Friday, August 05, 2011

At the verge of Singapore history - GE2011

GE 2011 is a significant milestone in Singapore’s political arena. Workers’ Party won an unbreakable GRC (Aljunied) and sent PAP to an emotional ground. George Yeo served in various capacities as a Cabinet Minister in MITA, Health, MTI and MFA for 23 years and was being seen as unorthodox to PAP through his various speeches. He was a wise man and full of wisdom. However, this was not enough to protect him from being booted out by the Aljunied voters.

(George Yeo packing up in his foreign affair office - facebook 2011)

One week after GE, both MM and SM decided to quit the cabinet, citing that GE2011 was a watershed for Singapore, and they have to let the younger generation to take charge. I have great respect for MM Lee who brought us to a state where we could stand up for Singapore with strong pride. Similarly, I have great respect for SM Goh who opened up the society with his consultative approach. However, I also embrace a political system that should be fully taken charged by the PM without strong burden from the legacy.

(MM Lee and SM Goh decided to quit the cabinet one week after polling day of GE 2011)

Why did George Yeo and his formidable team lose in Aljunied GRC? George Yeo gave his post-mortem analysis:

“Mr Low Thia Khiang himself said that they won Aljunied not because the Aljunied team did not do a good job, but because the voters wanted WP to be their voice in Parliament.

Mr Low's analysis is fair and I agree with him. This desire for a strong WP voice in parliament was a political tide which came in through Aljunied which we were unable to withstand despite our very best efforts. Right from the start, the Workers party made Aljunied a national battleground.”

Lim Hwee Hua (second minister for finance and transport in George Yeo’s team) admitted she was surprised that the PAP team garnered only 46 per cent of votes, an almost 10 percentage-point drop from 2006:

“We spent the last five years working hard, trying to understand... what the problems were, what the deficiencies were and to address those... It is a surprise for us that the resentment and unhappiness is so deep.”

In a separate interview by The New Paper, she was quoted as saying that she felt upset that her ‘15 long years of service’ in Aljunied GRC didn’t seem to count much as residents had no qualms sending her packing home.

Lee Kuan Yew still believed that respect of the old glories would turn into votes for PAP after 50 years of self-governance. Hence, he was possibly inferring that voters were irrational. He gave his first assessment one day after GE that the younger generation “does not remember from whence we came…That is to be expected. But I do and those amongst you who are older than 50 will remember.”

Emotion is part of the GE games in the whole world. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged the electorate to “calm down, and detach yourself, think carefully before you vote prior to the election.

A day after PM apologized for the mistakes that the government had made during a lunchtime rally, he spoke to the media: "We considered carefully and I thought this was a suitable message to Singaporeans at this stage of the campaign, to focus minds on the key issues.

"One set of key issues is the policies, housing, healthcare and so on. The other set is the politics of it and the emotional connection, which is very important, between the government and the people. So I thought the lunchtime rally at Boat Quay is a good occasion to address these points."

Initially this apology appeared to be artificial because it only surfaced when PAP sensed that the mass had been drifting away from PAP during the election campaign. However, I appreciated the sincerity of PM Lee after he announced his new cabinets within ten days after the election although the net effect has yet to be seen. He showed the exit signs to Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim who should be accounted for the lapses in homeland security, housing and transport policies.

(The last cabinet meeting held 10 days after polling day to thank the outgoing ministers. 2011)

PAP's systematic use of fear as a strategy to silence critics was so successful that it had become a permanent feature of the Singapore political landscape. But the climate of GE 2011 was far from fearful. Lee Kuan Yew chose to use the same tactic on Aljunied GRC, threatened the voters and humiliated the opposition:

"If you are in Aljunied, ask yourself: do you want one MP, one non-constituency MP, one celebrity, two unknowns, to look after you? Or, have two ministers, one Speaker of Parliament, one very good ground worker (Ong Ye Kung) and Cynthia Phua to look after the place?

"What will happen to your property values and your own comfort, the drains and mosquitoes and so on in the five years? You have this celebrity, he has been away 30 years, he comes back, how does he connect with us?

"It may well happen. If they win, in which case, the people of Aljunied live with the results. The only way people learn is when they have to pay a price."

Lee Kuan Yew openly declared that losing Aljunied would not be a major setback. “If Aljunied decides to go that way, well Aljunied has five years to live and repent.”

Goh Chok Tong was the only cabinet minister supported George Yeo strongly at all cost: "If one GRC is lost, as Minister Mentor (Lee Kuan Yew) said, we can accept the result. I agree with that. Sooner or later we are going to lose one. But my view if we lose Aljunied, that is a different matter……What mistake has he made? You can take a minister and criticise him for not delivering on perhaps housing and transport. Like Wong Kan Seng you can say he let Mas Selamat escape. George Yeo, what has he done to deserve this?"

Between Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew, they have at least one strategy in common. Goh Chok Tong adopted the same “price-tag” approach to discredit the opposition. In less than a week after proclaiming that he would not comment on candidates outside his GRC, he made a U-turn and launched a sarcastic criticism of his former principal private secretary (PPS) Tan Jee Say:

“He was an able, hardworking PPS, but I did not think he would make it as a Permanent Secretary.”

PM was quick to sense that the fear factor did not work well in connecting with people anymore and he had his personal fear arising from such fear tactic as well. He feared that such threatening approach would generate a negative impact on PAP nationwide. He also felt that the impact generated from Lee Kuan Yew was likely to be far greater than Goh Chok Tong. Hence, he responded immediately to distant himself by declaring that Lee (KY) and Lee (HL) were different entities. Each of them entitled to their own view. However, his father’s view was not his view.

In the days leading up to the election, the emergence of a large group of internet savvy’s Singaporeans articulated their minds fearlessly in the social media. They even showed open, bold support for the opposition. Their confidence seemed infectious, spreading quickly among the people.

In the space of just a few years, the various opposition parties had clearly undergone a remarkable transformation, producing candidates to match any PAP team in their professional credentials. In the nine-day campaigning period, they had drilled into people’s heart and soul and improved their respective public standing. Indeed, the Workers' Party had risen to be a star so much so that the PAP had to do last-minute scrambling to come up with new campaign strategies. After the election, PAP has to do soul searching and acknowledge that the party was inflexible with outdated style of connection with the mass. They have to engage citizens in policy making and treated citizens with better care from now on. Most importantly, I wish to see the new government managing the country with heart and respecting the dignity of our citizens, not a profit making's Singapore Inc.

(A shrink of new cabinet from 21 down to 15 ministers. 2011)

As George Yeo put it, the need for the PAP to review the way it governs was an issue. He raised it on the last day of the nine-day campaign. With Singaporeans feeling “considerable resentment” towards the ruling party and its policies, it needed to listen harder, and to take into account people's unease over the pace of change driven by globalization.

“From time to time, it's important to shake the box, because whatever system you set up after a while becomes so predictable that it doesn't capture all the feedback that it needs to have….So a certain shaking of the box is required from time to time — and this is such a time.”

He acknowledged that he was “often a minority voice” in the “broad church” (the PAP). And he used the word PAP has to “transform”, not “reform”.

(The WP team for Aljunied GRC. 2011)

In deed George Yeo was unfortunate that he was positioned in Aljunied right at the crest of the tide. With his departure from the cabinet scene, MM and SM also issued a joint statement to leave the cabinet. In their short statement, the words "young" and "younger" have been used 6 times. It sent a strong signal that between MM, SM and the nation, generation gap and out-dated style of connection co-existed. They chose to retire from the cabinet scene would allow the PM to fully take charge.

We have studied the new political situation and thought how it can affect the future. We have made our contributions to the development of Singapore. The time has come for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation. The Prime Minister and his team of younger leaders should have a fresh clean slate. A younger generation, besides having a non-corrupt and meritocratic government and a high standard of living, wants to be more engaged in the decisions which affect them. After a watershed general election, we have decided to leave the cabinet and have a completely younger team of ministers to connect to and engage with this young generation in shaping the future of our Singapore.



But the younger team must always have in mind the interests of the older generation. This generation who has contributed to Singapore must be well-looked after.

GE2011 also brought some burning questions at the verge of modern Singapore history, such as:

- Did Singapore really provide equal opportunities to each Singaporeans? How had it been done?

- How did government relate to men on the street? More dialogue sessions = better communication?

- Should Singapore Inc. be abolished? What are the replacements?

- How to rewind the time by 50 years to inject heartware and humanware into PAP politics?

-Why should SM system exist? (Both MM and SM had decided to embrace the young by quitting the cabinet).

-Where is PAP heading towards in the next 5 years? (Based on all the ministerial announcements, it seems that embracing the power of the people will be the direction for policy making in order to win back the hearts of Singaporeans).

-On a minor scale (Marine Parade GRC), what were the impact of Ling versus Ling and new social media on the election outcome? (Goh Chok Tong claimed that Ling versus Ling had an impact on votes. But the Ling’s impact alone should not be so great to drag the Marine Parade GRC votes’ shares to below national average.)

(Ling versus Ling - PAP Ting Pui Ling and NSP Nicole Seah Xue Ling. 2011)

-How would WP and opposition parties capitalize on the current tide? (One week after GE, Sylvia Lim resigned from her Tamasek Polytechnic lecturer post and sought for flexible job so that she could devote more time to Aljunied GRC. She refused to be a full time MP, probably a full time MP would set too high a standard for the future WP candidates to step forward).

-Why should GRC exist?

After note (17 October 2012):
Hong Kong South China Morning Post (南华早报) published an interview with George Yeo on 13 October 2012, Pg B4. In addition to the post of vice-chairman of Kerry Group which publishes the South China Morning Post, he is also the new chairman of Kerry Logistics, a unit of Hong Kong-listed Kerry Properties.

When asked why did he give up his political career and become a businessman, George Yeo replied,

I was in politics for 23 years until I lost in the last election. The opposition leader who beat me, when he was interviewed, said, "We won not because my opponents (meaning me and my team) did not do a good job, but because people wanted us in Parliament." I thought if there was not something that I could change, because it was not something about me, maybe it was time to open a new chapter of my life.

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