Archive Page 2

Racialising the presidential race

Handy words for skin tones from

Handy words for skin tones from

This also sickens me: the use of the race bogeyman to justify changing the rules for electing a president. In its press release, 10 February 2016, the Prime Minister’s Office said the Constitutional Commission should, among other directives, make recommendations relating to “ensuring that minorities have the chance to be periodically elected to Presidential office.”

In Singapore’s political speak “minorities” always means racial minorities. It doesn’t mean religious, sexual, economic — or any other kind — of minorities. Even when it comes to racial minorities, this is largely seen through the grating that slices the picture into four politically-constructed races: “Chinese, Malay, Indian, Other” (CMIO).

I will explain here why this justification for complex political rules should be rejected. It is no more than a (deceptive) sweetener to help the bitter pill of further entrenching themselves in power go down better. Continue reading ‘Racialising the presidential race’

PAP control of the presidency: Singapore will pay the price

The dance has commenced. A Constitutional Commission has been set up to propose changes to the elected presidency. The exercise is an entirely transparent figleaf that does nothing to hide the vulgarity of the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) determination to monopolise power at any price.

Tan Cheng Bock speaking at Nomination Day 2011

Tan Cheng Bock speaking at Nomination Day 2011

Everybody knows what the commission is expected to deliver: a means to stop Tan Cheng Bock from winning the next presidential election. This former PAP stalwart, now rather more independent-minded, came within a whisker of winning in 2011. His 34.85 percent of the vote was less than half a percentage point away from the government’s chosen candidate Tony Tan (35.20 percent). Continue reading ‘PAP control of the presidency: Singapore will pay the price’

Clear thinking about NCMPs

pic_201602_05Our parliament, never admirable, has lately been filled with much quacking. The issue that has gotten quite a few opposition members mired is that of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP). The government proposes to increase the minimum number of opposition members to twelve from the present nine. This will mean that if opposition parties fail to win 12 seats outright (through our first-past-the-post system), the shortfall will be made up of NCMPs.

The Workers’ Party seems to be taking a mealy-mouthed stance over this. There may be a fear that when voters know there will be at least 12 opposition members, they will be less inclined to vote strongly for an opposition party. Continue reading ‘Clear thinking about NCMPs’

Singapore joins deflation club


Perhaps in other places there might have been headlines screaming ‘deflation’, but here in Singapore, it was just a passing mention in a story about mean incomes, and made to sound like an unequivocally good thing.

Median income, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, for Singaporeans working full-time grew 6.5 per cent from June 2014 to June last year to reach $3,798. The growth was 7 per cent after adjusting for negative inflation of 0.5 per cent.

— Straits Times, 29 January 2016, Job growth hits 17-year low, but real wages up 7%

See how it slipped in there? ‘Negative inflation’. In other words, deflation. Continue reading ‘Singapore joins deflation club’

Bad news: wages up, unemployment low

There were two noteworthy nuggets of information in Straits Times’ front page story about employment numbers in 2015 (Friday, 29 January 2016). This essay will discuss the nugget from this statement:  “Just 100 more citizens and permanent residents were in jobs at the end of last year compared with the year before, although unemployment remained low, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.” My main aim in this essay is to examine the unquestioned assumptions that too often skew our appreciation of the facts.

Continue reading ‘Bad news: wages up, unemployment low’

Pay back our love


The case of Brandon Smith raises a slew of very uncomfortable questions for Singapore, questions I have yet to see anyone ask. So far, much of the discussion I have seen on my Facebook feeds have centred on what the law says and the rights and wrongs of the young man’s refusal to return to do National Service. (Admittedly, what I get on my Facebook feeds is algorithmically skewed. There may indeed be deeper discussion somewhere, but I’m not seeing any.)

The ugliest parts of what I have seen are comments that adopt an anti-foreigner tone. These comments are particularly unhelpful, because they distract from key issues that this case points to. I hope to draw these out in this essay. Continue reading ‘Pay back our love’

General election 2015: Looking back, looking forward, part 3

Maruah held a post-election forum on 19 Sept 2015.

Maruah held a post-election forum on 19 Sept 2015.

In this last part of a three-part essay, I will touch on three questions that surfaced during Maruah’s post-election forum, held 19 September 2015. They were:

  • Does social media have any impact on voting intentions?
  • Do rallies make any difference to voting?
  • Is confrontational politics the way forward from now on?

Continue reading ‘General election 2015: Looking back, looking forward, part 3’

General election 2015: Looking back, looking forward, part 2

Maruah held a post-election forum on 19 Sept 2015.

Maruah held a post-election forum on 19 Sept 2015.

This post is the second in the series that attempts to make sense of the results of the 2015 general election and distil ideas about what opposition parties can do. In Part One, two themes were discussed: the ‘apathetic’ voter and whether parties need ideological platforms.

In this Part Two, we take on two more themes: Naturalised citizens and middle-ground voters. Continue reading ‘General election 2015: Looking back, looking forward, part 2’

General election 2015: Looking back, looking forward, part 1

Maruah held a post-election forum on 19 Sept 2015.

Maruah held a post-election forum on 19 Sept 2015.

Maruah’s post-election forum, 19 September 2015, was very well attended. They ran out of chairs and people had to sit on the floor.

I was one of the six speakers, but the best part for me was the way that comments made by other speakers and members of the audience generated further thoughts which will take three posts for me to cover. These thoughts can be grouped into seven themes. In this post (Part One of three), I will discuss the first two: The ‘apathetic’ voter, and the debate about whether parties need ideological platforms. Continue reading ‘General election 2015: Looking back, looking forward, part 1’

The survivors’ league: Singapore joins Gabon and Tanzania


Guest essay by Kay Mohlman

I was moved to write in the wake of your analysis, which is pessimistically compelling. However, under the conditions of uncertainty that come with elections in far-less-than-democratic conditions, it’s impossible to accurately know what lies behind voter swings except that each of the past two elections have been exercises in uncertainty: an uncertain (surprising) outcome in 2011 and uncertain (frustrated) predictions in 2015.

Fine-grained analyses of the 2011 and 2015 general elections can be made, but I think it’s important as well to look at Singapore in some comparative perspective. Doing so may help us realise what, exactly, opposition parties and those who vote for them are up against when measured side by side with the many other countries that also hold far-less-than-democratic elections around the world. And fortunately, Andreas Schedler has done just that in his “Politics of Uncertainty: Sustaining and Subverting Electoral Authoritarianism” (Oxford 2013). Continue reading ‘The survivors’ league: Singapore joins Gabon and Tanzania’


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