Singapore elections – from apathy to anger

Apologies for the blogging hiatus. Like every Singaporean, I have been transfixed by Singapore Elections fever. Unlike Australian Elections where the campaigning seemed to go on for months, in Singapore political parties are only allowed to campaign for little more than one week. 9 days is the norm.

And this is a watershed election for us for a few reasons. The ruling party PAP which Lee Kuan Yew founded, has had an historical stranglehold on the political scene since the inception of Singapore. Due to the unfair Group Representational Constituency system where the winner takes all, though the ruling party got 66.6% of the votes in the last election, they walked away with 82 of the 84 seats in parliament, with only 2 seats allocated to the opposition. In fact, most of the elections I’ve watched have been so boring and futile that many of us Singaporeans have been apathetic for many years, unable even to hope for any change.

This time round, there is a strange feel of optimism in the air. Where in the past, the 100% government-owned media controlled every piece of information we could read, now most people get their news from online sources the government is unable to control.

From – what you won’t see in the papers


Seen shared on Facebook: Opposition Workers Party rally on 30th April 2011 versus PAP rally the next day, at the same site, Bedok Stadium. More photos at Darren Soh’s website here

And the new opposition candidates fielded have been very impressive, including Mr. Chen Show Mao, a world-class legal figure and dealmaker, Mr. Tan Jee Say, a veteran economist with accolades to spare, Ms. Nicole Seah, a courageous 24-year-old with brains and eloquence who has captured the hearts of a facebook generation, the articulate Vincent Wijeysingha, son of ex-Raffles Institution principal who countered the PAP “gay smear” against him with such class and elan (whilst PAP Minister Vivian Balakrishnan mounted a silly and mean-spirited crusade against him suggesting he “come out of the closet” about his secret gay agenda, Mr. Wijeysingha said that he would embrace him like a brother and ask him to stick to the issues.)

Lots of my non-Singaporean friends are genuinely curious as to why so many of us are begging for change. After all, our economy is robust, when they visit Orchard Road and other tourist attractions, everything is clean and orderly, we have no strikes to speak of, no drugs or guns on the street and so on.

Well being Singaporean, there are lots of things we see that others don’t. Pull back the curtain and the things that get my blood boiling are (mainly) the following:

– A society where the bottom 10% of the EMPLOYED get about S$10 a day to live. And the government ministers who earn more than US $1 million a year tell them to suck it up and work harder. Which is why if you go to any hawker centre or wet market in Singapore, you’ll see hunchbacked little old ladies in their 80s collecting cardboard boxes, washing dishes or selling tissue paper under the hot sun for a pittance of US$300 a month.

We’re a First World Economy with US$ 233 billion dollars of foreign exchange reserves (at March 2011) and a budget surplus of S$100m expected for FY2011/12. Our ministers earn S$10,000 A DAY. We don’t have to treat our elderly this way. Instead our ministers scoff at minimum wage (we are the only First World economy that doesn’t have one) and tell us to work harder to be competitive.

– Lack of transparency and accountability – for example, still no word on how Minister Vivian Balakrishnan managed to spend  $387 million on the Youth Olympic games when the budget was $100 million.

– A government that doesn’t bother to consult the people in any meaningful way – why bother when you have 82 out of 84 seats in Parliament?

– The fearmongering tactics of the ruling party – look at MM Lee Kuan Yew’s latest statement that the voters of Aljunied GRC will have “five years to live and repent” if they do not vote for PAP.

And let’s not forget what MM Lee said about what would happen if our Ministers didn’t get paid more….

“Your asset values will disappear, your apartment will be worth a fraction of what it is, your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people’s countries, foreign workers.” – MM LEE KUAN YEW (Straits Times, 5 April 2007) (photo from

– Racial quotas set by the government on who can live where, so as to avoid too many Indians or Malays in one area. Come on, this is 2011… Which other nation would put up with this?

– Strict censorship of media from heavily cut movies to a long list of banned websites

– Homophobia and laws that criminalise homosexual acts

– Most elderly Singaporeans remembering the wrath of the PAP are so fearful to vote otherwise because every ballot paper has a serial number and is checked off against your Identity Card when you vote

– The Internal Security Act which confers on the government the right to arrest and detain individuals without trial

These are just a few.

So come May 7th, I will be flying back to Singapore to cast my vote, and I’m voting for candidate Mr. Vincent Wijeysingha, voting for the democracy we deserve.

As Mr. Wijeysingha said last week

“Next Saturday you exercise a choice. A choice I remind you that people have died to secure for us.

A choice between arrogance and service.

A choice between gambling and prudence.

A choice between self-service and community service.”

This is a short video which I found moving – the old hunched man you see is Mr. Chiam See Tong, a true Singaporean hero, a man who spent half his life fighting for our rights and one of the very few opposition ministers the government could not defeat. And at 71, is still fighting for our civil liberties despite the fact that he can hardly walk or speak audibly.  And if you have any doubts about how the PAP treats lawfully elected opposition MPs, you should see the office that the PAP has allocated him for the last 27 years – click on this

4 thoughts on “Singapore elections – from apathy to anger

  1. With regards to minimum wage, you may want to take a look at this article written by a 20 year old Singaporean

    Minimum Wage

    Of all the policies suggested to help the lower skilled or elderly segment of society, perhaps the most counterproductive one is the suggestion for a minimum wage law. The NSP and SDP are guilty of suggesting this terrible policy in their manifesto. I find no mention of it in WP and SPP, so I hope they are not in support of this policy as well.

    I could try to explain why a minimum wage law will work against low skilled or elderly workers, but I would never in a million years be able to do so as well as one of my personal heroes: Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman:

    Just as Friedman calls the minimum wage law the most “anti-negro law” in America, I think it would be the most “anti-elderly” law in Singapore. I think the most important insight there is the observation that a minimum wage law essentially makes it illegal for employers to hire low productivity workers. If a worker is worth $4 an hour and the minimum wage is $5 an hour, I cannot hire him. I am banned, by law, from hiring him unless I am willing and able to engage in charity. I can seriously see this law having horrendous consequences for the people whom it is trying to help.

    I am proud that Singapore is one of the few countries in the world which has not fallen prey to such horribly fallacious thinking.”

    • thanks for your thoughtful comment. i certainly will find the time to read Friedman’s argument.

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