor workers of Singapore to be cheaper, better, faster is actually the most useless and unproductive salary man.

    And he still has the cheek to add in stupid remarks in the press from time to time. As we all would say, he’s giving Mah Bow Tan a run for his money.

  16. 38 Jay Sim 28 May 2012 at 09:22

    The scenarios for the next 2 elections will be interesting to paint. Imagine who they have to send to get Aljunied back? Who amongst the cabinet would want to go there and face defeat? Surely it is not easy to send just junior ministers and it will be perceived as not keen to get it back. but which heavyweight would want or brave enough to go short of a whip from the Sec-Gen to go there? And in 2016 if the PAP loses one or 2 more GRCs on top of Aljunied, i can imagine the fears and tremblings going into 2021. LHL may have to remain as PM to hold the party together or even face revolt then and there. If he steps down 2021 may not have any more Lees in govt. What will Singapore be like? Hence if opposition parties are serious about politics they must start to think seriously of running the country. I can’t in this short comment say much due to space, but it is possible things can change fairly quickly. Hope you are around Alex to provide the guiding hand to the newbies in politics. I am far too old by then.
    Viva Singapur

    • 39 TheFlyingPan 28 May 2012 at 09:52

      Doubt they will use the same strategy of sending rookies as they have done in Potong Pasir and Hougang. A GRC of 5 members is different.

      So either they find a way to throw the WP out – like using defamation suits, haha, before 2016 or they have to put a very credible team there.

      It will have to be a gamble – a calculated one – just like what the WP did when Mr Low decided it was time to venture into Aljunied. It was a very risky move but it paid off – the rewards were tremendous. So if the PAP is going to have any chance of seizing it back, they would have to do something similar – maybe putting their next best team after Ang Mo Kio in Aljunied. This will signal to the voters that they are serious about Aljunied. Anything less will be a sure loss.

    • 40 Worst Singaporean 28 May 2012 at 14:00

      One option the PAP should consider is to dismantle the GRC system and revert back to SMC in all wards.

  17. 41 Will 28 May 2012 at 09:26

    I think the PAP’s recruitment problems stems from their very ingrained fear of dissent/split in policies. Disagreement is not dissent, it makes for alternative views, a thinking out of the box very much missing in our policies. We do have enough local talents to bring us forward, it is only how to bring them out to do so. While I credit the PAP’s past achievements, it has become a VLCC that takes miles to make a slow turn.

  18. 42 octopi 28 May 2012 at 11:33

    Singapore has never been very lucky with their choice in prime ministers, with one important exception. Goh Chok Tong was not LKY’s first choice – the first choice is our current president. LHL raises questions about dynastic politics. He is a smart guy but questions remain about his temperament and performance.

    Because the Singapore / British system is the way it is, the choosing of a prime minister is something within the domains of party politics: once you have elected a party, you don’t choose who within that party gets to be PM or appointment holders. When power changes hands, you get young punks like Tony Blair or David Cameron in office, when neither of them have ever been part of a cabinet. Tony Blair might have been a dazzling speaker, but he turned out to be a flawed leader.

    Some aspects of the “new normal” are not exactly a good thing. It’s not a good thing that the PAP can’t attract better candidates to step forward. The old system may have been very flawed and undemocratic, but at least the last 2 PMs have had experience in the cabinet before stepping in as PM. If you cut off that supply, where are you going to find your leaders?

    We want a good opposition because we want a good plan B. But we also want our plan A (ie PAP) to be as good as it can be. If the PAP can’t produce good leaders, then it’s not a good thing, unless we’re ready to talk about Low Thia Khiang being PM and Sylvia Lim being Minister of Finance.

    • 43 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 01:56

      “Because the Singapore / British system is the way it is, the choosing of a prime minister is something within the domains of party politics: once you have elected a party, you don’t choose who within that party gets to be PM or appointment holders. When power changes hands, you get young punks like Tony Blair or David Cameron in office, when neither of them have ever been part of a cabinet. Tony Blair might have been a dazzling speaker, but he turned out to be a flawed leader.”

      Is there a logical or inferential relationship between the first sentence and the second?

      Obama, Hollande, Ma, Aquino, …

      • 44 octopi 29 May 2012 at 12:04

        Do you think I should have put the sentences in different paragraphs, then?

        Tony Blair brought in a style of politics which had too cosy a relationship with the media (culminating in the News International mess you see today), and he tried to run too many things himself. Reading an account of his days in power, I think that throughout his premiership he has been a mediocre leader, more interested in politics than governing. I am not criticising the younger Tony Blair for being inexperienced, or the older Tony Blair for being flawed near the end of his reign. If he had to run something earlier in his life, he would have been weeded out for his flaws. I don’t know very much about Cameron but I get the impression he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

        What’s the purpose of mentioning “Obama, Hollande, Ma, Aquino, …”? I can’t read your mind, you know. Regarding Hollande, the fact is that at this point in time, you know nothing about him.

        Whether or not being in the system gives you advantages is definitely a question worth debating over. I think it has a lot of advantages. Both Clintons benefited from experience. Obama has great qualities but also suffered from his inexperience. If JFK didn’t have his Camelot legend, we would have castigated him for starting the Vietnam War. Of course, there are experienced people like Nixon and Reagan who do not seem to have benefited much from years in office. Prime ministers should serve for around 10 year at a stretch. I certainly do not think the current situation in Japan, where you have a new prime minister every 1-2 years, is something good, or something that we in Singapore should aspire to.

        Whether or not being a general makes you a lousy head of state is debatable. Washington, Eisenhower, Marshall and De Gaulle were certainly not shit leaders. But Vietnam and Burma’s generals did not run their country well.

        It is probably not 100% correct to talk about the PAP as plan A and the opposition as plan B. Both will be in parliament simultaneously in the long run. Now, if you were to say that you don’t really want PAP to produce good leaders or good leadership, at least when it is in power, to me it would be an extremely curious thing. What is the purpose of the opposition – to make sure that better policies are in place, and to squeeze the PAP so that they do the right thing, or to take over the government? I put this question to you. For me the question is not really ”who do you want in power” but “what kind of government do you want”. People who have it the other way around are more interested in power than governing.
        If you say that it is not possible under democratic politics to want the best for the ruling power, that is not freedom. Freedom is not really about subverting authority. Freedom is about being able to do the right thing.

      • 45 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 16:10

        “Do you think I should have put the sentences in different paragraphs, then?”

        You don’t know your own point enough to decide that? You attempted a generalization. It broke down when confronted with the facts of the world.

      • 46 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 16:19

        Are you responding to the article, or replying to a comment, or making a separate point?

    • 47 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 01:59

      “Tony Blair might have been a dazzling speaker, but he turned out to be a flawed leader.”

      Has there been any head of government who at the end of his/her career cannot be called flawed?

      • 48 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 11:34

        Yes – was looking for this:

        “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” – Joseph Chamberlain

    • 49 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 02:15

      “We want a good opposition because we want a good plan B. But we also want our plan A (ie PAP) to be as good as it can be. If the PAP can’t produce good leaders, then it’s not a good thing, unless we’re ready to talk about Low Thia Khiang being PM and Sylvia Lim being Minister of Finance.”

      I am not sure this plan A/plan B business makes any sense in democratic party politics. A major part of the current plan A is making plan B unworkable.

  19. 50 ;ABC 28 May 2012 at 15:40

    Yawning Bread, you are wrong to suggest that an NMP can be appointed a Minister. The Chapter headed “Eexecutive” shlould have made it clear that only elected MPs can be so appointed but the omission is not fatal. The intent is clear. Otherwise you will have the ridiculous situation of an NMP Minister being unable to vote on supply bills put up by his own Ministry. The same goes for Money Bills or amendments to the Conststutuion. The Chapter headed The Legislature is more precise and separates elected MPs from NMPs. The 4th Schedule does not help in interpreting the Constitution in this respect. The abusurdity is compounded if that MNP is the PM.

    • 51 yawningbread 29 May 2012 at 00:51

      “shlould have made it clear”

      Should, you say. But it doesn’t.

      • 52 ;ABC 29 May 2012 at 10:31

        Since you remain unconviced of the fallacy of your view let me go into more details. The tenure of the PM and the Ministers is normally from one Parliament to the next, more than 5 years. The tenure of an NMP is 2 1/2 years. If you are correct, then you can have a Minister who is not a member of Parliament. Why stop at NMPs? NCMPS are also MPs and according to your interpretation of the Constitution they too can be appointed Ministers. Does that not contradict the very definition of NCMPs? They are, according to the Constitution, those MPs who do not belong to a party or parties forming the government. Lastly, you can theoretically have the whole Cabinet composed of NMPs and /NCMPs which cannot vote on Supply and Money Bills and amendments to the Constitution or removal of The President The collective responsibility of the Cabinet to Parliament spelt out in the Constittution would, in your view, be by a Cabinet not of the elected representatives of the citizens.

      • 53 yawningbread 29 May 2012 at 10:55

        You don’t seem to understand what I was saying. I hope I wasn’t being too subtle. I _wasn’t_ arguing that NMPs should be able to be cabinet ministers (my own view on this matter has not been disclosed). I was just pointing out that however much you wish, the constitution does not seem to bar that possibility, unless I missed some other clause in there.

        It is important to realise that laws are never perfect. We may want them to do something, but as currently written they may not.

        Debate can get very confused if we conflate wishes with reality.

      • 54 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 11:15

        The word you want is “loophole”.

        We are talking about a country which managed to find a loophole even in this sentence:

        “No person shall wait outside any polling station on polling day, except for the purpose of gaining entry to the polling station to cast his vote”

    • 55 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 02:08

      Ridiculous or not the mother of Parliaments has had this for ages. There have been Cabinet ministers from the House of Lords. Malaysia too – the Dewan Negara.

  20. 56 Lim 28 May 2012 at 16:59

    Its obvious Chan Chun Seng did not shake off his military ideas, at least at the start. His first main speech which many cringe says it all. Many friends even non-opposition is not positive about him. Probably reminds them too much about bad experiences in the army.

  21. 57 james 28 May 2012 at 17:18

    Despite all the poor publicity that CCS had gotten since the last election, he is clearly marked as ‘ultra high potential’ by the PAP. I suspect he is much more capable than what was presented so far and just needs to learn to tone down and watch what he says. LHL himself was similar when he was young and fresh out of the army.

  22. 58 james 28 May 2012 at 17:21

    And the likes of Tharman, Teo Chee Hean, Khaw Boon Wan and Ng Eng Hen are not exactly old, are they? Surely young enough for a 10-12 year PM stint.

  23. 59 skponggol 28 May 2012 at 21:06

    Perhaps, this is a blessing in disguise for PAP.

    Instead of recruiting candidates from the military and civil service, where people are more ‘indoctrinated’ and more ‘timid’, PAP may be forced by circumstances to look for candidates elsewhere.

    In order to win back WP wards as well as defending those vulnerable wards, PAP will be forced to recruit candidates from the private sectors where people are not afraid of failures and more keen to take risk. They will also be forced to recruit local community leaders who understand the ground better and able to bond with the voters. These are the 2 areas which were quite lacking for PAP candidates in GE2011.

    Hence the Hougang by-election will force the PAP to go back to the basics and re-invent itself.

    • 60 Jay Sim 29 May 2012 at 11:26

      I think this is not for want of trying. From various indications, it is the people from the private sector who were not keen to join the PAP. The reasons are varied of course, but we can eliminate money as the motivation for not wanting to join PAP.

  24. 61 avelc 28 May 2012 at 21:23

    May I suggest something outrageous and unlikely: 2021- Chen Show Mao as PM.

    • 62 octopi 29 May 2012 at 01:53

      This would be outrageous because in 2021 Chen Show Mao will be 60.

      • 64 The 29 May 2012 at 11:49

        In most other countries, a politician’s life begins at 60 and after.

        Only in uniquely Singapore is age and experience seen as a liability. And which is why we need such youthful MPs as Ting Pei Ling.

        Frankly, I see the recent emphasis on youth in politics as a wrong move. Old and experienced politicians are an asset, and they have been young before, so they can also relate to the young. More importantly, they can relate to the old. OTOH, the young can only relate to the young – they do not have first-hand experience of being old.

      • 65 octopi 29 May 2012 at 17:03

        OK, I probably shouldn’t have discounted CSM being PM on the basis that he is 60.

        The emphasis on youth is a little more complicated than that. Old and experienced is fine. The idea is to recruit young people so that in time to come they will become old and experienced. Old and inexperienced is not fine. Chen Show Mao is a freshie politician. How his previous experiences have prepared him to be a PM is open to debate. Over the next 4 years, maybe 9 years, we will have a better idea of whether he can be a PM. So I’m open to the idea of Low Thia Khiang being the PM in 10 years. CSM can serve in the cabinet.

        What is not so great about the system is that the door is open or shut very early in your life. People are fast tracked to political positions early in life – in one or two instances, the moment they are born. So if you fast tracked a person you shouldn’t have fast tracked, or the other way around, the system doesn’t correct its mistakes. I don’t think we have a particularly young cabinet. It’s young now because all the old folk who brought us here to where we are today (GY, RL, LBH, GCT, MBT, WKS, SJ) have been around for eons and recently got kicked out.

    • 66 Anonymous 29 May 2012 at 15:13

      Why wait? Make it earlier 2016. All of us should vote for WP and make it the ruling party.

      • 67 avelc 30 May 2012 at 01:39

        Anything is possible, never say never. SG politics may drastically change after the Old Man is gone.

        Chen Show Mao is just an outrageous suggestion, as a political novice and unlikely to be nominated Minister unless the WP and coalition forms the next govt…

  25. 68 Bill 28 May 2012 at 21:48

    Excellent analysis Alex. The political scene in Singapore is going to look very different the day LKY passes away.

  26. 69 Linda 28 May 2012 at 23:50

    Once upon a time, you are a trip to great wealth when you are invited to stand for election under the PAP. Now, with no sure guarantee of a win during election, the kiasi candidate will think twice. Better stay on in civil service. Those force to retire from military have little choice but to join PAP to ensure their golden rice bowl.

  27. 70 Anonymous 28 May 2012 at 23:51

    For GE2016, they may throw a retiring Minister (LBH comes to mind) into Aljunied as sacrificial lamb to try to win it back. LBH may not mind losing (altho lose face big time) but if he’s paid enough there’s a chance he might do it…but I’ll still bet that he’ll lose
    If they send in a junior team ..sure lose one
    So I concur with Poker..when they lose a GRC, its gonna be super tough to win back
    They’ll lose 1 or 2 GRCs in 2016 i think

  28. 72 PAPASHLS 29 May 2012 at 09:51

    If Chiam doesn’t have stroke, do you think Sitoh can win?
    My foot!

  29. 73 Vijayrao sharma 29 May 2012 at 10:58

    The political scene in Singapore is changing with momentum and the ruling party has a lot to learn from this recent by election in Hougang. And unless, the pap still doesn’t pull up its socks, a possibility of a drastic change in government might occur for the good or for the worse( god knows) in 2016 and it would be wise for the opposition to be prepared to run Singapore if it is elected as the majority.

  30. 74 The 29 May 2012 at 11:51

    Potong Pasir was a special case. First, CST had a stroke. Second, he tried the dynastic route and install his wife. Big mistake. I think the WP can easily win Potong Pasir if it decides to go there at the next GE.

    • 75 octopi 29 May 2012 at 17:08

      It was a mistake on hindsight. His wife lost by a razor thin margin. If his wife won, and he lost Bishan Toa Payoh, both of them would jointly run PP, which is a good arrangement. I think they were counting on that as a most likely scenario. Both Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong made the exact same gamble, and I won’t be surprised if they had discussed this with each other beforehand.

      • 76 The 30 May 2012 at 11:41

        Not just hindsight. It could have been predicted with certainty. CST probably did discuss with LTK. In Hougang, YSL has been walking the ground, and had been the protege of LTK for a long, long time. OTOH, Lina Chiam was foisted on the electorate at the last minute and a virtual unknown. Vicarious and dynastic politics leave a very bad taste….

  31. 77 ;ABC 29 May 2012 at 11:55

    There is no confusion in my mind nor any alleged conflation of possibility withe reality. There is simply no possibility that an MNP can be appointed a Minister. Period.

    • 78 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 14:03

      “There is simply no possibility that an MNP can be appointed a Minister. Period.”

      Is this an assertion of fact, an interpretation of the constitution, a forecast, …what?

      • 79 Poker Player 29 May 2012 at 14:21

        From wikipedia


        The President also appoints other Ministers to the Cabinet from among the MPs, acting in accordance with the Prime Minister’s advice.[23] Any MP, including a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) or a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), may be appointed a Minister. Thus it is possible for a person who was not elected by voters to be appointed by Parliament as an NMP, then by the President as a Minister. In 1990, then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said in Parliament: “I would rather that a government has the flexibility to appoint the right person to be the minister for finance, than to compel that government to select from whoever is available in the House.”[25] However, he added that the Government had no intention to appoint a Cabinet minister from among the NMPs at that time. In May 2009, MP Hri Kumar proposed during a Parliamentary debate that this stand be reconsidered as the Prime Minister would be able to draw on the experience of many capable Singaporeans. He expressed the view that this would not offend democratic principles.

        YB is not alone in this.

  32. 80 Sg Capri 29 May 2012 at 13:18

    Very interesting analysis. The PAP could still draw on ex-Ministers or GLC stalwarts. The pay gap between Ministers and GLC chiefs has widened, and LHL can “persuade” the GLC folks that it’s “payback” time.

    And the pool of doctors, lawyers, accountants and academics .. of course, persuading them isn’t easier either. The GRC card is no longer a safe bet.

  33. 81 CRICKET 29 May 2012 at 13:36

    Let LHL lead the Aljunied GRC team. This will definitely show how much the PAP want to wrest back the GRC from WP. Besides, it will be a fight between giants – Secretary General PAP vs Secretary General WP.

  34. 82 BillyMa 29 May 2012 at 14:21

    If going by PAP’s formula of having at least one big gun in a GRC team, come GE2016, which PAP’s minister will be send in as the sacrificial lamb for Aljunied GRC?

    PAP can’t go back tracking by sending a no-big-shot GRC team, it would be perceived as PAP not being serious about taking back Aljunied.

    So PAP has indeed dug a deep hole for itself and thanks to their own self-serving GRC concept , it has & will probably backfired on them big time.

    • 83 octopi 29 May 2012 at 17:43

      This is what I think they will do. They will pull the inverse by-election strategy. They will put in a rookie team, and then show all Singaporeans over the island: well, I’ll give Hougang and Aljunied to the worker’s party. Don’t worry about voting opposition in your own district. Everybody gets the expected result and we all go home happy.

  35. 84 ptr_verdle 29 May 2012 at 15:23

    wow, what a convincing argument

  36. 85 Shawn 29 May 2012 at 15:40

    Alex…i have to question your assessment and ur sources assessments of ccs. Are u all making ur asscessment from an impartial pov or from an anti pap pov? While i do not agree with the man’s politics i can say from my past experiences of interacting with him that he has been nothing but a good man who means well. If you don’t believe me then come to one of his monthly dialog sessions at buona vista cc and see for yourself.

  37. 86 Dreamer 29 May 2012 at 15:42

    With the million-dollar-salary, I’m sure they can attract plenty of people with talents…

  38. 87 Michael 29 May 2012 at 15:59

    Very good article. 2 points:

    1) The minority who have these qualities will quickly become frustrated and leave.

    Totally agree, although I was not from the civil service, I am a “government” linked company overseas scholar who broke bond and left SG for work overseas. It is so much more worth it in terms of experience and culture.

    2) If they still insist on choosing an unsuitable leader from among the four, then either the PAP will suffer electorally, or Singapore will suffer from incompetence.


    3) However, I can also see an alternative scenario: some other PAP cabinet minister, not from the 2011 cohort, saying: Why should the next leader be picked only from that cohort? Why not me? A messy intra-party succession struggle may well erupt. And that will be the moment when politics in Singapore takes another step to normality.

    Now Lee & Lee still alive. Wait until they go, then you will see all hell break loose internally. But then, this is what politics are about, isn’t it.

  39. 88 The Pariah 29 May 2012 at 16:06

    If you need a “guaranteed win”, or “sure can get into Parliament”, you have a free-loader attitude. You don’t have the conviction to serve. You don’t have the passion for politics. That’s why each successive PAP generation is worse than the previous, starting from 2G PAP under Goh Chok Tong.

    That’s also why a person with a sense of Justice and Fair Play, with Critical Thinking and with Compassion will NEVER join PAP, even when invited to ride on the coat-tails of ministers and guaranteed a salary of a million bucks. Eg, Chen Show Mao joined WP.

    Hence, it tells you a lot by looking at those 4G PAP candidates rolled out pre-GE 2011 (including Desmond Choo) …. from the creme-de-la-creme to the scum (eg, Tan Chuan Jin, Tin Pei Ling, Chan Chun Sing, Foo Mee Har, Heng Swee Kiat, Gan Thiam Poh, etc, etc, etc).

  40. 89 Yeoh Lian Chuan 29 May 2012 at 19:23

    Purely speculative hypothesis : What if Aljunied GRC were to became 5 SMCs?

  41. 92 sinlesschocolate 29 May 2012 at 20:03

    this “put up there to represent the..” is utterly ridiculous. I’d like to think there’s be a day when race is no longer a factor in ministrial positions but hey its just blind hope ain’t it

  42. 93 luther@blissett.org 29 May 2012 at 22:08

    Succession issues? Not surprise. PAP prided themselves to be Singapore Inc. That’s an overstatement. Which Fortune 500 companies employed doctor to run their operation?
    PAP run Singapore just like any Singapore listed SMEs.

  43. 94 Anonymous 29 May 2012 at 22:34

    Will PAP even be in power when LHL retires? The fact that this issue of succession is even discussed in a so-called democracy tells me that something is not right with our political system!

  44. 95 chek 29 May 2012 at 22:39

    You are assuming that the PAP will even be in power when LHL retires? Not if Singapore continues to stagnate and our Ministers seem powerless dealing with all the important issues affecting the country!

  45. 96 Optimist 29 May 2012 at 23:03

    Shawn, if CCS is a good man, like what you said, then his public image, with suppotive media for PAP does not help him. If it is the case, he would need more polishing to be in politics. If he wants to take on, LTK, Sylvia and Chen Show Mao. These are old hands.

  46. 97 Optimist 29 May 2012 at 23:05

    GRC is like a big door. It is very difficult to open! Once open, you enter and close the door. The people outside the door would need ingenious strategy to open it.

  47. 98 The Pariah 30 May 2012 at 14:04

    Alex, may I suggest that “talent” is a misnomer in the context of your well-written posting above (eg, in your sub-heading: “Hard search for talent”)? From what we have seen from the creme-de-creme of 2G-4G PAP ministers and ministers of state, I reckon common opinion would not rate them as “talent” – they are mere cadre members.

    More so with the passage of Time, the effects of laws and policies cleverly crafted by ministries headed by such “talent” have come home to roost.

    Likewise, it is a misnomer to term it as “volunteerism” for parents’ contributions to the schools where they plan to enrol their kids when Primary 1 registration opens. That’s a “barter trade”.

    Let’s not glorify them as “talent” or “volunteers” where they are undeserved.

  48. 99 skponggol 31 May 2012 at 11:16

    So much has been said about PAP’s talent recruitment, how about Opposition?

    For non-WP Opposition parties, they may have more difficulty as more people may be much keener to join WP after their convincing Hougang victory despite the negative news about the party.

    However, despite their seemingly landslide victory, WP may face even greater challenge attracting TRUE talents. Just look at Chen Show Mao. If one were as qualified and accomplished, or even half as qualified and accomplished as Chen , does he really dare to join WP after seeing what is happening to Chen after one year?

    Chen had given up a mega-million-dollar pay job, an exciting career in a revolutionary industry constantly dealing in billion-dollar businesses at the prime of his life to join WP. Where does he land up in WP?

    He is a mere ordinary member in CEC without holding any position. He does not seem to play any major role in party decision-making. He was a non-player in Hougang by-election, reducing to a mere cheer-follower. After giving up his career and sacrificing precious with his family, who are staying in China, his job is reduced to a weekly MPS and occasional Parliament speech. Is it really worth it?

    Why is it that WP leaders refuse to give Chen greater responsibility despite his breathtaking credentials? What is their worry?

    Like PAP, it seems that people who can make it in WP are Sylvia Lim (a former police officer, a background which is as indoctrinated and disciplined as the military) and Gerald Giam (a former civil servant, a background which you have suggested to be timid in pushing their own ideas). People like Eric Tan and Poh Lee Guan who dare to question party leader and offer changes were sidelined or quit.

    “Quitters, however, would be considered to lack the right team-player attitude, and will very unlikely be chosen by the” WP “as election candidates”.

    What then after Thia Khiang?

    • 100 octopi 1 June 2012 at 06:39

      You don’t understand. If you are an opposition member in parliament you will be up to your eyeballs in work. That’s why they called the worker’s party. If you want to fight the establishment there are a million and one things to do. The members who are wise will understand that if you put in the effort, even if you don’t become the big dog in WP, you will make a difference, you might even walk into another party, no problem at all.

      Don’t worry about CSM. Fighting the PAP is hard work. There is more than enough on his plate.

      Joining the opposition party is about making a difference and not about personal glory. Those people who think otherwise should sit back and talk cock on sammy boy forum like Goh Meng Seng.

  49. 101 Optimist 2 June 2012 at 09:41

    Asking for high post after 1 year? Want to be Dr Chee Soon Juan in SDP by betraying Chiam and regress opposition for the next 10 years.CSM knows he cant do that. LTK and Sylvia have fought together for many years and CSM only 1 year. CSM needs to integrate and wait even though he is talented and well supported. He is not after money but a name in history of Singapore. Surely not “not the person that breaks WP”, shouted be PAP.

    • 102 skponggol 2 June 2012 at 11:57

      The smeared treatment of Dr Chee Soon Juan, not only by PAP and MSM, but more importantly by so-called moderate Opposition supporters is perhaps one of the reasons why Opposition has great difficulty in recruiting talent.

      Dr Chee had given up a well-paid job and a good career as well as trading his landed house for a small HDB flat and bringing his whole family to suffer with him for his political vision.

      Instead of support and admiration, he was unfairly and unkindly attacked by other Opposition supporters for whatever reasons. People who are thinking of joining Opposition may be held back because of Dr Chee’s treatment by other Opposition members. Worse, if anyone dare to disagree with WP Established leaders, were they also end up in the same predicament as Dr Chee? Is it really, really worth it?

      As for Dr Chee’s so-called ‘betrayal’ of Mr Chiam, the entire SDP CEC went against Mr Chiam then. Mr Chiam’s was subsequently betrayed again and again by his so-called anointed successors showed that he had a very fatal flaw in his leadership style which forced almost everybody to keep on ‘betraying ‘ him.

      • 103 octopi 2 June 2012 at 19:39

        There is an important concept for opposition members to understand. Two men are being chased by a bear. One of them starts to run. The other guy says, “you’ll never run faster than a bear”. And the running guy says “I just have to run faster than you.”

        LTK realised that it would be better for him to not directly be the one who attracts all the PAP attention, just keep his head down, and build a party with a big grassroots movement. Aljunied is the fruit of 20 years of work. Yes, he is a “moderate” but that is the price you pay. LTK was like the guy who ran faster than CSJ, he didn’t attract the attention of the bear.

        Chee Soon Juan is not doing too badly: a respectable showing in HBT. But his brand of politics is not 100% accepted by the people. Judging by the showing of SDP in the years from 1997 to 2006, his style of politics was never ever going to work. Judging by the outcome of Occupy Wall Street, it is not 100% accepted in the West either. He had many lost years. And his HBT guys don’t do things his way either. I don’t think Chee lived in vain: both Chiam and him are heroes in their own way, JBJ, Tang Liang Hong too because they captured the hearts of the people by being brave and sacrificing. But that doesn’t mean that LTK is going to hand over the reigns of the WP to a stranger. Being a hero is not the same as being a leader.

        In hindsight, I feel that LTK had the better idea: you will only truly progress when the tide turns against the PAP. So be a survivor for now, and wait for that to happen. CSM is now in parliament, and in the years to come he will be judged by what he does in parliament, rather than what he does for WP.

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