22 May 2006

Singapore Urban Legends Part Deux

Cherian George opines: Opposition coverage has been greater and fairer than at any point in the past 30 years at least.

Get your debunking tools ready!

In the previous post, I went to the National Archives with fellow SBPer Pleinelune to search for the Holy Grail of Singapore politics: undeniable proof that Papalee threatened to find out who exactly voted in Jeyaratnam and Chiam in 1984, and why.

We didn't find any such account in the Straits Times.

What we did find:
A much more sympathetic report of the opposition in its stories (although numerically, articles covering the Whiteshirts still dominated).
More critical reporting of the Whiteshirt campaign and election issues, compared to the 2006 election.
The combination of sympathetic and critical reporting led Papalee to accuse the press of being biased against his party, a claim he continued to make as late as 2006, in a televised dialogue session with ST journalists.

What does Cherian George say about this editorial from the Straits Times, in 1984?
"Let's take it in our stride"
What is disturbing is talk of the need to re-examine the one-man, one-vote system in light of what happened. Equally disturbing is the prospect that residents of Anson and Potong Pasir are in for a lesson, for voting in opposition candidates.

Can Cherian George honestly say that today's Straits Times is capable of printing such editorials? That it is more fair towards the opposition?

We also paid attention to photographs of the politicians. All were of low quality and in black and white. Papalee had one of the worst photos (him in side profile, clenching a fist at the microphone), while other PAP and opposition MPs and candidates had full-face passport photo style mugs, regardless of position and post.

There was also a half page interview with Chiam, where he outlined what he'll do in Parliament. A quarter page interview with an outgoing opposition party leader, his analysis of how his Malay party managed to garner suprise Chinese votes in 1984. ST also published full articles from foreign newspapers (the Bangkok Post, the New Straits Times, the Wapo). These were articles chastising Papalee for being a sore loser, pondering over his rejection of one-man one-vote democracy, and suggesting that voters, in their 12% national swing towards the opposition, were rejecting the increasingly hectoring style and torrent of Papalee's national campaigns.

Which is the Pro-PAP ST?

A. ST in 1984: Quoting Whiteshirts word for word, no matter what they say. Headlines are direct quotes from their speeches, and come with quote marks.

B. ST in 2006: Spinning Whiteshirt speeches, dressing up headlines to mislead readers, editing out unfortunate phrases like "fix them and buy my supporters votes".

Cherian George, I'd like to see a retraction of the statement in your blog, really. And it took just 2 people 1 hour at the National Archives to do what you thought would take 2 years by NUS/NTU honours thesis candidates. Gah.

Bonus Section

Just to see how the Whiteshirts have commited the mistakes it accused opposition parties of making in 1984, and how little things have changed, here are the headlines of the post-election coverage from 24 and 26 December 1984:

PM replies to voters' signal (papalee promises a more open and less austere government)
Genuine distress or blackmail, asks Raja (Raja vows to show voters they cannot blackmail the government into compromising policies and principles. This man does not understand the meaning of democracy)
Senior ministers' pay to go up (he did promise a less austere government. and is leading by example)
PAP has support of most younger voters (claim by Goh Chok Tong, then a new MP)
26,000 voters cast spoilt or rejectd votes
Snake pit politics will scare off credible candidates (now we know why the Whiteshirts find it so hard to recruit)
Brigadier-General Lee makes early "thank you" call
We will settle accounts (Papalee refuses to congratulate Chiam and JBJ, vows not to put election clashes behind)
PAP must make greater effort (to bond with voters. GCT)
Not so much a vote for opposition: Mah (it's a plebiscite)
Chua to step down from Cabinet
By-elections may be needed (to allow Mah Bow Tan to get back into parliament after defeat by Chiam)
Let's take it in our stride (critical editorial by ST chief. Soon replaced by a more pliant and cooperative candidate)

26 December

Voting is not like making a film (excerpt from Papalee election victory speech)
Voting not based on racial lines, says Yatiman (denies Malays ever vote as a bloc)
Opposition denies playing gutter politics

Singapore Urban Legends

"Some elections back when the 'Mentor' was PM, he threatened the electorate by saying he would find out why those who voted against the PAP did so. That was in a speech after an election when the public was beginning to be brave enough to rub the dictatorship up the right way. I still remember the sinister and menacing tone when Harry Lee made his open threat."
From A.K. Tan, in comment to Voting must be kept secret

Pleinelune and I went down to the National Archives during the weekend to verify this claim. A.K. Tan has to be referring to the 1984 General Elections, notable for the loss of 2 seats to the opposition JB Jeyaratnam (WP-Anson) and Chiam See Tong (SDP-Potong Pasir). As the election was on 23 December, we checked the Straits Times from 24-27 December.

There was no account of Papalee issuing threats to find out who voted for whom. The Straits Times in the 1980s had to print every single word of Papalee's speeches; we waded through 5 pages of his election victory speech, printed over 2 days, and found nothing similar to AK Tan's anecdote.

That's not to say there weren't any harsh lectures from the then-PM.

On the morning of 24 December 1984, Papalee made several interesting remarks:

Because they had begun losing seats to the opposition: "at this rate, the one-man, one-vote system could lead to decline and disintegration"

He accused the opposition of "gutter politics": "Every election campaign starts off on a reasonable note, then in order to get the crowds excited, they make more and more brazen, scurrilous, wild accusations." (Like for example, accusing their opponents of planting bombs with their election manifestos?)

Papalee sternly warned the electorate in Potong Pasir and Anson that they would have to live with their choices; "the party would withdraw services to the two opposition-held seats of Anson and Potong Pasir"

Of course, there were the usual admonitions about Singapore descending into riots, that the people must realise this is not a game, you cannot change governments, etc.

However, the best lines came from the recently deceased S Rajaratnam, then Second Deputy Prime Minister in Papalee's cabinet. Said the man who wrote the national pledge: "If this is an attempt by voters to blackmail the government, to compromise on important issues or principles, then we must show them we cannot be blackmailed. No government should succumb to blackmail." That was the most chilling quote from the 1984 election, and it didn't come from Papalee.

It was Rajaratnam who made the threat AK Tan remembers. In "Genuine distress or blackmail, asks Raja", the then-2DPM wanted to find out whether the vote swing to the opposition was a genuine distress signal or an attempt by voters to blackmail the Whiteshirts. He then followed up by saying "we must show them that we cannot be blackmailed". Perhaps due to the passage of time, we now have the impression that it was Papalee who threatened "he would find out why those who voted against the PAP did so"?

Now, on that night, with Papalee raising a clenched fist at the microphone during the election victory speech and interview, with Rajaratnam, Mah Bow Tan, Richard Hu taking turns to reiterate their leader's disappointments, one threat would've seemed indistinguishable from the next.

So please, everyone. Let that urban legend rest. Papalee did not threaten to undermine the secrecy of the vote.

11 May 2006


In Chess, the endgame can be seen as mop-up action. The stage where you finish off the weakest and yet most significant pieces. The endgame in Go is similar - players move to clarify which formations are alive and dead.

Whiteshirt endgame

James Gomez. Frankly if I were the Whiteshirts, this would be exactly what I'd do anyway.

Fact: Authority and power inspire obedience and confidence
Fact: Singaporeans scored high in authority and tradition in the last World Values Survey
Fact: It will take about 25 years for this country to have a sufficient liberal electorate to make this strategy cost too much for the Whiteshirts.

In addition, it's also a gambit.
WP central committee offer no public comments about Gomez, show no support, no effort to work public opinion to frame Gomez as innocent: WP is discredited in the eyes of liberal voters.

WP central committee back Gomez up to the hilt: WP is discredited in the eyes of conservative voters, who will see them as the next SDP.

How WP responds will determine if it can keep the gains it made in the public mind last week.

Since the Public Prosecutor has chosen not to prosecute James Gomez, he has not been found guilty of criminal intimidation by the courts. It's up to the opposition to frame this as their victory, though. And that concludes the Whiteshirt endgame.

Opposition endgame

MPs Chiam See Tong (SDA-Potong Pasir) and Low Thia Khiang (WP-Hougang) have SM Goh Chok Tong (PAP-Marine Parade) in their crosshairs. Their strategy is simply

Where is the money, Mr Goh?

The mistake Goh made was to announce the exact figure of the upgrading funds set aside for Potong Pasir and Hougang - in the almost 12 years of using the upgrading carrot-and-stick (in Chua Mui Hoong's own words), the Whiteshirts have never specified any monetary value of their sweeteners.

Very well, you have set aside 180 million dollars. Or so you claim. In which account books is the money budgetted under? Who will pay the 180 million dollars? How much of it will actually come from the residents of Potong Pasir and Hougang? What happens to the money now? Where does it go to? And so on.

Bury the Whiteshirts under accountability of funds. But Mr Goh, while being weak, isn't a significant piece in the Whiteshirt machinery.

Focus on Khaw Boon Wan (non-NKF)

In a little-known CNA report, Minister Khaw announced that the Government has shortlisted several locations for retirement villages in Batam and Johore Bahru. That's right, and at least one will be built. The opposition needs to question Minister Khaw to reveal more details on this.

Khaw says that in the past, "the Singapore market was... too small for retirement villages to be commercially viable". That overseas retirement villages are now viable indicates that Singapore's cost of living has become unaffordable for the old, that Singapore becomes unlivable for retirees. It also means that the CPF system has failed: despite a high rate of enforced savings, retirees still cannot survive. It also means that the rate of poverty in the old will rise, and the Whiteshirts have no real solution. It also means abalone porridge was a hypocritical election ploy. The opposition needs to frame the retirement village as a failure of social security and a cost of living issue.

As Minister Khaw makes a big deal out of being a devout Buddhist who cannot lie, who will refuse to answer questions if he feels he'll make a lie, further frame the issue: Is the retirement village idea not an immoral thing - both in itself, and the implication that social security in Singapore has fallen apart?

The man who said "If you do wrong things, tell lies, defame people, create trouble, incite hatred...then I think you have wasted your life and I worry about your afterlife" and "In my religion, one of the biggest sins is to tell lies. The next life, you'll become a cockroach or something" needs to be reminded that ill-treating the old and failing to care for the old is even more immoral.

The opposition should get the message out before the first session of Parliament begins. The silver lining in SDP losing the Sembawang contest is this: it's more embarrassing and damaging for the Whiteshirts to be forced to reshuffle Mr Khaw out of his Ministry.

Citizen endgame

3rd May 06 - Lunchtime Election Rally

"Right now we have Low Thia Khiang, Chiam See Tong, Steve Chia. We can deal with them. Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters votes, how can I solve this week's problem and forget about next year's challenges?"

--- Minilee

Thanks to some creative editing by Chua Mui Hoong in the Straits Times, Minilee wasn't completely damaged by his fix them and buy votes speech. We need to keep this issue in play as much as Minilee and the Straits Times want to bury it.

100 letters to the Straits Times and Today forum pages will remind them of their journalistic failure to scrutinise Minilee's speech. They could include most of the following points:

1. We thank Minilee for clarifying his use of "fix" during the lunchtime election rally of 3 May.
2. However, we still require him to make further clarifications in the clearest language as possible.
3. Most importantly, we as Singaporean citizens look forward to hearing an explanation for what our PM meant when he talked about buying supporters votes.
4. Not only must Singapore have no climate of fear, Singapore must be seen to have no climate of fear. Use of sharp and violent language like fixing people, buying votes fosters impressions of a climate of fear.

(Of course, if the opposition were strong enough, I'd recommend Minilee as their joint endgame target, along with Khaw)

Blogger endgame

A relevant ministry will examine the effect of the internet on the election. Bloggers have two viable targets and two strategies that can be carried out simultaneously.

Moral and international right to comment freely on elections

From Comment 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights,
Voters should be able to form opinions independently, free of violence or threat of violence, compulsion, inducement or manipulative interference of any kind.

In order to ensure the full enjoyment of rights protected by article 25, the free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion. It requires the full enjoyment and respect for the rights guaranteed in articles 19, 21 and 22 of the Covenant, including freedom to engage in political activity individually or through political parties and other organizations, freedom to debate public affairs, to hold peaceful demonstrations and meetings, to criticize and oppose, to publish political material, to campaign for election and to advertise political ideas.

The blogosphere right now needs to frame the upcoming debate from one about the dangers of irresponsible blogging to one about the right to comment and take part in elections, to form opinions and discuss issues with each other freely.

Fix the media, don't fix bloggers

The reputation of SPH and Mediacorp has taken a beating from foreign press reports of their biases in reporting this election. Day after day, from nomination day to the day before polling, the main newspapers and television stations showed endless reports of Whiteshirt campaign, written and read in the highest and most congratulatory language, while giving opposition candidates next to zero airtime.

Where were the pictures of the Workers Party rallies?
Why did Chua Mui Hoong change Minilee's speech to "counter my opponents" instead of the actual "fix" and "buy" line?
Why were the teams from prize-winning, world-class Mediacorp unable to track down opposition politicians for their victory speeches, some of which are podcast anyway by bloggers?

1. The mainstream media is biased
2. The mainstream media is incompetent
3. The election coverage was so awful that bloggers provided NEWS that Singaporeans kept going online to get.

We bloggers aren't political, we aren't making crazy, unverifiable, outrageous statements about the election campaign. We offered our comments and analyses and from the looks of it, countless citizens wanted to hear what we wanted to say.

The message bloggers need to make loud and clear to the "relevant ministry" and the MDA is this": Fix your mainstream media. Don't fix us.

Bloggers should remember that for months, SPH and Mediacorp were hatchet men, painting bloggers as dangerous, irrelevant, or irresponsible. Spare them no quarters this time.

08 May 2006

Post-mortem III

The campaign for the next election begins now

From Todayonline:

"The election is a politicising process — we politicise and raise the awareness of the young. (Whether) that awareness level will translate into the person joining a party or (becoming) just a supporter, we do not know," he said yesterday. Mr Low did reveal that some young people, "who are interested to join us" either as volunteers or just supporters, have approached his party. The profiles of spectators at his party's rallies also helped him gauge the WP's appeal to young Singaporeans.

"I noticed that there is a sizeable number of younger Singaporeans who are attending our rallies," he added. "When I speak, they listen. I also got feedback from party members that some of them (young Singaporeans) were prepared to join us during GE 2006 or after," Mr Low added.

Get the message out

The opposition parties need to disseminate their viewpoints out consistently and frame public consciousness. It is their duty to get their message out and communicate to the people. It needs to happen 365/7, and not just one week every 5 years. The old granny who was reduced by circumstances in 2002 to selling tissue packets in hawker centres or collecting cardboard boxes in streets to sell to recycling companies continues to vote for the PAP. Yes, she understands times are bad, something has gone wrong, but she never for once associates her situation as a direct effect of national policy. You cannot convince anyone until you frame the message, in other words.

Take back local government

Seetoh Yih Pin is the head of the Potong Pasir RC. Yes, a political man, head of the Residential Committee. Did you know that all holders of RC positions and posts are democratically elected by the residents of their estate? Then again, not many residents of estates know they can vote for their RC members. It is not compulsory to vote for your RC committee. Just how many people actually turn up to vote for their RC leaders?

Opposition parties need to take back local government. Set aside people, volunteer them into RCs, and if possible, mobilise enough residents in selected estates to vote them into RC leadership posts. If RCs can be politicised, and are already politicised, and Senior Minster Goh found nothing untoward about the PAP running an RC in an opposition ward, the precedent is already set.

For better intelligence, recruit election officials

How did Minilee know that it was the young voters from Anchorvale and Rivervale that strongly voted against his party? How is it he knows why he lost a particular swing vote and precinct, but Chiam and Low don't even know which swing voters cast their lots for them?

Until such time when either
a. political polling is legalised, or
b. all precinct results are reported to all parties

what the WP needs to do is to recruit as many people as possible, and encourage volunteers to work as polling agents and counting agents for the party. The Whiteshirts have sufficient manpower to monitor precinct voting to the extent where they know (although belatedly) which way the wind is blowing, opposition parties need to beef up on this as well.

What other moves should the Opposition take in the coming weeks and years?

Ringisei feels Opposition parties should take back the grassroots
PAPtalk feels the Whiteshirts should give up its upgrading election gimmick, shrink GRCs down, and play clean
Szemeng has advice for both the Whiteshirts and the Hammers

(Lzydata, thanks for the links. Do enable comments on your site, or fix your other site...)

Post-mortem II

In a slip of her tongue, ST political journalist Chua Mui Hoong tells the honest truth about using the upgrading election gimmick.

"Voters have become familiar with the upgrading carrot-and-stick approach", Chua says in "Three different styles in PAP campaign", Straits Times, p.18.

Singapore may not be a signatory to the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, but these things hold true nonetheless:
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.

And in particular,
Persons entitled to vote must be free to vote for any candidate for election and for or against any proposal submitted to referendum or plebiscite, and free to support or to oppose government, without undue influence or coercion of any kind which may distort or inhibit the free expression of the elector's will. Voters should be able to form opinions independently, free of violence or threat of violence, compulsion, inducement or manipulative interference of any kind.

Look, Chua Mui Hoong says the upgrading issue is used as a carrot-and-stick. It is both intimidation and vote-buying at the same time. It is a clear violation of the General Comments on article 25 of the ICCPR. Our country may not have ratified the treaty, but we see its goodness and rightness are evident.

Singaporeans should heed Ms Chua's message and use the time from now to the next election to send a clear message to their elected or walkover representatives: No more talk about upgrading in election discourse from now on. The PAP is not campaigning for a seat in the HDB, citizens are not voting to return PAP's candidates to the HDB.

This generation of Singaporeans believe, together with Chua Mui Hoong, that it is morally wrong to use upgrading as an election issue; that it constitutes undue influence and coercion of voters; that it is a threat and a manipulation of voters that over 66 countries in the United Nations have pledged to reject.

We will spend the next 5 years repeating this point to our MPs. During their walkabouts, meet-the-MP sessions, ministerial forums and talks. Make this point clearly, politely, and firmly. Make it as often as you can. You have the power to change the discourse of the next election.


I wasn't surprised with the results - not with the lower national vote for the Whiteshirts, or with Messrs Chiam and Low holding on to their constituencies. Things to note: ignore the 2001 GE results. Take them out of your mind, pay no attention to them.

Then, compare this year's results to those from 1985 onwards.

1. The national vote of this election is within the Whiteshirt average of 62-67%
2. WP fielded its best team in Aljunied but came nowhere near Francis Seow's Eunos results. Best team, as in most credible, etc.
3. The people have given WP the mandate to be Singapore's major opposition party. It has consistently outperformed both the SDA and the SDP.

Yes, I reacted to Minilee's 66.1% with some glee, but that's not anywhere near the important facts of this election. Minilee has failed, but for other reasons.

Minilee originally claimed this election to be a mandate for his personal leadership.

One would expect this campaign to be a showcase of PAP's policies. One would expect this campaign to show voters how each policy has led to Singapore's economic recovery, and which policies are due in line, and how they compare to policy suggestions from other parties. One would expect this campaign to be conducted with the personable, gentle style that Minilee has carefully cultivated with help from his PR consultants over the past half decade.

Instead, the Whiteshirts chose to:
1. Counter WP's 40-page manifesto with a 5-page manifesto that promised much but gave no concrete proposals (aside from that hospital in the North),
2. Focus on demolishing James Gomez and the Ang Mo Kio suicide squad,
3. Contest the elections solely on upgrading issues, and
4. Minilee chose to give a speech saying how too many opposition leaders in Parliament will force him to find ways to fix them and to buy his supporters votes.

Regardless of the results of the vote, Minilee has failed in every possible way to obtain the mandate for his personal leadership. Minilee demolished his kinder, gentler, open leadership image with his personal and his party's tactics in this election.

Singaporeans will no longer trust Minilee when he says "but there is no angst in Singapore", or "I want an open, consultative society". The PAP won the election, but Minilee has lost his mandate.

04 May 2006

Minilee speech decoded

3rd May 06 - Lunchtime Election Rally

"Right now we have Low Thia Khiang, Chiam See Tong, Steve Chia. We can deal with them. Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters votes, how can I solve this week's problem and forget about next year's challenges?"

--- Minilee

Get your decoding rings ready!

1. "I do not have the calibre to govern with an opposition party in Parliament"

Minilee should grow up and accept the challenge of governing a democratic country. If he's really unable to deal with an opposition that global leaders drawing lesser paycheques have to live with, he should either step down or work for peanuts.

2. "I want to fix the opposition"

To fix: to do something dishonest to make certain that a competition, race, or election is won/lost by a particular person

To fix: to punish someone

Minilee should be sued by Papalee and the entire cabinet for making defamatory remarks impugning the integrity and honesty of the Government.

3. "I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to buy my supporters votes"

Minilee admits that he is not beneath vote-buying. This is scandalous! Minilee should withdraw from Ang Mo Kio GRC for the insult to Singaporean voters he has made. The PAP should take clear, unambiguous steps to do the right thing, to sack Minilee from the party before he damages their credibility any further.

Otherwise... Impeach Minilee! Impeach him NOW!

02 May 2006

Blogging during elections

The test of a democracy is not the elections. During my discussion with Rench in the previous post, I feel we have come back to the original issues of what it means to live in a democracy, and what it means to blog.

A healthy democracy, contrary to what Chiam and the opposition claim in this week of electioneering, does not end with just an opposition in Parliament. The failure of the opposition to gain more than 4 seats in Parliament for the past 40 years is not solely the fault of an allegedly oppressive ruling party, its gaming of election laws, or even its consistent legal strategies against opposition leaders (from Seow to Chee).

One can equally point fingers at the opposition for failing to disseminate their viewpoints out consistently and frame public consciousness. It is the duty of political parties - in power or otherwise - in a healthy democracy to get their message out and communicate to the people. No one knows, for example, that according to the Department of Statistics, the top 10% owns 60% of its wealth, a demographic statistic that puts this country in the league of third-world nations. Thanks, Steve Chia, for pointing that out. But this hardly puts any dent in the national consciousness. You had 4 years to convince Singaporeans that the economic recovery plan of Minilee's Whiteshirts weren't working, and nothing came out... until now. On my blog, you see me pointing out just how bad the economic situation was on the ground from 2003 to now - there's a consistent message that needs to be out there 24/7, not just 1 week in 5 years.

It's also the responsibility of people to talk more to each other as well. A healthy polity depends on a healthy civil society - I may disagree with Rench, we may misunderstand each other, tempers may get flared, but we both keep working at talking to each other. There is nothing so dangerous to a functioning democracy than the death of discourse. That leads to the shrinking of an informed electorate, to politically uninformed citizens.

That's why I don't believe that the rash of blogs springing up to focus on the elections will do anything to the eventual outcome. Bloggers need to be there on other days as well, contributing more to discussion on local and international issues, and less to reporting the same issues. The blogosphere is the key to building a society where people can talk to one another, engage dissimilar minds on common issues. You can't do that by playing citizen journalist.

Howard Dean used to say: you get a C for just turning up to vote. Here, oppposition parties get a C just for turning up and raising issues once every 5 years. Citizens get a D for being uninformed and then apathetic about being uninformed. Bloggers can do better if they put their efforts to foster a society where people can discuss issues with other people who don't necessarily agree with them.