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As the election nears, the PAP goes low

Issue 111

Phase 2 is here! Judging from the crowds that I met as I ran errands around my corner of Singapore yesterday, people are glad to be out of their homes and eager to get back to the “normal” of prowling malls and eating out ASAP.

There is every indication that the general election is coming soon, so there’ll likely be more and more election coverage in this newsletter as we go along. I’m also planning to work on more analysis and commentary, which will be emailed directly to Milo Peng Funders (and made available to others via the website later). If you’d like to become a Milo Peng Funder, or gift someone a subscription, hit either of the buttons below:

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“Neither free nor fair”

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) have released their report on Singapore’s electoral process: they found that Singapore’s elections are “neither free nor fair”, and that holding one during the COVID-19 pandemic could make things worse. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s observed Singapore’s elections, but it’s good to have it put in such plain language in a report. Interestingly, PAP MP Charles Chong is himself on the board of APHR; they said he’d been sent a copy of their report and press release as per their usual process, but hadn’t heard any objection or comment from him.

Just before APHR launched its report, the Elections Department published preliminary guidelines on election campaigning. Some highlights: walkabouts and door-to-door visits are allowed, but if the election is taking place during Phase 2 — which seems likely — then the safe distancing rules that apply to this period must be respected. That means: no more than gatherings of five, and people should be wearing masks and staying one metre away from one another. Some parties are all ready to hit the ground again.

Given these safe distancing restrictions, there won’t be any physical rallies this year. Instead, each political candidate will be allotted three minutes of broadcast airtime on top of the two party political broadcasts given to the parties. (For GRCs, the time will be added up and it’ll be up to the team to decide if one or multiple candidates speak.) There’ll also be live-streaming facilities set up for e-rallies, if parties want to use them.

I’ll stop here, since I’m planning to write a longer analysis this week about how these rule changes will affect this upcoming election and the various political parties (remember that subscribe button 😜!)

“Loving critics” and smear campaigns

Activists and critics of the ruling party have grown used to becoming the target of pro-PAP troll pages on Facebook. Yesterday, though, we were treated to a new low: a hatchet job article against playwright Alfian Sa’at on the PAP’s official website, and disseminated on its official social media channels. The piece, written by Tan Wu Meng, an MP for Jurong GRC, quotes selectively from Alfian’s Facebook posts and asserts that he isn’t a “loving critic” of Singapore because he prefers and praises Malaysia. He doesn’t use the word “traitor”, but makes it pretty clear that he’s saying Alfian isn’t a Singapore patriot and sides with Malaysia (characterised as a threat to Singapore). Tan makes these accusations just so he can take a swipe at the Workers’ Party Pritam Singh, who had spoken up for “loving critics” of Singapore.

This, just one day after the Elections Department says in its guidelines:

“Candidates and their authorised representatives should conduct election campaigning in a responsible and dignified manner that befits the seriousness of the election process. They should steer away from negative campaigning based on hate and denigration of opposing candidates. They should not make false statements, for example, unfounded allegations of corruption or commission of criminal offences, or statements that may cause racial or religious tensions or affect social cohesion.”

It’s such a below-the-belt attack from Tan, but this isn’t just about Tan. The fact that his piece was published on the PAP’s website means that it had to go through whatever editorial or curatorial process the party has for its official platforms. If Tan came up with the idea for the piece himself, who approved it? Did someone edit or at least proofread this piece before it went up? Who else was involved in this process? And, given that it’s on the party’s official website, what do other PAP MPs think about it, and what it says about their party?

In 2017, Tharman Shanmugaratnam said, “I don't agree with every tactic by every one of my colleagues. But I have to say that if there is something that defines the PAP, it is its insistence on character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans.” I wonder how he feels about Tan’s post, especially since Tan is a member of his GRC team? 🤔

If you’re a constituent of a PAP ward, it’s not a bad idea to write in and ask your MPs how they feel about this sort of thing, and if they’ll be taking any position for or against Tan’s piece. You can look up their contact details here. If you’d like, you can also contact the Elections Department and ask them what they think about this sort of behaviour. I’m going to be writing my emails right after I’m done writing this issue.

In the meantime, I’d like to share the bit of Pritam Singh’s speech that touches on “loving critics”:

“In my view, Mr Speaker, we should count ourselves fortunate that we have citizens who are the loving critics amongst us, some of whom have been questioned in this very House in this term of Government. Members would recall one citizen's poems were nitpicked with a view to cast wholly negative aspersions on his character, even though that individual was not present in the House to defend himself.

Mr Speaker, when any leader or person of influence engages in what will be interpreted as dog-whistling, it sets the tone for how members of the public debate with those whose views they disagree with. If binary black-and-white perspectives are the shape of how we as a society deal with differences after COVID-19, Singapore will become an ordinary society, no different from many around the world. But nobody expects the Government to willy-nilly change its decision at the first sign of pressure and agree with a critic. Singaporeans do recognise the multitude of perspectives the Government has to take cognisance of, but it is important to recognise and not forget that citizens criticise and even organise, because they care.

Moving forward, the Government should look at opening more avenues like Parliament for citizen engagement, greater data sharing and empower other institutions like our think-tanks, and nudge the mainstream media to give alternative perspectives more voice and even provide platforms piloting change on a small scale. As we traverse the post-COVID-19 volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, we need to place more faith and promote even greater participation from Singaporeans than ever before.”

Race, racism… and what of Raffles?

There are lots of discussions about race and racism around the world, and Singapore is no exception, even though we don’t really have a lot of space to engage in such discussions — race and religion are considered extremely sensitive and there are laws like the Sedition Act to be aware of. But if you’d like something to read and ponder, check out this interview with Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib on (such a valuable resource).

Another debate that’s going around the world has to do with statues; more specifically, what we should do with statues of white supremacists, or colonisers, or people who propped up systems of oppression. It’s not something that has gripped Singaporeans, but there’s been some chatter about the Sir Stamford Raffles statue(s). Some food for thought: Dhevarajan Devadas’ views, this op-ed on Nikkei Asian Review, and this Twitter thread…

Eggs: There sure are a lot ovum in Singapore right now

I recently wrote a Twitter thread about an egg glut in Singapore. This newsletter is long enough so I’m not going to republish the whole gloriously/tragically punny thing here, but I’ll embed the thread:

Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh on the 4G leadership

Here’s A Nice Thing

I admit I didn’t know what to share as a Nice Thing this week so I just went to YouTube and typed “kittens” in the search bar. But I’m a big fan of Kitten Lady on Instagram so I thought, why not a video about how she rescues baby cats during the COVID-19 pandemic? I mean, they’re BABIESSSSSSSSSS 😻

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