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Singapore’s Public Spheres – Between Keyboard Warriors and V for Vendetta in Hong Lim Park

The newly announced requirement for online news sites with more than 50,000 viewers a month to put up a bond, and to comply within 24 hours to remove any content that Media Development Authority finds objectionable, marks yet another encroachment into the public spheres of Singapore.

The move reminds one somehow of the 1980s, when all major newspapers were incorporated under the control of a single Singapore Press Holdings, following PAP’s loss of one seat to the opposition in 1980, with WP’s J.B. Jeyaretnam capturing Anson in a by-election. How would it augur this time for democracy in Singapore?

As it is, Singapore as a city-state has been conspicuous as a bonsai showcase of cosmopolitan life, but one hardly known for providing public places for freedom of speech and assembly. Anywhere downtown that resembles a public square is usually reserved for commercial activities of sales promotion, while the location of Hong Lim Park as Speaker’s Corner seems relatively isolated and apparently not very hip.

This marginalisation of the public sphere works to place Singaporeans in a mental loop that is hard to break free from. Surely the young and trendy Singaporeans would prefer to congregate around Greek-God-like posters of A&F in Orchard Road, and shop for cheap but fashionable outfits from H&M, made in Bangladesh it may be? Why travel in the direction of Chinatown where you may only find old men carrying their miserable bird cages, when life in Singapore already calls to mind the misery of a bird cage? Don’t we all need an escape from a boring life, where every other locality in Singapore seems like the exclusive territory of People’s Association?

A similar effect may be intended with the latest control over the social media this time, which has managed to sneak through the back door by gazetting it under the Licensing Regime, without public consultation or parliamentary approval. The new rules will serve to deter bloggers in Singapore from discussing social and political issues, and encourage people to blog about facial cream or their pet dogs instead.

This would presumably help create a ‘safe’ environment for the ruling party’s continual domination in Singapore, free from criticisms. All they need to do would be to stage a little ‘national conversation’ before asserting that they are working as ever to the best interest of the people, be it in the wage scheme or the population policy or the land use in our country. We may not find the precious little information to contradict them anymore.

The question is: would this be a miscalculation on the part of the PAP government? Will the same tactics that worked before Singapore’s first economic downturn in the 1980s work again now, with the new generation of electorate? Or will it lead to further distrust of the regime and force Singaporeans in the direction of civil disobedience, into more creative spheres of resistance?

The assumption seems to be that online voices of dissent reflect an anti-government sentiment that is purely irrational, and the only way to deal with it is to stamp it out before it spreads further like a disease. Well this is an inaccurate picture that they are seeing with their blinkers on, which may just lead to their own tumble. A good 40% of Singaporeans are not ‘anti-government’ as such. They are simply against the government being anti-democracy and anti-community. Does the regime want to push on with a de-humanising approach of treating the electorate as fools, and see how they react?

As post-GE2011 surveys have indicated, cost of living and job situation have been major concerns among voters. Smear tactics as perpetuated with the help of local press do not seem to work well anymore. At the end of the way, would people really be so interested in the sex lives of MPs, ministers, law professors or activists, when bread and butter issues are at stake? Would digging that little dirt alarm Singaporeans so much that they would run back into the arms of authoritarian rule immediately? You can only fool some people some time, not all the people all the time.

In a way, the secret ballot has made cowards of many a Singaporean. Hence there are those who would vote for the sake of upgrading in their constituency or for rubbish-clearing by the town council, instead of for how the economy will be run in the whole country. But how much upgrading does one really need before the bubble bursts? What we need is a more open society where people can stand up for their own political orientation in debates on the common good of Singaporeans as a whole.

Lest we forget, the PAP rose into power because it was a progressive party back in the 1950s. Today people just assume that going on strike is un-Singaporean, or that street protest is unheard of. But the PAP itself would walk down the streets with a banner in those days. Things changed of course. In the words of our first Culture and Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam in 1969: “We started off as an anti-colonial party…”

The 50s of course belong to a chapter in history that is still recovering from collective amnesia and whitewash, and scaremongers would still cite chaos at the time to scare the chicken back to the fold. But there is clearly a new spirit of awakening among Singaporeans now, which may yet be steered in a positive direction. One aspect may be an ‘anti-globalisation’ consciousness – at least, that is how I would prefer to characterise the ‘fashion punk’ who was carrying the banner ‘Singapore for Singaporeans’ in the February protest against the population white paper, instead of dismissing it as ‘xenophobia’.

‘Globalisation’ is of course a very complicated word, and what we must realise is that it is not a matter of a ‘tidal wave’ coming to our shores, but a many-headed monster which includes the roles played by our trade unions and our manpower ministry in their peculiar practices. It is also a matter of the state ideology, down to the claim by some politicians that there is no local identity in Singapore as such, apart from the belief in meritocracy or the ‘Confucian ethics’ of diligence – as if Confucius said 2,500 years ago that you don’t really need a university education for self-improvement, you just need to work overtime for better pay.

So what is a ‘real’ Singaporean? Let’s just say that one does not need to prove himself or herself as Singaporean by citing how differently a person from another country would behave. If ever there are ‘real Singaporeans’ as such, I would say it should refer to people who truly care for Singapore as part of a community. It would include people who may sound ‘subversive’ to the authorities, but really have the interests of Singaporeans at heart. Unfortunately, it is exactly such a sense of community that is being targeted by censorship.

Hence this latest instrument is indeed a test for us. Should Singaporeans not sense a foreboding of what this will mean for each and every citizen? One just needs to reflect a little more to learn from history: in the 1960s, the ISA came for the Chinese-educated who were ‘communists’, people kept silent, because they were not Chinese-ed; in the 1970s, the ISA came for the English-educated ‘communists’, people kept silent, because they were not leftists; in the 1980s, the ISA came for ‘communists’ who were supposedly embedded in Catholic church, people kept silent, because they had nothing to do with the church or the social activism; in the 2000s, the new excuse for ISA was the threat of terrorism identified with Muslim extremism, people kept silent, because they had nothing to do with such terrorism. And now, will people say it doesn’t concern them, because it is only the bloggers who will be affected? Who will speak for the people then when the bloggers are gone?

The defeatist attitude may say that there is nothing one can do, because there is no democracy in Singapore anyway. But that is simply mental slavery. One has to recognise that there is at least some semblance of democracy, at least a symbolic space for voices of dissent – Hong Lim Park is such a space, and judging by the latest trends, it will become the ‘fashion’ of true-blue Singaporeans.

Will the internet remain such a space too? It is now up to us, to express ourselves or share the opinions in whichever way we can, to make our presence felt. Think on what it will mean for yourself, your loved ones and for fellow Singaporeans. Think on many future generations of Singaporeans to come – assuming of course, that Singapore as a nation is not auctioned away in the global market soon. Get up, “Stand up, for Singapore”, shall we say?


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Dummies’ Guide to the Singapore Pledge (2012 Version)

We, the citizens (*and new immigrants and other shareholders) of Singapore,

pledge ourselves as one united people (*economy),

regardless of race (*please check your population quota under the Ethnic Integration Policy, and check whether your neighbour likes curry),

language (*your mother tongue as spoken by your father; please note Singlish is discouraged, but broken English acceptable)

or religion (*distinct and separate from one another; code of conduct may be needed so that one can be ‘less strict’),

(*regarding queries on sexual identity, please refer to 377A and the latest MOE Breaking Down Bridges programme;

regarding queries on local identity, please check your GRC boundaries every 5 years)

to build a democratic (*Asian-style, not western-style like a world-class parliament; as agreed upon by the majority of 60%)

society (*based on shared values of Confucian ethics for pragmatism; please refer to the 1991 White Paper, or any book on ‘hard truths’ that may be banned in Malaysia)

based on justice (*ISA to be invoked whenever applicable)

and equality (*a ‘multiracial meritocracy’, ie. some may have more equality than others)

so as to achieve happiness (*Singapore standard, not Bhutan standard),

prosperity (*as measured by GDP and inflation rate, not salary increment or welfare spending for the less fortunate;

as measured by property prices and height of condominiums, not HDB floor area;

as measured by the number of highways created by bulldozers, not the MRT train frequency or reliability;

as measured by the volume of subterranean shopping space in Orchard Road, and also amount of water storage, otherwise known as ‘ponding’)

and progress for our nation (*our neoliberal globalised economy under Temasek).

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SMRT Saga: The Racism Episode

It could all be so simple, if we just focused on the question of social responsibility and related ethics in our public transport system. But instead of addressing issues of accountability in the upkeep of the MRT system to ensure safety and reliability, our attention has been sidetracked by the emergence of one villain after another in the ongoing SMRT saga. And in a most dramatic twist, on the pertinent question of hiring train officers to cater to commuters of diverse language groups, the onus suddenly rests on netizens to gag themselves on any racial issue? Singapore is indeed a strange place and running down with too much negative energy.

Just when you thought the angry flaming by netizens had reached its heights with the widely circulated image of CEO Saw Phaik Hwa on a sedan-chair aspiring to Cleopatra-style grandeur, MP Seng Han Thong stole our attention with an episode all his own, in broken English no less, claiming that Malay and Indian staff have problems with conversing in English. And just when an apology for the racialist remark might have appeased the public, Law Minister Shanmugam is throwing his weight to turn a witch-hunting game around on The Online Citizen, saying its report on Seng’s remarks was ‘false’. One can be forgiven indeed for losing the plot here, but let’s rewind back a little for a clearer picture.

First of all, it can easily be argued that TOC was right in highlighting the incident, for any singling out of ethnic groups on employment issues by a politician of any party, in direct or indirect speech, would constitute news of public interest, especially when the man is also advisor to the National Transport Workers’ Union. It is common news sense and no expert in journalism can dispute that. In fact it is when you have a group of broadcast journalists nodding their heads without questioning the man, that it reflects a serious lack of critical thinking in our media. The question for TOC (which is run by volunteers) is how soon it should follow up its newsflash with a more balanced report in order to maintain its image as a credible news source.

There are MPs defending Seng, saying he is not a racist. But what is a ‘racist’? Any one of us may have a friend or even a family member who may make some racialist remarks sometimes. Do they need to be exposed in public and reported to the police? Apparently not. In fact in the three cases involving racist remarks or postings on the net recently, none has been charged, instead the ‘consensus’ according to Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim was that there should just be some code of conduct on the internet. By the same token the public can also expect that a similar code of conduct be applied to any public figure speaking on television. It does not augur well for the credibility of the government when license for an anti-racism demonstration is not granted while racialist comments seem liberated now with a new-found leeway.

The point is not to be so uptight about any comment related to race, language or religion that, to use a football analogy, we must raise a red card every time somebody makes a clumsy tackle, and throw the person out of the game altogether. But if we do not even blow the whistle on any racialist comment and question the message behind, the game may becoming more unruly and rougher at the expense of the docile, until some breaking point when all hell breaks loose, we have seen things like that before. And if we do not take a strong stand, what message are we giving to the Singapore society, especially to the younger generation who take after their elders? Racism is not dangerous only when somebody is physically attacked and venomously insulted, it often takes the form of casual remarks and ‘innocuous’ stereotyping among people around us. If we just let it go in the public media, we are allowing people to be mentally programmed into thinking that members of certain minorities are indeed inferior or less ‘normal’.

The point in highlighting racialist comments is not to engage in a ritual of witch-hunting, whereby you set your enemy on fire out of anger and then go home feeling balance in the world is restored. Even more importantly, it is not to take the opportunity to emote your own stereotyping of any ethnic or cultural group that you think the person represents. The fact that Seng used to be deputy editor of Lianhe Zaobao just means that he of all people should have been more sensitive in re-interpreting any ethnic-related issue, it should not mean that any Chinese Singaporean with a Chinese or bilingual education background is therefore bigoted against others.

It is an interesting coincidence that Seng’s incident took place just a couple of days after news that Chia Thye Poh, a political prisoner detained for 32 years, made his first public speech in decades, as he received the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award in Malaysia. In his speech, Chia, an early graduate of the Nanyang University which was eventually closed down in 1980, stated that the purpose of establishing Nantah “was to serve the society of Southeast Asia, irrespective of races”, that the university had departments for Chinese language, modern languages and Malay language, and it promoted intercultural exchanges. Clearly any past branding of Chinese Singaporean according to race, language or education background is over-generalising if not outright prejudiced. Our history should not be seen as an endless cycle of people from different ethnic or language backgrounds taking turns to oppress one another.

It is also disturbing to hear the way PAP MPs and ministers vehemently emphasise that Seng is not a ‘racist’, for we need to be wary if the underlying implication is that there would be some other ‘genuine’ cases of racists or Chinese chauvinists out there, waiting to be hunted down. We do not really want politicians of any party politicising the issue of racism and identifying any individual as the bogeyman for their own political gains, what we want is just to make sure there is no racial discrimination or stereotyping becoming the norm in Singapore.

It is high time for all sides to take a step back. Politicians and public intellectuals in Singapore on their parts need to stop thinking of netizens as a mob that is prone to being manipulated, stop characterising them as anti-PAP, anti-establishment and so on, for any such branding of people as being emotional and irrational is also dehumanising and not helpful.

Train officers of SMRT are clearly all working very hard during this holiday season, regardless of their language background, and surely speakers of all official languages are just as important in helping the young and old. All the assurance we need is that nobody be placed at a disadvantage due to his or her ethnic origin, among workers as with commuters.

From A Christmas Sermon on Peace by Martin Luther King, December 1967:

Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

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On Liberty in the Social Media and a Practice Target for Dialogue

With the chain of cases involving racist or Islamophobic remarks within the space of a week this month, one could already sense a nagging voice coming our way (even before Minister Yaacob Ibrahim’s pat-on-the-back statement) that spells this for the net: ‘code of conduct’. But unlike MP Zaqy Mohamad who appeared to be advocating self-censorship in response to the YPAP case, many a netizen had held that the point is not to gag any bigoted view by invoking the Sedition Act, which is simply isolating the symptoms, but to get to the roots of the bigotry.

For anybody old enough should know the secret ‘Golden Rule’ in our society – no, not “Do unto others as you would others do unto you”, but “Do as you will but don’t get caught”. It is high time that there be some open and respectful dialogue on racial issues instead of encouraging the malaise of bigotry to infest in private corners away from sight, or inviting a cure that may be worse than the disease (if technology is available, we may all have to be brain-scanned for mind crimes one day!).

There are three messages we can glean from such hate speech or discriminatory remarks, not peculiar to multicultural Singapore per se but perhaps copied from a Eurocentric perspective: 1. Some people mentally associate the Muslim community with terrorism. 2. Some people see the value system in the Muslim faith as being absolutely different from that of the society they themselves like to have. 3. Some people see nothing wrong at all in making fun of anybody’s religion.

If one carries the first two mental attitudes to the point of stereotyping members of the community, you have a kind of essentialising and a discriminatory attitude that is not unlike racism. And if you combine the first and the third, you may produce something like the Danish cartoon controversy, a conflict which was heightened by the European championing of media freedom and the Muslim view on visual images which was not respected.

Some may consider the whole thing then as simple as a matter of moderating between our values for freedom and our values for mutual respect. (Let’s not go down the road now about ‘freedom’ being also an ‘F’ word misused by George W. Bush to wage a ‘war for peace’.) Actually, these should as simple as values we learnt back in kindergarten, about how to play and to be polite, it’s basically the same thing you learn anywhere you go; it is not like only if you went to a PAP kindergarten, then are you a fuller human being who is more likely to fight for justice and equality in Hong Lim Park.

But the world would be a much happier place if only life is as simple as in kindergarten. The game being played now may be more of a trickery. Imagine someone hears your religion preaches turning the other cheek, and comes to test it by slapping your face left and right nonstop. If you resist, he may say what your religion teaches does not hold true; if you simply ignore, he may push you further next time; and if you cry foul to whom you regard as authority, you may also be called names for having the authority side you. Therefore one really has to be careful with any recourse that may begin with a premise of what former Foreign Minister George Yeo phrased as some groups being “less likely to riot” than others, which may end up reinforcing a stereotype of violence, not to mention creating a sense of exceptionalism. The principle should be common: what is considered taboo is always specific to the religious community.

John Stuart Mill, who argued for the principle of absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment for the individual in his classic treatise On Liberty (1859), also stated a second principle on liberty of tastes and pursuits in doing as one likes without impediment from others, with the condition: “so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong”. That one of his biggest fans today is the Norwegian right-wing mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, known for hating Muslims, has to be totally incidental or warped of course. Mill was at least able to point out some maxim in the Koran with regards to governance that is more progressive than what can be found in the New Testament; he also argued ‘diversity’ of character and culture as a key to progress, lamenting that the Europe he saw was “advancing towards the Chinese ideal of making all people alike”.

But what we have to guard ourselves against in Mill’s liberalist ideas is a utilitarianism that justified colonialism and the dismantling of traditional cultures seen as ‘backward’. Mill may be helpful when cited for reforms in human rights, but not helpful when we need to conserve the values of our cultures and communities, for Mill championed individualism. Anyway, there are always possibilities of customs in any religion and culture changing over time, even laws may be reformed, but branding any community as being incapable of progress is not an opinion that is helpful, not to mention that the particular conceptions of ‘progress’ may be problematic in the first place.

Negative or insensitive remarks do not make a pleasant start for a dialogue, but there is a chance for us to make something constructive out of the discord. The worst that we can do is to magnify any isolated cases so much as to disturb societal harmony. Opinions can be judged and debated as to whether they are valid and sound, whether they are constructive, and whether they respect cultural sensitivities. The old model of tolerance among religions as simply “not talking about it”, like what three-quarter of 2800 surveyed secondary school students expressed in 2008, clearly is not working. We need to ask in what way the moral education in our society may have failed us, not expend energy in wondering if any individuals have flunked their lesson in conduct. And for God’s sake, stop racialising top students who have just received their PSLE results as Indian or Malay or Eurasian! Are we comparing report cards among different ethnic groups in their contribution to economic progress, instead of addressing general social mobility?

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The Sacrifice for Justice and Equality

This year has just seen the passing of another champion of human rights and victim of ISA in Singapore – lawyer Francis Khoo Kah Siang, who had lived the last 34 years of his life in exile before his demise last Sunday in London. Francis Khoo had fought for the causes of poor fishermen and factory workers, protested against the Vietnam War and participated in a campaign to save The Herald newspaper, before he was wanted by the ISD during the security operation against alleged ‘Euro-communists’ in February 1977, when at least 28 professionals and intellectuals were arrested and imprisoned.

He escaped from Singapore just two weeks after marrying Dr Ang Swee Chai, later to be known not only as a prominent surgeon but also founder of the British charity, Medical Aid for Palestinians, and author of From Beirut to Jerusalem; the book reflected her transformation from being a fundamentalist Christian “who hated Arabs and saw the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as terrorists”, to a sympathiser of the Palestinian people after witnessing the Sabra-Shatila Massacre in 1982. Francis Khoo was also involved in various international charities apart from being a supporter of freedom movements like the African National Congress and PLO.

His demise is another sad story this year following the death of former political detainee and lawyer Tan Jing Quee, who had legendarily contested in the 1963 election as Barisan Sosialis and lost to Rajaratnam in Kampong Glam by mere 220 votes, before he was arrested under ISA and detained till 1966. During his last years, he was researching, writing and editing books on Singapore’s leftist movements despite his failing eyesight, and saw the publication of The May 13 Generation just a month before succumbing to cancer. In a tribute to him in June, Francis Khoo described him as a ‘bridge’ between generations, territories and communities, one who was fluent in English, Mandarin and Malay and believed in the unity of the Malayan people with Singapore as an integral part.

Will their examples awaken Singaporeans to the cause of peace, justice and equality that they have sacrificed for? Will we see a new generation of Singaporeans who treasure some ideals beyond a utilitarian attitude towards life?

Taking this opportunity to repost a blog published elsewhere in September during the government’s reiteration on ISA being “relevant and necessary”…  

The New Obscene Normality – Who Needs Justice and Equality in Singapore

Enough is enough with the complaint about Singaporeans being apathetic and gutless. Now that the Malaysian Government is repealing the Internal Security Act and leaving Singapore behind in the dirt road of history where democracy is concerned, this arbitrary deprivation of human rights in the name of national security is just glaring in our face as an obstacle to progress.

It has been this dehumanising tool of terror that broke the lives and efforts of past activists and opposition leaders, and along with the state-controlled media as well as laws restricting freedom of assembly and expression, stifled the imagination of the people these past decades by drilling into their minds that there can be no alternative to the one-party system.

More than that, such conditioning has resulted in a dulling of both mind and spirit of the masses, which, like domesticated animals, have learnt to leave all processes in the food chain to the care of the government and acquired the instinct of recoiling from any word or action that may seem ‘confrontational’.

It is only with the influx of immigrants, as born and bred citizens of Singapore suddenly find themselves losing in the race of survival of the fittest (or survival of the cheapest), to what seems like invasive species disturbing the balance in our small pond of ecology here, that one starts to snarl with resentment now.

All along, the only protest everybody seems to know is that little cross on the ballot just once every five years to mark support for the opposition. GE2011 however finds Singaporeans learning to make some noise again like they have never done in an entire generation. With the recent presidential election, the crowds are booing in stadiums at any mention of PAP-endorsed candidate Dr Tony Tan. (There was even said to be booing at him as elected president during an international football game.)

But seriously, can we do better than that? All this negative energy, whatever is it for? Just because one doesn’t like his pompous spectacles and his plastic-looking hair? Or because the prestige he represents and the obligatory support of clan associations and chambers of commerce he enjoys seem as old-school as a feudalistic society?

Incidentally, Tony of all the four Tans happens to be the one who is most defensive of the ISA, but frankly, did that cause as much outrage as the story about special treatment of his sons during NS? The point here is not whether we can call Singaporeans to arms to emulate Malaysians in a Bersih movement, but is there a danger of people becoming a mob without any tactic except being anti-government or anti-elitism?

Are we going from apathetic to just resentful and indignant, because we have lost faith that our interests are being served? Are we voting for one candidate just because he may help to protect our CPF money, or another candidate just because he takes keen interest in certain problems of investment?

Are we celebrating Curry Day because we treasure the unique multiculturalism we have in Singapore, or just because we want to insist on a Singaporeans-first treatment to the exclusion of foreigners? Isn’t it too damn easy? We are happily eating to show our love for Singapore, when people in India are renouncing food in a hunger strike against corruption?

If alternative voices are to be heard in Singapore, the game surely has to be stepped up, for we are entering a new era today. One-third of Singaporeans may call it the new normal, while those less approving would think of it as an obscene normality. This is no time to feel shy about any exception to general principles, only the bold will triumph by talking one’s way out or by adamantly denying any irregularity.

It is not just how Home Affairs Ministry’s refuted the joint statement on 19 September by 16 ex-ISA detainees on being held for their political beliefs, how it insisted whatever social activism in 1980s was linked to the the Communist Party of Malaya. (Where is the independent body who can judge?) As the latest onslaught of WikiLeaks shows, reality can be more warped than fiction. You thought the Singapore government only looked into feasibility of nuclear energy last year? Well the deputy CEO of the Energy Market Authority Lawrence Wong (now minister-of-state for defence and education) was talking to the US Embassy about it with keen interest back in 2008! You thought the Singapore authorities just have a soft spot for bus drivers, doctors and beer promoters from China? Well the ruling party’s youth wing Young PAP has been nurturing close ties with China’s Communist Youth League for many years, seeking inspiration in a Beijing party school for its own political training!

And would you have guessed, the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim has children who are American citizens just like his wife? (His poor son, it is decided for him in a public statement that he will serve his NS in Singapore, guess he better work on his Malay as Foreign Language!) Yet another cable reveals the frustration of younger Straits Times journalists over press controls, being stifled by editors who have been groomed to follow the government line instead of encouraging more investigative and critical reporting, especially since ministers routinely call up editors regarding coverage. Not that any reader would be surprised – the newspaper has habitually been most investigative when it comes to voices of dissent, like an overt counterpart of the ISD effectively.

But an editor actually decides to come up with an apologist response without sounding apologetic, saying one would have gladly admitted journalism here is kept on a leash if anybody had asked. It’s a bit like, come on, let’s be adult about it, what’s wrong with a red light district in Singapore, the police is well aware of it and the prostitutes are in full cooperation with them, it’s those without approved license that we worry about, right? In fact, it looks like the police controls the business!

The most blatant appendage of the one-party system reared its ugly head when Aljunied MP Chen Show Mao from Worker’s Party had to be de-invited by organisers from a Hungry Ghost celebration event, due to pressure from CCC under People’s Association. PA soon practically admitted to being a party organ of PAP, by making a statement to assert its authority in appointing grassroots advisers, saying that opposition MPs cannot be expected to play this role in their own wards. Well anyone aware of the PAP-grassroots-advisor-turned-MP story in Potong Pasir ought to be wary of such patterns.

It is no secret that PA served to counter the influence of the Barisan Socialis party back in the 1960s. Some may consider the incident as trivial as the story of an NSP supporter being barred from using a CC toilet while wearing a ‘political’ T-shirt. But how can one afford to let go when every inch of public space has to be fought here, when whoever occupying the throne would never give so much leeway to others? The SDP has pointed out how abnormal it is for a democracy, that an opposition party is not even allowed to visit university campuses or talk to residents in open areas in housing estates.

To show that it is moving beyond gutter politics, the incumbent party really needs to do more than posing in gay-friendly pictures next to a celebrity like Kumar. (Come on, he is so drag, when he came out saying he is gay, everybody must be waiting for the real punchline. How about 377A, which can still be used as a weapon against citizens?) What the MPs can do instead when the Parliament convenes, is to make at least pretence of thinking aloud on the issue of ISA, just to demonstrate there is no groupthink and prove that all the salaries for Singapore’s limited talent pool are not going down the john. (Never mind for now the phenomenal income of the President of Singapore, the one who lost S$14 billion while in charge of the GIC and is now supposed to guard the national reserves.)

One can always make a beautiful speech about strengthening bonds between different ethnic communities as part of psychological defence. (How about a Halloween party for religious harmony? We may not agree on which God or deities to worship, but every culture should know of lost souls and aggrieved spirits!) Or how about better education and employment opportunities for the minorities?

Better still, upstage the opposition by adapting Workers’ Party suggestion for specific anti-terrorism laws. Why should we rely on such an outdated law to fight terrorism, if not to make up for lack of intelligence and lack of evidence? Are we trying to prove there is equality in Singapore by reserving power to detain anybody regardless of race, language or religion, regardless of Islamist terrorism, Chinese chauvinism or general leftist dissidence?

The final verdict on us Singaporeans, if one may judge by the less than adequate support for a party like SDP with its banner of justice during GE, is that we are more utilitarian than idealistic. That means as long as economic benefits here are tangible, most of us would not lose our sleep thinking how some people have to sacrifice years of freedom for their political beliefs (former opposition MP Chia Thye Poh suffered 23 years of detention and 9 years of house arrest, lest anyone has historical amnesia), or if the government decides to put away some people believed to have terrorist tendencies, as a form of preventive detention in the name of social stability.

The Universal Periodic Review process for Singapore at the UN Human Rights Council last Thursday probably sounds as alien to people here as an occurrence galaxies away. (UN’s call for an independent election body sounds heaven-sent for the democratic process here but is unheeded, again no surprise.)

Nevertheless, we tend to be irked by the lack of social justice or equality, when certain people seem to enjoy a better life just by nobility of birth or by ethnic or national origin. We may not buy an empty word like ‘meritocracy’ any longer, if it seems an indefinite and absurd stretching of what Aristotle formulated eons ago before Greece’s impending bankruptcy: ‘Equality for equals, inequality for unequals’.

With the high costs of living and little job security today, the free lifestyle that Singapore is keen on protecting from harm may seem as removed from the masses as the casinos and the F1 race (the Singapore government wouldn’t mind helping Sumatra put out forest fires, so that F1 spectators can enjoy a clear view of cars zooming by!).

News released this month on three men being detained for terrorism-related activities, along with the setting up of a new terrorism research centre (headed by one Rohan Gunaratna of Playboy interview fame: moderate Muslims “don’t have the willpower or the ability” to fight terrorism. “That’s why the West must work with moderate regimes and people.”), are apparently events timed in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of September 11.

But the resorting to ISA once again may be understood by the man in the street today as none other than an opportunist weapon to help the ruling class maintain the status quo, in a post-colonial society where only freedom of the privileged is safeguarded. It is a system of justice that is arguably totalitarian in reasoning, and how far citizens of Singapore should endure such unlimited power, will be a question to be tested as part of the political game.

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Teenage Tragedy in Ang Mo Kio (Voices on Facebook, part II)

II. We Don’t Need No Education?

An 18-year-old half-Japanese girl fell to her death in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6 on Saturday 14 May. While the Shin Min Daily News report suggested that the suicide was due to relationship problems, her personal blog reveals other possible causes of psychological stress:

“I hope this is the end of my journey to a local university. No exhorbitantly-priced private institutions for me please. Fucking lao kui for me only.” – from an earlier entry in her blog. (lao kui: embarassing, shameful)

“PSLE, I fucked up. Couldn’t get into dream secondary school. ‘O’ Levels, I fucked up. Couldn’t get a place in dream polytechnic course… I got my dreams crushed again, after seeing my ‘A’ Levels grades yesterday. Bye bye to NUS FASS and NTU Humanities.” – from the last posting in her blog.

Below are two threads of Facebook discussion on this tragic case, as to what is to blame – the streaming system? Globalisation of the universities? Family environment? Societal pressure? Lack of counselling? – Or perhaps more importantly, what can possibly be done on ‘our’ part:

(See end credits for contributors to the discussion)

Thread 1 (Z’s wall):

Teenage girl falls to her death at Ang Mo Kio


D: oh dear

S: God damned tragedy.

Z: sad. i think the pressure comes from a ‘meritocratic’ society that knows more snobbery than compassion.

SP: That’s why I stand behind my stance of scrapping the way we stream now and say that we follow what I read the Japanese system to be

Z: how do u see the japanese system?

SP: What I read (I’ve been trying to find it again, but cannot for some reason.) is that children are streamed quite early on into different fields based on capability, languages, arts, and maths/science. They still do the basics of the other fields, so as to be multifaceted, but start specialising in certain things rather young. Granted, it’s based on results as well, but it’s certainly much better to classify via different abilities as opposed to academically good, academically normal, academically behind. Which is how our current system is viewed, and said views translate into how their capabilities, work ethic and intelligence must be,

Z: sounds like something worth exploring. but ultimately, if a student wants to study a particular course, one hopes the chances of gaining entry is not too slim due to increasing student population and limited places in two top universities. is the gap in standard between these two universities and the others really so big and does the gap need to be maintained?

SP: Ah, this touches on something that I wonder with regards to art’s schools, and how as they become more recognised they become more expensive and snobby because the standard is supposedly high, till talented people with no money cannot get in and mediocre people with money do.

But back to topic. I guess it all boils down to what standard are they aspiring for. As for the is it really so big, does it need to be so big, those are determined against certain global markers, yea? Not that the entire global system of universities does not need to re-look how they do things. Although I guess if we stopped looking at tertiary/degree level education as a cash-producing industry, things could probably be loosened up a bit.

Thread 2 (A’s wall):

E: 😦

Z: sad…

SA: Do u think there’s a flaw in our education system? Hence this girl’s dissapointment and thus suicide? Or is it just her own doing?

Z: relationship problem is common, but could it be that our society stresses so much on academic achievements that some teenagers feel inferior and worthless when they can’t make it to above average?

B: sad…

Z: it’s disturbing to read her blog: “I hope this is the end of my journey to a local university. No exhorbitantly-priced private institutions for me please. Fucking lao kui for me only.”

Z: “Sometimes I feel people are undeserving of what they have. I’m not only talking about spoilt, rich brats who have everything even though they have never worked a single day in their entire lives. In general I despise people who don’t cherish what they already have.”

A: We will never know where the blame lies. Multi-factorial I supposed.

Z: sure, there are many factors. but i also wonder if we do not have enough room in the universities to allow students a chance to develop.

A: For me, I feel that if that is the case in Singapore, then parents should think twice if they want to have children. Either do not have any or if you do, make sure you have the money to send them abroad if they fail in the local system. If you can’t have that safety net, you shouldn’t have children in Singapore.

Z: population growth is a worldwide problem. i’m lucky to be in Germany where public universities charge little or no tuition fees. in Australia, apparently local students are complaining that the universities are wooing foreign students so much so that it make places less available and it drives the fees up. i hope Singapore will not go a similar way of making education so commercial.

A: Sorry Z. I’m going to cut and paste something I wrote in response to D on a thread discussion. Too tired to tweak it to an apt response to our discussion. Please bear with me.

For me, when I do “protest” and not have a maid or… when I opt not to bring life into this world but still choose to live in Singapore, I see that as not giving up. I see that as hope. If we have (hopefully ‘had’) a ruling party that has been blind to our pleas, then what can we do? Either leave or stay and protest. Some protest and are detained, sued till bankrupt. And some of us protest is other ways which see us surviving and not suffering the persecution other activists have. That is hope, isn’t it? And now, there is a breakthrough (well sort of, remains to be seen in the near future) at the ballot box cos enough Singaporeans want heart and soul and not just $ and GDP.

Sad as it is, the ruling party (supposed to be cream of the crop) is not perceptive enough to work out the root cause of our social ailments. They all (fertility rate going down, suicide rate going up, brain-drain etc…) are symptoms of their option to pursue economic excellence at the expense of all else. Perhaps it’s their blind spot as they can’t see that there is any other way the country should progress. Can’t see, never mind. Don’t want to listen to the ground some more. Also because they feel they own the monopoly of wisdom.

Ok. We all know the above.

What do we, the citizens do in the meantime? We keep only engaging the government to make improvements or to change their mindsets. Ok. That’s fine. But in the meantime, concurrently, were we doing anything else? We were trying to see if the people sector, on our own could work together to build alternative communities? We can’t even do that amongst ourselves (civil society, artists etc…). We can’t process alternative environments…we are not creative enough? Not imaginative enough? Not resourceful enough? Do not know how to work amongst ourselves? Which eventually make us go back to the ruling party. Which make us rely on them more than ever. And now, we are relying on the opposition party to save us.

I don’t believe that the ruling party nor the opposition are the only source of our redemption. I strongly believe it also depends on how we, the citizens, work out the way we want to collaborate to create alternative environments. And we can only do that if we take accountability and responsibility. When we become the true stakeholders who take our very own destinies in our very own hands and deal with our immediate reality with more urgency, sharing resources and capital to develop our capacity to be fully human. If the ruling party transforms and / or the opposition party succeeds in parliament, then it is a bonus. Where is the “we” taking responsibility? We have lost the sense of community. But instead of whining and complaining, what are we doing about it? Every suicide becomes a societal problem? Or we point the finger at the ruling party and their economic-obsessed policies? Sigh! It’s passe. We all know the tiger doesn’t change its spots. We vote opposition, but tons of SIngaporeans will vote the ruling party back in eventually. Sure, WP has a GRC now and ruling party’s shared votes are down. But for me, the most effective way is to, concurrent to the relative progress made in parliamentary politics, have the people sector wake up and work to develop our capacity to transcend differences and work towards our common goal of an alternative Singapore. I don’t even dream that it can be achieved in my lifetime. But are we even starting to look at each other and not at father all the time?

Z: thanks A. we can’t reduce a tragic case like this to any simple root cause, and we can’t point our finger at any one single sector. if we attempt to, we can only summarise it as a meritocracy gone wrong. there are things that need to be changed at the policy level, but there are also ways of showing care for a teenager, not just from a teacher or counsellor but also from family and friends, and from the social environment as a whole, from a world that can choose to send a message across that money or academic achievement isn’t everything, and that there are other ways of developing education. Even if we feel the message each of us sends out to the world is too negligible to be heard, we should not shy away from sending it.

A: so for this tragic case, you’re saying all the channels she had accessed to failed her?

SL: after reading this news, i felt really fucked up and pissed off on an extreme level. only a week ago i proposed for a class that i’m teaching about educating and embracing failure as something that oppose to the whole ideology of excelling …that i noticed in almost all education system has come to reached to an extreme twisted level. I believe that we should be properly educating our younger generations that failure doesn’t mean a full stop. if all of you have noticed, all the schools motto do have something along the line of excel, being the best and all that bullshit. Not everyone can excel, not everyone is cut out to be the best. the idea is not to outcast but to understand that failure needs to be acknowledged and to help realize a journey to take on. what our educators and institutions has been promoting is not fear, but phobia of failure or fear of taking risks that is supported by the whole streaming bullshit system that doesn’t help younger generations realize what they can really do and who they are and can be.

SL: just to add a bit more.. education shouldn’t be about how well you can do your math, or what qualification you have or possess as a stepping stone to the next level. Education should encompass everything, from success to failure, learning to win and more importantly, learning to fail.

Z: A, do u think i can have your permission to copy the discussion in this thread into a note and just post it out in facebook to my friends? (names will be abbreviated to protect identities)

A: I’m fine cos I’m always looking for opinions.

Z: thanks…

SL: sorry if i came off too angsty. this poor girl stays across the street from my old neighborhood that i grew up in. so i could actually visualize the whole space and the environment she grew up in in my head.

A: Not at all .. I appreciate your expressing your thoughts so honestly. It’s not angsty to me.

SL: Well, I lived in AMK blk … for a good 19 years before i moved to punggol about 10 years ago. AMK has a very warmth and real heartland feel to it, the area I lived in are rather old now a little too stuck in the 80s if you know what i mean…. I studied in the neighborhood schools there … and was the first batch of victims to go through EM3 and normal technical stream. i can still recall that all the schools overly emphasize on the concept of excelling and being the best or the top. i grew up in an average home, nothing fancy, but the whole pursue of excellence among my friends and community was just driving me crazy. I’m out of the school system for almost 15 years now, i still can recognize that pressure that goes on when i go back to visit AMK.

Thread 1 (further comments):

EO: i don’t know. instinctively i reach for the parents. mass education wasn’t and still isn’t designed for individual talent development; that’s too labour intensive to do justice to in classes. mass education is for training a labour force, for political orientation. i say leave the system alone. it’s the plague of the developing country: life trapped in a vortex of employment-centrism. industrial britain and america went through the same phases. more important is for civil society to raise awareness that life > just work in parents, but that takes a certain level of material comfort sustained over a few generations.

SY: hi i just checked internet after a few relaxing days.

in my personal experience dealing with children and youth, the system doesn’t stress them up as much as their parents do. does any report speak about the relationships in her family?

SH: i don’t really have much to say about Krystal’s death, because I do not know her personally, and I think her death (and life) should be her own, at least for now. (I’m probably just old-fashioned that way.)

I also don’t know enough about the… family dynamics, so I will leave that out for now.

However, what I can comment on is the education system, I suppose. I think we all need our spaces and structures; i don’t really think we can ‘improve’ the system by tacking more stuff onto it. A big problem is that there’s too much stuff (and not enough space) in the systems we shape and are shaped by, until ‘system’ is no longer a subset of ‘reality’, but ‘reality’ is a subset of ‘system’.

(I’m adding to the problem now, perhaps, by talking about the system. The more you ascribe power to the system, the more it actually has. So bear with me for a while, as I try to exorcise these demons.)

Perhaps our main watchwords for our society are ‘industry’ and ‘efficiency’, from which many other things are derived. Our system tries to enforce that, to produce that. Mass education, as E has pointed out above, is meant to train a labour force and politically orient the young into stable (non-disruptive) individuals. That is what the system will encourage and enforce, because it is what it was designed (by us and for us) to do.

SH: ‎(More wall of text follows)

But what if the system isn’t everything? It’s not about whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – or even ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s sheer category error. I cannot reasonably expect a housecat to be able to meaningfully choose the colour of my shirt, so why should I meow at the cat and seek its sartorial wisdom?

Similarly, the education system – the political system – the social system – cannot be the end-all and be-all of our needs and wants. More than anything else, society is a community and collection of resources – we can draw from the systems, but we should not let them have more power than they already have, because these machines we build are greedy things, thirsting for blood, oil, and meaning.

I’ll borrow a point from Thomas Malaby, an anthropologist who studies games. He draws reference from Weber’s thesis about modernity – the whole Iron Cage thing – and compares games and bureaucracies, which both have rules, but use them in very different ways.

Bureaucracies create and use rules in an attempt to reduce possibilities to a predictable, easily-regulated order, whereas games create and use rules in an attempt to generate possibilities among several meaningful alternatives.

One aspires to achieve necessity as its ultimate goal, the other seeks to create contingency as its operating principle.

With that in mind, when we create huge systems that try to be too efficient, and we shovel people into various processing points based on various parameters, it is very easy for overpowering sense of helplessness and irrelevance to whack us when we’re down, because we believe in the ‘necessity’ of it all.

Z: Thanks for the precious thoughts. Right now I just wonder if the system is giving us enough information. MOE director of higher education said in 2006, in response to complaints about local students being sidelined, that “about 70% of students from each A-level cohort enter NUS, NTU and SMU”. Now imagine a student who wants to study arts in NUS and wants to know the odds. Or the parents want to know the odds. That figure isn’t helpful enough.

SH: ‎(Lagi more wall!)

So, how? I don’t advocate tearing down the system, because it works for a lot of people, who will not be able to deal with the sudden change. I also don’t advocate improving (i.e. adding on to) the system, because the system should only have power where it has relevance, and it should not seek to dominate the discussion in the places where it should be silent.

Thus, I think we should focus. We should hold the bureaucrats responsible not just for *what* or *how* they teach; that just muddies the waters. Everyone can learn stuff on their own; internet-fueled autodidacticism, discussion with friends, etc. For most people, knowledge can be obtained from other places, not just schools; learning does not just take place in the academy.

So I think the real importance of education in this society lies in its value as capital, not just in the cultural sense of knowledge, but also as social capital (for networking and talking to others, making friends who can challenge and encourage you, etc) and as symbolic capital (oh, you’re educated, so smart ah).

Thus, we should focus on whether the educational specialists we appoint for our society are providing the services they are *supposed* to be offering. We pretend we are making kids smarter, but actually, we’re conducting a ritual that allows kids to transmute themselves into functional adults.

If the schools we build are not big enough or willing to accept the students from our society who truly need these services – not just those who wish to learn and excel – but also those who wish to seek direction, those who need to talk to others to find themselves, and thus draw inspiration from their peers, who perhaps can show them different horizons and frames of reference for reality…

then we have a problem there. And that problem feeds other problems – stigmas of lao kui, old boys’ networks, etc.

Uh, so I guess that’s my main point (if I had one). I probably rambled off focus there. I want to be a teacher, not because I want to teach, but because I want to help my students learn. Yeah.

JH: Speaking as a mother, I agree that the parental/familial relationship can be the most important influence. However, very often, I find myself unpacking/deconstructing stuff that goes on in school. It becomes a very delicate balance to help your child maintain self-esteem while not destroying his confidence in the system.

While the system may have worked well for a lot of people, I doubt it is perceived to be working as well now, starting from Primary One. Parent who are not kiasu find it hard to insulate and explain to our children why things are the way they are. Parents who do not question the system end up spending tons of money on tuition because the students cannot learn as fast as the syllabus dictate. Parents who cannot afford tuition have to just watch their children get left further and further behind…

It takes a lot of parental thought, reflection and guts to be able to guide your child through the whole system in a way that is appropriate for her, her ability and personality. How many parents can devote that amount of time, with the relentless pressures of tests and homework?

The system itself is not solely to blame. But I think it’s high time to stop blaming and really see how each piece in the picture is in some way contributing to the issue not being solved. I don’t see any political will in managing this issue beyond lip service and beautiful MOE write-ups that are not being translated into practice.

Z: Thanks for sharing that Joo Hymn. I wish there are more people who are alarmed by cases like this and try to convey more positivity and care to students who are under such tremendous pressure. After seeing some defence of the ruling party by the civil servant or regional manager type during the election debate, I do realise that a lot of people in society may be taking that “there will always be people falling thru the cracks, but so what” kind of attitude, and i won’t want to place hope on any change initiated by the system.

Facebook Personae Identified:

A – Alvin Tan, theatre practitioner, jaded activist

EO – Eugene Oh, student

JH – Joo Hymn Tan, mother/former pre-school teacher/sometime activist

SH – Shao Han, would-be teacher and sometime berserker

SP – Sean Padman McMenamin, educator/insatiable reader/headbanging gamer-punk

SY – Lin Shiyun, NUS philosophy department drop-out

Z – Z’ming Cik, suspected blogger of this post

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‘Sweeping Changes’ in Singapore Politics (Voices on Facebook, part I)

Singaporeans are not much into politics. Singapoeans have too much of politics. Singaporeans read too much tabloid news. Singaporeans don’t read enough into tabloid news.

If we are not part of the solution, are we part of the problem?

I. Showtime and Encore

Barely two weeks after scraping through into power at GE2011, PAP politicians are putting up their best performance to demonstrate that they do hear all voices of the people. Ministers are activating their Facebook accounts and making it known that they are posting thoughts in the virtual world, what has now been identified as the new political frontline. After all, traditional official media like the national ST newspaper (part of the state-monitored press holding company which was created three decades ago in the wake of the historic win by JBJ of the Workers’ Party in one single constituency) have been rubbished by the Gen Y as mere pulp of propaganda.

Hard to say what kind of Pandora’s Box this may open in the unfriendly terrains of opposition supporters and trolls, for even their youngest colleague TPL has burnt her reputation there (or is it just her avatar?), but the Men in White, especially the cabinet ministers who have survived a sweeping ‘radical change’ (reshuffling of portfolio) into a Second Life, just have to put on their best botox smile and strike back.

(Note: this blog post was not meant to be all about politics and the exploitation of social media. Please skip to Part II if you are more keen on hearing a Facebook discussion on education and meritocracy in Singapore, as sparked off by a teenage suicide in Ang Mo Kio a week ago.)

With a vengeance, the ruling party is now going full force in the social media to showcase itself. Following a murder of an Indonesian maid whose body was then thrown into a water tank of a housing block in Woodlands, a young PAP MP decided to perform a stunt just to assure residents that everything is hunky dory. He put up a Youtube video of himself drinking water straight from the tap. But residents did not seem very impressed, as they went on to lodge a complaint against the town council for not alerting them of the incident immediately and expressing fears of previous breaches on hygiene.

Meanwhile, an MP in Mountbatten has posted on Facebook the findings he gathered from a heroic deed – he had ventured into public transport and discovered to his horror that three bus services do not arrive for as much as half an hour. He promises to follow up with SBS and the Public Transport Council. Interestingly, an annual survey by LTA was cited by outgoing Transport Minister Raymond Lim just two weeks ago to show that public transport is ‘heading in the right direction”. (One just had to wait a bit longer?)

In the Lianhe Zaobao over the weekend, one writer Han Yong Mei has remarked on some of the blind spots of the ruling party that have cost it dearly at the election. One is the fact that ‘equal opportunity’ is not something that can be appreciated if it does not quite translate into equality and fairness in real life. Another is the point that ‘dialogue’ is not quite effective communication, if one listens but would not do anything about it anyway; the incumbents can no longer depend on support from voters based on gratitude for past achievements.

The past week, which has seen the official stepping down of SM Goh and MM Lee from the Cabinet to take up new posts as senior advisors at MAS and GIC respectively, has interestingly seen a dramatic outpour of adulation for them in newspapers like ST. One reader called for local film makers to produce historical films to chronicle the legacies of LKY and GCT, while another suggested that Changi Airport be renamed after LKY. Most bizarre was perhaps a certain forum letter entitled “The Debt We Owe MM Lee”, thanking the octogenarian politician for his “selfless contributions, superb leadership and ‘tough’ rules” for creating a safe and comfortable environment with a strong Singapore dollar enabling one to say “Cheap! Cheap!” while shopping in another country. It is almost difficult to say if it was genuine tribute from a die-hard fan, or in fact a veiled satire edited so intelligently to look like a genuine tribute.

(But is has inspired at least one genuine satire on Facebook: ‎”Thank you for giving us such a strong Singapore dollar so we can buy food from all the farmers in the world who don’t know about life. Thank you for giving us such a clean country that we are brought up to litter in the streets only when we are in JB. Thank you for providing such a safe political environment, free from all the commies that helped to put you into power. Thank you for the freedom of speech that we enjoy under the Internal Security Act that gives us a choice to continue talking to ourselves even when we are locked up in prison. Thank you for such an open society where foreigners can come and enjoy and place their bets at the casino any time. Thank you for keeping the trains running even as they are packed to the limit, we know it would have been worse if you never made it expensive for the poor. Thank you for giving us a sense of pride to abuse our domestic workers and look down on students who can’t make it to local universities and can’t afford to study in Australia or UK. Thank you for accepting the high salary long after stepping down just so the newspapers have articles to fill the pages every other day, and above all, thank you for granting a middle class snob like me a voice in the newspapers instead of all the losers out there!”)

Fervent defenders of LKY have actually inspired no less than Singapore’s celebrated novelist Catherine Lim to write a little play on her blog, entitled Island, featuring a character named Supremo, who is sore that he seems foresaken by the electorate, but continues to despise people who are weaklings…  (Doesn’t look like it will become an instant classic, but it may be interesting material for practical criticism by O level literature students who no longer grow up on fairy tales and epics.)

Since election day, many have even fancied revelling to a Youtube club mix of Yam Ah Mee, the deadpan voice of the GE Returning Officer… no need for ’emotional dilemma’ between the incumbents and the opposition, or between local citizens and foreign talents (or is it really about the fortunate and the less fortunate?) …

There are people of a privileged club, who are desperately hoping to steal the show back from new faces which have suddenly gained popularity without going through the old sanctioned paths of ivy league scholars and army officers. Some of the new faces have so much confidence now (like the WP), they do not shy from sitting at any table and getting photographed with anybody. The old faces may still have their  loyal supporters, who insist that if there is more than one source of voices, it can only be noise. But there are also many now who believe that everybody can have his or her 15 minutes of expression, for there are always different sources of educated or informed opinions.

Being tired of hearing the same voices does not mean one is not interested in being constructive. It should only mean that the game of making constructive changes in society has changed. There is more than one channel to tune in to now, and one needs not just be on the receiving end. Maybe that’s why it’s called the new media?

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