The Temasek Policy Review

A critical review of Singapore's policies from the ground

Archive for May, 2012

The rise of the Workers Party spells possible demise for the other smaller parties

Posted by temasektimes on May 30, 2012

Despite the odds stacked against them – from the Yaw Shin Leong sex scandal, reports of party disunity and relentless attacks on the integrity of its candidate Png Eng Huat, the Workers Party romped home to a convincing victory in Hougang with 62.09% of the votes.

Though Hougang is considered a impregnable ‘fortress’ of the Workers Party which has held the ward for over twenty years, many had expected a vote swing to the PAP in view of the circumstances under which the by-election was called following the sacking of ex-MP Yaw Shin Leong over alleged personal indiscretions.

The Workers Party seems unprepared during the election campaign either with numerous mis-steps which could prove fatal to other parties. Even WP Chairman Sylvia Lim admitted that the party did not expect to win more than 60 percent of the votes.

The margin of victory for WP boils down to two key factors – its brand name and the prevailing sentiments on the ground that Singapore needs more opposition voices in parliament to check on the government which are likely to propel the WP to further electoral gains in the next election regardless of the candidates they field.

The Workers Party is likely to continue growing for the following reasons:

1. For the last twenty years, the opposition was kept weak and divided with only two MPs in parliament – former Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong and Hougang MP Low Thia Kiang. With Mr Chiam entering the twilight of his political career and his party not running any constituency, Mr Low naturally becomes the de facto opposition leader and the nexus of support for all opposition supporters.

2. With six MPs and two NCMPs in Parliament, the Workers Party is now the largest opposition party in Singapore with the increased media exposure likely to attract more supporters and potential candidates into its ranks.

3. The Workers Party’s slogan of ‘Towards a First World Parliament’ resonates deeply with Singaporeans despite an underwhelming performance in parliament and so long its MPs continue to portray themselves as a ‘constructive’ force to check on the ruling party, it will continue to draw support from Singaporeans even if they are ineffective.

4. Unlike other parties, the Workers Party have years of experience in running Hougang and doing well in Aljunied will inspire confidence and trust in Singaporeans.

5. The Workers Party have a mix of experienced politicians like Low Thia Kiang and Sylvia Lim as well as young leaders such as Gerald Giam and Pritam Singh to take the party forward into the future. No other opposition parties boast of so many talented and credible individuals within its ranks like WP. 

Given the limited resources and support available from the public, Singaporeans are likely to throw their support behind the Workers Party which has a base to build on, rather than other smaller parties which have little chance of winning against the PAP.

The statistics in the last General Election speaks for themselves: The Workers Party scores 47% against the PAP’s 53% in straight contests overall. Even its worst-faring GRC team managed to garner 42% of the votes which was higher than most other parties.

In a three-corner fight in Sengkang West SMC during the 2011 General Election, the Workers Party candidate Lee Lilian managed to obtain 43% of the votes causing another opposition candidate Desmond Lim to lose his deposit.

The result of the contest is clear: The Workers Party is the ‘number one’ choice for opposition supporters who will unite behind it rather than split the votes with a weaker opposition party.

As the Workers Party continue to grow and attract better candidates into its ranks, it will be able to field more candidates in future elections making the prospects of multi-cornered fights inevitable and with its strong branding, the candidates from the smaller parties will risk losing their election deposits like Desmond Lim.

With the Singapore People’s Party in disarray, the National Solidarity Party having the same centrist position as the Workers Party and the Singapore Democratic Party still in a process of rebuilding and rebranding itself, it is hard to see how they will be able to compete with the Workers Party for the same pool of voters.

The Workers Party is likely to make further inroads in 2016 by winning Joo Chiat and East Coast GRC which it narrowly lost in 2011 while the other parties are unlikely to win any seats, thereby paving the way for a two-party system to emerge in Singapore.

Unless the Workers Party self-implode and suffer a split like the PAP in the 1962, it is hard to see how the PAP is going to stop it from winning more seats in the next General Election.

As for the other parties, they should seriously consider merging with the Workers Party like what the Barisan Sosialist did in 1988 to stand a better chance of winning a seat in elections or risk remaining on the fringes of Singapore politics forever.

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Elected MP should automatically be appointed as grassroots adviser of GROs and not losing candidates

Posted by temasektimes on May 29, 2012

Two days after he was soundly rejected by Hougang voters in a by-election, PAP losing candidate Desmond Choo is back at ‘work’ again conducting his weekly ‘tea sessions’ to meet Hougang residents at Hougang Community Club.

Though Mr Choo is not the elected MP of Hougang, he still has the privilege of hosting unofficial ‘Meet the People’ sessions in an air-conditioned office paid for by taxpayers while the elected WP MP Png Eng Huat has to meet them in a make-shift office in a HDB void deck instead.

In an interview with the media after his loss, Mr Choo pledged to work together with Mr Png Eng Huat to bring improvement to Hougang:

“Any project, as long as it benefits the residents, is in their best interest, is sound, is practicable… I am more than willing to support. I will also need support from him for some of the programmes that we run, especially places which require town council support.”

With due respect to Mr Choo and his contributions to Hougang so far, his work should be undertaken by the elected MP of Hougang who should automatically be appointed as its grassroots adviser.

Having two persons holding two different positions – MP and grassroots adviser performing the same task is not only counter-productive, but leads to duplication of unnecessary work and waste of public resources.

In PAP-controlled constituencies, its MPs hold the position of grassroots advisers in their respective wards, why shouldn’t this be the case for non-PAP constituencies?

All grassroots organizations are under the ambit of the People’s Association (PA) which is supposedly a non-partisan statutory board funded by taxpayers.

As such, it should respect the choice of the voters and not make a distinction based on political affiliations. A non-PAP grassroots adviser can perform the same role equally well, if not better if he or she is given full support by the PA.

In the light of the ‘new normal’ in Singapore politics which sees Singaporeans clamoring for more alternative voices to represent their interests in parliament, the present arrangement of appointing PAP losing candidates as grassroots advisers in non-PAP wards not only runs contrary to the PA’s aim of fostering community bonding and national unity, but will potentially divide the nation along political lines in the long run.

It is also not feasible or viable should the opposition win more seats in future elections. Imagine the additional number of grassroots advisers the PA will have to appoint to ‘compete’ with the elected MPs to do the same job should the opposition wins another few SMCs and GRCs in four years’ time?

As a result of the exclusion of its MPs from the PA, the Workers Party have to set up two separate grassroots bodies – the Hougang Constituency Committee and Aljunied Constituency Committee to take charge of grassroots affairs in Hougang and Aljunied respectively.

How much public monies can be saved and put to better use had they all come under the same umbrella of the PA?

It is about time the government show some respect to the voters by appointing their elected MP as grassroots advisers regardless of which political party they come from.

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Post-mortem of Hougang by-election: PAP continues to lose ground in the HDB heartland to WP

Posted by temasektimes on May 27, 2012

Speaking to reporters after the result of the by-election in Hougang was announced last night, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the result does not reflect the whole of Singapore.

His statement reflects a growing disconnect between senior PAP leaders and the native Singaporeans living in the HDB heartland.

Given the Yaw Shin Leong sex scandal, the quality of its candidate and persistent negative publicity about party disunity in the media for the last two weeks, the PAP candidate Desmond Choo should have garnered more votes than just a 145 vote increase from his share last year.

The two percent drop in WP’s votes is due more to a decrease in the voter turnout (23,176 in 2011 versus 21,951) rather than an increase in support for the PAP.

The number of voters in Hougang actually dropped by 1,000 odd after two blocks of flats went enbloc and were demolished. These voters are traditionally WP supporters.

Coupled with the last-minute announcement of the by-election and the fact that polling day is not a public holiday, the PAP has made little, if any headway in Hougang.

The result of the by-election offers three somber lessons for the PAP:

1. Regardless of the candidate it fields, it is unlikely to make any progress in wards held by the Workers Party.

2. Voters in WP ward identified themselves strongly with the party and not the candidate.

3. Past tried and tested tactics such as character-assassination and smear campaigns via the media no longer work.

Hougang is a microcosm of Singapore society with most of the voters being working class Singaporeans living in the HDB heartland and the group which is most affected by the government’s policies in recent years especially its immigration and labor policies.

The PAP’s attempts to portray the by-election has a local affair has backfired because conditions on the ground have improved little in the past one year despite the Prime Minister’s assertion that ‘progress’ has been made to tackle the pressing national issues.

As one netizen noted wryly:

“Everytime I took the SMRT train in the morning, I feel like casting a protest vote against the PAP.”

Unless economic conditions improve dramatically in 2016, which is unlikely, the PAP will face a tough fight in the next General Election.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Singapore Management University Professor Bridget Welsh observed:

“The mood in the country a year after the elections is not good. It’s a barometer of how the government has performed in the past year. The foreigners are becoming the punching bag.”

The result of the by-election shows that WP has not only managed to keep its core support base, but to expand it as well. While some Singaporeans are still skeptical of the WP, they are more angry with the government and are willing to turn a blind eye to its inadequacies.

Going by current trends, the PAP will continue to lose ground in the HDB heartlands to the Workers Party which enjoys genuine support from Singaporeans from all walks of life.

The PAP should not be complacent that it still has support among 60% of the population. As a matter of fact, in straight PAP versus WP contests last year, its support level is only 53% as compared to WP’s 47%. This means that if WP is able to contest in every single constituency in the next General Election, it will stand a fighting chance of booting the PAP out of office.

With its stronghold of Hougang secure, the Workers Party is well positioned to expand into neighboring constituencies in the next election for the following reasons:

1. The PAP team for Aljunied has entirely been dismantled with the departure of senior figures like George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hwa, Zainal Abidin and Cynthia Phua. It will not be easy for rookie Ong Ye Kung to lead the charge against the WP’s ‘A’ team in 2016.

2. The PAP won Joo Chiat SMC by only 100 plus votes and with its MP Charles Chong likely to retire by then (he would be 62), it presents an opportunity for WP NCMP Yee Jenn Jong to capture the ward if he contests there again.

3. Mr Lim Swee Say, the only minister in East Coast GRC will be 63 years old by the next election and is likely to retire. There will be no heavyweight ministers to helm the GRC and it will not be an impossible task for WP to capture the GRC with a mere 6 percent swing in votes needed. (Aljunied GRC swung 9 percent to WP in 2011)

4. Senior ministers will be stepping down from Tampines and Marine Parade GRCs which the PAP performed badly against ‘weaker’ opposition parties and the young ministers may not be able to hold the fort against WP veterans if they contest there.

5. Lastly, but most importantly, HDB prices will not drop to the 1990 levels, wages will not double and the quality of life is not going to improve by much in 2016, meaning that public discontent and disaffection against the PAP is only going to grow with time.

The Workers Party has become a premium brand name in Singapore politics. Even its weaker candidates were able to garner a minimum of 42% of the votes in the 2011 General Election.

It is time the PAP wakes up and start taking the Workers Party seriously as a potential rival instead of dismissing it as yet another opposition party or it will be in for more rude shocks in the rocky journey ahead.


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Hougang by-election is about Hougang residents and not national politics

Posted by temasektimes on May 11, 2012

For more than twenty years, long-suffering Hougang residents have shouldered the national ‘burden’ of ensuring an opposition presence in Parliament during every election especially last year when their long-term MP Low Thia Kiang left his stronghold to contest in neighboring Aljunied GRC.

With the opposition having an unprecedented five seats in Parliament and eight if we include the three NCMPs this time, the result of the coming by-election in Hougang will have no impact on Singapore.

One extra seat will not affect the PAP which will still be the government and neither will it make the opposition more influential in parliament.

As such, it is time for national politics to take a back seat and allow Hougang residents to vote for a candidate who will best serve their municipal interests after being neglected for so long a period of time.

In his statement on the by-election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged “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.”

What improvements do Hougang residents want to see in their estate? What other amenities do they need? What more can be done to help the needy residents? And who is in a better position to serve them better?

These are the questions that Hougang residents will be pondering over carefully and they should vote for the most suitable candidate to take care of them in the next four years regardless of party affiliations.

There are some people who want to hijack the by-election to pursue their own selfish agenda and to turn it into a national referendum for the PAP’s performance in the past one year.

They made grandiose proclamations and all kinds of motherhood statements on why it is important to ensure Hougang remains in the hands of the opposition and that the by-election is a showcase of opposition unity which show scant respect to Hougang voters.

Did they ask Hougang residents what they want exactly? Have they even stepped foot into Hougang?

Some netizens have started digging up the past speeches of one of the candidate’s uncle who was a MP and using them to smear his character to cast doubt on his integrity.

Will such vicious mudslinging help Hougang residents or promote national unity in anyway? Will it make a difference to the lives of those concerned?

After two hotly contested elections last year, Singapore does not need another one to divide the nation. The Hougang by-election is simply an election for its residents to select the best candidate to serve them in their ward and not about national issues and politics which can be left till four years later.

Let us give Hougang residents the time, space and peace of mind they need to make an informed, correct and wise decision on 26 May for they truly deserve it after all the sacrifices they have made for the nation over the years.

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Tackle the cause and not the symptoms: Rising online ‘xenophobia’ is a result of failed integration

Posted by temasektimes on May 8, 2012

The rising number of ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiments being expressed in cyberspace has led to calls from Minister of Information, Communication and Arts Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (MICA) and some pro-PAP bloggers like Andrew Loh to devise an online code of conduct to control the internet under the guise of allowing the online community to ‘self-moderate’ itself.

In response to queries from a netizen, PAP MP Baey Yam Kim urged the online community to speak up against witch hunts and lynch mobs:

“The online community must be prepared to stand up for injustice, and speak up against witch hunts and lynch mobs, and not join in the bandwagon.”

Strictly speaking, ‘xenophobia’ is defined by an irrational fear and rejection of anybody or things which are foreign in nature and Singaporeans can hardly be considered to be ‘xenophobic’ given their high level of tolerance to immigrants and acceptance of foreign cultures and values.

The increasingly frequent tirades directed at foreigners and expression of nationalistic sentiments on the internet is a symptom of a wider underlying social problem lurking beneath the surface – the failed integration of thousands of immigrants which we have accepted in recent years and a perception that locals are being neglected in favor of the newcomers.

Singapore has always accepted immigrants from Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong since attaining independence in 1965 and seldom do we hear about Singaporeans complaining about them.

The recent wave of immigration differs from the past as too many foreigners from distant lands and cultures were allowed to enter Singapore within too short a period of time, threatening not only the livelihoods of Singaporeans, but their collective sense of national identity as well which explained the rare solidarity they showed at the ‘currygate’ saga.

The lack of proper channels in both mainstream politics and media for the expression of such grievances, frustrations and angers led them to find their way on the internet where after being suppressed for long, they exploded in the form of rants, witch hunts and lynch mobs targeting foreigners perceived to have taken advantage of the system at the expense of locals.

The Sun Xu saga highlighted the rising public disgruntlement and anger at the immigration policies which have brought an unprecedented influx of foreigners into Singapore and the unfair privileges enjoyed by some of them.

The government needs to understand the root cause of public unhappiness and address the grievances acutely felt by Singaporeans instead of dismissing their complaints immediately as ‘xenophobic’ rants as one Choa Chu Kang MP did recently.

Unlike other developed countries, Singapore does not have a social ‘valve’ for citizens to express their displeasure at the government publicly which resulted in such sentiments being suppressed and snowballed with time.

All Singaporeans want is for their voices to be heard, acknowledged and aired. It is not only counter-productive to portray such legitimate concerns as being ‘xenophobic’, but dangerous as well for it will breed a more radical form of right-wing extremism in the long run if the boiling anger is allowed to build up.

It is time the relevant authorities realize that integration has failed and concrete steps must be taken to rectify the already volatile situation on the ground before it becomes too late.

Posted in Media | 2 Comments »

HDB should clamp down hard on illegal subletting of HDB flats

Posted by temasektimes on May 7, 2012

One of the seldom mentioned reasons for the spiraling prices of HDB flats is their illegal subletting by owners for commercial purposes which led to their increased valuation.

Though HDB flats are meant to be used for residence only, the rules are increasingly flaunted by owners who convert their flats either into a workers’ dormitory or hotel.

Attached below is an advertisement on ‘roomorama’ offering a common room in a HDB flat in Sengkang for $55 a night:

Its description reads:

“Fully furnished spacious common Single/double room with air con, bed, wardrobe with shared bathroom for short and long term rent in clean and quiet environment..Check in after 2pm . Check out before 12 noon. Extra person @ extra charges will be provided a single bed with mattress, pillow, blanket or comforter and clean quality bed sheet. All rooms are solely to yourself with secure Lockable Security and fully furnished with a/c.”

A quick check on the same website reveals other similar advertisements being put up soliciting for customers which is illegal under HDB rules.

Here’s another one at Clementi which charges $100 for a night stay:

Besides subletting for temporary stay, another form of illegal subletting involves housing more than the stipulated number of residents allowed in the flat.

The flat owner rents out the entire unit to a tenant, usually a foreigner who will then sublet it to other foreign workers. The common practice entails squeezing 6 to 8 men in a single room. Each person pays a monthly rental of $100 – $200 for a space on a double-decker bed, utilities and Wifi access.

HDB should send more officers on the ground to clamp down on such illegal subletting of HDB flats which has becoming increasingly prevalent over the last few years.

Not only must the rules be strictly enforced, harsh punishments should be meted out to the culprits including repossession of their flats, a fine and jail term to send a strong deterrent message to other potential offenders.

HDB flats are one of the pillars of our society with more than 80 percent of Singaporeans living in them. Such illegal subletting makes a mockery of HDB’s initial lofty aims of providing affordable housing to the masses and tears down the social fabric of our nation as well which we have painstakingly built up over the years.

 

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Time to face the hard truth: Why immigration is no longer possible with the present wave of immigrants

Posted by temasektimes on May 6, 2012

During a televised debate with his Socialist opponent Francois Hollande on May 1, French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged for a rethink of France’s immigration policies:

“I will never argue for zero immigration, but the reality is that when you invite more people than you can handle, you no longer integrate them.”

His statement encapsulated what we have been promulgating all along: We strongly believe Singapore must remain OPEN to immigrants, but we have to be extremely selective of who we take in and we may have now reached the stage where integration is no longer possible.

Though most of our forefathers were immigrants themselves, the present generation of Singaporeans are fully integrated as one people after three generations or more – we no longer see ourselves as being from China, India or Malaysia. Singapore is our home where we all belong.

Similarly, the American Chinese did not become Americans overnight. They are only fully assimilated after three generations.  And neither did the French immigrants in Canada’s province of Quebec became Canadians overnight.

Integration is a natural process and cannot be fast-tracked by simply throwing money to hold a few carnivals and festivals to promote it and pray that it will happen automatically somehow.

Human beings are not mere economic digits or emotionless robots. There is more to integration than simply reciting the National Pledge and changing the color of one’s identity card.

Before integration is possible, three conditions must exist:

1. The desire of the immigrants to settle in Singapore permanently.

2. The proportion of immigrants in the population.

3. The rate of intake of immigrants.

It is time for both Singaporeans and the government to face the hard truth that integration is no longer possible simply because we have got it all wrong right from the very beginning.

Singapore has always been open to only selected group of immigrants – we welcomed the Malaysians in the 1970s, the Taiwanese in the 1980s and Hong Kongers in the 1990s and they manage to integrate well with the locals with few problems as they share similar cultures, values and language as Singaporeans and they come in small numbers which make it easier for them to assimilate into society.

The present wave of immigration is different from the past. Without any proper planning, we open our doors to foreigners from all over the world without any careful screening and vetting leading to many incompatible immigrants some of whom who cannot speak a word of English being given Singapore citizenship.

As too many immigrants are accepted within too short a period of them, they tend to mix around with their own kind instead of taking their own effort to reach out to Singaporeans thereby leading to ethnic enclaves emerging from the HDB heartlands.

Some of these newcomers also do not regard Singapore as their new homes as they see it only as a stepping stone for greener pastures abroad and indeed, about 25 percent of immigrants renounced their citizenship yearly as revealed by the government lately.

It is a fallacy to hope that the children of these newcomers will become naturalized Singaporeans after being brought up in the Singapore’s education system.

While some may stay on eventually, many others may leave Singapore after taking advantage of its education either to evade National Service or to continue their lives elsewhere like in the case of one new citizen from China Mr Hu who sent his son to study in the United States as reported by Lianhe Zaobao two months ago.

The present immigration policy which calls for the continued intake of 30,000 new citizens a year appears not to realize that we have reached a point of no return – it is impossible to integrate fully those immigrants who have arrived in the last decade or so and we urgently need a serious rethink and review of the direction we are heading.

In a posting on his Twitter last night, Young PAP member and MediaCorp actor Tay Ping Hui warned of the dangers of an uncontrolled influx of immigrants:

“Unabated, imported population growth is akin to using steroids. Great muscle gains, but the internal system overloads & damage is irreversible.”

The continued intake of immigrants may bring us tangible economic benefits in the short-term but will bring about disastrous social problems in the future as it is already unfolding before our very eyes.

Crumbling public infrastructure like our public rail system, rising social tensions between Singaporeans and foreigners and an obvious decline in the standards of living especially felt by the increasingly squeezed middle class are the result of ten years of uncontrolled immigration.

Given the potential repercussions, should we not pause for a second and think carefully whether continuing on the path ahead will take us to a better Singapore or lead us down to a slippery slope of no return?

 © Copyright 2012 The Temasek Policy Review. No part of the above article may be published without permission from The Temasek Policy Review. 

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