Fear of being fixed: The impact of the climate of fear on the 2015 Singapore General Election
September 13, 2015, 11:49 pm
Filed under: GE2015, Guest writer, Singapore
Picture taken from: http://www.havocfitness.com/havoc-fitness/annihilate-fear/

Picture taken from: http://www.havocfitness.com

One of the things that has disturbed me in the post-election discussions is the lack of acknowledgement of the role that fear still plays in Singaporean politics. Many, even opposition supporters, have come out and attacked those who say that fear was an issue in the 2015 election.

My feeling is that fear is something that permeates the entire political system in Singapore, both at a conscious and subconscious level.

At the most extreme there is the fear that one’s ballot is not secret. Anyone who is educated and knows people who scrutineer elections or who reads reliable independent sources, knows that despite many fears, one’s individual ballot is anonymous. It seems unlikely in the extreme, and completely technically unfeasible for the government to track down how even just one citizen voted. For evidence and arguments that your vote is secret see, for example:

While one’s ballot may be secret, unfortunately the fear that is not is a pervasive amongst the population of Singapore. My personal experience of this came the day before the election, when in my local Cheers I asked the attendant who I know very well, how she was planning to vote in the election. This woman was, to me, the epitome of the difficulties faced by the Singaporean working class: she worked two minimum wage jobs (an office assistant daytime weekdays, and Cheers in the evenings) yet she clearly could not afford basic dental treatment as many, possibly most, of her teeth seemed to be missing. When I asked her how she would vote, she said “Well my ballot isn’t secret, so I guess I will vote for the PAP.” We discussed it, and I ended up showing her Maruah’s video about ballot secrecy ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2&v=S9SfvJn2uGM ) . She was impressed with the celebrities on the video reassuring her, and she said “OK. My ballot is secret. I will vote for who I want.”

While this story has a happy ending, the message of the story for me was that fear of being ‘fixed’ for how one votes is still a pervasive part of the consciousness of Singaporeans.

I am also a JC teacher, and in class during the week of the elections we had a discussion about the elections. An international student raised the issue of gerrymandering, and asked why Singaporeans – meaning the other students in class – don’t challenge the government’s gerrymandering and campaign for an independent electoral authority. The locals in the class – the vast majority – fell silent, and then slowly fumbled together an answer: we focus on other issues because if you challenge the government you risk getting ‘fixed’. That was the local student’s consensus. The international student’s response was “Well that is a practical reason, but it isn’t an ethical reason. You should do what is right.” The class fell silent.

The last story I want to share is of actual candidates in the Singaporean elections. I know people involved with several opposition parties, and the stories I hear from them is that in the hours and days just before nominations close one of their biggest problems is candidates pulling out at the last minute. The reason given is almost always the same: it is not just a personal fear of being fixed, but a pressure from family members and close friends who fear that the candidate will compromise the future of themselves or their extended family. This was express eloquently in the maiden speech of He Ting Ru, Workers Party candidate in the 2015 election. She said that one of the biggest challenges she faced in her decision to run was the fact that her friends and family had worried about her getting ‘fixed’ – again her words:

“When I decided to run for Member of Parliament, many of my friends and family were extremely worried. They asked me about the impact it will have on my family, my career, whether I will get ‘fixed’.” http://www.wp.sg/he-ting-rus-rally-speech-jalan-besar-rally-3-sep/

For me, these three stories – of voters, of students, of candidates – and their fear of being fixed, tells you a lot about the deeply constrained choice that Singaporean’s made in 2015. Fear shaped who they voted for, fear shaped the fact that they did not speak up against many of the systematic injustices of the system, and fear has meant that many good people are too scared to run as candidates, constraining the choices that people have at the ballot box. The fear of being fixed is a very real part of Singaporean political life.

About the writer: None. The guest writer would like to remain anonymous due to the climate of fear (seriously!).

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The “psychopath” has returned to a warm welcome
September 10, 2015, 12:50 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, GE2015, Singapore
Photo taken on 3 September, at SDP's first rally.

Photo taken on 3 September, at SDP’s first rally.

Singapore Democratic Party’s rallies became more interesting in this general election, and that was largely due to the fact that Dr Chee Soon Juan has made a return to the arena of electoral politics after being barred from contesting in, or speaking at any election rallies for the past 15 years. People were curious, and they came from different parts of Singapore just to hear him speak. He delivered well enough. His charisma, confidence, intelligence, and sense of humour draw the crowd into his speeches. What is most surprising to most I have spoken to however, is how ideological and rational he can be at the same time.

“Is this really the man they call a psychopath?” asked a friend of mine who has never been into anything political, after he attended SDP’s lunchtime rally on Monday, and who in the last elections voted for the People’s Action Party (PAP) because he couldn’t care less. “We need someone like that in Parliament to wake the PAP MPs up from their comfortable slumber. I actually don’t care if he can run the country or a town council but if he is in Parliament, I think he will be a voice for Singaporeans,” he added.

Working on the ground as a volunteer for The Online Citizen, I interviewed some who attended the rallies, and their impression of the man who was once labelled “a cheat, a liar, and a psychopath” has greatly changed. One of the attendees, a man who I spoke to at SDP’s third rally, went all the way to Commonwealth from Toa Payoh just to see Dr Chee in person. He said “Now you have social media, they cannot anyhow call him anything they want anymore.” He also remarked that Dr Chee sounded ideological and rational at the same time, and it will be great having him in Parliament to question flawed policies.

“They have matured as a party, and their alternative policies sound very matured and rational. They really put a lot of thought in their speeches and proposals. They do think about people who are not well to do. Things are getting more expensive now and we struggle to live. It is good to have someone understand this,” said another.

Interestingly, such views are also being shared on Facebook, especially in response to character assassination by PAP candidates Lawrence Wong, and Sim Ann.

“They have no substance in their offer to people, so they have to attack SDP and Chee Soon Juan. Comeon lah, there is the Internet now, and people do not believe in what is published on the Straits Times anymore,” said *Sheila, a friend’s friend, on her Facebook status.

“Thank you Vivian Balakrishnan for making me curious about SDP’s alternative policies. If he did not mention it right, I will never know that there is actually an opposition party out there that has been developing policies even though they are not in government. Wow I am impressed even if the policies are not perfect!” declared *Fahmi, a former classmate of mine. Fahmi was previously from Young PAP, but had resigned due to some personal reasons.

In a discussion with some friends, there was a general consensus that Dr Chee is a changed man. I beg to differ. He is not a changed man, but society has changed. The Internet has widened our perspectives, and we now have access to information that has made the content of the mainstream media seem whitewashed and censored to the benefit of the ruling party. Social media has played a big role in this general election, and the ground has somewhat shifted thanks to the victory of the Workers’ Party (WP) in the last general election. Although many are still apprehensive about voting against the PAP, there is a growing group in the electorate who are open to the idea of giving their vote to parties who are contesting against the PAP. Will we see more colours besides white and specks of blue in Parliament after 11 September?

Well, let the people decide.

*Names have been changed, as requested.



The myth of equality between an NCMP and an elected MP
September 8, 2015, 10:43 pm
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, GE2015, Singapore
A screenshot of Yahoo's report on 6 September 2015.

A screenshot of Yahoo’s report on 6 September 2015.

On Sunday, 6 September, Mr Goh Chok Tong reportedly said that if the opposition loses the election, they can still participate in Parliament, thanks to the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Scheme (NCMP).

“Let’s say they lose the election – they don’t have to run the town council. Their voice can still be as strong as before in Parliament. So in fact…they are more free to write more great speeches, to make more great rhetoric in parliament,” he said.

For a layperson, this sounds like a good deal. However, does this reflect the reality?

The NCMP in short, is the “best loser” of an election. Before Parliament dissolved on 25 August, three of the “best losers” from the last general elections, Yee Jenn Jong and Gerald Giam from the Workers’ Party, and Lina Chiam from Singapore People’s Party, were granted the seats as NCMPs.

Like an elected Member of Parliament (MP), the NCMP is allowed to pose Parliamentary questions, and engage in Parliamentary debates to present their views.

However while an elected MP is allowed to vote on all matters, the NCMP can vote on matters except for anything regarding amendments to the Constitution, Supply or Supplementary Bills, Money Bills, motions of no confidence in the Government, or removing the President from office.

Therefore, the NCMP do not have the same rights as an elected MP in the Parliament.

So in view of what is stated on the Constitution of Singapore regarding the power of an NCMP (see below), Mr Goh’s simplistic description of the power that an NCMP holds, is seriously misleading.

constitution article 39
I do not want to assume that this may be deliberate but if so, this is not the way to win an election especially if one is a former Prime Minister who should have known better.