Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Forum on the 2006 Singapore General Election at NUS

When I turned 21, I became qualified for a number of things, most of which I did not want. Firstly, I could be tried as an adult. Secondly, I was no longer entitled to child support. Thirdly, the government took possession of my kidneys, unless I opted out. The only thing I wanted to do was vote - and yes, you guessed it - nobody wants my constituency. Ever. So they generously let the PAP keep it.

This year, as a result of circumstances, I was actually paying a sort of half-ear to elections. It was in that spirit that I went down to the forum on the 2006 Singapore General Election, held at the National University of Singapore. Jointly organised by the NUS Political Science Dept (aka the Snake Pit - that would be my lecturer's name for it, intra-faculty rivalry can be rather drama) and the members of the Political Science Association of Singapore, it featured various political figures. For the first time in my academic career, I was free at the same time as a forum I wished to attend, so I headed down. Also, Pol Sci does great spreads, and I would personally recommend the roast beef next time you're down.

Ms Indranee "That's Ms, not Mrs, don't marry me off" Rajah, MP for Tanjong Pagar and director for Drew and Napier.

Mr Chia "The Drone-inator" Ti Lik, Assistant Organising Secretary in the Worker's Party, vp of the WP Youth Wing. Apparently a litigation lawyer.

Mr Chiam "Studmuffin" See Tong, opposition MP for Potong Pasir, head of the Singapore People's Party and a leader in the Singapore Democratic Alliance.

Ms Cherie "Marblemouth" Lim, director of EKA training group, who believes she can "save the world, one person at a time."

It was the first time I've actually stayed awake at these things, so I'm fairly sure that a revolution may have taken place while I was admiring Ms Rajah's boo - fitted red shirt. I seem to recall someone shouting Majulah Singapore - which as it turns out, actually did happen, so you know, the government really should keep an eye on those engineers rather than the arts grads. It's always the quiet ones that snap. Us arts grads with our pinko-Communist-neo-Marxist-green-party talk? Please - it's for the girls, although it didn't work for me.

At any rate, this is my (amatuer) account of what happened.

Firstly, it was crowded with undergrads, postgrads, and a sprinkling of Faculty - I spied a certain Prof Chua, Bukit Ho Swee native. There was a healthy dose of exchange students as well, including James Martin of the Southeast Asian dept, who stepped up - in fact, managed to show his complete cultural assimilation by being No. 1 to rush up to ask a question later. There was also a history major who's been rather prominent in the faculty recently - this was the first time I'd seen him - quite pretty, in a poet sort of way, but I'm too old for these boys now - but in need of a haircut and an order to stay away from Youthinc.

Steve Chia was supposed to be the WP talker, but he was replaced by Chia Ti Lik. The joke circulating the theatre was that he'd just gotten a new maid to photograph.

I don't know when Indranee and Ti Lik showed up - who cares when Cherie popped in - but everyone knew when Chiam showed up. He entered in a pretty low key kind of way - this is Singapore, opposition MPs get minimal security. But someone spotted him - and that was it - the entire theatre broke out in cheering and applause. No cue, no nothing. It was absolutely delightful. As in turns out, that was the trend for the evening - Indranee did a nice slick job, and if she would say yes, I'd marry her - but Chiam was clearly Da Man, who stuck it to The Man. Plus, he's cute in an elderly statesman sort of way. Yes. Don't throw up on the keyboard all at once.

Faizal, the MC began the evening by first stating that if you weren't NUS, invited Press, or the speakers, you were to leave, plus the requisite disclaimer that the questions students asked were not representative of the student body as a whole, blahblah. No shit. I sure as hell didn't want to be associated with some of the questions raised.

Gist of the talk - nothing new, really. Ms Rajah (who was turned into Mrs Rajah by various clueless male students in Q&A -chauvinists!) spoke of the post '65ers, the needs of the new generation, and the importance of voting. She made a comment about how she and Ms Lim had turned out in the exact same shade of red (unplanned), in contrast to the "gentlemen sitting between us."

For me, the interesting part about Ms Rajah was the body language and the subtext. Didn't bother to listen to what she said, much - we pretty much know the drill. I'd heard that in more robust dynamic political systems, candidates tended not to refer to each other by name - something about not wanting to give their opponents screen time. Throughout the forum, I don't think I heard Ms Rajah refer to either Chiam or Chia by name more than absolutely necessary.

And then there was her performance during the Q&A. Don't get me wrong, I personally thought that she was smooth, professional - but I've come to expect no less from a party that can have entire departments scripting their answers for them. However, she may have missed her calling. When someone asked why they should vote for the PAP, she decided to rebut the whole opposition point about how the Opposition Party hears the voices of the people that get drowned out. She explained about how much the PAP cared about the People of Singapore, all of them, and truly wanted to listen to their voices, and their hopes, and their dreams, even the littlest ones - all the while clutching her hands to her heart.

Really. Neber bruff. Wah, PAP can really wayang-wayang, yah? Can see her motherly instincts coming through - when she talked about the woes of the unheard unwashed masses, her voice dropped, and softened, and she clutched her hands to her maternal bosum as if to indicate her desire to bring the weary, the unwanted into the sheltering cleavage of the PAP bosum.

I can't make this shit up, people - she clutched her heart.

Chia Ti Lik spoke next, and I just have to say this - why does every Chinese opposition member under 40 sound as if they're 2 lawsuits away from pulling a complete Chee Soon Juan crazy? He drones. And he contrasted with the polished perfection of Indranee - loose black sports jacket, and crumpled up sheets that he read from. I got some reading done while he talked about the need for diversity in parliament. He talked about how a lack of diverse voices and actual voter participation resulted in a reduced nationalism, since citizens did not get a sense of contribution and representation in the national decision-making process. He handled his questions ok, but he sounded as scripted as candidates from a certain other political party, and he ducked questions .. not very well.

Chiam, however - well, this was the first time I've ever seen him talk. And when you listen to him - you start to understand why he's just so bloody popular in Potong Pasir. He was polite, he was polished, and he spoke with the clear voice of a man who had spent a considerable portion of his adult life in speechmaking.

And it made me sad in a way. Chiam (someone correct me if I'm wrong, I'm not a history major nor a pol sci-er) seemed a remnant of another era - where politicians were statesmen, and made speeches that rang in the rafters of Parliament House. He had a lovely neat English-ed accent that I've only heard from people of a certain generation, a voice that was equally at home in the courtroom and in the kopitiams. He had poise, he had grace born of years of experience of being an opposition MP, an air made more evident by the contrast with the unkempt Chia Li Teck.

And he felt so real.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you..

He spoke about the need for an opposition, any opposition in a government. I'd read these points before, so there was nothing new there. He spoke about how a vote for the Opposition was a vote that announced the people's desire for freedom - freedom of assembly, of mass media, of processions. He spoke about the very real problems that have plagued Pontong Pasir residents, residents that have stuck by him despite being penalised over and over again for daring to be an opposition ward. He talked about the utter ridiculousness of a situation where his opponent controlled all the grassroots organisations, the CCs, heck, even the police, dryly commenting that he didn't have quite so many people at his back. He talked about funds for municiple improvements that were never released, and a certain bus stop that was proving dangerous for school children, because his opponent refused to use the bus stop that Chiam had managed to build.

And of course, he talked about the pseudo opposition, and the utter ridiculousness of creating, in effect, a two class party, a sentiment that got cheers and applause from the admittedly liberal university audience. He suggested that even the current government saw the need for an opposition MP, as SM Goh had not made much of a media ripple in his low key visit to Potong Pasir. He talked about media bias, just when the LT alarm (used to indicate the end of a lecture period) sounded. Ever the consumate stageman, he cracked the audience up by commenting that opposition party events always got disturbed.

Cherie Lim seemed to be there mainly to play a role: "Hi! I'm young! I'm a voter! I'm not apathetic! You can be unapathetic too! Rouse ye, apathetic masses, from ye slumbrous slumber, and ROCK THAT VOTE!" I couldn't get away from the sensation that she was talking down to us, despite the fact that she was about - oh, a year or two my senior. Well, time will tell - she had prospective MP written all over her, which just might happen. If, you know, she lost that babyvoice, the talking-as-if-on-speed, and that marble in her mouth. That being said, she made some comments about the forced apathy of the youth day, since their wards were never challenged, and about the spoiled votes party being a vote that stated that the voter resented a choice that was no choice at all.

The questions put to the speakers by the floor varied in quality. One of the few that I remember involved a student who was disgruntled by the current restrictions on media loans in the NUS library. The restriction is basically this - if you're not taking the course, you can't borrow the video, as I found out when I wanted to borrow MTV's Girls Gone Wild: Miami Springbreak Special. Ms Rajah very kindly offered to personally write in and ask about it, Mr Chia being surprisingly impish when he pointed out that that's what opposition parties can do - force the ruling party to take care of something before the opposition gets on their case.

Someone asked Ms Rajah directly if she had ever had to vote against her conscience because of the party whip blahblah. I've never been able to decide how I feel about those questions; no, you textbook rebel, she voted against her conscience once and she's abso-bloody-lutely in tears about it and she'll cry on your shoulder any moment now. Ms Rajah replied with a textbook comment about how the benefits of PAP rule is that it's all decided blahblah. Mr Chiam spoke up at this point, mentioning an abortion bill that came up some time ago, where a PAP MP who had been a pastor found himself unable to agree with it, and instead mysteriously absented himself the day the vote was taken. Chiam pointed out that even dissent within the party was suppressed.

Another student brought up the suggestion of an opinion vote for unchallenged wards, so that the people could make their stand clear, giving the party a chance to see whether they actually had the people's mandate to rule. Ms Rajah felt that it was unworkable, mainly because it was inaccurate.

Some freshman law student posted a question to Ms Rajah: didn't the current approach to upgrading which favoured PAP wards actually contravene Section 12 of the constitution, which stated that no citizen shall be discriminated against?

*facepalm moment* Let me get this straight - you, freshman law student, are challenging a director from DREW AND NAPIER about the finer points of constitutional law? Why? Really? As it turns out, it was to score a cheap point. Ms Rajah pointed out that Section 12 actually said no citizen shall be discriminated against based on race or religion; the student immedietly rebutted by saying, "So it's ok to discriminate them based on political preferences?" to loud cheers.

Yes, hotshot proto-lawyer. That's exactly it. When you vote, you make choices. You decide that one political party, and what it can bring you, is what you want, and is worth your vote. The residents of Potong Pasir know that. They've decided that keeping Chiam is worth all the ugly red tile rain shelters in the world. Is it fair? No. But neither is it fair that Angelina Jolie only adopts Cambodian babies rather than male adult FAS NUS students. The PAP can deliver goodies, and all according to the law.

Nothing much else occured. I remember Ms Rajah explaining that the Proggressive Package was not scheduled for the elections, after all, the government gave out freebies every year. Chiam made the point about checks and balances, the NKF and a peanut reference, which never ever ever ever will get old and unfunny. Ms Rajah replied that it was in fact a PAP MP who brought the issue up in Parliament.

Poor Susan Long. History's being re-written as we speak.

That was about it, wrapping up a 2 hour session. The last question was by a guy who wanted to recount his experiences with Opposition parties in the UK, to show how wonderful it is when you get an opposition. He ended off by announcing, "Majulah Singapura", which was awesome in an indefinite way, since it was quite obvious how he thought Singapura should progress.

Well, that was the first time I've ever been to such a forum. It was interesting, although not much was said was new. But it was worth it to see Chiam in action - watching him personify that older generation of Singaporeans, the legendary generation that scrimped and worked to build a nation. When it came to the token of appreciation time, the entire theatre broke out in cheers once more when Chiam came forward.

And he turned around to the audience, and smiled. A smile of thanks, that radiated appreciation for the clear support he had received, a little hint of a man who never failed to acknowledge that he had the support of the people, for what he was rather than what he could give.

We don't see smiles like that much anymore.


At 3:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wah,, I want to move to potong pasir, but redhill is just so much nearer to orchard

At 3:50 pm, Blogger Joseph said...

Beautiful description of the forum, and of Mr Chiam.

Not being a resident in his constituency, and despite being inundated with numerous political commentaries, I have never realised how great the support was for him, how he managed to stay on as a MP for years, until I've came across your post via Tomorrow. Your post alone seems to personify that support.

Keep on bloggin'!

At 4:10 pm, Blogger faith-t said...

you crack me up.

with your irreverant wit and acute grasp of the nuances of local politics.


At 4:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for making the effort to post this entry! It was most entertaining, and well, Chiam does need some positive media, what with SPH digging such a big hole under him!

At 5:07 pm, Blogger Hai~Ren said...

Nice one.

I was there, sitting right at the back of the LT, and I missed out on a lot of the witty remarks.

Very nice and incisive overview of the speakers as well; you echoed my sentiments exactly.

At 5:31 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if i were there...i wld not argue base on Article 12 though.

i wld remind everyone that PM Goh made a national promise in 2005 to ALL singaporeans, regardless of political belief.

2. Providing for needs of older Singaporeans

5. Promise to Singaporeans
a. We are one people together
b. Growth and prosperity is for all Singaporeans to share
c. Provided you work hard and help yourself, we will help you to succeed
d. We will progress together, and not leave anyone behind

then i will draw an anology with the upgrading programme.

PAP is like the only doctor with the resources to do upgrading ( the medication).

There is a queue of patients waiting for to see PAP for the medication.
there is an elderly patient( Potong Pasir) with the worst symptons (SM Goh calls it 1950s syndrome)

Does the good Dr PAP deny the most deserving patient of medication because it is not your regular customer? Don't forget Potong Pasir pays all taxes and fees required for the medication.

do u keep lettting less urgent cases jump queue in front of Mr Potong Pasir? how long must the elderly Mr Potong Pasir wait?

i think Government has a moral obligation to consider the needs of all Singaporeans equally...

At 5:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write beuatifully.

At 7:37 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one thing you missed out.

opposition ward residents also pay taxes like everyone else.

hence they have a fundamental right to services like anyone else in the country and cannot be discriminated against in anyway.

unless of course pap gives opp wards a discount in taxes in return for reduced services. lets see the rush to those wards.

At 8:44 pm, Anonymous recruit ong said...

I was just going to mention the Doctor analogy. It is a very apt one.

A doctor answers to a higher calling. Which is why he/she takes the Hippocratic Oath. Politicians and govt are no different. They answer to a calling too, to serve the people and hence the country. There is a moral responsibility to fulfill.

Unfortunately the PAP seems to understand only the Oath of Hypocrisy.

At 9:08 pm, Anonymous zhenchang said...

nice blog entry abt the forum. i was there too, and was thoroughly entertained by the proceedings. you were right abt chiam's smile. he came across to me as a genuine and humble person. =)

At 9:21 pm, Anonymous freakkler said...

Wow, interesting commentary. Thanks for the update. I wouldn't have missed this forum for anything if not for the fact that i'm abroad.

I sense a PAP-supporter here but would like to make a remark on this line by you. 'The PAP can deliver goodies and all according to the law', is really a huge irony inherent and apparent. PAP = govt = law passed. If one follows this line of logic, delivery of the goodies lawfully .... is naturally expected from them.

A quote from Bolton manager Sam Allardyce on his success (read: PAP's lawfully delivery of goodies)
"Chelsea have spent £270m. If I had spent that amount I'd guarantee winning the title every year. That would be the minimum requirement."

At 10:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great writeup about the forum.

I admired Chiam for his courage to continue fighting in spite of the odds being stack against him.

People of Potong Pasir continue to give your support to Chiam !

At 11:50 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say that was a very insightful commentary - nuances and all. Being abroad means I have no clue what's goin on and if anyone even cares. Keep doing what u do best!

At 12:42 am, Blogger avalon said...

Very well written. Keep it up!

At 1:51 am, Blogger Mezzo said...

Thanks for both the brickbats and the flowers, as well as the people who added on what I missed. I'm not familiar with the arguments surrounding the whole "role of government", which is probably an entire module in the Pol sci dept, so it's fascinating when those in the know start talking.

"I sense a PAP-supporter here but would like to make a remark on this line by you. 'The PAP can deliver goodies and all according to the law', is really a huge irony inherent and apparent. PAP = govt = law passed. If one follows this line of logic, delivery of the goodies lawfully .... is naturally expected from them."

I completely agree with you, but I couldn't resist commenting on that question anyway. Sometimes I wonder if I'm being too harsh on the student-raised questions, because I know that sometimes they ask it just to see what will happen this time.

And nah, not a PAP supporter or an opposition supporter, but no one will ever know that since I can't vote. If I ever get to vote, I promise to videotape my hand guiding the pen to draw a chicken - whoops, make that a cross (thank you for your advice, Cherie Lim) in the appropriate box, and post it on youtube. It will stand as proof that I am, in all probability, a donkey voter.

But if Ms Rajah proposes, all bets are off. Damn, but the dame is rich *and* hot.

At 6:50 am, Blogger ILJ said...

beautiful. awesome writeup

At 8:52 am, Anonymous FromAFar said...

This is a great write-up.

On the debate on section 12, "..., and all according to the law."

Yes. The law that they have full control of.

Remembered many years ago when i get to meet Mr Chiam, and i said that with respect, in a kopitiam. He's a real gentleman.

At 1:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was an interesting writeup. You write well. Thank you! :)

At 6:46 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi i was at the forum too and i disagree with how you described Mr Chia Di Lik, in fact he appeared to be very sincere in his speech, and had good reasons to leave the Young PAP for an alternative voice for the people. It was quite obvious from his speech that he held on to his beliefs, and it would be disgraceful to associate him with Chee Soon Juan, whose approach to Sg politics is more of blacklisting PAP, rather than emphasising on the peoples' voting choice. I look forward to see Mr Chia at the rallies, and wish him all the best. Mr Chiam was undeniably the "Father" during the forum, he deserves to stay on. Dun understand why PAP still wants to put Sitoh in his ward to compete.
I believe all those at the forum have to agree that it was a worrying sight, watching us students challenge Ms Rajah, the PAP should never be complacent. In fact, The parliament should always have a mix of genuine oppositions and PAP ppl.i believe many of us want to see more oppositions(Credible of course)sitting in Parliament.(not NCMPs who cant vote, no point)
Oh ya, You forgot to quote Mr Chiam's ending line about absolute power! (That was certainly IMPACTFUL)

At 11:30 pm, Blogger Fatboi Slim said...

Very well written post. I enjoyed reading it. =)

At 11:25 am, Anonymous Desmond said...

Its wonderful to read something like this. We NEVER hear anything good about the opposition in the local media, we only get the bad stuff. Nice to read something that shows that the PAP are not the only good ones.

At 12:17 am, Blogger juz_A_ga| said...

1st time i read any politics-related post, and you've roused my respect for Mr Chiam.
Great post. Very witty style you have. :O)

At 7:28 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea wots wif dat bukit ho swee native? wanker dude. why doesn't HE stand for election or sumfin. he's even noisier than the old man himself.

- tan chi lick

At 12:45 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great writing. Marry me.

At 7:50 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am quite disappointed that NUS students did not question the value of their own degrees.

Ever thought of what the alumni network created by the elite PSC has done to local graduates? Ever wondered why the FT policy is so popular despite clear evident flaws? Ever wondered why Contact Singapore helps foreigners to come work in Singapore, but not help Singaporeans find work in protectionist markets overseas? All these pertain to the careers and future of NUS graduates, which directly impacts your ability of guts to vote for anyone, because your financial health is held at ransom.

I got my idea from this:!26F399664A850E81!134.entry

At 1:49 pm, Blogger fitriyandi said...

Very well-written~ Beautiful.

At 10:39 am, Anonymous Dead-Man said...

Superb English!

At 3:01 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happen to read your blog and really enjoy it. The comments that follows assured me that there is still hope for the future politic of Singapore. Like most people I tend to read and listen only to official media. After going to the rallies, like most of you I now appreciate Mr.Chiam and all those who risked their livelihood by speaking up.

At 8:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Chia Ti Lik was my Taekwondo instructor and ive got nothing but kind words for this man. I hope he achieves what he wants in this election. :-)

At 11:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

haha. interesting read. but beware! big brother is reading too. They are going to shut down your blog

At 2:51 pm, Anonymous real singa said...

Yes, I've seen Chiam growing in stature election after election... a true blue statesman. At least we have one in this little red dot.


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