Rational and Pragmatic for PAP Supporters to Vote against Tony Tan

I: Our President, the subaltern

A ridiculous amount of resources is being wasted by the Presidential Election because the eligibility criteria are flawed. By simply adding selective mutism to the list of conditions that a potential candidate must fulfill before being awarded the COE, lots of problems can be solved. Or so I think after reading a stealthily satirical CNA report, which starts with a marvelous sentence:

Singapore’s Law Minister K Shanmugam said Singapore would need to change the Constitution to allow the President to speak whenever he likes and on whatever topic he likes.

So the President cannot speak on whatever topic he likes. I wonder if that means he cannot say “I love Singapore” on National Day unless he has the permission to. He cannot even speak whenever he wants, so I suppose he would have to ask for permission before speaking. But since asking for permission is another kind of speech, I would suppose that he cannot ask for permission either, so he cannot speak unless he is instructed to. Head of state, bottom of pecking order: Singapore’s most ingenious innovation to date. No doubt, it may more interesting. When the President is allowed to speak, he may not always be told what to say. This potentially leads to awkward situations that require labored clarifications in places like the Ministry of Finance website years down the road.

Of course, we may also have the Law Minister, Shanmugam, clarifying his clarifications about the very clearly stated role of the president for the xth time (x because Molly is unable to count beyond the number of perfectly manicured claws she has in one paw). His imperative:

You speak as a voice of the government, whichever government is in power and you represent the State. If you get engaged in politics as a combatant, the institution is demeaned.

I am not sure if the Constitution allows the President to demean the Presidency, but based on my limited feline cognition, what this means is that Singapore might as well not have a President, or at least there seems to be no purpose in having a Presidential Election. Letting the government in power, i.e. the Eternal Ruling Party (ERP) of Singapore, choose one of its members—or ex-members—as President will more than suffice. It will eliminate any possibility of the institution being demeaned in the eyes of Shanmugam and his colleagues. Furthermore, we will be able to avoid the embarrassing situation of a President being unable to get used to a new government if the President changes with the party in power (which, admittedly, never ever changes in the context of Singapore). In the case of a coalition government, we simply need to tap into the schizo-talents from the IMH. (See, Molly offers very constructive and pragmatic suggestions to solve problems. Don’t say that she belongs to some cowgirl town that spreads ridiculous untruths.)

While you may argue that the creation of a political position consigned to muteness is in itself demeaning, or that the way the ruling party seems to be allowed to endorse a candidate (or even persuade someone to become a candidate) demeans the institution by generating doubts regarding the President’s independence. You may even say that a democratic political system is already demeaned with the GRC system and perfectly legitimate defamation suits, you . . . shouldn’t. Just don’t. 60.1% of Singaporeans have voted for the PAP in 2011, so Singapore has democratically opted for non-democracy that nevertheless has the audacity to describe itself as democratic as and when it feels like it—and condemn democracy as and when it feels like it.

But, well, in this day and age, you can say whatever you want. And you can assume you are right if no professional corrects you. I learn this valuable fact from Shanmugam who tells us:

Rather than being a politician in the matter, if you look at it as a lawyer there can be no doubt [about the role of the President]. And I haven’t seen any lawyer come and say what I am saying is incorrect.

Maybe I should now declare that the Constitution requires all ministers guilty of logical fallacies to volunteer themselves for euthanasia. If no lawyer corrects me, I must be right. I hope no lawyer cruelly steps in to smash my wonderful reverie.

And I hope no one finds anything grisly outside the Istana. Or inside. Singaporeans have been finding grisly stuff everywhere these days.

II: Shanmugam helping the anti-Tony cause

What Shanmugam is essentially telling us, after making so much noise, is: I’m just saying what the constitution is saying and since I’m saying what the constitution is saying, I am right.

Only he forgets that every paraphrase involves an interpretation.

Not many will disagree with the claims that the President’s powers are limited and that he only has specific powers in five areas (detentions without trial, national reserves, key appointments like Chief Justice, Judges and Attorney General). But I would like a lawyer, other than Shanmugam, to tell me that the President has no right to speak on other issues despite not having the power to influence these issues. Speaking is not a power. It is a right and since the President does not belong to any political party, no party whip applies. If a journalist asks the President for his stand on an issue such as the death penalty, is he allowed to answer? More specifically, is he allowed to answer the journalist if his answer happens to challenge the status quo though he clearly does not have any power to abolish the death penalty?

But that is a purely hypothetical scenario. Perhaps what people may be more concerned about are what they perceive to be the stakes for the ruling party if we have a President who is not favoured by the ruling party. What people may be interesting in could be precisely the areas where the President has certain powers, no matter how limited they are and regardless of any clauses that may allow his power to be bypassed. We understand from Shanmugam’s clarifications that the President may speak on areas where he has certain powers, so even when he fails to assert these powers, he is able to speak and push issues to the realm of public awareness. We know that the President has to consult the Council of Presidential Advisors (whoever these people are) before exercising the power to refuse to appoint someone as a key office holder. If the President merely questions in public the appointment of judges, for instance, without changing the appointment, could he be opening a can of worms at the expense of the government, but to the delight of the very hungry birds in cowboy towns.

With Shanmugam’s constant clarifications, we start to remember that the President has powers theoretically—or at least he is able to speak on certain issues, if not on any issue he likes. And since we can be sure that the Constitution clearly limits the President’s power, we need not worry that a President who is naturally not inclined to check the PAP will be able to do anything to disrupt its governance of Singapore. In other words, people may begin to feel that they can rest assured that even if the PAP’s least preferred candidate becomes the President, the negative consequences are very much contained (if there are any at all). On the other hand, that the PAP has a preferred candidate may cause suspicions (justified or not) that the candidate is not entirely independent even though theoretically the President is not supposed to be affiliated to any party. There is a strong impetus, as such, to vote for someone who is not seen as a PAP-selected candidate.

The fact that we have to make a choice and that the ruling party seems very concerned about the choice we make suggests the identity of the President does make a difference. The PAP tries to downplay this by explaining the difference as a matter of how far the President supplements the wisdom of the ruling party in policymaking. Lee Hsien Loong tells us that not every candidate is equally qualified, echoing Shanmugam’s claim that one President may have more influence over the Prime Minister than another. But if this is not where the difference lies, or if people believe that this is not where the difference lies, things become more interesting. Perhaps this explains why so many people do not like Tony Tan. 60.1% of the people may support the PAP in the General Election, but many of them may also believe that the President should ideally be as distanced from the PAP as possible.

Perhaps when the government came up with the idea of the Elected Presidency, they did not expect in their wildest dreams that there could actually be someone who meets all the eligibility criteria and yet is strongly critical of the system that has allowed them to succeed. Even the late Ong Teng Cheong, now best remembered for speaking up about the reserves, has never been too insensitive when criticizing the party to which he once belonged even though he had the moral courage to voice his concerns. On the other hand, in 2011, we have people who may pull no punches. And this could be the reason behind the endorsement of Tony Tan, which has been anything but subtle or discreet.

It is often assumed that PAP supporters will vote for Tony Tan. If we could just tap into their rationality and reconfigure the issue, people will see that the belief that the PAP is the best (or least bad) party to form the government should not change the principle that the President needs to be someone who is truly distanced from the ruling party. It is perfectly rational for even the most devout PAP supporter to not vote for Tony Tan. On the other hand, it is blind allegiance to support the PAP and thus support Tony Tan. Hopefully this is not a condition that afflicts many Singaporeans. After all, the PAP likes to tell us to be rational and pragmatic. So its most ardent supporters ought to be rational and pragmatic to be deserving fans.

A President who willingly refrains from speaking actually is speaking for the status quo and is as good as non-existent. A President who is gagged, on the other hand, may seem equally silent, but exists as a symbol of the people’s will, a constant reminder for the ruling party that Singaporeans are not always willing to go along with whatever it does.

Given how easily the Constitution can be changed, I actually wonder if 2011 could be the last time Singaporeans get to vote for a President. Or perhaps the Constitution can be changed such that only someone who has been a minister is eligible.

The Unauthorized Annotated PAP Manifesto

The PAP Manifesto is out—for those who do not mind being treated to the same old reworked PAP grand narrative.

The PAP Manifesto comes with an address by the Prime Minister who now claims that the PAP is not out of touch with ordinary Singaporeans. Well, it has got to be true. The PAP is not out of touch cognitively—it knows what Singaporeans are going through. But this does not mean that it cares. It does not mean that the PAP can be bothered beyond paying all the lip service necessary to sustain its hegemony, especially when real, positive change in Singapore will inevitably come at the expense of the current status quo that the PAP has painstakingly created to benefit itself.

But Molly is nice and has kindly annotated PM Lee’s message in a bid to generate publicity for his party: Unauthorized Annotated PAP Manifesto

The rest of the manifesto is a lame attempt at reassuring Singaporeans that the PAP’s policies will not sideline them although the very reassurance itself is required because there are groups that have been sidelined. I am unable to tell if the PAP is being smug or feeling insecure and clueless. If the PAP has been truly concerned about improving the salaries of lower-income Singaporeans and giving educational opportunities to their children, there would be no need to emphasize how the PAP will create a Singapore with a place for them. The PAP Manifesto is ultimately about maintaining the status quo, making it cosmetically and statistically better but substantially worse. Expect minor tweaks but do not expect them to translate to any palpable benefit for Singaporeans; do not expect anything near a paradigm shift in thinking. (And no, of course there’s no groupthink in the PAP.)

Recycle unfulfilled promises and perhaps start thinking of more ways to reuse them in the General Election after the 2011 one. Promise the poor that their lot will improve and promise to entrap them with employment. Encourage “self-reliance” with Workfare and entangle the poor in a game of bondage with employment—let them fear unemployment and be enslaved to continued employment sans rights. Promise affordable homes without any reference to whose standard of affordability is being used after slamming opponents who have earlier on articulated a similar vision with a clear standard of affordability. Promise that the education system will treat their children better and provide a statistically better teacher to student ratio but not promise to reduce the average class size or to provide equal resources and funding for all students regardless of their level of giftedness as measured by a flawed system. Promise to double the MRT network to reduce crowding when the current situation of overcrowding has little to do with how many lines and stations there are and making the network more extensive can in fact exacerbate the usage of certain lines or stations. Promise continued PAP authoritarianism by making no reference to human rights and civil liberties.

Voters, you may be selfish enough to vote for the status quo if it benefits you or foolish enough to vote for against your own future, but will you be cruel as to vote against your friends, your fellow Singaporeans, your country?

24 Hours to Remember

Who’s afraid of the 24 hours?

Anyone who belittles the p65 people should see Fredric Fanthome’s defense of the 24 hours of political silence prior to Election Day:

One argument [against the rule] being touted is that the fact that political broadcasts and news reports are allowed is unfair as the media is “in the hands of the government”. Well, if we assume that is the case, then by the same measure, the population will disregard anything the media puts out in that period, and moreover, it would actually be incensed by any blatant misuse of the media – and hence vote against the PAP rather than for it.

An excellent piece of rhetoric that simply works in Singapore. Because too many Singaporeans are not  as the above argument implies they are.

I have never seen anyone else take every Singaporean (or every person of any other nationality for that matter) to be so sophisticated that s/he is able to distill subtle political messages from seemingly innocuous news coverage, and attribute it to governmental control over the media, and hence vote against the PAP. (Hey, is that last bit not a tad irrational?) If  Singaporeans were so sophisticated, Fanthome should not even be attempting such a defense. And he should be able to come up with a more sophisticated defense. If Singaporeans are so sophisticated, they would also be discerning during the nine or more days of rallying by various political parties and would not need a day to cool down and think rationally, so maybe the new rule should be ditched.

But perhaps the 24 hours does not matter. Or it need not. It is not the 24 hours of virtual silence from political parties, but what the people have been told to do that matters.

As a general observation, whenever the PAP appeals to rationality, it is merely telling people to think silly. It is telling people not to be political. For the PAP can only thrive when Singaporeans are completely politicized by having their political nature suppressed. Be rational: forget about all those little inconveniences of your existence and compromise in the PAP’s favor for you know not what might befall you if the PAP does not have your favor. If you fail to persuade yourself to generate reluctant complicity with the PAP, Dr-acula Chee might appear at midnight and suck 7% of your blood and murder your domestic worker because she is not local, the ghost of Jeyaretnam might pay you a minimum wage and cause you to lose your job. Low Thia Kiang might defile your potential saviors, and Chiam See Tong devalue your expensive HDB flat. Heaven’s wrath will send floods to your doorstep and drown your car together with your COE. (Freak floods for freak election results, anyone?)

Are we being told to be rational or being told to fear? One cheap tactic that always works in horror films: get the audience to scare themselves; it is the best solution when the filmmaker only has puerile antics that will not really scare people. Let people scare themselves silly. And silly is the key word.

When we are being told to be rational, we are being told to be irrational and everyone should understand the rationality of this seemingly irrational statement.

24 hours to be irrational. 24 hours to scare ourselves. But we can always choose how we want to be (ir)rational.

Let it be a day of memory.

Remember the expensive people who tell us to be cheaper.

Remember who spoiled our Mee Siam with cockles.

Remember who tells us not to politicize lifts but try to buy our votes with lifts.

Remember the Frankenstein behind every oppositional monster spun with the demonic threads of a crippled press.

Remember who promised to help the poor and created a lot of poor people needing help.

Remember the Public Order Act that does not allow you to show your cancerous dissent alone.

Remember more, more than I can.

Remember who forced 24 hours down your throat, telling you to remember.

Remember to remind others to remember.

Remember the 24 hours. Remember during the 24 hours.

Never forget (yourself).

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