Thursday, May 31, 2012

The media in Singapore: A structural problem

Many Singaporeans will readily acknowledge (however much the MSM may protest otherwise) that there is an inherent slant in the local news that favours the ruling PAP. Some techniques are pretty obvious whilst others are quite subtle. The newspapers here have for a long time been assisting the state in building a narrative about our society and its politics. Much of the slanted views have entered into the collective psyche of the nation to a point where Singaporeans would readily agree with many fundamental arguments put forward by the ruling PAP.

Looking beyond the the way the the traditional media reports news, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the structural aspects of the newspaper industry in Singapore. The possession of a printing press, the printing of a newspaper and its circulation and the formation and operation of newspaper companies are tightly controled by the government through the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act.

Firstly, by virtue of S.3 of the Act, the keeping and using of a printing press is subject to licensing by the Minister. If a licence is refused or withdrawn, an appeal can be made to the President. But, does the President have discretion in this matter? Well, we have to look at the Singapore Constitution:

Article 21.
—(1) Except as provided by this Constitution, the President shall, in the exercise of his functions under this Constitution or any other written law, act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or of a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet.

Thus the President's decision making under s.3 of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act is subject to acting in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet.

So, if I were to apply for a licence to operate a printing press and it were to be rejected by MICA, I can appeal to the President. The President will then be told by the Cabinet to reject my licence anyway. It is a mockery of common sense. But, that is the law.

Secondly, the management of newspaper companies is controlled under sections 9 and 10 of the Newspaper and Priting Presses Act. The management shareholders of a newspaper company are persons approved by the Minister. Newspaper companies are not in a position to refuse the appointment of these management shareholders. The Minister's decision can be appealed to the President. the President's powers are subject to Article 21 of the Constitution.

Additionally, the management shareholders have 200 votes for every share that they hold in relation to hiring and firing decisions. As a result of this arrangment, the government approved management shareholders have effective control over the newspaper companies.
Section 10(11)of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act is as follows:

"The holder of management shares shall be entitled either on a poll or by a show of hands to 200 votes for each management share held by him upon any resolution relating to the appointment or dismissal of a director or any member of the staff of a newspaper company but shall in all other respects have the same voting rights as the holder of ordinary shares."

Not happy with an article written by a journalist? No problem. Government approved management shareholders are on hand to fire him.

Journalists and reporters may want to perform their job impartially. But, there are structural aspects to our print media that prevent the aspiration for media independence to be truly realised.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To SPP: Don't oppose the Bishan nursing home

The Ministry of Health plans to build a nursing home at Bishan Street 13. This is a good thing and it should be welcome. Too often, Singaporeans are found complaining that the current government is not doing enough for the elderly and the poor. I would, therefore, expect that a decision to build a nursing home would therefore be welcome.

However, as in the past, residents living near the affected area are unhappy with the idea of a nursing home being built in the vicinity of their homes. Whilst welcoming the idea of a nursing home, these residents are not happy that it would be in their own backyard. What's wrong with my fellow Singaporeans? Why such selfishness?

To be fair, it has been reported that some residents welcome the idea. Besides, those individuals that are opposed to the building of the nursing home might well be in the minority. But, the disconcerting fact is that this is not the first time that residents living in a particular locality have opposed the building of a facility that would have served a larger communal goal. Why is the narrow-minded asset-enhancement mentality so entrenched in us that we are so troubled by worthwhile welfare projects cropping us near our housing estates?

Whilst I was not too surprised by the fact that some residents were unhappy about the decision to build a nursing home, I was definitely surprised to read a statement from the Singapore Peoples Party about this issue:

28 May 2012

The proposed nursing home at Bishan Street 13

The SPP believes in a humane and just Singapore, where the disadvantaged such as the elderly will be looked after with dignity. The proposed nursing home in Bishan will be an essential facility towards this, but the residents most affected deserve consideration.

Alternative sites should be actively sought. The location of the nursing home in this case is still negotiable. A voting exercise similar to that for the Lift Upgrading Programmes should be conducted to determine the site for the nursing home. A more entrenched culture of greater consultative decision-making can only be good for Singapore in the long term.

From what we understand, the residents in Toh Yi Drive who faced a similar incident a few months ago were in fact more unhappy that they were not properly consulted before the plans were drawn up, rather than the plans for building the nursing home in itself.

The situation we are in is caused by the PAP Government’s policy of “asset enhancement”. It has been drummed into Singaporeans that their HDB flat is not only a home, but also an asset that they can cash-out in their old age. It is naturally a hard sell asking Singaporeans to accept anything likely to devalue their ‘retirement plan’. This situation will not be fully resolved until Singapore returns to when a HDB flat is affordable housing, when retirement savings are diversified and liquid, and when Community regains its importance in Singaporeans’ lives.

The SPP has observed the good work of the various Lions organisations among the elderly and poor in Bishan and Toa Payoh. We thank them and encourage them to persevere in their efforts. Going forward, we hope to be able to work closely with them in our service to Bishan-Toa Payoh residents.

Finally, we note that residents will need more information and will need to be consulted thoroughly throughout the planning, construction and operations for the nursing home, should it proceed. The SPP will be engaging Bishan residents for their in-depth views during our scheduled walkabout this Sunday, 3 June 2012, beginning 9am that will cover Bishan Street 13. The SPP will work constructively with the Government, residents and the Lions Home for the Elders on this issue.

Secretary-General, SPP

I believe that there was no necessity for the SPP to wade into this issue. I have to admit that statement is finely poised and nowhere in there does Mr Chiam See Tong rubbish the need for a nursing home. He takes issue with the lack of consultation. However, should any government really be held ransom to popular sentiment when making decisions about land use especially when the use of the land is for the greater good of the community? After all, we are not talking about residential property being acquired and destroyed in order to make way for a golf course or a highway. Nor are we talking about destroying a heritage site in order to construct a highway. Even in instances where people may feel justified in objecting to government decisions on land usage, I do not believe that government decision making should be tied to a issue based voting by citizens. The SPP's idea of having a voting exercise similar to the Lift Upgrading Programme is in my view undesirable.

I do not oppose the idea of consultation. In fact, I welcome the suggestion that the government should consult before making decisions on land use where there may be significant impact on the properties of citizens. But, such consultation should not result in an expectation that the government should be restrained from exercising its discretion and making a decision one way or the other. Democracy in the form of a general mandate to govern based on a package of policies is one thing. This should not be confused with an anarchic attempt to engage in popular decision making on every single administrative and policy task.

I have often taken a critical stance against the PAP on matters pertaining to the law and the Constitution and in relation to the rights of individuals. But, I welcome the building of nursing homes. They are needed. As much as we demand that our government be more compassionate, we should examine ourselves and ask whether we are even taking any effort to cast aside at least a minute amount of our money-faced selfishness.

Friday, May 25, 2012

This is Hougang

I am a Liverpool fan. There is a famous sign at Liverpool's stadium that reads: "This is Anfield". It is awe-inspiring for every football player that has worn that famous red jersey and for every fan around the world that has seen that sign. In the days when Liverpool dominated the league, piling up victory after victory, "This is Anfield" was an intimidating statement to be confronted with as opposing teams entered the couldron.

Our politicians are fond of footballing analogies. This is my footballing analogy:


When it comes to election statistics, the national norm does not apply to Hougang. When it comes to voter behaviour, the national norm does not apply to Hougang. When it comes to standing up to intimidation, the national norm does not apply to Hougang. There is something strong, resilient and courageous about the people of Hougang. I know a few Hougang residents personally. The ones that I know have been voting for the Workers' Party repeatedly. Why did these friends vote for WP? Check and balance in Parliament! That is the answer. What is particularly sophisticated about this way of voting is that these friends did not consider their local municipal issues as the key determinant for voting during a Parliamentary election. They understand that essentially in our system of democracy, we are voting for representatives in Parliament so that if there is a sufficient majority, that party could form the government and if not, those representatives could act as an effective check and balance. These friends are fully aware that the PAP's parliamentary majority is not under any threat. These friends are also uncomfortable with the size of the PAP's Parliamentary majority where Constitutional amendments can be pushed through. For these friends of mine, a strong opposition presence in Parliament of between 20 to 30 members would serve as a way to push the PAP to implement more people friendly policies and to monitor the way that the government functions.

So, what do they think about upgrading and other bullying tactics? It doesn't figure in their voting. In fact, I suspect that it enrages them and entrenches the WP vote.

As I observed the campaign by the two sides during this by-election, I can't help but realise that the PAP has lost the plot when it comes to the 'new normal'. Here was a perfect opportunity to show everyone that they have emerged from GE 2011 wiser and are now willing to go down the road of clean politics. But, this has become an opportunity squandered with them attempting to make an issue out of Yaw Shin Leong's selection and then making an issue out of Png Eng Huat's non-selection for the NCMP position in the last GE. What we saw was the same old tactics. I doubt that the campaign approach is going to go down well with Hougang voters.

What do I think will be the outcome of this by-election? WP will win, of course. I am sure that if this was open for a bet, even the PAP leaders would bet on a WP win. What would be interesting is the % of the win. How wide a margin would the WP get? Would they lose some ground? Would they gain more?

Firstly, I always assume a core group of PAP supporters and opposition supporters exist in every constituency. These voters would not change their vote. Yaw-gate and NCMP-gate will not move the strong WP supporter in Hougang to vote for the PAP. PAP's bullying and dirty campaign tactics will not move the hardcore PAP suporter into feeling disgusted and voting for the WP.

So, it is the middle ground that we are looking at.

I also suspect that most of the middle ground had already voted for WP in GE 2011. The PAP's 35% in Hougang (during GE 2011) represents the hardcore PAP support that exists throughout the country. (I use the Dr Tony Tan voters during the PResidential election as a gauge of the 'PAP-whatever-the-situation' vote in Singapore.)

In GE 2011, WP was scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of middle ground voters. It will be an uphill task to convert more of them, unless new voters added onto the register this year turn overwhelmingly towards the WP. Even then, it would be a small number. Maybe, we might tweak the national average a little bit since this is Hougang. So, instead of a hardcore 35% PAP supporters, we might assume that there is a 30% hardcore support for PAP in Hougang. If that is the case, there may be some votes to be scraped away from the PAP by the WP.

The probability of an increase in WP's percentage is very low. On the other hand, there is a reasonably high probability of WP's vote share going down. Any shift downwards would be by 1% to 3%. Any shift upwards would be 1% at the most. Anyone seeking to get the impact of a referrendum out of this by-election would be severely disappointed. The way that the campaign has been reported in the media and the way the online media has focused attention on 'NCMP-gate', the more important national issues have not been given any prominence and I am pretty certain that this is not going to turn out to be a referendum on the policies of the PAP over the last year.

WP was attempting to make this into an election about national issues at its rallies. Personally, I felt at the outset that in a small country like ours, the national and the local gets merged together inextricably. But, the loudest news filtering through the media is about Png Eng Huat's selection (or non-selection for the NCMP post). (And inexplicably the loudest 'political' social media shared event today is the XiaXue fight back against some pretty nasty comments by Facebookers.) The middle ground voters in Hougang may be swayed against Png Eng Huat. But, this is bound to be marginal.

Whatever the outcome, Hougang will remain with the WP. Hougang residents will continue to shout out loud and proud:

In GE 2011, the voter turnout was 23,176 out of 24,560 eligible voters. 1,384 did not turn up for voting. WP had 14850 votes (64.8% of valid votes) and PAP had 8065 votes (35.2% of valid votes). 261 spoilt votes.

Based on a Channelnewsasia report today, there are 23,368 eligible voters. Those 1,384 that did not vote would have been removed from the electoral register. New voters added onto the register would therefore be: 23,368 - 23,176 = 192 (bearing in mind that a small segment of the 192 would be those that got themselves reinstated in the register)

If everyone voted without changing their votes and if WP picked up all 192 of the new votes, the result would be 15,042 for WP and 8065 for PAP. That would be 65.1% for WP and 34.9% for PAP.
Similarly, if PAP picks up all the 192 votes, the result would be 14,850 for WP and 8,257 for PAP. That would be 64.2% for WP and 35.8% for PAP.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Any food, drinks or vouchers at the by-election rallies?

I am just wondering out aloud... Did either the WP or PAP rally involve any supply of free food, drinks, vouchers or other gifts?

Political parties should be aware that treating is an offence under the Parliamentary Elections Act.

58. —(1) A person shall be guilty of treating if he corruptly, by himself or by any other person, either before, during or after an election, directly or indirectly gives or provides, or pays wholly or in part the expense of giving, any meat, drink, refreshment, cigarette, entertainment or other provision or thing or any money or ticket or other means or device to enable the procuring of any such meat, drink, refreshment, cigarette, entertainment or other provision or thing, to or for any person —

(a) for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting;

(b) for the purpose of inducing that person to attend or remain at any election meeting;

(c) on account of any such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting or being about to vote or refrain from voting at the election; or

(d) on account of any such person having attended an election meeting.

(2) A person shall also be guilty of treating if he corruptly accepts or takes any such meat, drink, refreshment, cigarette, entertainment or other provision or thing or any such money or ticket or who adopts any other means or device to enable the procuring of such meat, drink, refreshment, cigarette, entertainment or other provision or thing

It is clear that treating for the purpose inducing persons to attend a rally or to remain at the rally is an offence. So, has anyone attended these rallies? Do you have knowledge of infringement of this law?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why is the PAP anxious to keep national issues out of the Hougang by-election?

For starters, let us not kid ourselves. WP is going to win in Hougang. This is an opposition stronghold and I am sure the PAP leadership and their candidate for Hougang, Desmond Choo, are under no illusions as to the outcome on 26th May 2012. The Hougang constituency has gone to the Workers' Party since 1991 and the election statistics are as follows:

1991 - 52.8% for WP
1997 - 58% for WP
2001 - 55% for WP
2006 - 62.7% for WP
2011 - 64.8% for WP

The demographic change between the last General Elections and this by-election is going to be miniscule and unlikely to have any impact on the voting pattern. There is no reason to believe that voters that went for WP last year would change their minds. There is not much that has changed in the national socio-political arena to suggest that significant change could take place in the voting pattern. There is no doubt that the PAP will put up a fight. But, they would be fully prepared for defeat on 26th May.

So, why are they keen to make this out to be an election about 'local' issues and not 'national'. (Incidentally, I don't buy into that 'local' v 'national' dichotomy. This is a false dichotomy in a country like ours where the 'national' morphs into, overlaps with and is indistinguishable from the 'local' in many instances.) I suspect that the PAP is worried about the prospect of a further swing towards the WP. Even a marginal 2 to 3% increase for WP can be interpreted as growing voter disapproval of the PAP government's performance in the last year. Though it is not fair to consider the Hougang outcome (whichever way the swing of votes goes) as a referrendum on PAP's policies, it is inevitable that WP MPs will attempt to paint the by-election as a referrendum in order to push the PAP on certain policies. For instance, transportation could be made into a major issue during this by-election and if there is a vote increase in WP's favour, WP would use that a leverage in its Parliamentary arguments on that issue.

I am pretty sure that the PAP does not want to be pushed into decision making on policy matters on the basis of the outcome in a by-election. It is therefore anxious to paint this election as one that concerns itself with constituency representation and about effectively taking care of Hougang residents. A by-election as a referrendum is clearly not in the PAP's best interest.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Did Subhas Anandan really say that?

It was reported in Temasek Times that Subhas Anandan has made an offer of setting up a Legal Bureau at the Hougang Community Club if the PAP candidate wins the Hougang by-election. ( )

It appears that this information has been taken from a Chinese newspaper. I do not know Mandarin. But, I am given to understand that the article does not actually say that Subhas Anandan will set up a Legal Bureau at Hougang if Desmond Choo wins the by-election.

In fact, I should add that it would be shocking if Subhas Anandan actually made such an assertion as it could run counter to the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap 218):

60. The following persons shall be deemed guilty of the offence of bribery:

(a) every person who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, gives, lends, or agrees to give or lend, or offers, promises, or promises to procure or to endeavour to procure, any money or valuable consideration to or for any elector or voter, or to or for any person on behalf of any elector or voter or to or for any other person, in order to induce any elector or voter to vote or refrain from voting, or corruptly does any such act on account of that elector or voter having voted or refrained from voting at any election under this Act;

(b) every person who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, gives or procures, or agrees to give or procure, or offers, promises, or promises to procure or to endeavour to procure, any office, place or employment to or for any elector or voter or to or for any person on behalf of any elector or voter, or to or for any other person, in order to induce that elector or voter to vote or refrain from voting, or corruptly does any such act on account of that elector or voter having voted or refrained from voting at any election under this Act;

(c) every person who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes any such gift, loan, offer, promise, procurement or agreement referred to in paragraph ( a) or (b) to or for any person in order to induce that person to procure or endeavour to procure the return of any person as a Member of Parliament, or the vote of any elector or voter at any election under this Act;

Temasek Times ought to have been more careful in reporting the statement considering that it translates into a potential election offence. As we hurtle towards the new reality that more and more people are relying on online news, 'new media' must exercise some degree of responsibility in reporting information this like. True. We may put up such info hurriedly. But, if there are errors, we must be willing to acknowledge them. I am given to understand from a friend that the mistake could have been a result of poor translation. Does anyone with a good command of Mandarin care to comment?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hougang by-election case may be withdrawn from the Court

It appears that Mdm Vellama Marie Muthu is seeking to withdraw her case if the AG were to drop the appeal. A proposal has been forwarded to the Attorney General's office by Mdm Vellama's lawyer that upon withdrawal of her application and the AG's appeal, a consent order be drafted and recorded in Court.

Firstly, I believe that the application for the mandatory order has become unsustainable by virtue of the PM's decision to call for the by-election. If at all there is a live issue for the Court to determine, it is in relation to the declaratory orders sought by Mdm Vellama.

Mdm Vellama's application involved the following:

(a) Declaratory orders:

(i) That the Prime Minister does not have unfettered discretion in deciding whether to announce by-elections in Hougang SMC; and

(ii) That the Prime Minister does not have unfettered discretion to decide when to announce by-elections in Hougang SMC and must do so within three months or within such reasonable time as this Honourable Court deems fit; and

(b) A Mandatory Order
- enjoining the Prime Minister to advise the President to issue a Writ of Election mandating by-elections in Hougang SMC pursuant to Article 49(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint) and Section 24(1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap 218, 2011 Rev Ed) and to tender such advice within three months or within such reasonable time as the Honourable Court deems fit.

As the PM has already advised the President to issue the Writ of Election, (b) above is rendered nugatory.

The question of whether the PM has unfettered discretion in deciding whether to announce by-election or in deciding when to announce such by-elections still remains an important Constitutional issue that is undefined and speculative given the gap in our Constitutional and statutory provisions on by-elections. This being the case, I do not think that the declaratory orders are less significant now that the PM has called for the by-election. (Of course, the wording of the declaratory order should be amended in the application to remove the reference to Hougang SMC. There is a generic question as to whether the PM has unfettered discretion in relation to whether and when to announce by-elections in any single member constituency.)

What would happen if the matter proceeds? The application for leave is in the first place being made on account of the mandatory order sought and by virtue of Order 53 of the Rules of Court. The declaratory orders are also being sought under Order 53 and they ride on the mandatory order. If the Court of Appeal rules that leave to appeal would not be granted on the mndatory order, then the application would fail and Mdm Vellama's Counsel has the option of filing a fresh application for the declaratory orders under Order 15 Rule 16 of the Rules of Court. This application, being solely for declaratory orders, would not require the leave of court.

This could be one way to proceed. However, I understand that the letter sent by Mdm Vellama's lawyer alludes to the fact that the Constitutional clarification must await some future date when such matter may arise. That is as good an indication as one may get on whether a fresh application would be made for the declaratory orders. It is plain that Mdm Vellama would not be pursuing any clarification via a fresh set of proceedings.

Since Mdm Vellama has proposed withdrawal, I would expect that the AG (and presumably the PM) would decide to take up the offer and drop the appeal. That would be the politically prudent step to take to avoid any possible fallout.

In any event, I think that Mdm Vellama deserves the respect of every citizen in Singapore. There are some people commenting online about her wasting time in making the Court application in the first place. This is what I have to say: Even if she has been put up to it by some others with a political interest in this situation, it takes a lot of guts to stick one's neck out like this. For that alone she deserves respect. She is a Singaporean that has shown that she meant every word of the pledge that we unashamedly take... "to build a democratic society based on justice and equality". In fact, those people that choose to take our national pledge and still deride the efforts of Mdm Vellama are hypocrites of the highest order. The rest of us, proud citizens, salute her!

In a way, this is our own little Bersih... A cleaner takes the PM to court to clean up our electoral law.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Hougang by-election: 26 May 2012

I am very happy to hear that President Tony Tan has today at 4.05pm issued the Writ of Elections for a by-election at the Hougang single member constitutency. Nomination papers for candidates have to be filed by 16th May 2012 and the most likely date for elections would be the 26th of May 2012.

This is definitely good news. Many people have shown skepticism about the PM's willingness to recognise the new reality of the post 2011 political universe in Singapore. When I blogged about the Hougang by-election in an earlier post and expressed my hope that the PM would call for the election expeditiously, there were comments left on this blog and comments from my friends that expressed serious doubt as to whether a by-election would be held at all. I feel that my hope was not misplaced. I do still feel that the current cabinet is willing to go along with the process of re-thinking its approach to governance.

This current decision to call for a by-election has to be seen positively. Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from his party on 15 Feb 2012 and his seat became vacant. The 3 month time-frame that used to exist in our former Federal Constitution would have kicked in on 15 May 2012. (This requirement does not exist in our Constitution today and the timing is discretionary.) By issuing the Writ of Election today, the President under the advise of the Cabinet has clearly acted expeditiously.

What we need in the future is for such expeditious by-elections to be a norm. If a seat becomes vacant, we need a strong political convention that it would be filled expeditiously. A 3 to 6 month timeframe is reasonable. The PM has exceeded my expectation by calling for the by-election within 3 months.

Another small step in the direction of a more democratic Singapore.

(I can imagine that there would be those that take a cynical view about this. The PAP is bound to lose in Hougang anyway. They have nothing to lose, therefore, by calling for an early election. They have tremendous political capital to gain by acting responsibly on this occasion. That would explain the early date. But, I don't mind giving credit where it is due.)

The following is the PM's statement in relation to the Hougang by-election:

"In the General Election in May 2011, nearly all seats were contested. Many important issues were aired and debated. In the outcome, Singaporeans gave the PAP team a clear mandate to form the Government.

Over the past year, the Government has worked hard together with Singa­poreans to implement its programme to build an inclusive Singapore, and improve the lives of all.

We set the broad directions when Parliament opened last October. In the Budget in February we followed up with effective schemes to help the poor, the elderly and the disabled. We are also upgrading our companies’ and workers’ skills, so that our economy can grow and Singaporeans can improve their incomes year by year.

However, much work remains ahead to translate good policies and programmes into actions on the ground, and to deliver the results that we all look forward to.

In January this year, news surfaced of personal indiscretions by Mr Yaw Shin Leong, the Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament for Hougang constituency. The WP first kept totally silent, then supported Mr Yaw, and then three weeks later suddenly expelled him from the party. Until now the WP has not given Singa­poreans a full and proper account of what happened, or why it acted in this way. Mr Yaw himself has said nothing, either to explain or to apologise for his behaviour, and has reportedly left the country. Both the WP and Mr Yaw have let down all those who voted for him. As a result of Mr Yaw’s expulsion from the WP, the Hougang constituency seat fell vacant.

I hope these events will not distract us from focussing on our national priorities, and building an inclusive Singa­pore. Although the Constitution does not require me to call a by-election within any fixed timeframe, I said in Parliament that I intended to call a by-election in Hougang. This morning I advised the President to issue the Writ of Election.

The by-election will give Hougang residents the chance to elect a new MP to serve them. I encourage Hougang voters to use this opportunity wisely, to elect the best candidate with commitment and integrity: someone they can rely upon to express their hopes and concerns, address their needs, and make a real difference to their lives."

Sunday, May 06, 2012

GE 2011 & the New Normal: 1 year on

One of the more fascinating developments that has taken place after the last General Elections in May 2011 is that more and more people are coming forward to express their personal views publicly and in doing so more of them are willing to express views that may not be in keeping with the official policy line of the ruling PAP.

Whilst bloggers on the internet had already been gradually hacking away at the state's narrative for some years now, it has always been the case that academics and public figures from the mainstream would at most make rather muted comments about the status quo. Of course, we had academics like Prof Thio Li Ann (Nominated MP) who was pretty vocal during her term in Parliament on a number of legal and Constitutional issues. But, I can't help but notice that after the 2011 GE, more academics and establishment figures have come forward to express their views publicly on legal/constitutional/policy issues.

Much has been made of the so-called 'new normal'. Many Singaporeans cast away their fear at the ballot box last year. Many more were willing to show their disagreement at the Presidential Election as well (resulting in an 'unpopularly' elected President). The fear that a large segment of the population chose to jettison at the elections was a powerful signal indeed. That must have surely emboldened many public figures to come forward and express their personal disagreements with the official policy position.

Amongst the figures coming forward to set out a differing viewpoint (and sometimes in a critical fashion as well) are:
1. SMU Prof Kevin Tan (in relation to the Hougang by-election issue, he locked horns with PAP MP and Senior Counsel Hri Kumar)
2. Prof Lim Chong Yah of NTU (he made a somewhat radical proposal to introduce a form of shock therapy to address the problem of income equality)
3. Prof Tommy Koh (Ambassador at Large) - (acknowledging that Singapore's large scale import of low-skilled labour is depressing wages here)
4. Yeoh Lam Kheong (Institute of Policy Studies Senior Adjunct Fellow) and Kishore Mahbubani (LKY School of Public Policy Dean) have spoken in similar vein about the importation of low-skilled labour.

It is good to see that well-reasoned dissenting voices are surfacing more and more. This bodes well in the next phase of our nation's development. As we engage more openly in debate and consider and reconsider policy position more rigourously, we stand to benefit as a nation. It may not work out too well for the PAP as more reasoned dissent from the established views will undermine the PAP's stranglehold on information. But, we must be under no illusions that the nation is more important than a political party. Our country needs this type of open intellectual debate on policy matters.

So, as we 'celebrate' the 1st anniversary of the 'new normal', we have good reason to believe that the soul of our nation is gradually heading in the right direction. The most important thing about this development is that it is people-driven and not fed to the people by the state. Let the ideas flow from the many good minds that we have in our midst and let us recreate our soul.