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.

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