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Suggestions For Opposition Parties

There often is an undercurrent of chorus regarding the dismal state of opposition parties in Singapore. While part of the reason is due to the uneven political climate faced by these parties. There are other factors that they ought to consider as well if they desire to have any credible, successful chance of winning seats and representation in parliament. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, and more suggestions will be forthcoming in the nearer future.

1. Stop Fighting among yourselves.

In a majoritarian system of parliamentary democracy where the winner takes all and the winner really is the person who finishes “first past the post” – 50% plus 1 vote. The first thing opposition parties should do would be to quit their own internally divisive agenda and to unify themselves as one. Efforts to conglomerate and unite various minority factions in society should be the first serious activity that they do. An example would be the 4 way fight in Cheng San GRC in the elections several years ago. Having a four way fight guarantees the incumbent party a win. A similar analogy in United States government would be how a third party candidate (libertarian party, independent, etc) takes a higher proportion of votes away from the two front runners. For example, Ralph Nader is said to have taken more votes away from Al Gore than George Bush in the 2000 elections – leading the way for Bush to claim the presidency. Within the context of a single-member constituency, the seats that opposition parties often target, there should be ideally just two candidates headed up for such contests – one from the PAP and one from the Opposition. No more and No less. Cooperative Game Theory strategies are obvious when it comes to such instances of maximizing polling victory. With too much internal strife and politics among the various opposition parties that bridge across economic, social, political-action and ethnicity. Its time that you guys got your act together and worked as a team instead of horizontally oppressing each other.

2. Focus on Bread and Butter Issues.

While enviable and admirable. The constant focus on human rights and Singapore’s actions in the international arena should instead be appealing to voters instead. And in Singapore, appealing issues are JOBS JOBS JOBS, WAGES WAGES WAGES. Period. Enough of the talk shop regarding censorship, Singapore’s International Actions, Freedom of Speech issues and so on. While these issues are very important. They aren’t going to strike a rapport with the Median and Mean of voters where abstractions of international theory and political philosophy is far removed from their hand to mouth existence, the need for healthcare and survival and what matters close to their hearts. It is far more important to focus on physical and critical issues rather than abstract political and social theory. No doubt, its very ideal to speak about such matters. But to the average Singaporean that comes forth for the rally and compares both parties at a glance. It simply boils down to this – which party provides a better economic platform for that particular voter. Its no surprise that elections are often held during good economic times. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that elections held during a time of economic difficulty often result in worst votes for the incumbent party. To get the largest share of votes, one has to focus on the issues that matter to the largest portion of people within the electoral district. The other philosophies on the agenda that appeal to a much smaller and intellectual politically concerned voters can be co-opted into the party’s plan. But ultimately, go where your electorate desires you to go to. Your voters are very often taxi drivers, hawkers, fresh university graduates, new families and those who are below the mean/median of the economic ladder. Do your research on the electoral district you are challenging and provide solid action plans. Not empty promises. Details Determine Destiny, as they often say. And in many cases, the opposition party in Singapore is often found to be loud in voice, but small in real practical action.

3. Recruit Talent across Minorities and Ethnicities.

Opposition Parties cannot continue to put their strongest candidates in Single Party constituencies alone. Since race and ethnicity is a factor in politics wherever you go, it would be better for opposition parties to get their act together in co-opting good quality talents to formulate possible group representative slates that can credibly stand for election. The word is CREDIBLE. In Singapore terms, and as much as this embodies elitism in many forms. This would mean a relatively well educated, articulate and knowledgeable person. While race and ethnicity should not be a factor in talent. The reality in Singapore is that it is. So instead of complaining that it is difficult to recruit across racial and ethnic boundaries, take action early on to make up for the anticipated difficulty in the future. If the opposition can credibly put forth a group of candidates in many electoral districts on elections day. What happens is that even if they do not win, they will start to gain a measure of credibility among voters. You need group candidates who can speak well, converse well and can give proper and good answers to the crafty questions in politics. Instead of fear-mongering, propose solutions. Instead of complaining about the current standards of governance, propose addition measures that may make the current means better. Even if these ideas are stolen and “co-opted” into the winning parties plan later on. It will be a triumph for integrity and a signaling measure of public policy credibility. Politicians are supposed to fix problems for their people. So quit whining about the issues and start fixing them. If you are tired of million dollar salary ministers, then do a better job than them and charge less at the same time!

4. Take a less combative role in politics. Instead, go upon the co-operational route.

While some may see this as a form of selling out. If an opposition member or an opposition party desires CREDIBLE and a respected place both in elections and in parliament. He should instead of vigorously and violently opposing all measure in local politics, instead take a softer stance of cooperation. Martin Luther King was known as a great civil rights leader in the philosophy of non-violence. However, without a violent reaction or oppression from the police (non-violent crackdowns are the norm in Singapore – with warnings and implicit threats like video surveillance being the norm) it will be difficult to gain credibility among Singaporeans if the state-dominated media label’s one as a troublemaker or martyr. Booker T. Washington is famous for his Atlanta Compromise as a way for African-Americans to gain a step ahead in civil rights. While they were not yet equal, they were able to work within the system and gains some concessions slowly through the period of time. Without a violent reaction or crackdown on opposition politicians by the PAP government in Singapore, the concept of a non-violent means of social protest will not work. Non-violence worked extremely well in the United States because the authority of the states government could be relieved and overruled by the Federal Government (see Selective Incorporation of the 14th Amendment and the Bill of Rights). In Singapore you do not have this luxury of an independent judiciary that is free from the reigns of political pressure to rule in a free and open manner, especially in areas like politics. A good number of every-day Singaporeans have a high opinion of the courts in Singapore when it comes to commercial and other litigation areas. However, it is obvious that this might not be so in political arenas. Anyone desiring to know more can simply google or read the books by famous dissenters such as Francis Seow or Chris Lydgate. Instead of being seen as an antagonistic and hostile force in politics, the cooperational route has worked relatively well for people like Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Khiang and perhaps Steve as well.

5. Its not what you say. It is what they hear.

With a media that tends to favor the opinions of the government and is supportive of the government in Singapore. Opposition parties have to work much harder at building credibility as well. Especially among an “apathetic mass” of people in Singapore, we are highly educated in practical things – mathematics, engineering, medicine, law and so on. But not very well educated in other areas of the humanities like philosophy, politics, perhaps economics and psychology when you look at the population from a holistic perspective. While this might be a generalization, the important thing is that people tend to take what the Straits Times says – even if it is complete BS, for what its worth and use it as means to justify their personal political convictions. The availability heuristic in psychology would be a good explanation for this – with a populace that is not very familiar with the systems of government, the expectations of governance and politics in general, it will be difficult for them to relate to all the aspects of politics being discussed except in issues that they have a strong emotional attachment to – namely JOBS JOBS JOBS. MONEY MONEY MONEY. Economic Survival.

6. Get Young People Involved.

America’s Universities have been accused by republican lawmakers as the last bastions of marxism. Opposition Parties should stop treating youth as second class voters. There is no need for separate institutions to reach out to youth and young people. Get youth involved in the policy making process, the suggestion and feedback loop. Giving them a separate institution might be a nice idea to separate the idealism of young people from the reality of real world politics. But sometimes, actually in Singapore opposition political party terms – it might be more than necessary to put forth a grander dose of idealism and passion from the youth into the policy making process and the political argumentative formulations. The future of elections will not be decided by powerful or richer older segments of the population, but the youth, who are growing up into a different rapidly changing world and are exposed to western ideas, culture and have certainly travelled abroad and know what life in other parts of the world is like. The future and long-term viability of opposition parties will depend on their ability to educate, co-opt and ability to build credibility among youth. Again – while it is lovely to be able to talk issues of Fair Trade, Free Speech and Human Rights with them. Let’s go to what’s important to them. Jobs. Can the opposition parties come up with a credible solution to the whole “Relevant Experience” thing when it comes to getting a job? It seems that you can’t get a job without relevant experience and you can’t get relevant experience without job. Can the opposition parties in Singapore at least voice these concerns of everyday Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans to the PAP Government and its brilliant ministers? This is what opposition politics needs to be – credible, articulate and knowledgeable about the concerns of their electorates. Instead of being merely a forum for idealistic talk shop pontification, its time opposition parties engaged issues of prior relevance in their discourse and quit treating young people as second class voting citizens.

7. Reach Out to the Youth

It is often said that Singaporean Youth are apathetic when it comes to politics. Why are they even apathetic? Simple. Have they been taught to consider a different perspective? An alternative? A Credible Alternative that does not denigrate into protests or non-violent action? Opposition parties need to do research on the youngest, most mobile and educated segment of the populace that will determine their political survival in the long term. Because they are inherently much more familiar with advancing technology. Reach out to youths using technology. A quick search on FaceBook in Singapore reveals that a good portion of Singaporeans are either “Moderates”, “Liberal” or “Very Liberal” under political views. The PAP, with its highly conservative rhetoric and panderings to the “older generation” under a confucianist ethic has easily separated its real world view of politics from the idealism enchanted by youth. This is a golden opportunity for youth to be educated about issues that they can feel more passionate about – issues of social change, justice, freedom of speech, gay and lesbian issues and their youthful concerns. In America, it is not unusual for 16-17 year old individuals to be actively involved in politics. Especially so when many of them can vote come the age of 18. National Servicemen fall into the category of youth too – as defined by the world bank to be individuals under the age of 25. Can opposition parties raise concerns for national servicemen? Such as issues of safety, issues of mental health, issues of transport and salary? Can opposition parties harness the latent energies of our national servicemen into politics? They may not be able to vote while they are serving. But come ORD. There is always the chance that reaching out to such youth can prove to be a powerful way of establishing credibility and gaining votes further down the road. The government easily alienates a good portion of national service youth during their times of service. Opposition Parties should harness their concerns and raise them in parliament or propose solutions to their duress of unfairness.

Ultimately, if opposition parties want to win representation in parliament someday. Its about time they cleaned up their act and started appealing practical issues to their electorates and champion a variety of solutions to the issues in politics. Opposition parties have to work harder in appealing to the youth of Singapore, because within another two electoral cycles, these individuals will have the capacity, mobility, knowledge and understanding and become a political force on their own. It is time to take advantage of the PAP’s appeal to “older Singaporeans” and “their loyal old voters” and to work aggressively in capturing the sentiments and issues of the youth. Additionally opposition parties need to work up on their issues of credibility. They need to field talented candidates that are well spoken, effective communicators and well versed in the solutions of public policy. Instead of working a fear-mongering or mud-slinging rhetoric or combative non-violent action, parties should be more cooperative while distinguishing their political views and solutions from the ruling party. Only time can tell if they are willing to work in unison to reach The Tipping Point and shift politics into their favor – even with a difficult political climate. Passion alone isn’t enough. It takes passion, determination and smart work to succeed in the battle it is for parliamentary representation.

Regarding Section 377A

There have been much thoughts with regards to homosexuality and its presence in society. While this can once again be seen in the framework of western culture doing its imperialism thing on asian culture. Let us reason among ourselves and see what it really entails. For starters, it is estimated that a very general 5-15% of the population may be gay, or lesbian or bisexual or transgender and do not conform to the usual categories of sexuality. What amplifies this is the sexual discourse within Singapore itself. With strict laws against sensitive speech and an overwhelming need to conceal activities that are considered “shameful” in nature and a press that seems hell bent on denigrating such minorities. It is indeed difficult to cut through the discourse that surrounds us. Also, it is understandable that we are afraid of what we do not know or conform to our own understanding of people.

How then, in some asian societies, ethnic minority groups or tribal societies, whereby homosexuality is very heavily frowned upon, even to the point of death – that there is an implicitly small number of people that still do not conform to the majority’s view on sexuality? Denying that the issue is an issue is no different from Ahmadinejad saying that there are no homosexuals in Iran – at his recent speech at Columbia University in the City of New York recently. It exists. There are people among us who do not conform to the norms of sexuality. And for sure, it scares the living daylights out of us.

Let us look at it from a Christian point of view. Adultery. Sin. Sodom and Gomorrah, representative of all that is evil and bad and the destruction of God’s might and power and righteousness. Yet throughout the gospels, an example that strike strongly would be the woman caught in the act of adultery. Sin at its very best. Forbidden sin at its very best. All ready to die. And the words of Jesus are simple. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” and following that, “neither do I condemn thee.” From a strictly Christian point of view. There is sin in the world. Sin corrupts the flesh. For the wages of sin is death. We have no moral imperative to condemn other people considering that we too live under the same sentence of death.

For there is none righteous. And Christians are called to love their neighbors as themselves. What if their “neighbors” happen to be someone who is “far from the redemption that is in Christ.” and is very difficult to reconcile doing good and living the “good religious life” from the reality that stares at them forth? Surely, we can do better than to be no different from a pharisee. Its not like we live great perfect lives either. I do not believe that a person decides to consciously wake up one fine morning and declares himself to be attracted to members of the similar sex. Nor do I believe that a person decides to recalcitrantly chose to be gay in the presence of overwhelming social opposition and condemnation. Denying this issue is not wise, since it leads to the more unfavorable outcome of festering and staying underground where it continues to be denigrated and demonized.

As citizens of Singapore, we have pledged to build a democratic society based on justice and equality. Well, we’ve not done a very good job on the democratic measure yet. Nor a very good measure of the justice part either. The least that we Singaporeans can do is to work on the equality part. Anthropologists have documented the presence homosexuality in a very great number of cultures and societies throughout the world. It is not merely a western thing when people in Iran are hanged for it. Nor is it a passing fad when the voices of the oppressed minority grow louder each day. The government should not have the power to regulate the private life of citizens between consenting adults who are legally able to give consent. The government is supposed to serve the people, not fine tune their private actions and activities.

Surely, homosexuality is an issue that makes Singaporeans uncomfortable. Perhaps even very uncomfortable. Have we ever stopped to consider it from their perspective that maybe this is just something that is very normal, something that they themselves are unable to explain – being drawn to attraction in a manner that differs from the vast majority of the population. The cognitive dissonance in such cases must indeed be tremendous. If we chose not to give them rights to marry, or adopt children or take other measures to keep a tight rein on this minority. Then surely at the very least we can give them a measure of equality in a country that proclaims itself to be highly developed and advanced a society.

Personally, I know many gay Christians. And they struggle so much with their sexuality along with an attempt to love God and love people. For myself, I can only say, “may God have mercy on my soul and grant me the redemption that is in Christ.” I have no moral standing to condemn another person. And for the most part, what would Jesus do if He met a homosexual person on the streets of Jersusalem a long time ago. Most likely, this person would possibly be about to be put to death, or be severely marginalized and ostracized in society. What then would Jesus do. Cast him out? Or love him? I only appeal to other Christian people in Singapore to actually look at their ten commandments of life. To love God and to love people. Expecting an individual to live a perfect Christian life is as good as trying to observe an electron in flight. You can’t do it. So don’t condemn because they struggle either.

Where there are laws that protect minors from adults taking advantage of them sexually. And there are also laws that prevent adults from taking advantage of other adults in a sexual manner. These laws in Singapore are stiff, strong, severe and carry much pain in their enforcement. However if two fully consenting adults chose to engage in a manner of sexuality in their own private abode, then it is not up to society or the government to judge whether their actions are right or wrong. That we have to leave to God to be the ultimate judge. If you don’t believe in God in this post-modernist era, then by all means, nothing is right or wrong. If it feels good. Then do it. Whether Section 377A stays or goes doesn’t matter. It simply does not reflect the reality on the ground for an oppressed minority of our people. This is no different from Robert Mugabe passing a law restricting price increases when the economic climate has 1000% of inflation.

Christians! Church! God calls you to love people. Not to condemn them with some vague notion of “tough love” or emotional blackmail. We are all sheep that hath gone astray. The least we can do is to step back onto that path of righteousness and redemption instead of having little to none of the grace that Christ hath. Instead of condemning and judging our brethren others. Let us suspend our judgment and see things from their perspective with compassion and love. It must be very hard for many of them. And if you don’t believe in God. At the very least, you shouldn’t hate another person just because of some aspects of his character that he or she struggles with, and may not be able to change to conform to your notions within this lifetime.

Singapore is not just a home for social conservatives and traditional minded philosophies. In a globalized world, the least we can do is to be a little bit open minded, understanding and hopefully forgiving of the different points of view when it comes to existentialism.

A Simple Democracy

Democracy, in its very essence, is a representative form of government. Whereby the wishes of the people are represented. It has been heavily discussed, widely debated and much talked about. Voting is merely one aspect of democracy. Having the right to vote is very different from being able to do so. For example, you may have the right to vote. But if your precinct is a “walkover,” then essentially you do not really have the ability to do so. Looking at many of the countries in the world, how many countries can truly call themselves democratic? Where citizens can actively chose their national future at the ballot box. Not many indeed. We have the very successful democracies of western europe, the scandinavian countries, of course, the United States and Canada and Japan and maybe that’s about it.

Democracy is more than just a theoretical possibility of voting. It is the free, unfettered access of people to the ballot box. It is also the free, unfettered access of political parties to the elections. This would entail the ability to seek public funding, the ability to campaign in public and raise awareness on political issues and the ability to stand for elections where the voting populace has the ability to vote for any party free from coercion or any kind. Sadly, it is not the case in Singapore. While it prides itself as a republic, a democracy, an elected westminster form of government. Opposition parties do face difficulties in fundraising, in campaigning, in standing for elections, in raising awareness of political issues and in general, are fractured into many tiny separate groups.

Basic political theory of the “winner takes all” and the “first past the post” explains that in such systems of government – what tends to eventually build up will be two major parties that attempt to cater to the majority. Majority meaning 50% of all the votes cast on polling day. Plus one. That’s it. That is what the electoral system in Singapore really is at its simplest. For say, a single member constituency. Fifty percent of the votes. Plus one. The irony being that one vote can be so important, and yet so meaningless at the same time. In a system of proportional government, however, the party that wins a particular percentage of the votes, sometimes subject to a minimum percentage, may claim a proportional representation in the body of government. Very nice. Very idealistic. Under such conditions, we would expect to see a 10-25% representation of opposition members in Singapore.

What complicates issues would be the Group Representative Constituency. Whereby race or ethnicity and perhaps gender plays a part in a contesting team. Once again, winner takes all. Once again, 50% plus one. It is indeed difficult for a fractured opposition to recruit members, much less willing members who are willing to go against a juggernaut of the PAP. Add racial or ethnic requirements, and it probably gets much more difficult. Additionally, it does not take much of a historical purview to realize that opposition parties have traditionally faced tremendous difficulties in access to the elections process. A good example would be J.B Jeyaretnam. Brilliant politician, highly eloquent, well trained lawyer and former judge. Sharp with his wit and passionate regarding his causes.

Yet it is difficult for him to raise money for his campaigns. Much less the financial bond (approximately $10-12,000) needed in order to contest an election. Opposition political parties also having limits of sorts when it comes to anonymous, private donations. It is hard for him to raise political issues and give an alternative perspective on the matters that Singapore is facing. Surely then, with all these barriers to the ballot box for opposition parties, and also barriers to the ballot box for individuals who would like to vote in the opposition party. It is a wonder then, if Singapore is truly a democracy in the sense that James Madison or Andrew Jackson or Benjamin Franklin intended it to be. Or if the semi-decade process of voting is merely a formality to keep the ruling party in power.

Saddam Hussein often had 99-100% of votes cast in favor of him. Looking at Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf doesn’t find it difficult to get an amazing percentage of votes favoring him, along with a five year extension in power. North Korea calls itself the “Democratic People’s Republic”, and so does The Congo. Inherent instability as seen in many Latin American countries or weak democracy in parts of Africa lie in more than just a justification for dictatorial power alone. As C.S Lewis famously said – “An explanation by means is not a justification by cause.” The true test of a democracy could possibly be summed up in whether or not, the people can change their government. Whether or not the people can change the choices of government. Whether or not individuals with a passion for change in politics can rise up through the system and implement top down changes.

One of the most commonly cited reasons for a more authoritarian measure of government is that with less debate, action can be taken at a quicker pace and there is not need to spend too much time parsing through the legislative process. The decision is made. It is final. It is implemented and no complains are accepted. Feedback is merely read and accepted as a means of fine tuning the policy – if it so proves to be favorable and in the interest of the PAP. At the same time, there also need to be measures of checks and balances in place such that the country does not get led to take unwise steps in political governance. The North Korean government defends itself by saying that it faithfully serves the people – since this is what the people chose. However, if you think about it. They chose it then. It doesn’t mean that they chose it now. If either the democrats or the republicans had hampered measures in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept 11th. It would not be long before a furious american public took them out of office and installed politicians that would get their will done.

Frequent elections, open, free and fair elections are necessary to the development of government that best serves the wishes of the people – even if it may not be in the interest of the government at times. Noting that information asymmetry is something to consider – that governments often see things and factors and predictions that the common people do not see. A truly democratic process of government would bring such “murkier details” into the open for debate and discussion. Where citizens can give open feedback to be critiqued and weighed against other policy formulations. Singapore can go further. It is a country that can succeed. The youth are not as apathetic as they seem to be about politics. People may be ignorant, but that is because the political environment currently encourages them to be apathetic to it.

Ultimately, as James Madison wrote in his great wisdom more than 300 year ago. Large groups of people, majorities with different competing interests is one of the best ways for which the tyranny of the majority is avoided, whereby no one group can unduely oppress members of another group. I would say that in Singapore’s case, very often, the superior political position that the PAP is entrenched in affords them plenty of opportunity to penalize and hurt opposition parties, as well as plug loopholes or place barriers into possible opportunities for an erosion and a lost of political power. With regards to the myriad of changes facing Singaporeans on an increasing basis, in a globalized world. Issues of sexuality, immigration, nationalism, economic development and security should not be merely shoved down the people’s throats. The people should have an active voice in the formulation of policy and its acceptance or not.

Singapore also needs to learn that while it may have a good large huge sum in reserves, as well as nice skyscraper buildings and some expensively constructed wonders of architecture that showcase its stunning economic progress. Not everything in life can merely be summed up in terms of money. While we are an example of economic progress to our neighbors. Let us set the standard and the bar higher by showcasing possible advances in the system of democracy of our nation. With an increasingly political liberal generation growing up into working and voting capacity, hopefully every Singaporean can someday actually take pride in their nation and know that their voice is not lost among the millions – that social change is possible, that peaceful civil society actions are an option and there is free debate and discourse about the difficult issues facing our nationhood.

While certainly there are many obstacles in the way of collective action. I hope that with a better educated populace that desires to increasingly distinguish itself in an increasingly globalized world. We need to take stock of our future and ask ourselves honestly which system is going to serve us better – one that which brilliantly educated scholars plan public policy and fine tune it without too much regard of public sentiment. Or one in which public opinion and sentiment become powerful deciding factors. I believe that the second option in a more mature civil society that grants respect to dissenting opinions will suit our country in the future. Certainly American would not want to be ruled by Republicans in a non-stop fashion through good and bad times. Nor by Democrats in similar circumstances. With each party in balancing each other out – therein lies the incentive to constantly come out with the most innovative policies that benefit the majority of the nation and with citizens knowing that they have the power and ability within them to change disliked policies.

The Purpose

Of this Blog is to write up to date analysis and commentary about social and political issues that are actively being discussed in the blogosphere.

The writings will mostly be reactive in nature – that is, thoughts regarding the current issues being discussed.

I hope to write in such a manner that any layman can understand reproduced portions of the commentary.