Singapore as a Slum

Working Title: Definitions of Slum: A Free Semantics Lesson for the PAP and Singaporeans

“My answer to Mr Low Thia Khiang is yes, it (Hougang) has become a slum. The word slum means downgrading” (PAP’s Eric Low)

Dear Eric, as far as I know when you say that Hougang has “become a slum,” you are using the word “slum” as a noun. Why, then, are you defining it as a verb, saying that it “means downgrading.”

To be fair, Molly should not impose her exacting standards on jittery politicians who are so anxious to win votes for their parties that they might have left their sanity somewhere even if they are no longer standing for elections. Let’s assume that Eric was first using the word as a noun and then using it as a verb.

As a verb, however, the word “slum” does not really mean “to downgrade”—at least not in the sense of downgrading an estate. It means “to spend time with the lower classes.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “slum” as a verb means

to visit slums especially out of curiosity; broadly : to go somewhere or do something that might be considered beneath one’s station

If Eric had meant to use the word as a verb and he thought that it meant downgrading, perhaps what he thinks is that he is downgrading every time he visits the slums? In other words, if he thinks he has been slumming whenever he goes to Hougang, perhaps what is revealed is simply his view of the people in Hougang.

But let’s assume that Eric was just being careless in his speech. Let’s just look at the meaning of the word slum according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, dirty run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization

Just for fun, let’s see how many of the characteristics of a slum apply to Singapore as a whole, and not just to opposition wards. Molly shall do a subjective checklist.

Densely populated urban area: tick. That applies to Singapore.

Crowding: tick. It’s crowded everywhere I go. Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong did not cause this, I believe.

Poverty: tick. I don’t think the two opposition MPs in the Parliament caused this.

Dirty housing: tick? I remember reports of rubbish in Ang Moh Kio and Kim Keat. No, these are not opposition wards.

Run down facilities: tick? Look at Mr. Wang’s posts and photos of our MRT stations here and here. No, MRT stations are not run by those terrible opposition politicians.

Social Disorganization: probably not. We don’t even have the luxury of disorganization. We are too organized and pigeon-holed into racial and other categories.

Oh my gosh! If we were to imagine that a slum need not be an isolated, poorly maintained area occupied by poor people, could Singapore already be considered a cosmetically polished slum that is rotting at its core under the PAP government? Under the tender care of the PAP, Singapore has perhaps evolved into a prototype of a postmodern slum that is geographically dispersed, everywhere but nowhere in particular, with some areas being falsely painted with an artificial shimmer to generate an impression of prosperity which belies and represses the sense of actual destitution. The demarcation of opposition wards as slums, then, is merely a political fabrication meant to create a hologram of an inferior Other in order to sustain the fiction of the affluent self. If we could just reject this fiction for its sheer fictionality, the horror at the core of PAP ideology will be crystal-clear.

The Future of Singapore in the Battle of Aljunied

That the world’s oldest political bully has repeatedly stepped out to threaten voters in Aljunied GRC when he is not even contesting there is an excellent reminder for residents there that their vote is important for Singapore as a whole. One of the key factors in deciding Singapore’s future after the Great 2011 War for Singapore lies in the Battle of Aljunied.

If the opposition loses in Aljunied but wins a few other GRCs (a rather unlikely scenario if Aljunied is the area where the opposition has the most supporters), it would not matter at all. But the actual stakes are heavier. There’s the possibility that if the opposition loses in Aljunied, Singaporeans might end up with a grand total of zero opposition MPs. The PAP will have a free reign in deciding the future of Singapore without any sort of a fight at all. When the PAP’s policies cause the people’s sufferings to deepen while their MPs and ministers smugly and slappably (a neologism that simply means “in a way that annoys people”) tell us how our lives and standard of living have improved, Aljunied residents, and Singaporeans all around the island, will truly regret voting for the PAP. And they might not have any chance to repent and make amends 5 years down the road.

The PAP is worried about losing Aljunied, not because it gives a damn about Aljunied itself. It is just another GRC. But if it loses one or more GRCs, it will, in PM Lee’s words in 2006, have a headache in “fixing the opposition”—particularly if they are careful to avoid defamation suits in their every move.

Aljunied residents and all Singaporeans should examine Kuan Yew’s words about Aljunied carefully. It should come as a crushing disappointment to all but the blindest and stupidest of PAP supporters. He first tells us Aljunied will “pay a price, the hard way” if the Workers’ Party wins. That already sounds like a warning, but we can all give him the benefit of doubt and take him to mean that the Workers Party would not manage Aljunied well. But when he goes on the offensive, we see how politically bankrupt the PAP is. Kuan Yew tells us with no ambiguity:

We accept the verdict of the people, but they must also accept the consequences of their actions. You must expect the PAP to look after PAP constituencies first.

He is telling all Singaporeans that Aljunied residents will have “five years to live and repent” voting for the Workers’ Party not because of any demerits of the party, but simply because his party, the eminent and all-powerful PAP, is going to sideline them, predictably when it comes to upgrading, though he does not mention it directly.

Kuan Yew’s unambiguous projection is also where his excessive eagerness to scare voters into voting for the PAP could backfire. Not only is he failing to articulate why the Workers’ Party will manage Aljunied badly (perhaps because he can’t find a good reason to say so), he is telling us all that the government—assuming that the PAP will continue to be the dominant party—will sideline non-PAP constituencies under the pretext that the PAP will take care of PAP constituencies first. This is pure rubbish. The PAP can take care of the PAP constituencies in any way it wants if its using its own money. So if upgrading for PAP wards comes from the pockets of Kuan Yew, his son, and all the million-dollar PAP ministers, no one should have an issue with it. But when the PAP is not acting in its own capacity, but in the capacity of the government using taxpayers money collected from all taxpayers including those in opposition wards, there is absolutely no excuse to defer the upgrading of non-PAP constituencies. Whether an area gets priority in upgrading should depend on an objective assessment of its needs, not on whether they have voted for the PAP.

Kuan Yew is telling us that he will let elderly people his age climb stairs instead of giving them lift upgrading if they happen to live in an opposition ward. (To those who have said that a gay MP will only take care of the gay community, see what I mean? Do you think this elderly MP is going to care if some old grandmother out there cries her heart out every day having to torture her arthritic knees with the stairs?) Singaporeans must send a strong signal to the PAP that they will not tolerate such unfair practices anymore. And the only signal that is strong enough is to have an unprecedented number of opposition MPs. Not a weaker winning percentage for the PAP. We already sent that signal in 2006 and what has happened since then?

All Singaporeans who can vote and care enough for Singapore and their fellow Singaporeans must vote to have diverse voices in the Parliament.

If you are thinking perhaps I will vote for the PAP just this once more, and vote against them in the next election if they don’t do a good job, think again. Your vote may not count as much, percentage wise, in the next election as there may be more pro-PAP voters by then. If candidates can be imported, so can voters. You may not even have a chance to vote. The opposition may be totally fixed by 2016. Do you have till 2016? Does everyone else have till 2016? I trust that you do not want to condemn the 16-year-old boy you see now to a future of eternal PAP hegemony and deprive him of a chance to vote in 2016. I trust that you do not want Singaporeans to be squeezed drier than ever under the PAP.

If Singaporeans do not make a wise choice on May 7, they may never have their voices heard in the Parliament again unless their voices happens to coincide with the PAP’s voice, which is entirely independent of Singaporean voices.

Do you want to live in a decent place that the PAP calls a slum, or do you want to live like a slumdog in a country that the PAP calls first-world?

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