Stop telling me success is “possible”

The words mean nothing. Every time some ultra-high net worth individual or politician goes around touting that “hey folks, there’s a social ladder to climb, go climb it”, they are actually (often deliberately) distracting us from the real issue of probability. We need to talk about probability, not possibility.

Now I’m not saying that in my context (Singapore) we are in a dire situation and that we need major reform or that they are lying to us. Inequality exists here, and if you were the comparing sort, we’re probably in the top half of the world when it comes to ossification and negative social impact. The question is what level we want to aspire to – to be a world leader in social mobility, or do we think that social mobility is a bad thing beyond a certain point (for example, an argument that “no rest for the rich” is bad because it disincentivises aspiration)?

Either way, we need to learn to stop it with the platitude that “whatever your situation is, if you work hard, you can succeed” and see the platitude for what it is whenever such throwaway words leave someone’s lips (and get waved around by the media as a slogan).

With the revelation (I hope the G can publish the source for other schools, because Mr Ang Wei Neng got it from the former RI principal) that not even half of Raffles Institution’s students come from non-elite primary schools, the odds are clearly stacked against the have-nots, even in the heart of our “meritocratic” education system (which is a subset of our “meritocratic” national system.

Ms Teo You Yenn’ s latest book “This is what inequality looks like” (BUY THIS BOOK), also shows the ways that inequality in Singapore has become sticky as we create systems that try to incentivise effort and hard work. This is a problem that many MPs have highlighted over the last week.

So the President and the Ministers say “they want to listen”. I’m then confounded by the tone-deafness (I hope it is unintentional) that is so apparent when someone stands up to say “anyone can succeed if they work hard”. This is either universally true or untrue. Even if you were a slave, you could “succeed” against the odds by leading a rebellion, or by winning in the fighting pits to regain your freedom – rebellions and skilful slaughter are hard work! Or if you were a European peasant, you could still rise to the ranks of nobility by joining the crusades to slaughter innocents, or perhaps star in some fairytale, or scheme and seduce your way into the pants of some countess-to-be (please see Game of Thrones for tips).

Has the world been an equal-opportunity place all this time? Garbage. Inequality exists, and it exists in Singapore. The playing field is NOT level. We don’t want to hear about the universal truth (or the universal lie) of hard work and success because it blinds us to the real issue in society.

What’s important are for the G to tell us what the odds are, across different risk factors. What are they doing to equalise these odds across education, social spending, employment, social networks, etc? Is the playing field getting more level, or less level, as time goes by? Which systems have to change to make it better?

Political leaders tell us about probabilities and the policies that will shape them. Politicians tell us about “possibility” and pipe-dreams, and turn our eyes away from important questions.


Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash


Hri Kumar Nair is right – there’s a hole in our Constitution

Former PAP MP, now Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair was right to say, at the court hearing on whether Madam Halimah Yacob’s vacated MP seat should trigger a by-election, that there is no part in the Constitution that says that the rest of the MPs in the affected GRC should resign as well.

In fact according to him there is no part of the Constitution that says that they shouldn’t resign. And according to his interpretation of the Constitution, there is also no clear indication that there ought to be a by-election, even should ALL the MPs in a GRC resign or vacate their seats. There are, in Mr Nair’s reading of the law, no provisions at all.

Sure, Mr Goh Chok Tong triggered a by-election in his Marine Parade GRC in 1992 to get a vote of confidence for his fresh Prime Ministerial post. All his MPs resigned then, but apparently, the Constitution is unclear on whether that by-election was mandatory. It was a moot point, of course, since the President and the PAP, still in power, had the right to call for a by-election, whether it was mandatory or not.

Since then, GRC seats have been vacated by the resignation of Choo Wee Khiang for cheating (Jalan Besar GRC, 1999), the deaths of Dr Ong Chit Chung (Jurong GRC, 2008) and Mr Lee Kuan Yew (Tanjong Pagar GRC, 2015), and of course the resignation of Halimah Yacob to run for the presidency (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, 2017). In most of these cases questions were asked about whether a by-election should be held, and the G was correct (to the same extent that Mr Nair is correct)  to point out that the Constitution did not demand that other MPs in the GRC resign.

This claim, assuming Mr Nair is right, falls short – the constitution does not even require a by-election if all the members of a GRC vacate their seats.

Mr Nair said the Government’s interpretation of Article 49 (1) is that a by-election is only required when all GRC MPs have vacated their seats (although the article does not actually say this), but then went on to say that Article 49 (1) does not apply to GRCs, because it was enacted during a time when there were only Single Member Constituencies (SMCs).

This is quite a double standard for Mr Nair to say that 49 (1) has an interpretation for GRCs while at the same time being unapplicable to GRCs. It sounds as if he is completely confused.

If we, however, would be so charitable to concede Mr Nair’s point about Article 49 (1), then there has been a massive loophole in our Constitution since 1988, and of course the silent accusation that the PAP government of the time did a damn shoddy job of the Constitution Amendment Act. And that subsequent governments also neglected to shore up this weakness.

Mr Nair was also derided for saying that the “GRC scheme was designed to ensure minority representation at the point of elections” because some took it to mean that minorities merely had to ‘cross the line’ before their race became irrelevant.

It was no defence either to hark back to Goh Chok Tong’s 1988 speech (at the second reading of the Constitution Amendment Act to introduce GRCs) where he said that “GRCs are meant to ensure a multi-racial Parliament, not a multi-racial team in the constituency”, since there was no provision either to determine at what point Parliament would be considered to have enough minorities. If that (to ensure a multi-racial Parliament) was the purpose of the constitutional amendment, then I would say that the legislation is a shoddy piece of work that does not serve this purpose effectively, since it doesn’t even tell us what would constitute adequate minority representation in Parliament, since minority candidates can resign and not be replaced. If in theory every single minority MP can vacate his seat and still trigger no by-election, then the Constitution, and the GRC system in it, does not effectively safeguard a multi-racial Parliament.

So, if Mr Nair is right, then our Constitution is a bloody shambles, and needs fixing immediately, and some people really need to answer for the mess they made in 1988, and the tardiness in cleaning it up.

And if Mr Nair is wrong, then it is time for a by-election.


Featured image via TMG.

We will pay the price for unrealistic views of Lee

Seven days are over, and now I have the time and proper space to make sense of all that has been said about Lee Kuan Yew over the last week. Lee casts a long shadow over all of Singapore, and how we handle his narrative in the years and decades to come will have great bearing on how we change as a society.

Lee Kuan Yew (image credit:

Lee Kuan Yew (image credit:

In death, the man still has the power to unite us. From his grave, he still could be the one to tear us apart. But the choice rests with us rather than with him – our handling of the legacy that we, willingly or unwillingly, have in our hands.

There are two ways forward now. In one future we polarise ourselves, we retreat into two camps: one that idolises and one that vilifies (both unjustifiably). In another future we manage to gather our senses, sit down together and have earnest conversations about the man and about our future.

Lee Kuan Yew was unashamed of his choices – why are we ashamed on his behalf? Why the need to fabricate some narrative of unmerited perfection? Sure, he has received some unfair criticism, but even while it is wise for critics to steer away from criticisms during the man’s wake, it is similarly disrespectful to caricature his achievements and the hard choices he made.

MOE all but mandated a whitewashed history lesson in the days after his passing, and most teachers fed it to their students unedited. Die-hards like Calvin Cheng and Indranee Rajah had to reach for mockery and distortion to try and rebut what they saw as attacks on Lee Kuan Yew’s character. Talk about there being no trade-offs is pure nonsense. Talk about us having sacrificed only bad things in exchange for good things is likewise naive. Talk about how everything is totally humane fails to give Lee credit where he is due – that he made and stood by his choices in a fallen world where not everything can be win-win for everyone all the time.

And this is also the very same mistake that many of his critics make – seeing his actions in isolation and refusing to acknowledge the effective but imperfect outcome.

If Lee had not made those choices, and sacrificed dreams, even people, we would not have what we have today. And by any sensible critic’s reckoning this outcome for Singapore, out of all possible outcomes, is far, far better than what we could ever have hoped for.

Lee also sacrificed a part of his humanity. One cannot make hard choices like he did without hardening within; and to live with no regrets as he did meant that a hard pragmatism had to overrule.

Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is admirable BECAUSE he made those sacrifices. He is a leader par excellence BECAUSE he had to bear the consequences of the people he sacrificed. He is a visionary without peer BECAUSE of all the futures and freedoms he steered us away from. As much as I may want an apology for all the things he did, I honestly am glad that he never apologised. The legacy handed to us is crystal clear.

Let us remember the man he truly was, not some cartoon hero or villain of our own imagination.

GE 2015 – first blood to Chee

The boundaries haven’t even been announced, but it seems that the first shots have already been fired in GE 2015 (or is it 2016?). Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing’s rebuttal to two articles penned by SDP’s infamous Sec-Gen Chee Soon Juan was all over the local dailies, signalling what is probably the starting gun for a drawn-out pre-election campaign.

It is worth noting that Chan wrote the letter in his capacity as Minister, an odd choice given that none of the subjects broached had anything to do with his ministry. What was that for?

Unfortunately for Chan, it seems that Chee has gained the better of him in this encounter, and the initiative shifts to the SDP, who last Saturday announced their interest in contesting Chan’s Tanjong Pagar GRC.

1) Chee’s agenda gets an airing

These HuffPo articles would have otherwise been missed/ignored by the Singapore public at large. HuffPo, in spite of it’s large US-based online profile, has little traction with the man on the street here. It is pretty left-wing, which makes for a great fit with Chee, but it’s not so much “attention and space” compared to what Chan just gave him.

Right now, any non-MSM socio-political publisher or blogger worth his salt will be talking about Chee. We’ve got no choice! It’s the flavour of the week.

As of now, just past midnight on the 17th, the first article “Without Freedom there is No Free Trade” clocked 109 FB shares and 663 Likes. “Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go” (in spite of its cringeworthy headline) has 59 shares and 494 likes. My bet is that these numbers will spike over the next 48 hours. Too bad I can’t see the article’s viewership stats – that would have been best.

By referring to the articles published on HuffPo, Chan is pulling a buttload of eyeballs to what seem to be two run-of-the-mill Chee Soon Juan pieces that merely re-hash staid SDP election issues. It’s all over the local grapevine now, and this helps spread the SDP message, as old and moldy a one as it is (I’m envisioning spores here).

2) An ad hominem that is going to backfire (or maybe already has)

There are already scores of commentators on social media commiserating with Chee, labeling themselves to be, like Chee, what Chan defines as a “failure”. Mothership went as far as to write a snarky fictitious response from Chee, accusing Chan of likewise never having been elected to represent the people (Chan’s GRC Tanjong Pagar went uncontested in the last GE). That’s a burn.

Don’t ad hominem until the crowd is already riled up (not completely rational) and on your side. Or better yet, don’t ad hominem. Keep it clean. I hope for his sake he was trying to play only to the home crowd.

Chee’s response is mature (mature-sounding at least), if a little overdrawn.

Post by Chee Soon Juan.

3) Missed opportunities for real debate

Chan’s letter to the HuffPo nearly completely neglected to debate Chee’s real points of contention – accusing the USSFTA of contributing (or even causing) Singaporeans’ labour woes and the lack of a free media. SDP’s campaign, launched last Saturday, seemed to address neither of these issues substantially. It would be at least relevant to accuse Chee of being full of hot air when it comes to pushing for real change, since Chee apparently said that he had no plans to push the liberal agenda as he had in previous elections (neither worker’s/human rights nor a free press/speech).

Chan missed an opportunity to talk about the progress made so far on worker’s rights: slow progress, but welcome change nonetheless. His ST forum letter today made more sense – real rebuttals (and in the context of MSF) with a personal snipe at the end, and one that played off Chiam See Tong’s popularity.

Too bad this exchange will be remembered for the snipe rather than the issues.

Chan Chun Sing needs to work on better strategies if he wants to win his first election – something that Chee Soon Juan would be more than happy to do in his stead.

Nparks is under who? HHH and ST both clueless

Han Hui Hui wrote to Vivian Balakrishnan to ask for the Hong Lim Park ban to be removed, but I don’t think it will work out for her.

REASON? Dr Balakrishnan is the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), and Nparks is under the Ministry of National Development (MND).

ST doesn't know either!

ST doesn’t know either!

Sadly, ST doesn’t know this fact either, and has happily published that Nparks is under MEWR as well. Unless there was a reshuffle today, Nparks is actually a child agency of MND, and Khaw Boon Wan is in charge.



Tragically, our political activists are barking up the wrong tree, and even worse, our newspapers don’t even know.

Handy tip: Warren Fernandez is a board member of Nparks. Yes. The Editor of ST.

Khaw Boon Wan is just sitting there smiling now. 😀

Hecklegate splits opposition into 3 groups

by Daniel Yap

Love it, hate it, don’t know what to think? Reactions to the Hong Lim Heckling from the opposition camp have been mixed, but one way or another, everyone seems to be falling nicely into three categories.

1. Conspiracy theorist. Somehow they are the victim. They’re always the victim/hero. These guys are in turn supported by some folks with Guy Fawkes masks in their profile pictures who will argue about technicalities like how it wasn’t “heckling”, but just a damn blardy rude interruption, or else they will ad hominem people who condemn the act and label them all as PAP IBs. Damn, suddenly so many people become PAP IBs. If PAP was capable of plotting something so smooth and ingenuous, I swear I will join them right away.

Key points:
Done nothing wrong
It’s a PAP trap/plot
Conspiracy by YMCA, NParks, Police, MSM, and the parents of the disabled kids.

Key Members:
Han Hui Hui
Roy Ngerng
Alex Tan
Kenneth Jeyaretnam (EDIT: KJ has now been upgraded – or is it downgraded – to the level of conspiracy theorist.)

2. Silence is golden. Here stand most of the people who were vocally supportive of Roy and Han… until now. Unable to break ties with their most visible political allies but at the same time unable to jump onto the loony train and screw their credibility. Lie low and you may yet survive the shitstorm.

Key points:
Nothing at all, maybe share some articles written by other people to show that I’m still an ally, but don’t say anything because this shit is bad.

Key Members:
Leong Sze Hian
Chee Soon Juan
The Ice Cream Party leadership

3. The “reasonable” opposition. These guys are happy to distance themselves from the increasingly-alarming CPF gang. Full retard is just too much. Never go full retard.

Key points:
The protesters’ actions were uncalled for and inexcusable
Condemnable behaviour
Stop calling me a PAP IB

Key members:
Andrew Loh
Worker’s Party
Ravi Philemon


Roy and Han Hui Hui go full retard

by Daniel Yap

Roy Ngerng, Han Hui Hui and a bunch of their supporters have raised a ruckus at a YMCA charity event at Hong Lim Park and heckled disabled kids, among other low class acts. EDIT: Seems like TRS’ Alex Tan was there too.)

Teo Ser Luck was in attendance at the YMCA event as the guest of honour and there were even pictures of him getting verbal abuse from some crass thug. After heckling some poor disabled kids (and a bunch of elderly people and children) the rabble decided to march around Hong Lim Park chanting.

TOC tries to save their face by claiming that the mob moved off soon after, but honestly, does that make everything okay? Damage done. If you didn’t want to heckle disabled kids, you would have kept your mouth shut in the first place. Marching off somewhere else and keeping up your shouting isn’t brownie points in my book.

Of course, you’ll now be able to find all the low-EQ, anarchist/opposition tryhards actually standing up to DEFEND Roy and HHH’s antisocial, crass behaviour. At least it’s now really easy to spot an opposition nutjob. Ugh, these people actually make me want to join the PAP. *shudder*

Of course there was the HHH POV video of the Nparks Director of Parks and some policeman. While HHH was being an ass, she was largely within her rights and the officials were outclassed and underprepared. Sigh, doesn’t the civil service ever learn?