After avoiding it for three years I have finally been caught by Covid. Spent the day flat out in bed with chills and headache and muscle ache, so forgive any typos in this issue — it was written in bed with one eye open 🤒
Tharman throws his hat in the ring for the presidency
The biggest story of this week is that Tharman Shanmugaratnam, currently Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, has indicated that he will be stepping down from these positions and running for president.
Given how strong a candidate Tharman is, it remains to be seen if anyone would like to go up against him. But if a non-Chinese candidate like Tharman is able to confidently win a contested presidential election, what does that say about the need for reserved presidential elections like the one that we had in the last round?
This is really a case of busting out the big guns. Tharman is extremely popular, and some previous polling had indicated that Singaporeans would quite like him to be prime minister. The whole "Tharman for PM" slogan is now going be killed stone-dead by him leaving the party and running for president. It's also effectively removing him from the real centre of power, since political authority doesn't lie with the president.
This isn't new, of course, but is anyone going to believe that President Tharman is truly non-partisan? It's just yet another instance of the PAP making sure that the non-partisan presidency, who is supposed to function as a check, is one of their own. And this is also going to leave Jurong GRC without its "anchor minister". In a statement sent to the press, Red Dot United has called for a by-election in Jurong, pointing to the principle of the GRC system as well: "[...] Mr. Tharman, as a minority candidate, stepping down as an MP raises concerns regarding the essence of the GRC system in both its intended purpose and spirit. Consequently, his resignation should logically trigger a by-election in Jurong to ensure continued minority representation." Is this call going to fall on deaf ears? Probably. 😠
Tharman has been talked about as a more independently minded PAP minister, with hopes that, if he were in charge, the government could take different directions from their current trajectory. We're not actually seeing very solid evidence of that, though — maybe he doesn't want to be prime minister, but why would he go along with this to be president when it helps the PAP hold on to various levers of power, which isn't great for governance? What sort of president might he be? Of course I'd loved to be proved wrong and find that, if he did win the presidency, Tharman will act as a real check. But I'm not feeling super optimistic here.
TJFest is an abolitionist community arts, culture and knowledge festival. Over three weekends in July, and across three venues, TJC will have experiential workshops, film screenings, storytelling, artmaking, music, games, poetry, talks, panel discussions and community conversations over food and drink.
In addition to the events, the festival also features a shop put together by ex-prisoners, called "For Sale: Objects Other Than Our Bodies", a community art installation on gentler futures, and several booths! There are both free and ticketed events, so do read through the full programme and sign up for the events you're interested in at tinyurl.com/tjfest2023!
The workshops and game sessions have very limited slots, so make sure to register soon! If you register by 11 June, you can use the promo code 'ABOLISH' at checkout to get an early bird discount.
Checking in on the neighbours
🇲🇾🇸🇬 This week's cross-border drama comes from an embarrassing stand-up comedy bit from Jocelyn Chia, a Singaporean who is now a naturalised US citizen. During her stand-up routine, she picked out a Malaysian in the audience and started dumping on Malaysia with the tired "oh Malaysia dumped us in 1965 but look where Singapore is now!" trope. To make matters worse, she then brought up MH370 and cracked jokes about how Malaysian planes can't fly. Roasting is common in stand-up comedy, but this went right over the line of roasting straight into mean-spirited (not helped by the expression of smug arrogance she maintained throughout). Unsurprisingly, the video of that bit has triggered huge backlash in Malaysia, and both Singapore's foreign affairs minister Vivian Balakrishnan and also Singapore's high commissioner in Malaysia Vanu Gopala Menon have apologised for it, saying that it doesn't reflect Singapore's views.
Joking at MH370 — a tragedy that many are still mourning — is really too much, but the reality is that I've come across many Singaporeans being smug about how much "better" Singapore is than Malaysia right now after they "kicked us out". It's a misleading narrative that we've been fed for many years, which we really need to get rid of.