26 April 2006

On the Thai elections

Thaksin Shinawatra generates some sympathy fawning from some normally critical local bloggers. It's not easy to see why: he was on the verge of a long historical project to turn the kingdom into a benevolently authoritarian one-party state, replacing unproductive party politics with pragmatic, technocratic business sense, and instituting some control over the nation's independent media. What's there to hate in people who sincerely want to imitate your country?

So newspapers here were the only ones caught out of the loop. Local reporters were fawning and predicting 2006 will be Thailand's 1966, that the decision of the oppposition parties to boycott the election undo them and propel Thaksin's ascension to legal and legitimate one-party rule. That's a national blind spot for you, but surely they should've rmembered that when history actually repeats itself, the second time is always a farce?

What they did not count on (the national blind spot!) was the constitution of Thailand, which was written to prevent precisely these travesties from occuring. In constituencies with a walkover, the unopposed candidate is not confirmed unless 20% of the voters turn up to vote for him anyway. Voters are also given the choice to cast a "no vote", essentially a vote for "none of the above" that in sufficient numbers will invalidate the winner of the election. These are safeguards that prevent the country from sliding into a one-party state with a fake opposition.

Today, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej gives the best sign that Singapore should be the one emulating Thailand instead. Speaking out at the "complete mess" that Thaksin's snap elections caused, the monarch commented strongly: "The current election is undemocratic. Where there is only one candidate it is not considered a democracy."

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the true senior statesman of Asia.

25 April 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to the GRC

Sylvia Lim, the chief of the Worker's Party, raises the standard complaint about the unfair bloating of GRCs from 4 to 6 wards.

That's not the point. No one in Singapore cares if the electoral system is unfair to opposition parties.

Instead, look at the Parliamentary Elections Act, which says a GRC is:

(i) a constituency where at least one of the candidates in every group shall be a person belonging to the Malay community; or

(ii) a constituency where at least one of the candidates in every group shall be a person belonging to the Indian or other minority communities.

In 1991, when the GRC system was implemented, all GRCs had 4 wards. By 1996, the Act was changed to allow the Whiteshirts to create 6-ward GRCs.

Look, the Prime Minister began life as a mathematician. He'll tell you that increasing the size of GRCs will dilute minority representation in Parliament, since 6-member teams need to field at least one minority candidate, the same minimum requirement of a 4-member team.

If the GRC system was to ensure minorities have a voice in Parliament, the move to expand the size of GRCs is inconsistent with the stated aim, to say the least. Are the Whiteshirts committed to racial harmony or not?

23 April 2006

The first real test

I never expected such crap from Reuters.

"SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's government dissolved parliament on Thursday and called an election for May 6, a poll that will be the first real test of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's leadership."

For those of us living in the reality-based world,

1. the death of Papalee will be the first real test of Minilee's leadership.
2. the suing of Chee Soon Juan will be the first real test of Minilee's leadership.

16 April 2006

Great moments in television history

On 12 April 2006, Channel News Asia Singapore telecast a dialogue between Papalee and several Singaporeans born after 1970. You don't have to watch the entire thing, because you can fast forward to about the 12m30s mark of the video to view this interesting exchange:

(previously: a journalist fields a question on whether any invasion of privacy and violation of the secrecy of the vote had been committed since (allegedly) the PAP does know the percentage of people, down to the apartment block or polling district, who voted one way or another)

MM Lee: But you won't know who comprises the 60%, right?

Ken Kwek, 26 - Journalist; Never voted: You don't need to know that to strike fear, though.

MM Lee: Oh, come off it! (laughter) You mean to tell me you have, you're one of the 40% who voted against the PAP and something happens to you?

Ken Kwek: I mean, I've never voted for that matter, but I mean - we talk to hundreds of voters in the course of our work, and it's either "no comment" or "if I vote against the PAP, I may..."

MM Lee: No, no. Let's get down. What are the hundreds of voters? You name the hundreds of voters, a few of them. Tell me.

Ken Kwek: Well, I mean I can't name them by name...

MM Lee: No, no. You tell me you've spoken to and tell you they're afraid.

Ken Kwek: A few weeks ago, the Straits Times did a report, we polled a hundred voters...

MM Lee: No, no, no, no. Never mind the Straits Times poll. You made a statement just now, that "I spoke to a hundred respondents, and they were all afraid." I say, you name them. Tell me who.

Ken Kwek had the guts to start this, but he did not have the gumption to go all the way. After being badgered by Lee Kuan Yew, he remained silent for the remaining 40 minutes of the forum.

Foreign media should watch this video clip and take down notes here. When the Minister Mentor goes to a foreign talk show, he answers difficult questions through spinning. This video shows how he answers difficult questions from his own citizens and subjects.

Since Ken Kwek did have a point to make, let me perhaps construct what he should've said to the Minister Mentor, had he the guts to finish what he started:

Mr Minister, what will you do with this list of names of people who believe there is a climate of fear in Singapore? Can we trust you not to run investigations on who these people are, who they have studied with, who taught them?

Sir, many Singaporeans of my age do not want to live in a country where people get their names on a list because they espouse a view that you cannot accept, a view that you insist is factually wrong.

You may have started life as a cross-examiner. I have started life as a journalist, and one of the basic rules of the profession, one that is legally protected, is the right to confidentiality of journalists and their interviewees. You may ask for the list of names, but you have no right to ask for them. You, sir, do not have the right to know.

My editor at the Straits Times would have that right, to check my findings. You do not. You may even cross-examine me in court. Our judges, whose legal standards and rulings are in lockstep with judicial matters elsewhere, will answer to you the same way: you do not have the right to ask me for that list of names. Perhaps you could test this out legally. I welcome you to cross-examine me, not in a television studio, but in open court, in the full attention of the world media.

Mr Minister, why are you so insistent on proving that there cannot exist a hundred people in Singapore who believe there is a climate of fear? They are but a hundred. They are insignificant, compared to the popular support your party has had.

We at the Straits Times polled a hundred people. On the conservative side, say we have 10 people out of the 100 who believe there is some fear, and 40 who gave no comment. We shan't bother with the 40. What is the probability that out of this sample, the actual number of people in the entire population of Singapore who believe there is fear, is less than 100? The Prime Minister, your son, is a mathematician. He can tell you the odds, and he can certainly tell you that it's silly to swipe at this claim just because I didn't personally interview all the 100 respondents. Your own department of statistics operates on the same principle as well, and I don't see you swiping at them.

Why are you so insistent, then, that there cannot exist even 100 people in Singapore who believe the electorate is cowed by your party?