Thursday, October 1, 2009

Singapore Election Fever

The PAP government has done a good job, like they always do. But there will always be people who see it as chocolate-coated shit - same colour, sweet exterior, but still shit on the inside.

The PAP government are the tiles on the floor, but they leave gaps in between, and most of the time, they do acknowledge that.

Thus, we will always need grouting, to make the floor waterproof. There's civil society, grassroots organisations, public feedback and for the moment opposition parties.

There previously was talk about a "freak election result". There was talk about the mobilisation of an army, but played down by Lee Kuan Yew, in response to Catherine Lim's question.

What is "freak" to some is not the same to others.

And here is one moral dilemma. Ah Seng voted for the opposition, and if the President mobilises the army in the event of a "freak" election result, which involves mobilising Ah Seng, what can he do? Is the end result a compromise of a citizen's right for the perceived national imperative?

Hey, I am only talking about Ah Seng. What if it was Ahmad? Add some "colour" into the mix, and do we risk further marginalisation of our ethnic minority Singaporeans? Ethnic minorities are more real than the caricatures in your Hao Gong Ming book.

Any way, the upcoming elections, we will have a better idea of the fate the awaits Potong Pasir and my beloved Hougang. Which Group Representative Constituency (GRC) will they be sucked into in the next round of calculated gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is a problem on its own. At the next level, I feel a bit uneasy, as an ethnic Chinese Singaporean, that we use race (racial/ethnic representation) to justify gerrymandering. If that isn't race-based politics, the notion we so often criticise our Malaysian neighbours of, I don't know what is.

It is rumoured that the government (related to PAP okay?) knows your secret vote.

It is rumoured that the government knows which block and area voted for which party.

Rumours aside, it is a reality, that with public housing ethnic quota, ethnic Malay and Indian Singaporeans will always be the numerical minority. The only salvo for them is the presence of ethnic Malay and Indian candidates. As an ethnic Chinese, if I feel a Singaporean, can do his/her job and take care of the constituency, I'll be least concerned about the colour of his/her skin.

However, the realities that ethnic Malay and Indian Singaporeans are slightly better communicated by their respective candidates/politicians. There are certain things ethnic Chinese Singaporeans take for granted any way.

On a sidenote, I would like to say that talk of multiculturalism in Singapore is usually the invitation of ethnic Malays to engage the Chinese elite discourse, in the process excluding the Indian voice. Funny stuff.

That is why GRC is a good idea when it comes to representation. It does benefit citizens to an extent, but it surely impedes the participation of other political parties, setting up high barriers of entry.

It will be very interesting to observe the upcoming elections, held in a country that is growingly media literate, growingly cosmopolitan, growingly stratified and well, just growing.

When you deal with "bread and butter", you discuss it along the axes of class and race.

The incumbent will always have a difficult job, because they have more to lose. When they present their achievements and contributions to society, people might see it as boasting and a kind of "who's your daddy" guilt-trapping. When they engage their race-based (specifically ethnic minority) politics, some people might see it as pandering to the swing voters and tokenising the minorities. (I believe that Aljunied in 2006 was won because of the Malay swing vote, if only someone could verify this)

When you vote, you decide for yourself what you actually want. If you want to give a party a chance to live up to their words, you can give them your vote. If you are fed up with the party for not living up to their words, you can choose not to vote for them.

I worry for Potong Pasir and Hougang. The government can, at any time, decide to "relocate" people out of these constituencies like what they did when they demolished a few flats in Hougang at short notice, which angered MP Low Thia Kiang.

There are so many possibilities that Hougang may fall victim to "policy":
1) Hougang may be broken up and its parts absorbed into nearby GRCs (like what they did to Cheng San GRC after 1997)
2) Hougang may be expanded and combined with neighbouring minor wards from the GRCs. For example, bits of Alunied GRC (Hougang ward), Pasir Ris-Punggol (although some Pasir Ris residents are part of East Coast GRC... BOOMZ), or Tampines GRC (maybe the residents of Lorong Halus are PAP supporters).

Hougang reminds me of North and South Korea. Hougang is (less than) half red, (more than) half white. Whichever half is analogous to North or South Korea is up to you to decide. But will Hougang be "united"? The MP for PAP Hougang (of Aljunied), Yeo Guat Kwang, is well, this the part where words can't describe what expletives can. Maybe, if the public knew the votes cast in the Aljunied-Hougang ward, an emotionally-neutral numerical language will probably best describe the situation. I would like to know too.

I would also love to see more women (or mums) participating as candidates. That will be a good solution for political male blinkeredness. It's not so much about the stereotypical "woman's touch", but rather the need for an additional perspective outside the male gaze in the political system.

It'll be nice to see candidates who openly profess their faiths or lack of. Because in a country like Singapore, we all have a relationship with religions and faiths. The funny thing is, given my demographic profile, I don't encounter situations where Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu friends talk to me about their faiths or practise in my presence. For Taoism, there is the incense smoke and burning of incense papers on top of drain covers at the pedestrian walkways (very inconsiderate thing to do), and of course Taoist funeral processions when they get a brass band to play O Went The Saints. Well for Christianity, it's probably the most in-your-face religion here, considering it is, paradoxically, monotheistic and abstract. Since these things happen on a daily basis, it should not be all that bad if there is a candidate who is not shy about professing his/her faith. There is nothing wrong to professing one's faith.

We should be mature enough to have (overt) religious representation in Parliament, and more so, considering that affairs of religion A are not merely confined to A's community, but also other religious (and non-religious) communities - everyone has a stake.

Your faith and religious affiliation is your pillar, not your sword, the one that you could use to behead other "infidels", at least not in the modern day context. Enough about religion.

The opposition will also have their problems in fielding candidates. One thing "good" about the PAP is their scouting system. The PAP and the Singaporean government are like Venom and Spiderman, very connected and entwined, and perhaps inseparable for a long time.

The PAP has the talents and gets them through informal teas and meet-ups. Youths are talent-spotted and given scholarships with the government. Rotated here and there in the civil service and public service, till they reach a certain altitude that puts them in contact with top political brass, and then BOOMZ, you get the picture. Well fed, well reward for their talent and hard work, they are likely to be inclined to enter politics.

They'll do a bit of grassroots, rotated here and there again, indoctrinated in the PAP dogma and so on. Enter elections, win because of no-contest and then... hey! Who's this new Minister?

The PAP government has a good nurturing system. Say, like a West Ham youth academy and Arsenal scouting team put together. The opposition cannot do this. Top civil servants and top scholars are less inclined to join the opposition.

The PAP on the other hand, can shapeshift like one of those characters on X-men, and under the guise of the government, use public funds to nurture young talents and reward them accordingly. But of course, they do it quite cleanly, such that it seems that it is actually the individual's decision to enter politics with the PAP. Imagine the repercussions of a scholar who enters politics with the opposition. One snap of a finger, and we'll be asking, "What scholar?"

Lots of rumours and hearsays, but all contribute to a climate of fear, which poses a huge problem for the development of our opposition. The opposition, at the same time, should prove that they can work with the PAP, rather than adopt a confrontational position. They should offer solutions and alternatives and always continue to make suggestions. With suggestions, solutions and alternatives, people will have more choice.

The PAP has long been preoccupied with criticising the opposition, but the opposition need not criticise back. Singaporeans are already doing that. What the opposition need to do is to show that they have more alternatives and ideas to make Singapore a better place.

At the lower level of politics that is sexual minority rights and advocacy, and in SinQSA, I personally don't believe in solely criticising homophobic people, but rather feel that we should provide solutions and alternatives such as giving information/education, increasing interaction and encouraging people to listen to and care for one another.

You consult the people, get some ideas, and then you go, "let's do this" - and people will love you for that and will vote for you.

At the moment, it appears that the PAP government have their ideas and go "let's do this" without actually listening to people. Yes, they are not in the business of making everyone happy, but they make consultation with the public look as if it is a token thing to do.

This is where the opposition can come in. The opposition can work with the PAP to help Singaporeans, and people can judge for themselves, especially when the PAP continues to appear too preoccupied with eradicating the opposition.

I don't know why I am talking about Elections. But whether we have it sooner or later, we still need to be aware of certain issues. Again, there's nothing taboo about race, religion and elections. These are realities we cannot shy away from.

And if we do get a "freak election result", will Ah Seng's right be overturned by his obligation?


I realise after reading this post a day after it was written, that my thoughts and ideas are so fragmented. All over the place. Maybe I was having a headache.