GE2020: The State of Play

You will be forgiven for initially assuming that GE2020 would be a boring affair given the Covid-19 pandemic. However, many events have happened that bear closer inspection ahead of us heading to the polls this Friday. Here is my take on many of the myriad issues in play for this election:

  1. The Televised Debate

Jamus won the debate, there’s no question about it. With his bubbly, energetic personality, his gentlemanly demeanour in keeping his exchanges with Vivian cordial, and his sheer wit in overturning Vivian’s attempt to cast the WP as “PAP-lite” must have felt to many like David taking on Goliath and winning.

Chee brought up a very good point about how the richest kids were going to the best schools, since the brand name schools all seemed to be congregated in the Bukit Timah area, and the school proximity rules meant that most Singaporeans would be unable to afford to live there in order to get their children into these schools. Vivian’s response? “Every school is a good school.” Okay. It must be true because the PAP said so.

While Jamus is undoubtedly the Wonder Boy of this election, one must not forget that the Worker’s Party failed to send a candidate for the Mandarin equivalent of the televised debate. Low Thia Khiang would have been perfect for the role, but alas he has retired to make way for new blood. The WP needs to do more work to strengthen its support with the Chinese-speaking voter base if it wants to succeed in holding onto Aljunied and Hougang for this election.

  1. Chee Soon Juan and the SDP

Chee has released a video on Youtube to explain his behavior at the debate. If your mind is open enough, give it a watch. Chee has been a vilified character in Singaporean politics for the past 3 decades, but still he continues to stand for election after election. I think that whatever people may think of him, that sheer tenacity and perseverance is to be admired, especially when it should be considered that he could easily give up and live more comfortably elsewhere. Of course, heart is not enough to run for public office, but too often we give PAP unknowns a free pass into Parliament without doing the same due diligence we so frequently exert on those who dare to run on an Opposition ticket.

I was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Paul Tambyah joined the SDP. A highly educated and temperate individual, he brings much-needed legitimacy to the SDP brand, and in my opinion, he may have been the better candidate to send for the televised debate. However, that same temperance may have led to his demolishing at the hands of Vivian, who is very experienced at debating.

I do not believe the SDP will win any seat this election, because too many are unable to look past how the media has portrayed Chee to be wholly unfit for office. But that perseverance is not going unnoticed by our younger generation of tech savvy Singaporeans, and so if Chee continues his struggle, it is possible that one day he might finally be able to have his day in the sun. I am also interested to see if Paul does better in Bukit Panjang than Chee will in Bukit Batok. If that is the case, then I hope Chee sees the result as our electorate signaling to him that they want less combative politics and more moderation in the future.

  1. Tan Cheng Bock and the PSP

Cheng Bock is not going to win West Coast GRC. There, I said it. It’s true he may have captured the support of young Singaporeans, but these young Singaporeans are too young to vote. For most Singaporeans, they may believe that while Cheng Bock does have what it takes to run the GRC, what with his extensive MP experience, it might simply be a case of being too old and too late. Granted, that is not his fault at all, seeing that he was denied the Presidency twice, in 2011 and 2017. But we Singaporeans are a pragmatic lot, aren’t we? We value our lift upgrades and anchor ministers more.

That said, PSP has a brand name problem. People have no clue who the PSP candidates are beyond Cheng Bock himself. Granted, this is only natural since the PSP is an extremely new party. I would like to point out Brad Bowyer, who is running in Nee Soon GRC against Shanmugam. Brad gave an excellent speech earlier in March, in which he brings to light something we all know as Singaporeans: that while we appear to operate in a meritocracy, the top leadership of our GLCs are inextricably linked to each other and to the government. PSP needs to really work on publicizing things like this, to show Singaporeans that PSP candidates have what it takes to serve them well as an alternative voice in Parliament, to say the things that PAP MPs will not or cannot say.

  1. The Case against Raeesah

Our Government has never tolerated even the slightest insinuation that it has not been above board in all matters, and this is no exception. A police report has been made, and the SPF and AGC must now perform their functions as the executive branch of the government.

What should be looked into, though, is the extremely curious and suspicious timing of the police reports against Raeesah. The comments were made in 2018. They were made in a public capacity on social media. If these comments really incited racial divisions, why wasn’t it picked up then? Why only now, when she’s running for public office?

Furthermore, the PAP couldn’t wait for investigations to be concluded to issue an ultimatum to the WP demanding that they ‘clarify their stance on Raeesah’s posts’. I’m not sure if the PAP ever ‘clarified their stance’ on Ivan Lim. Didn’t Masagos say of Ivan: Candidates should not be defined by  single moment in time or in their career, but judged instead by their growth throughout their life?

I mean, it’s only human nature to exert double standards, but please, don’t be so obvious la.

So, back to Raeesah. I agree that her posts could have been better framed and less strongly worded. Race is an extremely touchy issue in Singapore, and she should have known better than to post without due care, in light of her position as a candidate running for public office. But I do not for a second believe that her comments fall under s.298A of the Penal Code, as the AGC has advised.

Only time will tell if our government will actually press charges against her for this. And if that day comes, that will be a dark day for freedom of expression in Singapore.

  1. Heng Swee Keat and the East Coast Plan

Heng Swee Keat is an excellent administrator. He can come up with good policies and execute them well. But the mantle of the next PM requires more than just good management skills.

Our next PM is a leader that needs to stand with his head held tall on the world stage. He will be our face in a world which is caught in a tussle between Trump and Xi, with Putin and Boris looking on. He needs to inspire confidence in Singaporeans that he can do so.

And unfortunately, he does not inspire confidence in this particular Singaporean who is writing this piece. His congeniality prevents him from being able to trade barbs effectively with Opposition MPs in Parliament, and his East Coast Plan… do I need to say more? If he can stumble in a prepared speech setting towards mostly friendly voters, how is he going to hold his own when confronting world leaders who may not have Singapore’s best interests at heart?

East Coast GRC voters have a very unique responsibility – as someone has said in a Facebook post, they have the power to decide Singapore’s next Prime Minister. The PAP thought that abruptly uprooting Heng from Tampines and dumping him in East Coast at the eleventh hour was a masterstroke that would crush Nicole Seah’s team. And sadly, they’ll probably be right. But if voters are able to take a longer term view with the fate of our nation in mind, maybe they would realize that sometimes, voting for PAP is not always the safest option.

  1. Will it be a White Tsunami? Or will there be an Opposition Coalition government on July 11th?

Every General Election, the PAP engages in fearmongering, spooking voters that if they don’t vote wisely, they will wake up to find the PAP kicked out of Government, and Singapore will be finished. I wrote a similar piece back in GE2015, and this playbook hasn’t changed one bit.

The one thing that has changed from 2015 is that opposition parties have learnt to play the same game. The Worker’s Party is warning against a total opposition wipeout if voters believe in the PAP’s apocalyptic scenario. Based on a simple comparison of the number of MPs fielded by each party, as well as each party’s historical performance, it is primary school-level math to conclude that the likelihood of such a wipeout (or what I call a white tsunami) is far more likely to occur than an opposition coalition government scenario like what PAP is trying to say.

I really dislike fearmongering. I don’t like it when political parties try to manipulate the fears and insecurities of voters in order to bring about a desired election result. Let’s just stick to a very simple idea: Is diversity good for better decision making or not? Studies suggest that if the problem being tackled is a simple one, it is better to have a homogeneous team to deal with it.

But when the problems are complex, like the problems Singapore faces today, is it not better to have a diversity of views in Parliament, where the exchange of ideas can bring about a better outcome for all Singaporeans? If so, then it seems logical who deserves more support in this election.

The PAP does not need the strong mandate that it keeps harping on about to form the Government and continue doing the excellent work it has done. But it does need alternative voices that can stand up to it in Parliament, to help them see their blind spots and to further refine their policies.

We all know of things that we want and things that we need. Oftentimes, these two things are not the same. The PAP has always claimed that it knows better than us in what is needed for Singapore. It wants a strong mandate to justify all the actions that it wants to unilaterally take in the next 5 years, of which raising GST will be just one. Perhaps the time has come that our electorate is mature enough to know that what the PAP wants isn’t necessarily what Singapore needs.

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