Sunday, 13 September 2015

Shaping public opinion and the possibility of migration.

The days leading up to the GE, I heard from sources - normally credible people who were professors at universities - that the WP could be expected to win big this GE. They referred me to some bookies' predictions. Being a cautious person, I decided to check out some real commentary from people on Twitter. Sure enough, I read a whole lot of negative comments about the other political parties, ranging from how some of the Opposition party members "can't even speak proper English" to how WP "can't even run Town Council". These comments were all from young people who were eligible voters. It was apparent that the Opposition parties weren't getting a lot of love from them. Someone even said that his school fees will surely go up if WP takes over East Coast. Such a statement reflects lack of awareness about how governance (and school fees) work, but judging the owner of the statement isn't the point. The Opposition parties must reflect on how they can win the votes of these people who have yet to experience the problems caused by government policies, such as job insecurity for those above age 40 as they are replaced by younger hires. 

PAP claiming its share of the online sphere

GE2011 had seen the Opposition parties dominating the online sphere, with The Online Citizen making its presence felt. But as mentioned in my previous post, the PAP machinery has done its work online. Not only do we have people affiliated to the PA grassroots organisations criticising the Opposition parties online, we also have websites praising the status quo, as well as individuals and Ministers sharing stories from the community and explaining government policies on their Facebook pages. Some resonant posts can receive thousands of likes and hundreds of comments from Singaporeans. The PAP's online presence builds from its strong control of the mainstream media, where a lot of pseudo-documentaries were produced and aired focusing on Singapore's transformation from Third World to First World. After LKY's passing, the propaganda wave swept across the country to the extent that any prominent online bloggers who dared to take the middle ground about LKY would receive some online bashing. 

I think we can safely say that if there was indeed a silent majority supporting the PAP, they have not been silent for many years. They are very vocal now, and they have been successful in shaping the perceptions of voters via both the mainstream media and social media online, and the results of GE2015 are testament to this. If I may speculate a little, it is also likely that the PAP is using civil servants to promote itself, on the pretext of ensuring national stability and explaining government policies. 

The mainstream media is a gone case for the Opposition. When I look at the Chinese newscaster Dong Suhua's openly "black face" and pursed lips when WP won Aljunied, it was just a further reminder that Singapore's newscasters on TV do not bother to stay neutral. The question is how Opposition parties can withstand this wave of online "attacks" from the PAP. "Attack" is often accurate, because some Facebook pages do routinely churn out insulting Photoshopped images of Opposition party members to ridicule them. 

I am curious to find out about the plans of the Opposition parties. Merely relying on The Online Citizen and TRE (or whatever similar websites with permutations of the same name) is no longer enough. The ground has changed. While the people of my generation appreciated the balance offered by these websites, the still younger generation no longer believe that websites like The Online Citizen can be trusted. 

For the next five years, I hope to see the Opposition parties making more effort to communicate their ideas via social media. Few people will plough through their 150 policy recommendations or read through their manifestos. The parties have to reach out to Singaporeans in other ways. I think the actions of Fabrications about PAP is a good example. The group is overtly pro-PAP but readers tend to be swayed by them because they view this as a ground-up rather than top-down initiative from the politicians. For the Opposition parties, why not get your party supporters and volunteers to form their own groups online to write about your policies? 

Post-GE possibilities

Post-GE, we have heard calls from the Ministers to stay united, and reassuring us that the Opposition can still play a constructive role in Singapore. These Ministers should be credited for being in tune with public sentiments. Despite the PAP's landslide victory, I have not sensed any overt public happiness that they have won. Instead that were many sighs of relief that the WP just managed to scrape by in Aljunied. The majority of voters seem to agree that having an Opposition presence in Parliament can be a boon to governance, and they do not want to see just one Opposition member whose voice can easily be drowned out by the PAP. I also know of people who have voted for the PAP simply because they were not offered a better choice, and not because they supported the PAP.

Some pro-Oppo supporters are understandably angry. I think there's nothing to be angry about, because I support the WP, and there are actually more WP MPs and NCMPs in Parliament now than ever before. However, if you want to make a stand for the party of your choice, follow the suggestion of Kirsten Han and do your part to be updated about their policy alternatives.

My favourite Cynical Investor tells us not to panic and think of migrating, but just in case you are one of the majority of Singaporeans who want to move overseas, you can always try Australia and New Zealand. There are plenty of resources online, contributed by former Singaporeans who have moved there. 

It has been said that people like me and my friends who supported the Opposition, we are the urbanised well-educated, well-travelled minority who want diversity in Parliament because we have seen it happen successfully in other countries, and we want to have a say in government policies instead of go with the patriarchal "government knows best" approach. However, we are the minority, so too bad, we should respect the views of the majority who want stability in the form of the PAP.

Yes, precisely because we are the urbanised, well-educated minority, we have the choice to migrate if we feel that this country is not going to provide us with the best environment to thrive in. Do I want my children to grow up being brainwashed in school and on TV that PAP can do no wrong? 

Do I want to have to spend time correcting misperceptions planted in my children's minds that Singaporeans are a lazy lot and spending a little more to improve people's welfare will bankrupt our tiny city-state (which, incidentally, has an annual GDP not far behind the GDP of South Africa)?

Increasingly, I can understand why so many Singaporeans do not want to remain in Singapore. Under the governance of the PAP new-gen leaders, this country is shaping up to be one that is great if you are sufficiently well-heeled or a transitional expat with free lodgings in a Marina Bay condo. Not so for the middle-class professionals. I wonder if this type of development is a sustainable way of maintaining GDP growth. That's not to say that we can just pack up our bags and leave, but the possibility is there.

Within the short span of time since the last GE, my husband and I have had five friends who have permanently moved overseas with their families for various reasons, including the lack of a work/life balance in Singapore which affected their health. These are not low-life Singaporeans, but well-educated professionals. We are waiting to see if the PAP will honour its promises of "improving our lives".

Yes, we are the minority. But we are a sizeable minority.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Post-elections talk.

This post is dedicated to my MPs, for their moral courage in speaking up
for Singaporeans who do not agree with the ruling party.
(Photo credit: The Heart Truths)

This is my personal analysis of why the PAP won. There are 3 main reasons:

Addressing the hot-button issues of the previous elections. As mentioned in my previous post under the "good stuff" heading, Khaw Boon Wan has done a decent job of coming up with more HDB projects. Cooling measures have also been implemented to avert the perils of an overheated property market. The Pioneer Generation card provides substantial subsidies. This was probably the only policy of theirs that wasn't a "tweak". Users could feel the impact of the healthcare bill cuts. Of course, certain non-standard drugs may not be covered, but I think it's already a major step for the PAP to concede this type of subsidies.

Opposition not yet up to the mark. The AHPETC saga has apparently gone on long enough for it to create a dent in people's trust of the WP. I hope the WP can learn from the whole experience. Unless PAP screws up majorly, Opposition members in Singapore will face an uphill task. They will always be subjected to the intense scrutiny of the PAP, and if they have any faults, these will be magnified 1000x via the PAP-controlled state media. I think the problems in AHPETC put a big enough question mark in the minds of the swing voters. If I may make a constructive suggestion to the WP: It is really a terrible mistake to combine the management of the finances of all the regions under your purview. I think you're just setting yourselves up for attacks by the ruling party. The accounts will be more manageable and any issues can be more easily flagged if you manage each TC separately. If the accounts are separate, no one will be able to accuse you of taking the earnings from one TC to "cover the gap" in another TC. I knew Fengshan was lost the minute Dennis Tan said in a rally, "If we win, we will combine East Coast GRC and Fengshan and run them TOGETHER!!!" Dude, that's not what people want to hear. 

Added to this was the perceived lack of credibility of parties like Singaporeans First (a name which brings to mind nothing positive - ultra-right-wing fascists, xenophobia, etc.) and the antics of Han Hui Hui, dragging along with her, the original Mr Return Our CPF, Roy Ngerng. I know she's a brave girl to take on the PAP, but she's not doing the Opposition any favours. Nevertheless, for all the ridicule of this troop of people as the "fringe" Opposition, I do welcome their participation in politics. They may not be the best people to represent you, but the causes that they are fighting for are causes that resonate with some Singaporeans young and old, and no one should be so arrogant as to disregard that fact.

PAP supporters harnessing technology to influence the public. I'm so amused by analysts and journalists who harp about the "silent majority" finally speaking up. Are they living in the 1980s or what? While it is true that in GE2011, the PAP had failed to establish a presence online, leaving the online sphere effectively dominated by anti-PAP voices, since around 2012, Facebook pages helmed by PAP supporters and ostensibly "neutral" pages offering "neutral" views that really supported the status quo have been popping up. Now I don't want to speculate to what extent the PAP itself had a hand in all these efforts, but the analyst claiming that PAP supporters are silent, should not have been hired to write that article because he's clearly lost touch with the Internet. Apart from Fabrications about the PAP on Facebook, there's also Fabrications led by Opposition Parties, various pro-PAP commenters who openly and often vehemently criticise Opposition parties and their candidates, and websites like Five Stars and a Moon with an overtly pro-status quo stance. These are by no means the only pages and websites. Pro-PAP individuals have also been posting lengthy notes on their personal pages opining on domestic issues. These notes are often set to public, so that they can be shared easily.

And very interestingly, there were Whatsapp messages during this GE, with a long list of leading questions to provoke readers into concluding that PAP had better candidates than the Opposition parties. So the next analyst to claim that the PAP is supported by a "silent majority", please go and do your research before writing.

The chain message on Whatsapp I received, that must have been started by a PAP supporter if not the PAP themselves to influence the voters.

Those are the 3 main reasons. And then you have the other reasons like the smear tactics. This year, however, they didn't have too many personal attacks. On the contrary, the attempted personal attacks they made may have worked against them. I believe many educators felt outraged when the newspapers published a "poison-pen letter" alleging Daniel Goh from WP of having an affair with his student without any proof. Educators do feel strongly about this, because in Singapore, they are vulnerable to complaint letters and emails that parents can "shoot straight to MOE" and the principal, and cc to Ministers, accusing them of various wrongful behaviours. Even if the allegations were unsubstantiated, they would still be called up to explain. Therefore, I would not be surprised if that attempted smear of Daniel Goh actually turned off some educators who might've voted PAP.

The election was of course planned to coincide with the year of SG50 celebrations. Some critics have blamed them for trying to get a "sympathy vote" from the passing of LKY. Well, this is true, but in politics, this is fair and square. In this case, they did not resort to any underhand tactics. Although some have suggested that the PAP won only because of this, I beg to differ. I do have many friends who attended the SG50 celebrations and mourned the passing of LKY, some PAP and some Opposition supporters. Over-emphasising the role of SG50 and LKY in PAP's victory assumes that these events are of little or no sentimental significance to Opposition voters which is not true. It gives the PAP too little credit for the changes it has made since GE2011.

It is also not unreasonable to guess that the influx of new citizens have been slowly but surely tilting the votes in PAP's favour. This is a dangerous thing to suggest, because if taken the wrong way, it could promote xenophobia. But I think that we need to have an honest look at the impact immigration has on voting patterns. This article from 2013 states that Singapore wants to give citizenship to 15000-25000 foreigners every year. Surely the majority of these citizens would feel obligated to vote for the government that brought them in. Going by the average in the article of 18,500 new citizens a year, there must be around a total of 92,500 new citizens between the two GEs who might have voted PAP out of gratitude.

However, this is most definitely NOT an important reason for the PAP's major victory last night. 92,500 is not a lot of people, considering that we have a voting population of 2.4 million citizens. Also, there is nothing to stop the Opposition parties from earning the votes of these citizens. If the Opposition had been more inclusive, they might still have voted for them. I strongly urge Singaporeans who support the Opposition not to go into a xenophobic craze. Yes, new citizens might have added to the swing of votes in PAP's favour but they are not able to decisively tilt the vote shares.


Lastly, my personal thoughts on the results. Yes, I was really bummed that the PAP got a greater vote share than GE2011. The results were so overwhelmingly positive for them that I think the PAP themselves were stunned too. And I agree, New Nation, it is downright freaky how so many people can turn up for Opposition rallies, complain plus plus about the PAP's policies, yet still vote for them by a landslide!

However, if we can go beyond our hopes and wishes, and read more about political changes overseas, we might find that a circumspect response to shifts of political power may actually be the best thing for a country. I could tell from Mr Low Thia Khiang's demeanour (as shown on TV) last night that he, too, was bummed by his party's inability to make further inroads into PAP territory. But I would like to reassure my MP and his party members that they have already done extremely well, given how the odds were stacked against them this year.

Although the Opposition parties lost to the PAP in almost all the constituencies that they contested, the experience of toughing it out in this snap election under trying circumstances is bound to make them stronger. In fact, this is already apparent in WP, which after GE2011 has managed to attract a number of new candidates with superb qualifications and, as the party emphasised repeatedly in their rallies, they are young. They come from a variety of backgrounds, some have made their mark despite trying life circumstances, and they seem to be more personable than the PAP politicians. I do not doubt that after this election, there will be more newcomers keen to join the other political parties as well.

It is true what the PAP has said. It's easy to make promises but governance, be it in terms of domestic or foreign policies, requires extensive knowledge, great mettle and skills that the Opposition have yet to master. When I read raving comments about how there's a "tidal wave of change", or "winds of change" blowing in the direction of the PAP wards, I get very skeptical. With great expectations, come great disappointment. It has apparently happened in the case of this self-proclaimed swing voter for the Opposition in GE2011 who is now supporting the PAP. And of course, history is replete with examples of heroic figures from elections, uprisings and revolutions who made a whole lot of promises but failed to deliver them. This is not me buying into PAP rhetoric. It is a fact. The PAP themselves, have also failed to deliver the "Swiss standard of living" that they have promised Singapore. They did deliver a high GDP, but the secured lives that the Swiss generally lead is nowhere in sight. Instead, we have gotten more stressed and more worried about retirement.

Therefore, going forward, I sincerely hope that Singaporeans can calm down... Stop thinking about the future envisioned by each political party as some sort of Promised Land or Paradise where all you need to do is to passively pick a side to be assured of a good future. That is just stupid, you know. None of the political parties has the solutions to all your problems. None of them can help you to fulfil your dreams. All they can do is tell you to ownself go and chase the rainbow.

Instead, get out of your passive-aggressive or fatalistic/resigned modes and start thinking about how you can contribute to make our country a better place, and be committed to your ideals. Don't go for a brief holiday in a troubled country whose history you don't even know, come back and start praising the status quo, then blame your lack of commitment to a vision on a political party. The political party didn't change. You did.

Recently, I met a taxi driver who appeared to be an Opposition supporter. When I asked him how he felt about the elections, he brought up the high number of immigrants. Then he said, "Hai ya, anyway, our generation is old already. Who to vote depends on what the young generation wants. Next time the government may even be made up of foreigners. Hais, but if they say that the foreigners are better than us, then let them govern us. I don't bother about this already. Our generation is old already. Leave it to the young people to decide."

Needless to say, I was horrified by the lack of confidence evident from his reply. Uncle, 可不可以有多一点志气? I wonder... is this just a trait of the older generation? Or do many young people in Singapore (obviously not the government scholars... I mean, the normal young people) feel this way as well? Now that the die is cast, I would like to see a more energised Singapore. You have made your choice and the majority has chosen the PAP, so don't go back to the same old shit of complaining about their policies on transport, foreigners, stressful education system, calling the TC when you see some dirt outside your door. Picking on things, and expecting the government of the day to solve all your problems. Please.

I am an Opposition supporter, but if the entire process of GE2015 has contributed to the awakening of our citizenry, if the choices we have made in this election have illuminated for us the path ahead, the Opposition losses would be worth it. Anyway, it is never a complete loss unless they are eliminated or banished forever overseas. I believe that the Oppo parties will be back with many more outstanding candidates, better ideas and improved strategies in the next GE, and that bodes well for democracy in Singapore. I don't want to sabo anyone so I won't mention names. I think some new members of the Opposition are excellent. I would prefer them to represent Singapore at an international meet with top world leaders to someone like... Teo Ser Luck! Teo Ser Luck! Teo Ser Luck! (Sorry, can't help saying his name three times.) The GRC system has indeed been an obstacle for the Opposition, but if they continue working at it, in the near future, they may have enough good men and women to form our next government after PAP, provided that these men and women are committed and not fair-weather party members. I admire WP leader Low Thia Khiang for his tenacity. And I believe GE2015 has been a setback for his political career in a very personal way but I hope that he will feel encouraged by the continued support he has in Hougang and Aljunied GRC to carry on. However, more than that, I hope he will be big-hearted enough also to take the initiative to mentor and provide opportunities to his successors, so that the party which was founded by the late David Marshall in 1957 can continue to push forward even without him at the helm.

I predict that the PAP will continue to remain mired in its top-down ways and have problems with party renewal. This guy says that the PAP has "genuinely changed". I think there are reformist tendencies, but wait you see lah.... In election-speak, it's too early to call. I haven't met any of the new PAP candidates except for Victor Lye, and although he was enthusiastic, he wasn't impressive. Are their other new candidates also of a similar "calibre", including those who are entering Parliament via the GRCs anchored by experienced Ministers? If so.... Good luck.

All in all, I'm quite pleased about the election results despite being initially gutted. And even more pleased when former NMP and Young PAP man Calvin Cheng told PAP supporters not to gloat, after which they proceeded to do more gloating. Haha, Mr Cheng, you also know your party's supporters very irritating, right? I think there is a deep fear even within the PAP that the different political leanings of Singaporeans will eventually split the country that LKY had so painstakingly built. Whether that happens, however, largely depends on how the PAP-dominated government behaves towards Singaporeans who disagree with them.

What a night.In terms of popular vote, it has been a landslide. In terms of seats, the PAP has clawed back 1 SMC and...
Posted by Calvin Cheng on Friday, September 11, 2015