Saturday, April 30, 2011

Disappointed with Dr Vivian

(Unpublished - April 26, 2011)

I read with disappointment Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and his GRC team’s statement demanding the Singapore Democratic Party’s agenda and political motive.

This demand is informed by their belief in an erroneously and deceivingly titled YouTube video, which also carries misleading descriptions, of a forum held last year.

This forms part of a series of insinuations by Dr Vivian about the SDP, with invocations of private and sexuality matters. He has previously talked about the SDP team being “strange bedfellows” and they should “come out of the closet” with their intentions. These are slurs uttered to antagonise others on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Further to that, Dr Vivian’s team has pressed the SDP to come clean as to whether they will pursue the “agenda”.

Dr Vivian’s actions here play on public perception of the homophobic construction that is the “gay agenda”. It is engineered by harmful myths that trivialise and demonise gay people as preying on the young, as capable of converting the sexuality of others, or simply threats to families.

If we can take any lessons from history, this will sow the seeds for a moral panic, with its growth all the more expedited by lack of understanding and constitutional protection of gay Singaporeans.

Not only is it an insult to the intelligence and good sense of many well-adjusted Singaporeans, but the association of “lowering the age of consent for boys” and “having sex with boys” with any person in the videoed forum is deceiving and slanderous.

It is all the more audacious and uncanny that these insinuations have to be associated with a political party at this point in time.

Dr Vivian’s actions represent a mentality in segments of Singaporean society, that continue to drive the democratic process at the expense of the constitution rights of gay Singaporeans.

It is rather infantile to reduce a discussion of constitutional rights of Singaporeans on the grounds of sexual orientation to one that is forwarding the “gay agenda”.

There exist people who are guided by myths that demonise gay Singaporeans. The lack of anti-discrimination laws and absence of statutory laws to protect the constitutional rights on grounds of sexual orientation allow these myths to perpetuate.

Singaporeans are not gullible to believe such insinuations to be true. I rather have an MP who champions justice and equality for all Singaporeans than one who makes slurs at others.

Ho Chi Sam

Add: There was no way the Straits Times would have published such a letter.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What's your douchebag agenda, Dr Vivian?

The PAP has released a statement addressing the online video which it alleged the SDP is trying to suppress. The statement is below and undersigned by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and his GRC team.

A video has been posted on the internet showing Vincent Wijeysingha participating at a forum which discussed the promotion of the gay cause in Singapore.

The discussion at the forum also touched on sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age.

In the video, Wijeysingha was introduced as being from the SDP.

In addition to other comments, Wijeysingha stated: ‘I think the gay community has to rally ourselves. Perhaps one outcome of today’s forum would be, for those of us who are interested, to come together to further consider how we can address the 377 issue as well as further rights issues in relation to gays and lesbians.’

We believe that candidates should be upfront about their political agenda and motives, so that voters are able to make an informed choice.

The issue is not Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation. That is a matter for him.

The video raises the question on whether Wijeysingha will now pursue this cause in the political arena and what is the SDP’s position on the matter.

It is obvious the above release is aimed at smearing Dr Vincent Wijeysingha and the SDP team, trivialising and infantilising their efforts and reducing them to alleged advocates of an issue which homophobes alone in their own bigoted world find morally contentious - the "gay agenda".

I take serious issue with the sentence "The discussion at the forum also touched on sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age."

This statement best exemplifies the hate-mongering tactic of conflating homosexuals with sex with minors, building on misinformation and irrational and ill-informed fears, to perpetuate continual social and institutional discrimination of sexual minorities in Singapore.

Moreover, the forum primarily discussed about Section 377A, and its constitutionality. "Sex with boys"? Seriously? The organisers called a forum, attended by intelligent people fighting for justice and equality and non-discrimination, just to talk about "sex with boys"?

To associate this despicable insinuation with a man and a political party says a lot about the human being that is Dr Vivian.

What is not new is the continual smearing of the SDP, lopsidedly galvanised by the lapdogs that is the mainstream media which has lacked the journalistic diligence and integrity. This time, the religious anti-gay narrative invoked in the form of the "gay agenda" is hurled at the SDP, displacing the dialogue real gentlemen and ladies in the political arena should be respectfully engaged in.

You know what? Even a reasonably media and information-savvy person like myself has negative imaginings of the SDP just by watching Mediacorp news and reading the Straits Times. These excuses for journalism (especially when it comes to domestic politics) have successfully coerced me into believing the SDP is a bunch of psychopathological headless chicken who are always physically aggressive, violently confrontational and are high level threats to domestic security. But information-savvy adults should be able to see beyond the blatant demonisation of the SDP over the years.

The title of the video already speaks of the person who posted it. "Gay Agenda" is being used.

Let me tell you something about the "Gay Agenda". It does not exist. The agenda is justice, equality, equal rights, recognition and respect for people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. There is nothing "Gay" about it.

I am a happily married man who values my union with my wife, and values family, and I endorse the movement towards justice, equality, equal rights, recognition and respect for people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gay people do not ruin my family. They do not convert me or my wife to adopt "alternative lifestyles". They are not the demons that homophobes make them out to be.

Dr Vivian, in using the video with an erroneous and misleading title and description, continues to validate and perpetuate the myth that gay people prey on the very young. This is tantamount to creating a moral panic.

Moreover, should the responses of people like myself or the opposition parties be silenced or played down by the mainstream media, the insidious fabrication will continue to go unchallenged in the mainstream and may augment the democratic process.

Dr Vivian is also very reductionist, and I have mentioned, is attempting to trivialise and infantilise the SDP. It is an insult to the efforts of the SDP team that they are deemed to be forwarding or pursuing one particular cause. To demand Dr Vincent to be upfront about his political agenda and motives, all the more speaks of the political agenda and motives of Dr Vivian, even if he may believe attention will be drawn away from his (Dr Vivian's) person.

It is also a cunning move to define the motions for discussion, and possibly cause the SDP to sidetrack from discussing the true issues at heart - Singaporeans in general. In my opinion, the SDP is open enough and Dr Vivian does not deserve any attention or have his question dignified with any answer. The PAP have their status quo to defend, and onus is on the opposition to provide and argue for alternatives. It says a lot about the political integrity of Dr Vivian and his team to play the sexuality card and push the buttons for a moral panic, instead of engaging SDP directly on its political arguments/suggestions.

So what if a candidate or an MP is gay? I rather vote for someone who does not play these dirty tactics. Falsehoods are being perpetuated about a man, which has implications on further dividing our society.

I am speaking up against Dr Vivian not because I care about the SDP or support it, but because I am deeply angered and offended that he can resort to such political tactics. To make such insinuations about Dr Vincent amounts to a personal attack.

I'm primarily interested in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC, looking forward to a clean and fair contest between the PAP and the Workers' Party. But with Dr Vivian's involvement in this preposterous fear-mongering and hate-mongering attack on Dr Vincent's character and political "motives", I feel it is important for me as an ordinary citizen, a straight man like Dr Vivian, to condemn homophobia and the wild and false conflation of homosexuality into "sex with boys". More importantly, it is important that we condemn such smearing in the political arena.

With your recent actions, Dr Vivian, I think you're in the wrong country, playing the wrong politics. Your maturity is not appreciated, and with respect to this issue, neither is your intelligence and good sense. What's the point of talking about 3G or 4G leadership when your political maturity continues to recede and regress?

There is no "gay agenda", but there's a douchebag agenda. Since you have taken the liberty to make your agenda known, Dr Vivian, you will have to duty to face the reactions of people who disagree with you, and those who may have lost their respect for you as a human being.

Dr Vivian, I'm sorry but I think you're a dick. Democracy, no matter how curtailed and restricted it is in Singapore, can do without people like you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Homophobia in the General Elections

There have been websites, YouTube posts, Facebook posts (allegedly by PAP trolls) and Twitter posts which have been engaging in gay-bashing, fear-mongering and hate-mongering against gay Singaporeans, as we near the General Elections.

The "votepap" and "fakeSDP" Twitter accounts have been circulating a video and posting comments about SDP and their "gay agenda". Worse still, the title "gay agenda" plays on the fears of people who probably know as much as the antagonists.

Furthermore, the description of the video states that the SDP is trying to hide the video, which is about "lowering age of consent for sex with boys aged 14 and repeal of 377A." This does not make sense at all.

S377A criminalises consensual sex between adult men. Its repeal does not affect me one bit, nor will it affect my family. Its repeal will only allow gay men to have the same right as straight men to have consensual adult sex. Perhaps it is the obsessive homophobic preoccupation and imaginings of gay sex that drives support for this colonial-inherited statute.

You know what is dangerous and damaging to families? Not gay rights, but homophobic bigots who raise ill-adjusted homophobic kids who see it is okay to indulge in bullying, hatred, fear-mongering and to some extent, violent behaviour.

The "gay agenda" is a concoction of hatred and fear-mongering, created by heterosexist supremacist bigots, who are not only ill-adjusted, ignorant, insecure, but are manipulative, only feel better about themselves by putting others down, and are essentially dangerous to society as a whole.

Since they claim to be straight, I like to say that as one straight family-oriented person, I think you guys are pathetic excuses for human beings. Your heterosexuality is just one of many orientations, but you have taken it upon yourself, by convenience of herd mentality and emboldened by a like-minded or brainwashed mob of homophobes, to suggest it is the one and only orientation, such that any identities outside this straight cosmos are illegitimate.

The "fakeSDP" account has the audacity to post the childish yet inflammatory tweet "fakeSDP: @thefakeSAF Watch out! @yourSDP will increase the faggots in the SAF... #sgelections @fakeMOE #sg KEEP SDP OUT!"

There is no point engaging in dialogue with bigots with rhetorical questions such as "what does his/her sexuality got to do with his/her work?" because homophobes will always use the sexuality card, in the most frivolous, irrational and ridiculous of ways, just to deny gay Singaporeans the right to participate, be represented, or simply be acknowledged or respected.

Even if, given the benefit of the doubt, these twitter accounts were meant to be satirical, it continues to play on the negative beliefs people have about gay people and continue to perpetuate homophobia in our nation.

These are the terrorists who demonise fellow human beings just because they are perceived to be different, further stratifying, segregating and dividing our society.

I am not surprised if their heterosexual inadequacies (e.g. not enough marriages + babies), moral insecurities, anti-social behaviours, and perceived moral problems which confront them as persons, have all been funneled and projected onto their homophobia and hate-mongering.

Our government is also standing idly by, and not speaking up against the fear-mongering and hate-mongering, because homophobia can always retreat back the fortification that is religion (namely socio-religious organisations and communities which legitimise this homophobic hate speech and behaviour).

At least, the Singapore Democratic Party has the sense to recognise Singaporeans as Singaporeans, regardless of orientation and persuasion. (By the way, I have no political opinion on the SDP, positive or negative)

Homophobes in Singapore constitute one of the many reasons why Singaporean democracy is what it is. A democracy is only as good as its people. That is why a progressive party like the PAP, progressive as in willing to deal with social changes only as they come because of the implications caused by the unflinching adherence to economic KPIs, has to occasionally use the excuse "... when Singaporeans are ready".

It is a pity that there exist moral inbreds who continue to dominate our political and moral discourses. They monger fear and hate with narratives like "slippery slopes", without understanding the slippery slopes of their taken-for-granted exclusionist discriminations.

They enter dialogue with the pre-existing, unshakable and uncompromisable position that sexuality other than heterosexuality, is wrong, bad and sinful, thus worthy of trivialisation, discrimination, hate and fear-mongering. Try doing that to women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities.

There are people in Singapore who work their socks off just to educate the public on sexuality and difference, only to be forbidden to speak, or shut up. And these moralising hooligans are abusing their privileges, and taking advantage of the absence of laws to protect the constitutional rights of gay Singaporeans, to not only air their homophobic views, but to launch irrational smear campaigns against individuals and organisations, playing on the fear most ill-informed people have about LGBT people. Furthermore, their actions, if gone unchallenged, will condone similar behaviour.

These homophobes are the ones who abuse democracy and continue the political and social discrimination of LGBT Singaporeans.

The behaviour, actions and words of these Singaporeans are disgusting, deplorable and should be condemned. Just because you're straight, it doesn't mean you are better or more moral.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Not mum about single mothers in Singapore

As we put aside our political ephebophilic obsession with the rather arbitrarily constructed yet sexist dichotomy that is Tin Pei Ling and Nicole Seah, I like to focus on one issue that the opposition parties have highlighted - the rights and recognition of single mums in Singapore.

I think it might be of a stretch, but I believe that before we can even begin to recognise the importance of equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and move towards a queer liberation, we have to address the institutional (and to some extent, social) inequalities that confront unmarried single mums in Singapore.

Why the link? Is there even a linear progression starting from the acceptance and integration of single mums into policy and society, eventually leading to LGBT liberation? Well, I think so.

The paradigms which drive the social and institutional marginalisation of single mums, also happen to perpetuate continual and systematic discrimination against sexual minorities.

There is an insistence on form over function when it comes to defining what constitutes a "family", and a staunchly heterosexist demand for a father, mother and offspring to form the "complete" family. Form determines structure. This is something we come to believe to be the natural order - that such a family structure characterised by heterosexual union is normal and thus right.

Policy thus favours the "natural orders" with which people have grown to be comfortable.

Single mums do not enjoy the benefits that married couples do. Here, there is the insistence on the institution of marriage to legitimise access to benefits and state help, and also to morally legitimise procreation, nevermind the existence and daily realities of individuals who are victims of circumstance or agents of their own fates.

Marriage has its heapload of moral ascriptions, and it is very unfortunate that policy is only as good as its people. In Singapore, seldom does policy take the lead in effecting social change, but often appears to only effect change in the favour of retaining power and continuity for those who benefit from the system. This is best captured in the PAP government's political rhetoric of "...when/if Singaporeans are ready" to justify the slightest effort of reevaluation of their own policies.

When we challenge these discriminatory policies, we create the opportunities to challenge the underlying and taken-for-granted assumptions that 'inspire' them. It is not an eye-opening awakening for anyone to fully and critically realise the existence of these assumptions, but rather small hints towards the awareness of the existence and implications of heterosexist norms, norms of marriage, gender norms, and how these norms inform policy and which in turn affect the lives of different Singaporeans.

There are people who fear the destabilising effects that single mums bring, not to society, but to the ideologies and the bigotries that are in the first place harmful to single mums - not exactly the most selfless concern, eh?

Some of the norms we hold to our hearts so dearly and without question, have consequences on the lives and realities of other families and individuals. We uncritically insist that what is normal is right and should be implemented across the board for everyone. Because of that, policy captures this aspiration and follows the "will" of the people. And since we have ascribed morality to norms, we have made ourselves susceptible to demonising individuals, narratives and discourses that fall outside our "norms".

At the least, single mums face similar challenges that married mums face. It takes a critical reflection of one's beliefs to recognise the reality that single mums, like married mums, are still mums, and that they face similar issues in necessities, infant/childcare, healthcare, raising their child(ren), real bread and butter problems and so on. And the reasons why one holds back from allow equal treatment are due to ridiculous moralisation and rationalisation.

If people want to talk about progress in society, look not to freedom of expression, or equality of sexual identity and gender identity, but to the better treatment of single mums first, in my honest opinion. As much as I personally believe in sexual diversity, plurality and equality, there are baby steps to make to effect such a progress. I wish to say that I'm not using the issue of single mums as a leverage to forward LGBT liberation, as I recognise in its own the importance of the issue and what it brings to society and its betterment. A change in policy can play a small role in addressing the social stigma that single mums have faced.

Provided that change for the better (i.e. fairer and more equal) treatment of single mums is not rigidly enframed within heteronormative narratives, which is always possible, it can lead to progressive changes in attitudes towards people who don't necessarily confirm to familial and heterosexist norms, or to norms that insist on marriage as a basis for procreation.

I think the issue on single mums might just be a mere footnote in the upcoming General Elections, buried beneath issues such as bread and butter, housing, foreign talents and the usual. But when it's mentioned, do give it a ear.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yeo! Guat the hell is happening to Hougang-Aljunied? Curious CASE indeed

I have been a resident of Hougang-Cheng San/Aljunied (GRC) since 1996, but in 2008 have moved to Hougang SMC, which I term with endearment "the red side of Hougang" - with respect to the Workers' Party (WP) red and yellow hammer logo, although light blue has remained the party's colour for quite a while now.

In contrast, I call Hougang-Cheng San/Aljunied (GRC) "the white side of Hougang", because of the the corporate colour of white that represents the purity and virginity of the PAP.

Speaking of virginity, I say that white/PAP Hougang is a real swinger. Very promiscuous indeed.

PAP Hougang is now part of Ang Mo Kio GRC! In the space of 14 years, PAP Hougang has been part of Cheng San GRC, Aljunied GRC and now, Ang Mo Kio GRC.

Gerrymandering in Singapore is like multiple plastic surgery - we're always seeking to have the best results for ourselves, but it eventually leaves everyone rather confused.

You may call PAP Hougang a nomad, moving around from one GRC to another in the last couple of decades. Or maybe a dirty whore might be befitting, given it once belonged to one of the more "dirtier" GRCs, in that it had a problem with litterbugs.

Hey, the smell of piss at my former place was a mainstay. Littering was really bad too when you have residents from the second to sixth floors randomly throwing sanitary pads, plastic bags containing water and flowers, bread, cigarettes, nasi briyani and unidentifiable objects to baptise the Hougang concrete or the unlucky passer-by. A serious lack of education there, no doubt.

What's more politically important is that the white side of Hougang appears to be rather supportive of the WP, which has contested in 1997 and 2006. The WP tried contesting Aljunied GRC in 2001 but due to some form-filling diligence issues, did not and could not.

Until we really know what have been the percentage of votes for the Hougang constituency in Cheng San and Aljunied GRC in the past elections, I think the opinions we have about the poor support for the PAP in this zone is at best derived from personal impressions and speculation.

The only constant in these 14 years is Yeo Guat Kwang, the member of parliament for the white side of Hougang. He's president of the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE- "CASE" could mean "Complaints are so easy" too).

The popularity of Yeo with Hougang residents is such that he has had the privilege of being part of the GRC teams led by Lee "kinda messed up the education system" Yock Suan, a very likable and respected George Yeo and now Lee "66%" Hsien Loong. This is such that gerrymandering is necessary.

The ghost of Cheng San in the 1997 General Elections lingers, with the Hougang zone "returning" to Cheng San, part of which is now under Ang Mo Kio GRC.

On an unrelated note, logic and geography are restored when the Serangoon North bit is now part of Aljunied GRC and not Marine Parade GRC. Gerrymandering takes no prisoners when it comes to bafflement.

I remember the 1997 General Elections when the late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (JBJ)-led Workers' Party team contested for Cheng San. Workers' Party had a rally at Hougang Stadium. The entire Hougang Avenue 2 was jammed with cars. Yio Chu Kang Road, leading into Hougang Avenue 2, was jammed. Hougang Avenue 8 was also jammed. Passengers got out of their cars, to make their way to Hougang Stadium to attend the rally. Awesome experience.

In the 2006 General Elections, there was a traffic jam on Yio Chu Kang Road leading to Serangoon Stadium, where the Sylvia Lim-led Workers' Party team were having a rally as part of their contesting for Aljunied GRC. There was no way we could drive there, so we made our 20-25 minute walk to the stadium, greeting and were greeted by motorcyclists donning the light blue Workers' Party silicone band and the occasional WP mini-flag. What a sight. (And at that rally, I can proudly say I started the Gomez chant too haha.)

People were starved for new and different answers, solutions and ideas. That was what made opposition party rallies more than well attended. I would say it was easily 100,000 people squeezing into that stadium and perhaps a few thousands outside the stadium.

To be fair to the PAP, it was more of a matter of continuity and renewal, and probably still is, that did not really capture the attention of people like the other parties. But continuity in a climate of change is equally as challenging a task as change itself.

I am really curious of what is the ground sentiment towards Yeo Guat Kwang and the PAP in PAP Hougang. My ex-neighbours were definitely not supportive (but of course, that doesn't necessarily translate to votes). Conservancy rates were relatively high in this GRC yet it remained one of the more litter-ridden places in Singapore, forcing the Town Council to initiate campaigns to make the place cleaner.

We can draw as many conclusions as we want in the wake of Hougang being taken out of Aljunied GRC and subsumed under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Ang Mo Kio GRC. This is obviously disadvantageous to the Workers' Party. Speaking of disadvantage, the few blocks at Hougang Avenue 7 were torn down a few years ago, which may also have implications on Workers' Party support.

If I remember correctly, Hougang SMC MP Low Thia Kiang was less than happy that he had spent resources upgrading some of the facilities and facade in this area, only to come to know in very short notice, that the flats would be torn down. The government reasoned that they did not know and will not know what will be of the flats even in a time frame as short as six months. So much for the relevance of masterplans and development.

The more obvious observations are that of public transport within the area. The tax-paying residents of Hougang SMC have had the shorter end of the transport stick, with literally one feeder service serving them, and let's just say that it is not the more frequent one either.

As with upgrading of lifts and flats, Hougang and Potong Pasir SMCs could empathise with each other. One thing that continues to greatly puzzle me is the ruling party's reasoning. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appeared live in a televised forum last night, and suggested that the government will help those who support it. Well, something along that line, and it made tit-for-tat sense, but hello, your job is to serve the people.

It is really odd. People vote for their MPs based on a variety of considerations - from personal, residential, neighbourhood, national and perhaps international affairs. MPs, barring the party whip, don't necessarily always agree with government policies. At the same time, people may not appreciate the work their PAP MPs have done and have decided to vote for another candidate. We cannot totally assume that this is indicative of the lack of support for "the government".

Only a few PAP MPs are the government. Telling Singaporeans that not supporting the non-office-holder PAP MP equates to not supporting the government, says a lot about the insecurities of the PAP. In my opinion, if the PAP has done a good job, it does not really have to invoke such rhetoric.

Residents can indicate their disagreement with the PAP town council and the groundwork they have been doing, but that does not mean they do not support the government. Any way, there are Ministers and related office holders in every GRC, so the lack of votes may be read by the PAP as the lack of support for the government.

Lee Hsien Loong last night was just confirming the fact that the Singapore government practises favours. Zones or constituencies that support the opposition = they don't support "the government", therefore they deserve to be marginalised and be given the smaller slice of the public housing pie. In this line, it is hence logical to hold the interpretation that government agencies are suspiciously partial, even though they are clearly serving Singaporeans, regardless of residency.

But politics is politics. Opposition Members of Parliament probably have a smaller bargaining power when it comes to upgrading of public facilities and amenities, which again indicates the partiality of the government agencies. How can a first world government do this? Such a strategy threatens and starves Singaporeans into voting for the PAP.

If the PAP is unafraid of the opposition, Cheng San would have remained. Or Hougang-Aljunied would have been still part of Aljunied GRC. Flats in Potong Pasir and Hougang will not be among the last to be upgraded. These changes are symptoms of insecurity, burning feverishly in various departments of ruling party every 5-6 years.

As a middle-class, middle-income Singaporean, and the public education and public housing I have, I am very grateful to many PAP policies that have to various extents personally benefited me. But you see, it is not enough because the education has made me aware and sensitive to some of the limitations of the PAP government. At the same time, I am aware that it is important to have opposition party representation and participation in Parliament for the betterment of fellow Singaporeans.

The PAP grassroots has done a lot for Singaporeans, and the PAP government too has done a decent job creating the infrastructure for the majority to live and progress. But there will always be a blackness behind the PAP white - something that every person fears, grows to fear and cannot do anything about it. Just look at the decisions made against the people in Potong Pasir and Hougang. Might I respectfully suggest the principle of warning against "complacency" be applied to Parliament and for the benefit of Singaporeans, the interests of Singaporeans will be safeguarded against state complacency when we have at least a GRC or two run by the opposition. We can also do without the doomsday rhetoric painted by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew with regards to PAP losing its power.

With respect to Hougang and Yeo Guat Kwang, the voters in PAP Hougang will now be told that if they did not vote for the PAP, they are not supporting the Prime Minister and the Singaporean government - rather abstract, don't you think? It could draw attention away from the work done in the area by Yeo since the last General Election.

Going by the trend, decisions from the government are normally made independent of public views. We have a "do first, pretend to consult later" approach to governmental decision-making. Hence, when it is insinuated that voters in their respective constituencies are voting based on the consideration of the governmental policies beyond and above the level of their constituencies, it is quite a stretch. Among many reasons, people vote to indicate their approval of their local MPs and the work they do. It ultimately does not really matter if people approve or disapprove of wider governmental policies, because they can not do anything about it without getting silenced or arrested.

While most of Singapore may be politically apathetic (thanks to our education system, and Lee Yock Suan had a role in it for while), we remain information-savvy. Singaporeans will be able to decide what they think is good or bad. But then again, we measure good/bad just like how the PAP does it, so you can probably forget I said it haha.

And if your MP is doing a really good job for you, think about that first before thinking about national issues, because national issues are most probably handled and decided before you can even put pen to paper.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What on Earth is the Ground?

I must say, I've been really out of touch with the political ongoings in our sunny (and occasionally rainy) island. I guess I'm becoming one of those highly rational Singaporeans whose preoccupation with their occupations have come at the expense of their political curiosity, awareness and/or consciousness.

My soul, depending on your religious orientation, has somewhat been sucked, and I find myself somehow foolishly contented with the routine and drudgery of wage work as an educated proletariat. Weekends are spent recharging and consuming, so that I'm ready for another 5 days of work to fund the recharging and consumption. Rather dehumanised and agentless for 40-50 hours a week, with family and sleep serving to restore the balance of something that doesn't really have to be imbalanced in the first place, but we're all coerced into it somehow or another.

The only thing keeping me "connected" with the political ongoings is the roll of paper that's shoved between the grills of my gate before 6am every morning. And of course, there's the occasional tweets and articles from various bloggers and websites.

In the midst of the lengthy and gratuitous media foreplay leading to what it looks like a late April early May General Election, I figure it's important to talk about the things I don't really know about, in particular, the "ground". What on earth is the "ground"?

When people from the PAP and opposition parties speak of "walking the ground", what do they mean by "ground"?

Is the "ground" represented by (a combination of the following):
- The people who appear at your Meet-the-People session with the respective Members of Parliament?
- The people your grassroots colleagues (and underlings) speak to and survey?
- The people you see and interactive with in your daily routine around the neighbourhood?
- The people you interact with in your walk-abouts and house visits?
- The people who share with you feedback and comments via email, calls and letters?
- The people in the stories the newspapers and media report?

When it comes to the "ground" in political discourse, it seems to invoke a less socioeconomically privileged class of people who do not have sufficient access to resources, opportunity and help, nevermind if they are victims of policy, circumstance, pathology, or according to the beliefs of some, their own choices.

"Grassroots" all the more seems punny now. It is a political no-brainer, that for one to be democratically elected into Parliament, other than joining a PAP team to "walkover" a newly gerrymandered GRC, one should win the hearts of the people in a legitimate democratic process.

But the vote of a person from a less privileged position in society equals the vote of a person from the upper socioeconomic stratum. In a society like Singapore's, the public discussion of and alignment with issues faced by the upper social stratum are often low-key, if not frowned upon. Judging by the political discourse over the decades, if political opinion had to be indexed, the bigger weightage will be attributed to those in the lower social strata. This leads me to think, "Am I part of the 'ground'?"

At the same time, one only needs to be in power with the majority vote, so one's political strategy will always be aimed at capturing that, rather than be a catch-all. Different strata and ethnic/cultural/religious communities receive manifestos and policies differently. There has to have some degree of plurality in these policies. With respect to that, I think the PAP has done a decent job to receive (or in Lee Hsien Loong's words, buy) the majority vote.

The funny thing about plurality in Singapore is that while it does exist, it is grossly limited. Plurality extends to multiculturalism, yet for instance the public housing policy of ethnic quota condemns ethnic minorities to minority votes.

Yet, to exercise plurality, who do you choose to be included in your policies? We're only plural when it comes to race, religion, gender and class - are those enough? I think they're enough to get you into Parliament.

I think what some fail to understand is that no political party in Singapore is out to please everyone. Imagine if the ruling party comes up with policies that totally marginalises the lowest 2 income quintiles of society. It will still remain in power, even if 15% of each of the upper 3 income quintiles are disgusted by such social injustice perpetuated. What then, is the "ground" here? Or rather, is the "ground" in its romantic sense, relevant in this case?

Democracy is such that doing things to lose the vote of a minority is forgivable and tolerable. So technically, the "ground" is whatever and however we make it out to be, so long as it represents 51% (for a 2-horse race) or a relevant majority of the votes we intend to receive.

The "ground" can include the rich, educated, English-speaking and privileged in many ways, but by convention and political correctness, the mythologisation of the "ground" involves the exclusion of the "privileged" minority. See, that's where plurality explicitly ends, although there are economic, social and trade policies that create conditions that favour the privileged.

When individuals/leaders are being charged with being out of touch with the "ground", what does that mean? Are we painting a picture that Singapore's is socioeconomically a pyramid (with a diamond top), that the lower strata of peoples form the big base of society and that's where the majority of votes are coming from?

How do we imagine the "ground" any way? What constitutes a grassroots problem - no minimal wages or no freedom of expression? What does it mean to be in touch with the ground - understanding the problems of the lesser educated low income resident or the problems of his relatively more educated and higher income neighbour?

The word "ground" invokes a sense of altitude, and social strata inevitably becomes central to the discourse. Because it is such, we start imagining certain classes, cultures, religious affiliations, languages, skin colour, fashion sense, familial structures, gender identities (beng is a gender identity, by the way) and so on, and associating these traits, or rather ascribing these traits to the word "ground'.

Any way, what is it about us, our society and the way that it is structure that leads us to imagine the "ground" this way? (symptom of democracy and capitalism, any one?)

Again, in a democracy, does the "ground" in its romanticised definition, represent the political majority? If the government is charged to be out of touch with the ground while it continues to stay in power, what does that say about the minority/majority status of the "ground"? In the end, is serving/pleasing the "ground" (the mythologised one) relevant to being elected into Parliament in Singapore?

I really don't know what the "ground" is, because judging by the way things are run here, it appears to be much less relevant than the bottomline, which is to garner the majority vote. Yet, many continue to emphasise the importance of "walking the ground".

This is probably why we simply cannot let one party to run the whole show. Given the mix of different political leanings and ideas as well as how differently defined the "ground" is with more opposition participation in Parliament, more of the "ground" will be covered.

Any way, good luck to all! Keep it clean! And to all parties and their candidates, except for the homophobic ones, all the best.