Nov 5th: Speaking in Cambridge, MA

Social inclusion image

Dear friends, I’ll be speaking at this event. Join us!

When: 5pm-7pm, Nov 5th 2015

Where: Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS) Harvard, 1730 Cambridge St, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138


Singapore is a small city-state often lauded for its economic transformation over the last 50 years. Less attention has been paid to the social integration policies that brought a racially divided nation together, and the unique approaches and principles that produced them. Today, as Singapore celebrates her golden jubilee, new cracks in the social fabric are starting to emerge: class, immigration and race relations. This panel discussion series focuses on how Singapore has confronted social integration challenges in the past, and the challenges and solutions to social faultlines on the horizon.


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Oct 11th: A book table with Sonny Liew

GN-CharlieChan-CVF-300Book Cover

Dear friends, Sonny Liew and I will be sharing a book table at Mabuk Market, a “hybrid boozy flea art market” on October 11th at Keppel Bay.

Drop by to hang out, chat about graphic novels, literature, travel, politics, whatever. No program, no speeches, just a chill session. We’ll have a few copies of our books for sale.

For those who don’t know, Sonny has written/drawn arguably the best Singaporean book this year, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Come see what all the fuss is about.

The flea market will be held in a giant air-conditioned tent, haze-free, family-friendly (bouncy castle!). Check out the event’s Facebook page.

Romba thanks to the kind people at The Haywire Handymen, Dreamfields and Good Citizen for hosting us.


When: Sunday, October 11, 11am-9pm

Where: Marina At Keppel Bay, 2 Keppel Bay Vista, Singapore 098382


Mabuk Market

Full text from organiser:

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GE2015: Three questions from yesterday’s talk

MARUAH crowd photo

Yesterday’s MARUAH post-elections forum was part analytical, part group therapy. For the many opposition voters there, it seemed a cathartic experience. VMA, as one participant described it, i.e. not Alcoholics Anonymous, but Vocal Minority Anonymous.

For me, aside from the camaraderie I felt with many people there, new friends and old, it was also an honour to be on stage with my former teacher, Braema Mathi, president of MARUAH, who taught me at St. Andrew’s Secondary School in the early 1990s.

It was also a great treat to share the stage with such a varied group of speakers, including Alex Au, migrant worker and gay rights activist and a friend for many years, Derek Da Cunha, a political analyst, Rafiz Hapipi of MARUAH, Jack Lee of SMU, and Terry Xu of The Online Citizen.

I learned a lot from all of them; and when the video recording is ready, I will post it here, so you can see what they each said (update: videos ready, see the end of this post).

But for now, I just want to share the three questions I posed yesterday during my presentation.

Did populism win or lose?

Has political apathy returned?

Do Singaporeans ever want an alternative policy platform?

The answers to these questions, I believe, will tell us a lot about the evolution of Singapore’s democracy over the next 10-15 years, if not the next five.

These are incoherent thoughts, and perhaps contradictory. But anyway, here you go. Any comments and responses of course welcome.

1) Did populism win or lose?

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GE2015 panel discussion this Sat, Sep 19th

UPDATE! Venue and (slight) time change due to demand. New details:

Date:   19 Sep 2015 [Sat]
Time:   3pm – 7pm
Venue: 9 Penang Road, #13-03 Park Mall

Please remember to sign up here.

Original post:


Dear friends, I will be taking part in a dialogue at Bras Basah Complex this Saturday at 230pm alongside Alex Au, Braema Mathi, Derek Da Cunha, Jack Lee and Rafiz Hapipi, organised by MARUAH, a Singapore Human Rights NGO (no, that’s not an oxymoron).

Please sign up here. For those interested, my two books, Floating on a Malayan Breeze and Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, will be available there.

Hope to see you!

More details from organiser:

Post-elections forum – What’s at Stake?

On 11 September 2015, Continue reading

GE2015 postmortem: the beauty of democracy


There is something crude and reductive about how an individual’s complexity and preferences get compressed into a single vote once every five years.

But there is also something beautiful.

When all the chatter is done, that vote, ultimately, is the only expression that counts.

Once the results started streaming in, and words like “massacre” began floating across living rooms, close friends and family asked if I was sad. Astonished, certainly, as I sat there mouth gaping open, just like when Germany beat Brazil 7-1.

But not sad. The results are enlightening, informative, and should give each of us, whatever our political inclinations, a humbling sense of where we stand in the larger Singaporean community.

In Singapore, we don’t have the luxury of regular sentiment polls, and so elections are, even more so, those wonderful, occasional snapshots. I savour them.

What does sadden me, however, are suggestions that certain groups of voters are silly, ill-informed, ignorant. This election campaign has certainly seen its fair share of wacky commentary. One of my favourite strands was the conflation of the PAP and Christianity. Some WhatsApp messages compared the WP to the devil; the hammer, apparently, was going to rise up from the fiery pits of Hell to destroy everything Singapore had built.

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GE2015: Final thoughts (4 of 4)


This is part 4 of 4. To read part 3, click here.

Conclusion: GE 2015

Over time, the PAP has become a party more for the rich and for the elite. Yes, it will do things for the lower- and middle-income citizens. But more because it wants our votes to stay in power. I’m not convinced it genuinely, compassionately considers every Singaporean as an equal human being. Maybe a long time ago it did; but not anymore.

Some government critics think the party is corrupt and is enriching itself at our expense. Again, I don’t buy that argument at all.

I just think the PAP has become so fixed in its ways, in its belief in a natural aristocracy, that the best way for society to progress is by nurturing the elites.

Which many of us don’t agree with. So, in 2011, I thought, OK, if the PAP loses one GRC, it’s going to reform.

Sadly, no. A few tweaks here and there, but it’s the same old party with the same archaic beliefs. Does the PAP have the ideological adaptability to lead Singapore in our next phase of growth?

I have serious doubts. The demands of the next fifty years are immeasurably different from the last. The PAP’s perennial, indefatigable, prioritisation of growth over distribution, and its aversion to welfare, are ill-suited for an ageing population, slower growth, rising income inequality and wage stagnation.

On a related note, one of the many problems governments around the world are grappling with today is striking the right balance between national priorities and the demands of transnational corporations/the global elite. The PAP has always been far too accommodating of both constituencies. (And, as mentioned, all its leaders probably belong to that global 0.1%.)

How I think about my vote

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GE2015: Final thoughts (3 of 4)


This is part 3 of 4. To read part 2, click here.

Population policies

It saddens me that racism and xenophobia have been on the rise over the past few years.

But we need some perspective. Xenophobia is on the rise across the world. Consider the UK. From 2001 to 2010, the UK’s net annual migration rate averaged 0.3% of the population.

What happened there? Nationalism, xenophobia, the rise of Nigel Farage. Right now, there is a refugee crisis in Europe, and the UK is the most obstinate of all.

How about Singapore? Well, from 2001 to 2010, our migration rate was more than six times the UK’s.1  Six times!

This is not an apology for racism and xenophobia. We must always fight it. But we need to understand why these feelings emerge.

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GE2015: Final thoughts (2 of 4)


This is Part 2 of 4. To read Part 1, click here.

The nexus of power

Conflicts of interest in turn point to the dangerous nexus of political, policy and business power in Singapore.

Before I begin describing this and highlighting why it is bad for Singapore’s future, I want to emphasise three points. First, my arguments here are about conflicts of interest; not cronyism or nepotism. There is no evidence that cronyism or nepotism afflicts Singapore in any significant way.

Second, I have chosen to name certain public figures below simply because there is no other way to show the existence of these close networks of families and friends in power. Naming them in no way implies that they or their families/friends have ever been involved in anything illegal.

Third, this point is a non-partisan one. Though all the names below are of people close to the PAP—owing to our country’s unique political and institutional history—my broader argument is that Singaporeans should, from here on, vigilantly guard against the emergence of these networks. Today the PAP; tomorrow perhaps the WP.

Every time I think I finally comprehend how closely-knit our leaders in Singapore are, I learn something new that shocks me. This time, it is the network of a new PAP candidate in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, whom I will eventually get to.

But first, we need to start at the top: Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong and Ho Ching. Though all of you are aware of this trio, it is important to reiterate its existence and continued power in Singapore today, albeit without the late Mr Lee.

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GE2015: Final thoughts (1 of 4)


We are at a curious point in history. Whenever I share my electoral preferences, my PAP friends call me an opposition supporter; and my opposition friends call me a PAP supporter.

Why? I’ll come back to that at the end of these four pieces, but first I want to discuss three issues I think are important.

This is not some comprehensive analysis of this election. Just three issues that I think haven’t been given enough consideration; and that have affected my choice.

They are: the diversity of ideas in Singapore; the nexus of power in Singapore; and Singapore’s population policies.

Diversity of ideas

First, as Singapore prepares for its next phase of development, we simply do not have a sufficient diversity of ideas in the public realm. Our level of public debate and discourse is terrible. Our country is not having the conversations it so desperately needs.

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