Category Archives: Democracy

Singapore’s Magic Numbers: A Tale from the Dark Side

“Nation before community and society above self”?

There are always risks, but there are always opportunities too, says the Gambler. Whatever you call evil can be turned into some good, he insists, for he got his eyes set on the winning margin, somewhere in the horizon.

Some might say that the only thing constant in this world is change. What is your home today may not be your home tomorrow. Just consider the investment opportunities, and you will feel so rich, says the Gambler. Nothing is ever sacred according to the Gambler’s logic, except for his own practice of gaming.

There is hence no ‘magic number’, if you ask the government what should be kept aside as minimum income, in order to sustain a family. The typical reply of the Gambler is: when you have more money, you can celebrate with a feast at a restaurant; when you have less, just skip one meal. The Gambler is superstitious, talking about ‘minimum’ is bad luck and is taboo.

There is however some magic formula, for the state to calculate how many new citizens should be introduced each year to inject new life in the economy. It’s just like there is some formula for an insurance company to calculate your monthly premium based on your medical history. Or calculation on how much return or interest you should receive from CPF each month as pension, based on the needs of the ‘nation’, not based on your needs. Money has to be circulated in some mysterious way, that you and I need not know.

In fact, many of us would simply trust everything in the hands of people who are bureaucrats or technocrats, people who are the ‘experts’. It’s like how a lot of people like to keep placing their bets on the same colour that was their lucky colour many moons ago, though the world is fast changing. If the state comes up with a magic number of 30% increase in productivity over 10 years as condition for wage increase, take it as heaven’s decree.

Perhaps the ‘experts’ think they have a popular vote of 60% to support whatever they do. As they are talking as if people are just being unproductive, they forget that Pride, like Greed, is what some people would call one of the seven deadly sins, and ‘Greed’ is what other people would call exploitation. Maybe they have forgotten that there are other principles in life, apart from the Economy, just like there are other models of government.

Or maybe they want the people to keep worshiping this hungry beast called Economy as they do, to chase the same bubbles, so that the bubbles will keep growing. Money is the essence that drives their logic. Hence even when the number of cars needs to be controlled due to pollution of the environment, the pros of revenue from COE prices can always outweigh the cons. That’s how the mind of an opportunist works.

Hence the Gambler has looked at the fengshui of Singapore, and decided it would be a pity not to build a couple of casinos here. Well I may not know much about fengshui, but I have heard this: casinos are designed to suck in money, and to shred you into pieces as you enter. It’s not a playground for everyone.

Yet all of us might have unwittingly given our blessings to such new symbols of a neoliberal economy. In NDP2009, the whole nation was asked to recite the Singapore Pledge at 8:22 pm, numbers that echo ‘prosper easily’ in Chinese. You know, it’s like the well-known urban legend about the octagonal shape of the new $1 coin launched in 1987, just two months before the launch of the MRT, – the bagua to counter the damage of fengshui in the island with all that digging.

There are more stories about fengshui in Singapore that can be shared, but don’t ask me if these stories have a happy ending. You may just ask: what’s the moral of the story? And I may say, the riddle is in the true meaning behind this ‘shared value’ of Singapore: “Nation before community and society above self”.

The thing is, everybody will have his or her own belief in life. But I have this mental image that people in this country are just tokens or chips for the Economy, they may be used as capital, but they are also expendable and replaceable. Similarly, communities are used as chess pieces to counteract one against another. Clan associations for instance may be used as pawns to usher in the king, but pawns will ultimately have to sacrifice for the good of the ‘nation’. If the pawns ask what actually make up the ‘nation’, they will be told that they have no right to ask unless they are prepared to die for the nation.

Hence it is not surprising at all that we would also hear ‘learned’ or well-respected men in this country telling us that there is no Singapore identity, or that there is no Singapore culture. Ultimately, they would rather tell us it is all a myth in the making. If truth be told, we are not exactly all ‘in the same boat’; we are in a luxury liner, where some are first-class passengers, while others are crew or servants.

Perhaps the myth all began with the construction of this mythical creature called the Merlion in 1972 at the original Esplanade, before the British army withdrew from the port of Singapore. Three decades later in 2002, the Merlion, which had stopped spouting water, was relocated to its new ‘majestic setting’ at a cost of $7.5 million, so that it could again ‘bask in its former glory’ at the mouth of the Singapore River – to signify a new reign of prosperity, apparently. Hopefully it is not a bad omen that it later got hit by lightning, literally.

Water is a symbol of life, for it is from water that every living thing is made. Water is used for purification in many beliefs. But for the Chinese, it symbolises wealth and fortune above all.

It is not surprising then that there is also a Sky Park on the top of Marina Bay Sands, with a spectacular pool overlooking the city. A great symbol for the new ‘Singapore Dream’. There is of course an entrance fee, and it is subject to availability. We may need a fengshui master to tell us if this symbolises prosperity for all Singaporeans; or what should it mean when water is just stuck up there for the privileged ones?

It has just been announced that the Singapore River will have to change its course due to construction of MRT, and it may look somewhat different in the future. Now will LTA give local archaeologists some months for excavation before work commences? Excavations in 1998 at the Empress Place site found at least 40,000 artefacts, many from periods before Stamford Raffles; in 2010, the NUS archaeological team was allowed only 20 days to salvage whatever they could at the future National Art Gallery – Chinese coins and pottery from the Yuan and Ming dynasties as well as 17th-century Spanish silver reales.

As it is, so much history in Singapore has been lost due to MRT. Bidadari Cemetery was cleared away with construction of MRT cited as part of the reason. And an MRT line has also been laid down at the doorsteps of Bukit Brown, clearly a strategic move for future property development.

Ancestral graves have been an important part of Chinese fengshui beliefs traditionally, as a good location is believed to help descendants prosper. It was hence said that during the Qing dynasty, the Manchurian government destroyed the ancestral graves of Hong Xiuquan while he was leading the Taiping revolutionary movement. It was also said that the KMT army of Chiang Kai-shek tried to destroy the ancestral graves of Mao Zedong during China’s civil war in the 1930s.

I know what some people would say: if the old does not go, the new will not come. I would just ask: why is the old always considered a hindrance? Why did all the kampungs and all the ethnic quarters like Chinatown with their tightly knit communities have to go? And why should man consider nature as his enemy, and the elements only as something to be exploited for his gains? Is subjugation of nature a proof of man’s power and superiority, and should all members of society subscribe to such a view?

Perhaps the most terrifying of well-known urban legends in Singapore was the story about children being kidnapped in the 1970s, for their heads to be used as foundation of the Benjamin Sheares Bridge. It was apparently unfounded. But stories like this reflect our primitive belief that sacrifice is always needed for a ‘greater good’, as long as you are not the unlucky one.

Perhaps this is the same rationality or irrationality that persuades us into thinking that the rights of an individual must also be sacrificed for the good of a nation. Perhaps it is also the calculation of the careful Gambler that it is better to err on the safe side, especially when it is one’s power or capital at stake. This reasoning leads to a policy that presumes every person as guilty or dishonest until proven innocent. Thus is the logic of ISA, as well as the worry that a welfare system will always lend itself to abuse.

But what is left of our ‘nation’, when there is no regard for the dignity of the individual, only consideration of individuals as human resources; or when there is no respect for the rights of communities to their cultural heritage, only relegation of responsibility to each community for its own welfare?

We are then left with a nation without basic principles of respect and dignity for the individual and for the communities. I guess that’s why they call it Singapore Inc. It’s the dream of a ‘multiracial meritocracy’, a pyramid system where money attracts more money for those at the top, while those on the losing end will have to make themselves cheaper and cheaper, all in the name of ‘competitiveness’.

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Don’t Talk Bersih to Me, Singapore only Talk COC Sing Song

I

Don’t talk to me about Malaysia’s Bersih

In Singapore the only colour is putih

Don’t ask if it’s fair

40 per cent a GRC to share

Let some people repent but not me

II

Don’t ask gahmen for wage shock therapy

Economist from NWC it may be

Cheap labour, they like

Bangladeshis may strike

But our labour chief is a hero from PAP

III

Tonite, gimme some TFR, baby

Before they march in like an army

One thousand, two thousand

One year 25 thousand

Welcomed with open arms by my company

IV

Little 4-room flat costs $368K in Bedok

Our friend Anak Abu finds life so terok

Don’t over-stretch

HDB’s within reach

That’s minister’s advice, so who’s bodoh?

V

Rain, thunderstorm, flash flood, go away

Come again, in 50 years, another day

‘Urban Heat Island’, never heard?

Urban growth made it worse

But MSM separated science like chaff away

VI

There was a CEO on a sedan cruising

While others, in a tunnel, were fainting

But now disruption

Is normal occurrence

And $900 million will go a sinking

VII

There was a heritage called Bukit Brown

But the highway refused to go round

Our population’s not up

But houses must be up

A red carpet for new citizens laid down

VIII

Old folks pushing cardboards in the streets – such eyesore

So PM’s Office invents new scenario – for Singapore

Support the elderly

Get immigrants quickly

And Marina Bay Sands will prosper ever more!

IX

Don’t put foreigners in pigeonhole

They’re flying in to MPs’ big drumroll

Thaipusam’s noisy

Curry is too spicy

But freedom of assembly is PA’s passionate goal!

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An Unnatural Country and a Sin City – Singapore’s Brand of Democracy and Globalisation

Make no mistake about it. The recent speech by Singapore’s Ambassador to the US, Chan Heng Chee, on the topic of democracy in Singapore (delivered on March 8 to students at the Yale Law School; edited version published in ST, 20 April 2012) is an excellent summary of the state of our nation today, whether you buy the Yale-Singapore cooperation or not. The edited and published speech looks like a perfect bait screaming for responses. Somehow, the very way it couches the current challenges of Singapore in diplomatic speak only serves to remind us of everything that is wrong in the country. So let’s entertain ourselves:

TITLE: An Unnatural Country’s Take on Democracy. (If Yale can go to China to teach and set up programmes, why is it so controversial to go to Singapore?)

Well, thank you, we got one keyword in the title right. Singapore is indeed a country most UNNATURAL. What’s unnatural is not just the fact of Singapore being under the rule of a one-party government for the past 50 years. It’s also the way Singapore has developed under a unique model of capitalism under authoritarian rule, which goes against the logic of liberal democracy.

What’s unnatural is not just a population ratio of one foreigner to two locals being taken as ideal by the government of our sovereign country (and now the NPTD report says Singapore needs 20,000 to 25,000 new citizens each year). It’s also the way the state has embraced neo-liberal globalisation without meeting demands of accountability and transparency as part of liberal democracy – nobody can even oppose the way public transport such as buses and MRT is run in Singapore, the transport minister would say “it is the profit incentive of commercial enterprises that spurs efficiency and productivity improvements”, and now LRT passengers have to walk on a sky bridge. What is the excuse for all this?

1st Para: “IN THE last decade, Singapore has been frequently cited as a model of success. One hears references to the ‘Singapore model’, whatever the speaker may mean. Mr Yasser Arafat proudly asserted that he wanted Palestine to be the ‘Singapore of the Middle East’ and Mr Shimon Peres suggested Gaza could be the ‘Singapore of the Middle East’.”

What’s the point of all this? That Singapore has made it and we can all live happily together ever after? Or is this a hint that Singapore has to be the “Israel of Southeast Asia”? Is this why Singapore has the 4th highest defence spending per capita in the world?  In terms of percentage of government expenditure, Singapore even has higher defence spending than Israel, with 24.4% of budget allocation, versus 15%, whereas Israel has higher social spending than Singapore.

So what achievements can Singapore boast of at the moment? The S$8-billion casino resort Marina Bay Sands, built by the influential magnate Sheldon Adelson, the patron of Newt Gingrich and friend of Binyamin Netanyahu, the man who funds rightwing groups in Israel and anti-Muslim campaigns within the US?

Never mind where all that money is going to. What happens when we have cases like some man who lost $25k in one night and $100k in all? We just call it a social problem, call it ‘problem gambling’ and refer him to a pastor? Shall we also celebrate the growth of pawnshops in Singapore?

“The 1970s and early 1980s saw double-digit growth. Singapore’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) today is around US$50,000 (S$63,000), depending on the exchange rate.”

But what does this mean for Singaporeans’ well-being and quality of life? Interestingly, a latest IPS report entitled ‘Inequality and the Need for a New Social Compact’ has just highlighted that while Singapore’s per capita GDP in 2000 was 83% of the US, Singaporeans’ well-being (measured by consumption and adjusted for factors such as leisure, longevity and income inequality) was only 44% of the US level.

“We are known for non-corruption…”

Well, last year we came to know that a clerical officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs was accused of 455 fraud charges and cheating the government of more than S$600k, and a deputy director of IT at Singapore Land Authority cheated the government of more than S$12m. This year, we have a former commissioner of Singapore Civil Defence Force and a former director of the Central Narcotics Bureau arrested for ‘serious personal misconduct’.

This month, procurement lapses have been found in 6 ministries – lapse such as committing to a purchase beyond approved budget; using inappropriate term contracts resulting in gross overpayment for items purchased; setting unrealistically short period for submission of bids thereby limiting competition; and not giving equal opportunity to tenderers to revise their bid prices when requirements were changed.

“Why this fear and anxiety particular to Singapore? In 1901, Yale set up a Yale-in-China programme in China, then hardly a thriving democracy.”

Now that’s comic relief – Singapore is compared to an old Chinese dynasty, back when men were wearing pigtails and women had to bind their feet!

“Singapore is a democracy. Information flows freely and there is freedom of expression; not like the US, but…”

We are definitely not like the US or more than 80 other countries which have seen movements inspired by Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Singapore at Raffles Place was an expected flop given the police control (Read: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/10/19/why-occupy-singapore-failed/ ). We only have events like Occupy Bishan or Occupy Dhoby Ghaut when the MRT breaks down.

Here is what Dr Michael Montesano, who formerly taught in NUS, wrote about ‘freedom of expression’ in Singapore in his article ‘Is Yale a Reliable Partner for the National University of Singapore?’ (3 April 2012):

‘Singapore’s PAP government pays no heed to most criticisms levelled against it, whether by scholars at Singaporean or foreign institutions.  It has long since concluded that only criticism of very particular kinds can do it damage.  And it simply does not take most scholars in the humanities and social sciences seriously in any case; too many of them are liberals.  Second, Singapore’s regime of self-censorship is enforced through unspecified “OB markers” (with “OB” meaning “out of bounds”).  Never knowing how far one can safely go in expressing oneself, Singaporeans learn to remain carefully short of where they think the line might be.’

Ask for freedom of expression in Singapore? Our cultured minister Yaacob Ibrahim will say traditional media can ‘separate wheat from chaff’. No wonder a Facebook page of him has only 89 likes at last count. Netizens may be exercising ‘code of conduct’.

Singapore now ranks Number 135 in the world in Press Freedom Index.

“Democracy is a concept best understood in reality as elastic. There are basic criteria that must be met. The most important is free and fair elections.”

OK, never mind the gerrymandering. Basic criteria do not even include free press or freedom of assembly? Is it fair that despite 40% voting for the opposition, only one GRC has been won by the WP? Is it fair that the SDP can’t even hold a townhall meeting to discuss healthcare issues? Is it fair that the PM can just drag his feet in calling for a by-election? (Is he too busy with his dinner menu?)

“The United States is more democratic than India, and India is more democratic than Singapore in some respects, but not others. We are more egalitarian and meritocratic.”

Well, our Primary 1 registration can be as complicated as the Indian caste system too.

“The birth of nations do not come with a clean slate. Societies have history, traditions and different ethnic and religious mixes and endowments of natural resources. Democracies evolve. Our first generation leaders wanted a political system that would help, not hinder, the development of the unlikely nation. It was a matter of survival.”

One can only speculate what this is supposed to imply. As in, ISA was necessary? It was necessary in 1963, and in 1977, and in 1987, and today? Disregard of human rights is a matter of survival?

“The link between democracy and growth is not so simplistic and the link between democracy and successful economies is not so clear-cut.”

Indeed, an assumption that economic development requires autocratic rule is a terrible assumption. But let’s cite Dr Montesano again:

‘PAP Singapore has achieved what it has achieved through the use of institutional forms alien to liberal economic climates: the Housing and Development Board, which has built the flats in which some eighty percent of the country’s population lives; the Jurong Town Corporation, which created to turn-key facilities on this island for foreign investors in the industrial sector; the National Trades Union Congress, whose leader sits in the PAP cabinet and which functions to keep the country strike-free; the Development Bank of Singapore, which originally served to channel finance into sectors of the economy deemed crucial to national progress; a range of state firms across numerous sectors, now corporatized and called “government-linked corporations”; the People’s Action Party, a vanguard party with a small cadre membership whose secretary-general serves as prime minister; the People’s Association, devoted to the promotion of “racial harmony and social cohesion” in Singapore; Temasek Holdings and the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore, two sovereign wealth funds; and many, many other institutions . . . including the National University of Singapore.’

“Singapore is a democracy. Ministers can lose their seats. We lost a very talented Foreign Minister George Yeo in last year’s elections.”

We may not have lost George Yeo if not for the GRC system. A lot of us may have preferred to lose someone like Lim Swee Say instead.

“The governing party is trying to win back votes. It has become even more responsive to the ground.”

For example, in Bukit Brown?

“Because of our history – birth, location and ethnic mix – press freedom would be different. The liberty to say whatever you want runs into an angry Muslim population north and south. Rights and freedoms come with responsibilities. There are limits to freedoms.”

It’s incomprehensible why such Western rhetorics of ‘clash of civilisations’ have to be repeated in multicultural Singapore yet again, and why the same religious community has to be highlighted again. If we are talking about liberty in sexual orientation for instance, it was an anti-gay church that AWARE was running into a few years back (or rather, the church infiltrated AWARE). The liberty of churches in claiming Darwin’s evolution theory is wrong may also run into an angry secular population everywhere. Freedom in society may also be limited by the ideology of Confucian ethics in legitimising elite rule. Does MDA represent any particular religious or ethnic group?

“But globalisation also creates greater inequality and we have seen its dark side in recent years.”

Just say it: yes, we have seen its dark side in Singapore. Singapore already ranked as having the second highest level of income inequality in developed countries in 2009, with Gini Coefficient of 0.425. And now when economist Lim Chong Yah proposes a wage shock therapy, it is immediately rejected by Lim Swee Say, the minister that local media identifies as the ‘labour chief’. Let’s not blame it all on globalisation, as if the government cannot control the processes.

The sensational case of the 48 men hiring an underaged prostitute also reminds us what wealth disparity can do.

“Democracy is precious. It is important, but so is economic development, and producing a future for the people to live decent lives. For Singapore, used to enjoying good governance and development, I hope we find the right balance. I hope citizens join the debate so we can have the best of all worlds.”

Damn right. Let’s have more debates. Enough of assuming that democracy and economic development are enemies to each other. And enough of assuming that economic development alone will bring well-being and quality of life to the citizens. We need more democracy to ensure it.

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Who is Anti-Singapore and Who is Mad? (From one angry bird to another)

I must confess, I’ve never been a fan of iphones and computer games. I thought indulging in a thousand applications of the virtual world is just a complete waste of time, people should try to connect with the natural world or the social reality around them instead.

But a few days back, I learnt of a free iphone application created by Nature Society (Singapore) called Birds of Singapore, featuring more than 500 stunning photographs of birds species; and there is a non-fiction 3D game called World of Temasek, born of a cooperation between professional game developers and heritage experts here including archaeologist John Miksic. And I suddenly realised, what a lack of imagination I had, you never know what technology can be used for!

Well Singapore needs some happy news, so there you have some. Must try to stay positive!

Maybe it is indeed time to consider the old Chinese wisdom, that there is always a seed of black in what is white, and a seed of white in what is black. The world is more complicated than just a constant struggle of good versus evil, of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. One must not always fear anything that is unfamiliar. The enemy may also be within oneself.

Unfortunately we are not all trained to think that way. We don’t usually like to talk to people who are different from us. Maybe we are not yet a gracious society, where people would care to consider a different perspective. In our country, drivers are used to respecting the traffic lights and the speed cameras, rather than the pedestrians on the road. The government regulates everything, so all you have to make sure is that you are not on the wrong side of the law. If something goes wrong and it’s not our fault, we lodge complaints. We believe in answering to the government, not talking to one another – except to throw some insults from a distance.

A local blogger with the pseudonym ‘Jentrified Citizen’ wrote an article a few days back entitled ‘Speaking Up is Not Anti-Singapore’, arguing that it is wrong for the more conservative Singaporeans to label people who speak up and question government policies and PAP as being “anti-establishment”, “anti-government” or “anti-Singapore”.

In the comments, someone responded that it is also wrong to mock the 60% who voted PAP in the GE as being “gullible”.

Should one conclude then, that everybody should avoid name-calling altogether as a rule, in order to be ‘fair’? I think that may be missing the point. Of course, we should bear in mind that people representing the 60% are not therefore PAP ‘cronies’, they may also be moderates who are voting for stability, or people who truly believe an ‘inclusive’ economic model would take time. But does that mean we also have to ban all websites where PRCs or ‘foreign talents’ are always targeted?

What it just means, for some healthy dialogue in our country, is that we should all try to listen to arguments from other Singaporeans on any public issue without prejudice. We must not fall into a trap of obsessing so much with ‘rules of engagement’ that it in turn becomes another way to point fingers and shut up anyone who uses emotional words in a debate. Sure, a comic like Demoncratic may seem quite compulsive in its style of sarcasm, but you can let readers themselves get tired of it automatically (I thought the one on rejection of SDP’s healthcare plan is quite funny though).

Why would anybody ever have to shout in an angry voice in the first place? There can be one simple explanation: you do it when people who are supposed to listen to your message just do not seem to be listening.

I think one oldest trick in the book for any regime resisting change is to label people who are more progressive as being anti-establishment or even mad. It’s hence not surprising that we have a tabloid newspaper describing an opposition party member as a ‘loose cannon’, or a mainstream newspaper labelling activists as ‘naysayers’, just as we would read about some nymphomaniac blogger being sent to IMH.

Given such an oppressive environment, it is not surprising too that we the people ourselves may use the same tactic in shutting up fellow citizens who have a different opinion or a different approach in dealing with issues. We label others as mad, because we are convinced that we hold the truth and nobody else, or we label others as troublemakers, because we insist we are the only ones with the wisdom and the good intention. Now that’s a real concern, if we want to be a more open society.

Maybe we are all programmed by a fast-paced consumerist society to react this way: when you see something, you either buy it, or you don’t buy it; it either belongs to you totally, or you must reject it altogether. Maybe it’s even like a computer game: when you spot an object, it’s either for you to collect as your own gadgets, or it’s some form of threat that must be shot down immediately.

It is of course not always easy to reconcile different positions on the same issue. Sometimes the other party may need time to come to see things from a different perspective. We can also give ourselves some distance, to reserve judgment. Maybe we all see problems from different angles and we may in fact all be trying to help in our own little ways.

What is ‘madness’ by the way? In medieval Europe, it was not simply regarded as a mental condition, but rather a challenge to standards of normality, for madmen might also provide insights that the usual reasoning in society does not provide. When somebody seems to be going on with some mad ranting, do we need to take everything so literally and be angry in turn? We can try to understand what’s behind the anger instead.

In a public forum, when somebody is taking too much time talking about his or her own concern, we may have to tell the person not to go off-topic, for others need a chance to speak too. But when some website appears to be excessive, we can either switch channel or if we are really so concerned with the topic, then write a comment to express a more moderate view. Focus on the issue. Is there a need to keep branding one another with even more labels? Maybe we are all ‘angry birds’ anyway?

But some of us who are considered ‘mad’ as in ‘anti-establishment’ may like to learn one trick. We can’t maintain the same tone and loudness all the time, or it will just become background noise. We also need to stand down in our display of anger now and then or improvise a little, so that people who are moderate would know the difference when it is really red alert. And you never know when that might strike; it has been ‘yellow alert’ most of the time here.

(Or is it way past red already? Maybe we need to invent more colour codes to communicate with fellowmen?)

 

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Our Democracy in Crisis? – Legitimacy of a Good Hougang Wife who can cook

The current political game in Singapore is not exactly rocket science. When Worker’s Party sacked MP Yaw Shin Leong following news of his love affairs, in a move to demonstrate that the party takes transparency and accountability seriously, PM Lee Hsien Loong of PAP made a speech saying that WP had let the voters of Hougang down. Well, when the father of a friend of mine heard this over the news, he retorted: And the PAP has let the voters in the rest of Singapore down!

See, anybody can bitch, just like the roles in a game of Police Catch Thieves can always be switched (by the way, investigation on the scandals of top CNB and SCDF officers has taken a really long time). The question is who may be influencing the mainstream media pertaining to such stories (there should be no need here to repeat the story about Law Minister K. Shanmugam who sent a lawyer’s letter to blogger Alex Au for citing rumours propagated on the net by a certain mysterious Scroobal).

While others may be busy analysing now as to whether WP is facing a crisis of credibility, I think more importantly, we should discuss whether democracy in the minds of the people of Singapore is now in a crisis. Maybe some would say Singapore is in a constant state of emergency in that sense, but what lesson should we draw from this incident? Now that the government has announced some goodies in its Budget in perfect timing, do we banish from our minds any idea of a First Class Parliament as representative of the people? Or do we resign to the idea of Desmond Choo, Yaw’s opponent during GE, who said that all we need is a wife who can cook?

This analogy of a ‘good wife’ and ‘good cook’ may be used to great advantage of the PAP especially in light of the Yaw incident now, for it appeals to a vague idea in our society that a good government should be made up of men of good ‘moral’ character and therefore will act in the national interest for all. It also appeals to a pragmatic attitude that a good wife knows how to cook and will place food on your table. Hence our ‘wife’ now should be considered a good conservative choice, even though we may say it is not a case of love marriage but more like a kind of arranged marriage, given the system of GRC and the gerrymandering which more or less predetermine everything – here, we may have a question of legitimacy if you argue on procedures of democratic elections.

Now this ‘good wife’ does not come cheap either, she is really the high maintenance kind (consider the ministers’ salaries), her selling point is that she comes from an elite family background and has high qualifications, if you didn’t choose her (actually, 40% of us didn’t, but nonetheless), she could have sold herself to the private sector. Anyway now that she is your homemaker and is keeping your house in order, you need to hand a fraction of your pay to her, and as long as you have your meals on the table, you should just be happy and keep quiet, not question her as to whether she is gambling with your money outside and busy flirting with men from foreign companies, even forgetting about the welfare of your aged parents or the education of the children – here, we may have a question of legitimacy with regards to our belief in moral obligations towards the nation as home.

Considering these questions of legitimacy, it is clearly to the necessary political advantage of the ruling party that the Yaw incident be blown up in the media. It is not as if the people of Hougang or any constituency elected an MP based on the consensus that he should be an ideal family man, as an overriding factor of legitimising his appointment as MP. But one fears that whereas the legitimacy of a government is too abstract as an issue to most people, the legitimacy of a politician’s love affairs is something that touches on the raw nerves of many logical or illogical minds in a traditional Asian society. WP clearly sees the need of extending its principle of transparency and accountability to such personal affairs, in order to win trust of the people.

Now what the opposition parties must also be mindful of is that most people may still have a naïve attitude, that whoever hands out money should therefore be respected like a father or a sugardaddy. Most people would interpret a more favourable Budget simply as a kind gesture from the ruling party, rather than as a result of competition from opposition parties. But it would only be the way backwards if people despair the very moment the image of the opposition seems less than perfect, and give up on any progress towards democracy just like that.

In fact it is high time that we stop thinking of democracy as a beauty pageant to choose a wife as a cook, and try to think of democracy instead as a system of active participation in matters of public policy, whereby every man should express a little say on what is going on in the kitchen, not just sit in front of the television and leave everything to the wife. Some say too many cooks would spoil the soup, but we are far from there, our issue now is a cook who faces no criticism or competition will never improve. Real men should not be hen-pecked, and should not be afraid of stepping into the kitchen either.

(First published in Facebook on 19 Feb 2012)

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