GE2020SG: Why I’m glad to see Paul Tambyah and Tan Jee Say. And other thoughts from the past week.

A short note on Paul Tambyah, Mariam Jaafar, Ivan Lim, Lee Hsien Yang, The Workers’ Party overcoming perceptions of racism and xenophobia, and Tan Jee Say.

1. Paul Tambyah.

Tharman and his should be the first two names on our parliamentary team-sheet. I voted for Paul as part of SDP’s team in 2015 and was pleased as punch to see him contesting in a single-seat ward this time, where he arguably has an easier route in.

Smart, eloquent, sociable.

Really hope his constituents send him to parliament. I will be watching this result with as much anticipation as Aljunied’s.

I love that WP team, now including Leon Perera, whose POFMA performance against Shanmugam should debunk any notion that the oppo doesn’t do a good job in parliament, as well as Gerald Giam, my childhood friend.

Listen here to Paul talking about the PAP’s pandemic response:

2. Mariam Jaafar

Mariam and her hubby Thai Heng are buddies of mine. I actually didn’t know she was running until she started appearing on walkabouts in March/April. Even then, they would neither confirm nor deny. (Haiyah, what kind of friends, right??!?)

As mentioned in this Facebook post, I have really high hopes for her. Among many other things, the pair are great South-east Asianists, and I believe she could be part of a generation that helps cultivate Singapore’s ties with our immediate neighbours. (Separately, look out for their fab colour coord every Raya.)

Mariam offers some assurance that the PAP’s recruitment system isn’t all that bad. Which brings me to…

3. Ivan Lim: PAP apologists, please stop.

WhatsApp was going bananas a week ago. Messages from all sorts of people asking if I was going to comment on Ivan Lim.

I was like, “Ivan who?”

Before I knew it, he was history. That moment when he withdrew, it was surreal, one I will long remember.

Sure enough, the PAP and its fans, Ho Ching included, had throughout been blaming the accusers and whistleblowers.

I guess that’s all in the game, fair enough.

But once Ivan had dropped out, I was shocked to see PAP apologists spinning new theories to defend the PAP’s flawed recruitment and selection processes.

One of my favourites goes like this: the people, tired of the scholars and generals, had asked for more diversity; and so the PAP has been trying to diversify its slate; and Ivan Lim is the inevitable outcome of that search.

In other words, it’s our fault for asking for diversity.

I have two responses to this cockamamie nonsense, both stolen from buddies:

First, we asked for diversity of opinions. Not diversity of character. Not diversity of intellect.

Second, we asked for diversity, not douchebags.

And, make no mistake, “character” and “intellect” do not necessitate paper qualifications, and “character” and “intellect” are actually to be found in heaps across Singapore, from the incredible people in civil society, TWC2 and elsewhere, to fiercely independent thinkers in the civil service, SMEs and MNCs.

Based on a few conversations I’ve had, this seems to have been the problem with the Ivan Lim recruitment process.

Sources say that Lee Hsien Loong spotted and liked Ivan. (There is a 2018 post from LHL, apparently.)

Ivan seemed like the perfect non-scholar candidate. And since Ivan had the imprimatur of the Number One, he was not subject to the party’s typically rigorous checks.

If true, then the Ivan Lim fiasco is not so much an indictment of the party’s recruitment processes—as it is of the excessive influence of its top dogs.

So, the questions that must be asked of the PAP:

1) Was Ivan’s recruitment process as rigorous as the others?

2) If yes, what went wrong?

3) If no, why not? Is it, as one source says, because of a “eunuch system” that has developed around Lee Hsien Loong?

4. Thank you, Lee Hsien Yang

I was a bit worried that the younger Lee might stand for election. God knows we don’t need another Lee!

In my opinion, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Singapore’s socio-political evolution today is the entire Lee family.

The sooner Lee Hsien Loong and Ho Ching leave their positions the better. Thank you for your service, and we look forward to seeing you performing other roles in society.

And no other Lee, not their spouses or children, should come forward.

The Old Man did a great job of developing talent in this country. We don’t need another Lee.

Many are unsure whether LHY’s entrance into the Progress Singapore Party is good or bad for the party’s chances at the polls. (I would love to see Tan Cheng Bock in parliament.)

Nevertheless, I liked the message that LHY put out on nomination day. And look forward to hearing more from him, whether through video or otherwise.

5. The Workers’ Party overcoming perceptions of racism and xenophobia

In 2015 I slammed The Workers’ Party for saying in its manifesto that it effectively wanted zero foreigner growth if Singapore achieves 1% resident population growth.

While I have been critical of the PAP’s ultra-liberal immigration policies of the past twenty years,  the WP’s “zero foreigner growth would be the death of Singapore”, I said then.

Moreover, such a policy has nativist, xenophobic overtones. I don’t like its explicit and implicit messaging, somewhat similar to my critique of Tan Wu Meng’s mindless attack on Alfian Sa’at and Pritam Singh, where Wu Meng peddled the narrative of ungrateful minorities in Singapore.

In the intervening years, I have mentioned this every time I have chatted with a WP politician.

For additional context bear in mind that some in the PAP have long feared the WP because they think the WP is more prone to stirring the communal pot. The furore over Raeesah Khan’s comments should also be seen in this light.

I am not quite clear why this idea took hold. Was it because of Low Thia Kiang’s brand of heartland politics? Or the fact that some in the PAP believe the WP brings up tudung and other issues not out of genuine concern for Malays (what I believe), but as a form of gamesmanship?

Whatever the case might be, I am glad to say that today The Workers’ Party has come a long way. Its new manifesto has been cleansed of anything I consider nativist or xenophobic.

Its current leader Pritam Singh is one of the most considerate spokespeople on ethnic or religious issues, as can be seen from his response to the Raeesah incident.

This is something to be celebrated.

6. Tan Jee Say in the Singapore Democratic Party. Celebrate!

Many groaned when they saw the irrepressible Tan Jee Say on the SDP’s list.

I didn’t have very strong views on Jee Say before he founded the Singaporeans First party. But from the moment it was formed I disliked it, for the same reasons given above. A party with a nativist platform has no place in Singapore.

Yes, the rights and privileges of citizens must always come first, like they do in other countries. But this is not the kind of politics we want.

I used to joke to some friends that we finally have a far right party in Singapore; but of course, being Singaporean, so mild and gentle compared to the far right elsewhere.

As I described in my piece on President Nathan and polarisation in Singapore, political polarisation in Singapore is not as problematic as in other countries. This is largely because of the relative socio-economic homogeneity of the electorate, i.e. voters are more similar to one another than elsewhere. Most Singaporeans are urban, well educated, of the middle class, and live in multicultural public housing environments.

Anyway, I was worried that any little success for a party like Singaporeans First might drag our electorate to the right. Xenophobia would rise.

As it turns out, Singaporeans First was dissolved on 25 June 2020. The electorate rejected their platform.

While other sighed about Jee Say in the SDP, I cheered, I saw it as an opportunist, having failed, being brought back into the fold.

The system corrected.

Even before the first vote has been cast, we should all, collectively, take a bow.



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p.s. these are all random musings, from those snatches I’ve grabbed between making videos this past week. Apologies if I’ve missed out some key details, my mind is really in a bit of a funk: one moment chatting with the editor at Nikkei about phrasing, the next adjusting my microphone and reviewing cute stickers on screen. Bouncing from one medium in which I have decent experience, to another in which I have none. Not sure where all this is leading (aside from the bottle), but hey, at least it’s been fun.

So any feedback, thoughts, corrections very welcome! Thanks.

3 thoughts on “GE2020SG: Why I’m glad to see Paul Tambyah and Tan Jee Say. And other thoughts from the past week.

  1. Very well spoken. Looking forward to a genuine opposition minority in droves to question the ruling party policy. Most of which makes no sense or utterly impractical. As an observer overseas, I watch with anticipation this time around real progress for the good of the citizenry. Marjullah Singapura

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