Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Singapore GE 2011: A view from overseas

The excitement over the forthcoming General Election in Singapore is palpable, even where I am, miles away from home.

It reminded me of the elections between 1981 and 1984, when I was often worried over whether an increase in bus fares would mean I could not afford to eat, given my meagre income giving private tuition as an undergraduate.

I don't remember much of elections since then, and in particular in 2006.

2006 was when (1) my son had the most difficult time at school before his special education needs were identified, (2) my husband was very ill, and (3) my business was in its infancy.

It has been said of British politics prior to 1997 when the Labour Party came into power, that it was not that the electorate wanted Conservative rule, but that there was no "credible opposition".

I remember how every time the then PM John Major came on radio I switched it off. His "back to basics" rhetoric was torn to shreds as minister after minister, politician after policitican was exposed as a hypocrite.

The Labour Party remained in power while the Conservative party was in disarray, going through several leaders in the course. Likewise I was so affronted by the lies and spin of the Labour government that every time Blair or Brown came on radio I switched off. Enough! I cried to myself. Enough of those lies.

Again Labour remained in power only because the Conservative Party did not constitute a "credible opposition" until last year where though they won more votes in total, the constituency boundaries were drawn in such a way that they could not form the government.

Of course in the lead-up to our last UK election we had the "expenses scandal". In Singapore ( where there is no corruption, remember?) I understand that the ministers have awarded themselves a 30% pay rise. This, you must agree, is a first-class way of preventing corruption.

We have been introduced to opposition candidates whom many now feel make up a "credible opposition" come May the 7th.

Interestingly, many of these candidates are men and women of a certain age. They are, to a great extent, self-employed. Professionally they have proven themselves.

I wonder if they have only now come forward because they have observed that to do so earlier would lead to professional suicide.

They have seen how the likes of JB Jeyaretnam have had to suffer the pain and ignominy of being imprisoned and bankrupted. Have they bided their time in anticipation of an uphill struggle ahead?

For years the ruling party have resorted to mudslinging come election time. "Ad hominem" (character assassination) arguments do not work any more. The Singaporean electorate have grown up and have become quite fed up with this. Singaporeans want a clean fight.

It amuses me that whilst the ruling party champions the virtue of foreign talent and Singaporeans working abroad, when faced with a "returnee" billed as a "star catch" by a opposition party, they question his credentials.

Singaporeans who, for whatever reason, have been living abroad can only be good for local politics. Singaporeans exposed to other parliaments, whether "First World", "Third World" or none at all, can offer a fresh and useful perspective.

Eg I would express caution when it comes to a debate on minimum wage and a comprehensive welfare state because I know this is not working. Here in the UK I am paying the heavy price of a welfare state that has lost its moral bearings.

In a 'previous life' I had to introduce Mr MBT to interactive educational software via touch-screen technology. The preparation for his visit required rehearsals because "we must not let the minister wait for the lift". So colleagues were detailed to ensure that the lift doors would be open when Mr MBT stepped out of his ministerial car.

That is not how the majority of us Singaporeans live.

How many of us have found it impossible, come lunch hour, to get into a lift to take us to the ground floor? How many of us have resorted to taking the "up" lift to a higher floor in order to take us down so that we could brave the hot sun walking to the nearest hawker centre?

So, when was the last time people like Mr MBT had to wait for a lift?

When was the last time politicians had a door slammed in their faces by another ungracious Singaporean?

When was the last time they sat down at a hawker centre or food court and experience the ugly practice amongst Singaporeans of reserving seats with tissue paper while people eating on their own cannot find a place to set down their tray of hot food?

Part of me feels sorry for these politicians because, of course, when you become famous, or become a minister, this freedom to live an ordinary life is not always possible.

When politicians and ministers come to a point where they cannot move around freely, let the current candidates take note, they must surround themselves with trusted friends who can do this and report accurately, make use of every feedback channel to listen, and then act accordingly with a clear conscience.

Any way, here are my other thoughts, for what they are worth:

"Parliament" is pronounced "paR-le-ment", not "pa-lee-men". OK, Nicole, take note!

I was very impressed by the woman PAP candidate who comes from a Mandarin-speaking background (her parents are Nantah graduates). Is it because she learned English properly, ie. as a second language, or by immersion in America (or wherever it was her parents were based)?

Please sounD youR enD consonaNTS. If your poiNT is importaNT, say iT. It heLPS to sloW down.

Y-O-U-T-H is "youth", not "yoof".

P-A-R-T-Y  is "paR-ty" not "pah-ty".

We "take" someone (eg children) TO somewhere there (eg Legoland). We "bring" something FROM somewhere else to here.

I was quite tickled by how the likes of Tan Jee Say, who speak very good English, would switch to Singlish complete with the accent.

And please stop nodding your head incessantly at the end of answering a question and saying "ya". It reminds me of those nodding dogs some people put in the back of their cars!

Wrt to opposition switching parties I have this to say: people switch parties when they feel that they cannot, with a clear conscience, go along with what that party stands for. This is to be taken as an expression of one's integrity and honesty, not a negative point.

Unless of course that candidate is "shopping around" for a party that would reward him/her with privileges not obtainable elsewhere (eg a ministerial post). It's a bit like athletes shopping for a country they could represent because they are not really top-class in their own countries.

When I first came to the UK I was still very hung up on personalities when it came to elections. That was the Singaporean upbringing in me.

Now I understand that in a First World parliament, party manifestos are important. When it comes to a vote, MPs vote along party lines except when a "free vote" is allowed on matters of conscience.

I am tempted to fly back to cast my vote, but alas! it appears that it is another walkover in my Gee-Arer-See.

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