Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

Category: Singapore’s democratization

Broken Trust, Broken Policies

Like a sore loser, the PAP quickly attributed its Punggol East defeat to some act of God – the “by-election effect.” We lost, not because we are incompetent but because of forces beyond our control. It appears to be a term (in the league of “ponding” and “freak flood”) PAP spin doctors conjured up to save face, and to mollify its dismayed, hardcore supporters.

PAP would be deceiving itself if it genuinely thought it lost because of the “by-election effect”.

Punggol East voters, among which 76% are below 50 years old, had sent the ruling party a very clear message on behalf of the middle/sandwiched class. The pro-opposition supporters had voted tactically by channeling their ballots to the Workers’ Party, and had stood their ground despite the fatter and juicier carrots dangled by PAP this time round. Continue reading…

Punggol East By-Election: The Campaign So Far


At PAP’s first rally in the Punggol East by-election, party leaders stressed that “the government has listened and learnt.” Education Minister Mr Heng Swee Kiat said, “Listening to you, we’ve learnt much. We share your concerns.” In a similar manner, Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of Law and Education, added that “We have not misread and we have not forgotten the message the electorate has given.”

To reinforce PAP’s message, a slew of measures to tackle Singaporeans’ concerns was splashed across the front pages of our local press over the past week. Singaporeans were told that 200,000 new homes will be built by 2016 and there will be two new MRT lines by 2030. In the more immediate future, the government will increase the number of trains and buses to ease the public transport bottleneck. A new round of property cooling measures was also launched.

While these announcements were no doubt timed to boost PAP’s winning chances in the Punggol East by-election, they would be welcomed by Singaporeans who are facing housing and transport woes amid the relentless rise in cost of living. Perhaps the government has finally heard the people’s voices?

Before we heave a collective sigh of relief, there is reason to be skeptical. Continue reading…

Will This Year be any Different from the Last?

So now Big Brother has proven that nothing in essence has changed. With a single act, any goodwill it has cultivated through months of “engaging citizens” via the National Conversation and the social media has now gone down the drain.

But as Alex Au wrote in his response to media queries over Lee Hsien Loong’s letter of demand to remove his earlier blog posts, “This should not distract from the issue of the sale of town council software to Action Information Management Pte Ltd”.

Few of us have Alex’s courage, and many of us who have been following and/or commenting on the developments of the AIM incident are now sobered by the very real threat of legal action from none other than our political chief.

Yet exercising greater caution in commenting about the AIM incident does not mean we should be cowed into silence.

Big Brother still owes us, citizens of Singapore and residents of constituencies, a satisfactory reply for the Town Council-AIM transaction.

So dear readers, this is what we CAN do. Continue reading…

Toothless Tiger, National Treasure

I’ve stopped reading The Straits Times ages ago, for reasons obvious to readers like you. But sometimes a headline, so absurd that it’s hilarious, still catches my eye. The latest one is “Tripartite relations as national treasure” (The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2012), based on Lee Hsien Loong’s speech in response to the SMRT strike. The “trust” between the government, employers and the union, according to PM Lee, is like “a Ming vase”. Once broken, he said, “you can’t glue it together again, and all Singaporeans and our children will suffer for it”.

I nearly spit up my coffee.

You’ve got to hand it to the government’s spin doctor for coming up with such a delightful gem to brighten up your day. I am sure it takes years of practice to perfect this skill.

But it seems that The Straits Times was already a consummate government mouthpiece way back in the 1970s. Here’s another gem I found when researching on the evolution of our trade unions. Titled “ ‘Marital bliss’ between unions and management: only one strike last year”, the report reads:
Continue reading…

The Taming of the Union

If not for the late President Ong Teng Cheong, the last strike Singapore saw would not be in 1986; it would be in 1977, a whopping 35 years from this week’s strike by SMRT China-born bus drivers.

In the famous interview with Asiaweek in 2000, Mr Ong, who was head of NTUC and Labour Minister when the 1986 strike took place, said,

…in January 1986 I did sanction a strike, the first for about a decade. It was in the shipping industry where the management was taking advantage of the workers. I did not even tell the cabinet about sanctioning the strike. And some of them were angry with me about that. The minister for trade and industry was very angry, his officers were very upset. They had calls from America, asking what happened to Singapore? – we are non-strike. I said: if I were to inform the cabinet or the government they would probably stop me from going ahead with the strike. It only lasted two days. Then all the issues were settled. It showed that management was just trying to pull a fast one. So I believe what I did was right (emphasis mine). Continue reading…

Two Dirty Words

Right. Freedom.

In Singapore, you’d hardly hear a man-in-the-street utter these words. We shy away from proclaiming “this is my right” and “it is my freedom to do so” because what represent men’s fundamental entitlements in the liberal West are laden with negative connotations here. In the minds of many Singaporeans, rights and freedoms are associated with chaos, instability, individualism, decadence, immorality, lawlessness . . . and the list goes on.

This is the outcome of years of indoctrination through the mainstream media and the education we receive. And judging from the not insignificant proportion among us who still subscribe to this sort of warped thinking, the insidious brainwashing has been very successful indeed.

Don’t believe me? Just tell a fellow Singaporean that you believe in upholding human rights and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll be looked askance at, either as a trouble-maker, or someone trying to land himself in trouble. Continue reading…

Winds of Change (II): Prospects for Democratization in Singapore

“Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters,” declares a commentary in the New York Times. So in case the reader thinks that the author of this blog post is hazarding a political prediction, let me quickly say that I am not looking into my crystal ball. What I wish to do is to talk about the conditions in Singapore that are favorable for democratization, in view of our socio-economic context and the political developments we see after the 2011 General Election.

Democratization and under what conditions it occurs are a big topic in political science. Early modernization theory based on the experience of western nations suggests that countries democratize as they develop. Extended to other parts of the world, however, the theory fails to explain the presence of anomalies like Singapore and Malaysia. Continue reading…

Malaysia and Singapore: Winds of Change? (I)

Of late the going-ons in Malaysia have stirred up some excitement in Singapore. I am talking about the series of reforms Prime Minister Najib Razak rolled out recently. Last week, Najib announced that the Sedition Act will be repealed and replaced with the National Harmony Act; in April, the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA) was replaced with a new legislation – the Security Offences (Special Measures) 2012 Act (SOSMA); a minimum wage policy was also introduced ahead of May Day; earlier, Najib also annulled a law that required newspaper owners to renew their printing licenses annually and amended other laws that curb public assembly and student participation in political activities.

The abolishment of the ISA, in particular, resonated with liberal-minded Singaporeans. The Online Citizen re-published a 1991 report which cited the then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying Singapore “will seriously consider abolishing the Internal Security Act if Malaysia were to do so.” And with Malaysia joining Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, China and Hong Kong with the introduction of a wage floor, Singapore has become the odd-one-out in the region (yes, even Myanmar is drafting a minimum wage bill).

Singaporeans seem to presume that our government will be pressured to implement political reforms in the footsteps of our neighbor. But will it really? Continue reading…

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