Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Opposition member votes PAP: Sincere exercise of democracy or Wayang?

This fact came from a ST forum article which then got me interested. Here's a blog entry from none other than this Worker's Party member himself, Mr. Yaw Shin Leong:

I like his explanation. It is a plain and simple fact, vote for whom you think is the best person running for your constituency.

Of course, as with all political actions, there are people who agree with you as well as your critics. Here's some of the discussion on this topic at Sammyboy's forum:

In it, there are some valid (under some circumstances) criticism that Mr. Yaw:

1) did this out of spite against the SDP (which chose to run in Mr. Yaw's planned GRC, forcing the WP team to challenge the Prime Minister in his ward instead)

2) was "Wayanging", since he brought it up after the election was over, presumably to score points as an "underdog"

3) was a hypocrite for doing so in the first place because he was simultaneously asking voters to vote opposition in his contest

So, just how valid are these complaints? Firstly, I do not know Mr. Yaw, so I have no clear understanding of the man at the personal level. Taking things at face value and the fact that he is a politician (playing the political game), all three claims are possible (as you can see, I don't think very highly of politicians in general). However, such a biased view does not do us justice if we wish to move into an era of enlightened politics as Singaporeans. Where 1) goes, all I can say is that it is possible. Who can know what he was thinking? On the flip side, he could also sincerely feel the lack of quality in the SDP team. Mentioning it in his blog (I'll get to that later) kinda counted against him on this point, since it reinforced the negative aspects of this view. On 2), I do not agree with the criticism on two counts ... one, I felt Mr. Yaw did not make a big deal out of it. He merely mentioned it. So, either he was making a sincere observation (which I believe he was), or he was so deviously cunning and subtle that he believed Singaporeans would feel an outpouring of sympathy for him because of his act. NOBODY, especially not Singaporeans, responds in an overwhelmingly positive manner to such a subtle gesture in politics. A bunch (including myself) may be impressed, but to believe the act would make people fall in love with him is futile as a political gesture. He might as well go on a hunger strike like Chee Soon Juan. Two, it is foolish to think the act will be received positively. Given my perceptions of Singaporean mentality, I think it more likely (as in the posts on Sammyboy) it would be interpreted as an act of treachery. So, given this fact, why would a politician stick his neck out in such a risky fashion? Mr. Yaw does not appear to be a madman maverick like Chee Soon Juan, so I think it unlikely and unreasonable that he engineered this. On to 3), was he a hypocrite? You could say so for all politicians and their supporters when they get "emotional" in general. Someone commented that Mahatir desired to drive a wedge between Malaysia and Singapore, spouting rhetoric saying all the economic deals will "force Malaysians to live in the forest". What about the time Goh Chok Tong said if the residents of Potong Pasir continued to vote for Chiam See Tong that the constituency would "become a slum"? I do not know if Mr. Yaw was actively saying (in general) that "people should vote opposition" while campaigning, but that's his job while campaigning. It sounds kinda wierd in a campaign to say "vote for the best person, even if you don't think it's me" even though frankly, I think that's the proper thing to do (of course, one has to follow up and say "I believe I'm the best person and I can prove it to you!").

This leads me to a slightly off-topic thought I had while considering "honest and sincere" politicians I have witnessed. I wanted to use the word "encountered", but frankly, I've never actually met nor interacted with a politician or political activists and while I enjoy talking about politics, I get uncomfortable when I have to deal with people with partisan backgrounds and avoid it then.

A politician has a "job" to do. That is, they are tasked to convince people to vote for them. What I find sad about being a politician, is that they have to "pander" to these people. It becomes the "math" of populations. They are forced to take a multi-hued world where people possess individual blends of colors, and "squeeze" specific colors out of groups of these people to find the issues that resonate with the biggest blotch of these colors they can find, then making a stand based on those colors while spinning your stand to offend as few of the 2nd biggest blotch, 3rd biggest blotch ... etc ... that's how I think politicians become successful in politics, at least in the US. Which is what made me so interested in Barack Obama because I liked the way he makes stands based on his belief yet they resonate with the people in general while at the same time, reminding people and himself (he's doing less of that now)less of that now, which worries me) that things are not black and white and that many things require careful thought.

Of course, "the game" is very different in Singapore. I think in Singapore, the number of "colors" has been limited, due to our smaller population size and our close proximity to one another (it's really wierd, seeing how different US states vote so very differently just based on geographical clustering). Also, I think this pool of "colors" has grown smaller in part due to the constant feedback of economic fears and pressures emphasized by the PAP government over the many years they have been in power. So, in Singapore, I believe the predominant "color" for voting criteria amongst Singaporeans is that of economic progress and worldly comforts. I believe we see that played out every single recent election (I was too young to have paid attention to any election before 1988). It is a worrying trend. The PAP has done a good job of managing Singapore's problems so far. However, they have also swept a number of other problems under the carpet. Problems like ethnicity, unfair treatment of maids, treatment of homosexuals, etc ... these are tough problems, but are swept aside with discussion of them "forbidden", always with the claim people are not ready for it. It may be true, but if we are not ready for them, why can't the government get people ready for them? I see few if any signs that the PAP are helping Singaporeans (in general, including the Bengs and Sengs) mature politically and get them ready to express views and accept views without getting angry or emotional about them. You see this form of political maturity often here in the US. A conservative Republican can tell me "he respectfully disagrees with my views" without becoming an enemy or even losing my friendship. He has gay friends (mine too) whom he is close to, yet disagrees with their lifestyles. In Singapore, somehow, disagreement often gets perceived as a threat.

I hope this changes and improves, no matter how slowly in Singapore. All I appear to see is mostly the reverse happening.

Ok, end of rant. I just realized I've gone fairly random hehehe.

1 comment:

Yaw Shin Leong said...

Chanced upon your post which is a good read & a balanced analysis.

Do you wish to do your part for Singapore, serving on WP’s side?

Do email me at

Best Regards

Yaw Shin Leong