5 More Misconceptions About Singapore Politics

1. PAP plays cheat by changing the Electoral Boundaries.

This is the No. 1 complaint of the “opposition” parties, who claim that the PAP continually redraws electoral boundaries to break up voters who voted against PAP so that it can maximise its chances of winning.

This year (2010) alone, both the Reform Party and Workers Party have called for the Electoral Boundaries Report to be issued at least six months in advance of the GE.

In a sense, the parties’ anxieties are understandable. They’ve been doing house-to-house visits for some time now and they want to know if those houses they’ve visited will be in the constituencies they’ll be fighting in.

Unfortunately, this is a huge misconception because the parties have misunderstood the purpose of a General Election.

A General Election is held to elect a new Government.

A GE is not held just to give some parties a chance to get one or two seats in Parliament to voice the people’s concerns.

Thus the purpose of a GE is not to determine if you like your MP or if he has done a good job per se.

It’s held to determine if you want PAP, WP, RP or SDA, etc to lead the country.

Seen from this context, it doesn’t matter where the electoral boundaries are for each constituency, because you should be fighting to run the country.

Naysayers will say I’m talking fantasy, because no party is strong enough to challenge the PAP for the whole country.

But that’s because they don’t understand electoral strategy, and they haven’t stepped up their game to the level the PAP are playing at yet.

In any case, the parties have two choices:

A. Carry on what they’ve been doing for the last 50 years, and complain loudly that the rules aren’t fair.

B. Suck it in and go for the PAP’s jugular, whatever the rules. Fight the PAP for the whole country. Use my suggested election strategy as a start.

The first approach hasn’t succeeded in any change in Government in 50 years, and I doubt it will have any chance of success in the next 50. The PAP will ignore your complaints, because there is no legal requirement for them to release the boundaries six months before the GE.

I leave the parties to ponder my alternative approach.

2. The Campaign Period is too short.

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, there must be a minimum of nine days allowed for campaigning prior to Polling Day. So predictably, for most of the past elections, the PAP has only allowed nine days for campaigning– the bare minimum under the law.

Only in one or two cases did they allow for 10 days.

In other countries (eg UK), the campaign period is as long as one month prior to Polling Day.

And predictably, the other parties have alleged that this short campaign period denies them enough time and opportunity to get their message across to the electorate.

This is a great misconception, for three reasons:

(1) They don’t really need more than nine days if they persist in their current election strategy

The truth is that, for the past 20 years, no “opposition” party has had any significant message to give to the electorate. So why would they need so many days?

I’ve been attending rallies since 1991, and the following are the key takeaways.

“PAP is responsible for the high and increasing cost of living. Temasek and GIC lack transparency and accountability. PAP is responsible for foreigners taking away our jobs. PAP govt doesn’t care enough about poor Singaporeans. Etc

“Please vote us in so that we can act as a check and balance on the PAP govt, and air your concerns in Parliament. Don’t let the PAP continue unchecked for the next 50 years. Vote for yourself, not for the PAP. Etc”

With messages like these, how many days of campaigning do you really need? Apart from the anti-PAP jokes, it’s just a litany of criticism against the PAP, with no electoral promises at all.

Very unlike other countries, where candidates promise to tackle crime, corruption, create jobs, cut taxes, etc. in their campaign speeches. And they use their rallies to sell their proposals to the electorate, to convince voters they can do a better job of running the country.

So if the “opposition” can’t fight in this manner, how many days do you expect the electorate to listen to a bunch of critics with no ambition and no means to do anything about these complaints?

(2) Nine days is enough for anyone who wants to attend the rallies.

The “opposition” rallies are so well-attended (up to 10,000 people have been seen at WP rallies) that that anyone who wants to attend one has likely done so, and the message would have been received loud and clear. It’s the same message at every rally anyway, regardless of party.

With youtube, your messages can run 24 hours a day– and the Govt can’t stop them. Just get your supporters to post the videos.

In other words, I think nine days is enough that anyone who wants to listen to your message would have heard it at least once.

(3) A longer campaign period could benefit the PAP

It costs money to run a campaign. Each candidate spends at least $20-30K just over the 9-day campaign period on posters, banners, flyers, rallies, logistics, etc. A longer campaign period will mean more spending. Can the poorly funded “opposition” parties sustain a longer campaign period? Do they have enough $$? And even if they could sustain a longer period, so what? The PAP candidates will still outspend them, and the PAP ministers will get even more air-time in the media.

In other words, the inequities will be magnified over a longer campaign period.

In addition, if the “opposition” have no worthwhile messages to give the voters after nine days, chances are that voters could even start going to PAP rallies after they’ve had enough anti-PAP jokes.

So who will really benefit from a longer campaign period?

3. Voting is not secret.

Ballot papers in Singapore have serial numbers, and the “opposition” regularly seizes upon this to allege that it allows vote tracing, thus compromising the secrecy of the vote. At the very least, they complain it strikes fear in the voters that their votes may not be secret.

Having served as an elections official, I can confirm this is totally untrue.

At the polling station, the first thing that is done is to verify voters’ identity against the electoral register. They then proceed to the second station, where they are issued a numbered ballot paper. The officer crosses out the serial number of each paper on the register as it is issued, but he does not record the voter identity against the ballot paper serial number.

Voting is done in secrecy at each voting booth and the votes are deposited in the ballot boxes by the voters themselves. No cameras are permitted in the polling station so there is no way to observe how voters vote.

After close of polling, the ballot boxes are sealed before transport to the counting centres. At the counting centre, a “lo-hei” takes place when all the ballot papers are consolidated before being counted.

Counting is done under time pressure so there is no opportunity for anyone to record the particulars of each vote against each serial number. In other words, what I did as an elections officer was put votes for party A into one pile and party B into two piles, recorded the numbers, and that was that.

Candidates and polling agents for both parties are able to observe our work as we count.

After the count, results are announced promptly and the votes are sealed in the ballot boxes again, where they are then deposited in the Supreme Court vaults, and are then destroyed after six months if there are no alleged election improprieties.

Again, candidates and polling agents for all parties are invited to witness the process of destruction.

Hence, I can say with a clear conscience that voting is secret, and any fears about the secrecy of the vote are misconceptions.

However, this does not mean that the fears are unfounded, due to the very existence of serial numbers. Those who do not understand the process will always be out there raising such concerns.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that despite protests over the last 20 years, the Elections Dept has never changed its position on serial numbers. They maintain it’s an effective defence against ballot paper stuffing, and that’s that. Hence, I’d suggest that the other parties stop wasting their time complaining about this. Complaining won’t change things.

The fact the Mr Chiam has been able to stay in his seat for over 25 years is evidence enough that the electorate are not afraid to vote against the PAP.

I suggest the other parties stop complaining about this and start thinking about how to win the election.

4. The Media has an agenda against the “opposition”.

The common complaints are: they give the PAP more coverage, and more favourable coverage, than they give to the “opposition”; they play up the rifts in the “opposition” but they deliberately keep quiet on the PAP’s problems; they only praise and do not criticise the PAP, they deliberately paint “opposition” politicians in a bad light, etc.

While all of the above are true to some extent, the misconception is that the media is part of the Establishment that is out to oppress the “opposition”.

The truth is that the media is not a slave of the PAP, nor a supporter of the PAP per se. The media lives in fear of the PAP, as much as the “opposition”.

Fear of the so-called OB markers.

Fear of losing their lucrative licences. Fear of lawsuits. Fear of being detained without trial.

I worked in SPH in the early 90’s. I can say unequivocally that the PAP or the Govt does not tell the media what to print, what not to print.

Because they don’t need to.

The editors tell you what’s kosher and what’s not, and they base it on very clear guidelines from the lawyers.

Anything that could possibly get SPH into a libel suit is a no-no. Anything that could make the Govt look bad must always incorporate the Govt’s right of reply. Unverified stories are not allowed– only factual reporting. Speculation is also not allowed– for simple fear of libel suits.

The Govt has made it very clear, it will not allow the media to become the Fourth Estate.

The Govt will dictate terms to the media, and will not be held to terms by the media.

I hope that clarifies this– the media does not have an agenda against the “opposition” per se. It lives in fear of the PAP as much as the “opposition”.

Notwithstanding the above, things have changed in the last 15 years. I see that prominent non-PAP politicians like Kenneth Jeyaretnam have been given full-page coverage in Today, something which I could not envisage 15 years ago.

I think the “opposition” has to learn to cultivate relationships with the local media, rather than seeing them as tools or agents of the PAP. And it would not be a bad thing for the “opposition” to learn how to use the media to its advantage either.

For example, instead of talking about the Reform party’s history as a “rudderless” vessel, or how he is his “own man”, KJ could have used it to launch the Reform party’s campaign, by explaining how the Reform party would run the country if it was in power, what it would do in key areas such as healthcare, education, housing, etc.

Opportunities such as these do not come by every day, and it’s a pity that KJ squandered it.

5. Singaporeans are politically apathetic.

The basic assertion is that Singaporeans only care about bread and butter issues, they don’t care about freedom, rule of law, democracy, etc.

This is a misconception because most Singaporeans are not apathetic per se. Most have strong opinions about the PAP– for or against. The younger, educated generation are fully aware that their democratic rights have been suppressed, and they don’t like it. The older generation support the PAP because it brought Singapore out from the Third World into the First World, and having never enjoyed true freedom, democracy or rule of law, they do not see why it’s so important to have such rights.

However, most Singaporeans will draw the line at protesting against the suppression of rights by the PAP. Because to them, it’s not worth getting arrested, charged and jailed.

That’s a conscious choice– it’s not being apathetic, it’s being pragmatic.

The world is a different place today. We’re more cynical, time-deprived, more selfish, less idealistic and less patriotic than 50 years ago. People will not risk their livelihoods, their homes and their careers to fight for such ideals any more.

People have choices now– if they don’t like what the PAP is doing, they move out. The world is their oyster.

In any case, apathy or not, political parties fighting for votes in this country will have to live with what is at hand. Complaining about it won’t help. They have to learn how to win the votes from an electorate who may not be moved by issues such as human rights, freedom, rule of law or democratic ideals.

Better to just suck it in and work with it.

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About politicalwritings

Someone who sees beyond PAP and "opposition" in Singapore politics. To understand more please see the Top 10 link below.
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2 Responses to 5 More Misconceptions About Singapore Politics

  1. Pingback: Are you “pro-opposition”? Or are you really rooting for PAP to change? | Political Writings

  2. Pingback: The 100: Top 10 Political Writings | Political Writings

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