Tuesday, 24 February 2015

More Singaporeans Are Turning Away from the Workers Party

Not workers party supporters


This note was originally a post on my timeline on 14 February 2015 in response to this blog post on Petulantchild.

I reproduced the post into this note (with some refinements) to preserve my thoughts for posterity.

I identify with the above blog post totally! I didn't start out being a PAP supporter either!

The writer of the above blog may not be a PAP supporter now but I see the "eureka" moment down the road.

Most may find it hard to believe, I used to be a SDP supporter!

Back when I first started studying law back in the late 1980s, I was a diehard supporter of the SDP that Mr Chiam See Tong led as its founding Secretary-General. Exposed to the western models of democracy in the study of Constitution Law, I wanted the PAP to be checked too! Mr Chiam's approach in Parliament of focusing on issues rather than rhetorics and personal attacks appealed to me. By contrast, the approach of the then WP Secretary-General made me adverse to the WP.

I cheered for SDP in the elections in the early 1990s and was elated when SDP won 2 more seats (Bukit Gombak by Ling How Dong and Nee Soon Central by Cheo Chai Chen) in addition to Potong Pasir where Mr Chiam had always stood, using the by-election strategy. I was so proud of Mr Chiam when the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew called him the de facto leader of the opposition in Parliament.

By the time I became a lawyer in 1998, I had given up on the SDP. In just a few years from winning 3 SMCs, Mr Chiam was kicked out of SDP by his protégé, Chee Soon Juan. The petty politics within the opposition camp also became quite obvious, these folks weren't interested in the big picture. They were interested in themselves. The SDP with CSJ embraced the rhetorics and personal attacks that made me adverse to WP. I became a fence sitter, I became neither for the opposition or the PAP.

After becoming a lawyer, I started taking part in committee work in the Law Society. I figured I should play a part in improving the environment I work in. By 2003, I stood in an election for Law Society's Council and won.

As I got involved in "governance" of the Legal Profession in Council, I realised that it was not an easy job at all. You may have the best of intentions but nobody sees it. The good that you do is nullified by detractors as a matter of course and any lapses are amplified. Those who support you, do so in silence because they have more important things to do, like practise law and building a clientele. Detractors usually have an axe to grind because of self-interest and because they fail to see the larger picture of the needs of and the threats to the profession. Gradually, I came to appreciate the difficulties of running a country. I was only involved in the running a profession of 4,000, the PAP Government was running a country with a population of more than 4 million. By extrapolation, I could imagine their stresses being 1000 times more than mine as a Council member. I started to see things from the PAP's angle and saw the difficulties of running this little "red dot", the difficulties of avoiding the threats and maximising the opportunities.

I had warmed up to the PAP. So when I was asked by  Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon (whom I met through volunteering with my primary school alumni association) to help her in Bukit Timah in the 2006 General Elections as a volunteer, I obliged. There was a walkover on Nomination Day. The opposition was still using Mr Chiam's by-election strategy. By now, there were 2 opposition MP, Mr Chiam who's still in Potong Pasir on his new party's ticket and Low Thia Khiang, WP's new Teochew Sec-Gen, who had taken Hougang by storm. SDP under Chee was nowhere to be found in Parliament.

After helping Mrs Yee-Foo very brief campaign in 2006, I was asked to stay back to help in Bukit Timah. I volunteered with the Grassroots and Mrs Yu-Foo's MPS. Then one day a green form with a lighting logo was pushed to me, I signed it without much hesitation. I had by then realised that there was so much being done on the ground and people were being genuinely helped.

I became a Young PAP member and later became the YP Chair in Bukit Timah. Being in YP exposed me to PAP Ministers and MPs and gave me opportunities to understand why they do what they do. I realised that they are just ordinary people who try to do things extraordinarily. They know they are not perfect but try to do the best they can for the country. I had the opportunity to give feedback and criticise them and I got to understand things from their angle. I came to understand the constraints of our country and the trade offs that are needed. I see them listening although they may not agree with what they hear.  I see them tweak and change what's no longer working and fiercely defending what works. I realise that like Council work, this was hard work and a thankless job.

I saw the PAP make the error of not giving credence to the Internet, allowing alternative sites to spread toxic rumours and responding to these only through the mainstream media. The PAP thought that as long as it ran the country well, the citizenry will vote for them. Big mistake.

Meanwhile, even after becoming a PAP member, I still held the firm belief that check and balance is necessary. By 2011, WP seems very promising as LTK started bring in the likes of Chen Show Mao but I was alarmed that the opposition had ditched Mr Chiam's by-election strategy. Mr Chiam, who was by then in poor health, was himself claiming that those in the opposition camp could be ready to be government. People were clamouring about the need for change. I was skeptical. Really? Change to what? All that Singapore enjoys today are the results of PAP policies. By no means perfect, the PAP government tries its best. PAP has a track record. Whilst I can accept that check and balances are needed, a WP (definitely not CSJ's brand of SDP) government is not something Singapore is ready for. LTK by his own admission was not ready. Ditching the by-election strategy was unsafe. This drove me to defend the PAP even more because someone else being government then was unthinkable.

The 2011 election was a watershed election. The WP won a GRC in addition to Hougang with the war cry of a "First World Parliament". But Potong Pasir was lost by not Mr Chiam but Mrs Chiam. Mrs Chiam came into Parliament as a NCMP, so did WP's Gerald Giam and Yee Jenn Jong. WP's Eric Tan left WP over this.

WP's Yaw Shin Leong MIAed over allegations of extra-marital affairs. By-election was held for Hougang, WP's Png Eng Huat got into Parliament.

PAP's Speaker, Michael Palmer resigns for the same failings as Yaw. By-election was held for Punggol East and WP's Lee Li Lian got into Parliament. 

WP now have 9 MPs in Parliament, 7 elected and 2 NCMPs. They now hold 2 SMCs and 1 GRC.

Did the check and balance, with the largest number of opposition MPs in Parliament in all of history, do some good? Yes. The PAP government was definitely put on its toes. So was the civil service. Whilst there was some changes for the better, there is also a risk of policies turning populist. Civil servants were also getting unprecedented complaints and unreasonable demands that take their attention off their normal functions.

Did the WP measure up to their "First World Parliament" war cry? They majored in rhetoric and minored on policies. They voted against PAP motion on revision of ministerial salaries and raised an alternative suggestion that came back to the same result. Much precious Parliamentary time was spent checking on the WP's running of its town council but the WP was evasive, played the victim card and gave lame excuses.

Are we ready for a WP government? Are we ready for a non-PAP government?

Michael S Chia

*Article first appeared on https://www.facebook.com/notes/michael-s-chia/seeing-the-light-and-makin...

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