A politically more robust Singapore: Yee Jenn Jong

NCMP Yee Jenn Jong contributed the following article to the latest edition of the Hammer newsletter of The Workers’ Party:

Former top civil servant, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow was once asked in an interview what kind of Singapore he hoped his grandchildren will inherit. He replied with a story of two city states in Greek history – Sparta and Athens. Ngiam said Singapore was like Sparta, where the top students were taken away from their parents as children and educated. Each cohort selected their own leadership, ultimately electing their own Philosopher King. Ngiam felt that though the starting point was meritocracy, the end result was dictatorship and elitism. He believed that was how Sparta crumbled in the end. He observed that Athens, a city of philosophers known for its different schools of thought, survived. Sparta was a well-organised martial society, but was very brittle. Athens survived because of its diversity of thinking and was a city Ngiam considered as worth fighting for.

In today’s post-Mr Lee Kuan Yew era, the question of what kind of system we want for Singapore has become more pressing. It was a question that I had asked myself five years ago before I eventually entered politics. No political party or government can rule forever. A party can become incompetent or corrupt over time. I had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the lack of diversity of views in our government and was concerned about whether my children will have viable alternatives to the current ruling party to choose from.

We have often heard the narrative that Singapore does not have enough talent for two teams, something which I disagree with. I believe there are enough people who want to serve Singapore, given a fair political climate. All the more going forward, Singapore needs to have diversity in political views for its long term sustainability. In an interview conducted at the World Economic Forum in 1999, when asked about people contesting against him politically, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, “They can run against me, but it’s an effort to gather enough people to make that consistent try year after year, to build an organization.” [1]

It is extremely difficult to form an organisation quickly to respond to a future situation where the incumbent party may no longer competent enough to rule. It takes a long time to build up a rational, respectable and responsible alternative party and to attract good people to join it. I believe this continuous process of building up of the alternatives is even more relevant today as we move into the post-Mr Lee era to have a more resilient Singapore.

In the business world, we value competition and even have anti-monopoly laws to protect the consumers. Competition forces the incumbent to improve or be forced out. It has been so in every business. Monopoly brings about complacency and dearth of innovation because there are few incentives for those with monopolistic control to improve or else lose market share.

There should be healthy competition in politics as well. Democracy is about empowering the people to choose their leaders and make decisions affecting their life. It should be about a fair system that allows willing people to come forward to serve according to the political beliefs they have. We should break away from the unhealthy fear factor under the iron-fist rule of the past that has unnecessarily limited the choices of our people because capable people have been deterred from politics due to high stake political price.

[1] http://infusionetwork.livejournal.com/4131.html

Yee Jenn Jong


Not ‘ready’? Who’s ready for 6.9m then?

population white paper

The people who forced Singaporeans to accept a population size Singapore was and is not ready for have no right to use the lack of readiness as an excuse to avoid implementing other policies.

It’s no business of mine whom others have sex with or marry, but I take it personally if I do not even have enough space to breathe when I go out.

Molly Meek

Lee Hsien Loong just confirmed we should vote WP, SDP?

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“Mr Lee stressed that democratic progress comes from quality discussion in Parliament, not the number of opposition members. He described the duty of the opposition as one to “raise serious issues which concern the country, which offers real alternatives to the population and which then debates the hard choices which the country has to make”. ”

That just sounded too much like what our good-performing Opposition like WP and SDP are doing. Hurray!

Read the full (bull) story here.

Is PAP really giving you money?

Wait, so now I get it..

Every time the PAP gives out ‘goodies’, it is actually not giving out real money. Just ask yourself, how much of the goodies did you really spend? Free SAFRA membership as part of NS contributions. Free Gardens by the Bay tickets for seniors, etc. if not, NTUC vouchers.

If you think about it, all these are PAP-affiliated entities. And visiting these entities actually show people really go to such amenities, and boost PAP’s apparent support.

Which means while giving ‘money’, it also wants you to spend the ‘money’ in ‘their’ entities, effectively also performing a “one pocket to another” show once again.

I hope Singaporeans punish such idiots and scumbags by voting from “one box to another” this time round.

Albert Tay

No one will complain if we’re convinced it’s not wayang

A photo posted by Mr Sadri Farick, 37, the father of one of the Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils, on Facebook June 5th.

A photo posted by Mr Sadri Farick, 37, the father of one of the Tanjong Katong Primary School pupils, on Facebook June 5th.

You talk about learning? Okay, so what do you learn from visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, etc.? I can tell you most of the students learn only one thing: that Singapore is much better and other countries very ulu. Of course it fits the national education bill.

Wait, I am all for learning, and yes to visiting Cambodia to learn about the evils of people-killing regimes. But don’t come back thinking Singapore is paradise.

And stop blindly defending the school authorities for sanctioning such a trip for 12-year-olds. You know we are Singapore, and we are all kiasu and kiasi. You want people to be more open, you bloody hell scrap PSLE and open up the various playing fields.

No one is saying we should blame MOE, blame the school and teachers all the time. I, for one, do not blame MOE for allowing this. After all, what better way to sell the much-propagated idea we are giving opportunities to our young than to have such exciting and maybe expensive trips?

But why are people not allowed to criticize? As if criticizing means we don’t want them to go out and learn? May I repeat, we are Singapore, and like so many other things, maybe ‘society’ is ‘not ready’ for such trips?

And now, the Sabah authorities are considering barring Kinabalu to under-15s. Good slap to those saying “age does not matter, why discriminate?”

No one is saying they are too young to learn. But if you can convince people it’s not all wayang when you pump in so much money for such trips to give people a feel-good sensation, when you pump in so much money to build nice, new ITEs to let people think you are caring, when you scream ‘every school a good school’ but do nothing to solve elitism or to equalize job opportunities and prospects, then I think no one would complain.

Albert Tay

 Six schoolchildren from Singapore, a 12-year-old Filipina, and three believed to be teachers from Singapore were among the names of 17 Kinabalu victims released by officials June 7th.

Six schoolchildren from Singapore, a 12-year-old Filipina, and three believed to be teachers from Singapore were among the names of 17 Kinabalu victims released by officials June 7th. Pic credit: FMT

Tharman concedes after failing to answer question on transparency

After being asked by WP MP Low Thia Khiang, Tharman tries to say that the second key held by the President on drawing of reserves ‘is not wayang’.

When asked for more transparency to quell such worries as those raised by Low, by PAP MPs Irene Ng and Inderjit Singh, Tharman says he did not think ‘that was relevant’ and concedes to bring forth the ‘principle’ we uphold here in Singapore that is different from more transparent nations like Norway and Australia, etc., one that seemingly gives undue trust ‘in the individuals who are in charge’, ‘including those appointed to the CPA and the elected President’.

Watch the full exchange here:

Election Fever II: Everything also Elitism

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By Daniel PS Goh

A couple of years ago, I was having a coffee with an undergrad, a student community activist, when this conversation came up.

D: You have chosen a very interesting thing to do in your free time. What is your motivation?

J: I come from a working class background. Got interested in this while doing the community involvement project and realised the poorer, older folks have no voice, no one to speak for them.

D: I see, but doesn’t the government help them quite a bit? The PAP MP there is a rather good fellow who cares for his constituents? You work with him what.

J: Yah, but they are all elitist lah no matter how caring they are. The guy is a professional, how much can he understand the old auntie being resettled, her flat torn down to make way for a condo?

D: Hm, why not? Empathy is a human virtue. If someone from a privileged background realizes his privilege and do things to help equalize the situation, is he still elitist?

J: Just look at the Workers’ Party. The candidates are professionals, like you prof, where are the workers? The way you guys speak English, can you understand the HDB aunties and uncles speaking dialects?

D: But J, you are going to be a professional after you graduate and you use English more often than not, so are you elitist?

J: Maybe, if I have the elitist mentality, you know, talk like I know everything, big shot, look down on people and don’t care about those who need help.

D: That sounds like arrogance, not elitism. They are often associated, but not the same thing.

So what is elitism? It is a belief that a certain group of people with some privileged attributes — academic credentials, scholarship awards, physical prowess, wealth, cultural breeding, blood ancestry, specialised training — should have fundamentally more authority in a system. Take note that it is the belief that makes up elitism, not the attributes themselves.

Meritocracies, based on achievement rather than birthright, can be elitist, because it depends on how you define “merit”. So if by virtue that I am a PhD holder, I am given more authority in a political party or a political system, because “merit” is defined by the achievement of academic credentials, then such a party or system is elitist. If by virtue that I am a professor at a premium university, I am given more authority in a political party/system, because “merit” is defined by achievement of tenure, then again such a party/system is elitist.

So am I elitist just because I am a PhD holder or a tenured professor? If I believe that I should have more authority in a party/system by virtue of those privileged attributes, then YES. The grey area is when one doesn’t quite believe so, but participates in a party/system and uses the attributes to assert more authority — perhaps I could be said then to be cynically exploiting an elitist system to succeed. But for an unbeliever (non-elitist) to succeed, there must be many elitist believers.

And this is the crux. Anyone can be elitist, rich or poor, super-educated or school dropout, scholar or non-scholar. If someone believe that a party candidate belongs to the elite because of the privileged attribute (he is a doctor, a scholar, a CEO, a professor, etc.) and vote for or against him/her based on this, then he/she is elitist. I’ve met supporters and detractors of WP alike who have used the same reason (that I am a prof) to praise and attack me. Not right.

Ideally, one should vote for a candidate based on the person’s ideas and performance. Notwithstanding the unequal and uneven playing field shaped by gerrymandering and other un-constructive tactics, I do think our system fundamentally operates on voting on ideas and performance. The electorate is essentially rational, but more recently muddled by “everything also elitism” allegations usually unfairly targeted at PAP ministers and candidates.

The “everything also elitism” attitude will not be good for the opposition parties or democracy in the long run either, attracting candidates who think they are entitled to more authority because of their professional or academic credentials. If we think a system is elitist and should not be, we have to stop believing in elitism first, question the elitism, and not judge/trust/attack someone based on privileged attributes.

Please call me Daniel.

p.s. Glad that Saturday’s Straits Times‘ feature on possible GE candidates didn’t go ra-ra on professional credentials and talked about, for examples, my colleague Dennis Tan’s involvement in MPS sessions on the ground and WPCF, and my involvement in Punggol East grassroots.

The above was posted by Daniel PS Goh, a Workers’ Party candidate and current sociology professor at NUS, on his facebook page, as a note.