Who will lead labour after Lim Swee Say?

Love him or hate him (or puzzle at his odd quips), Lim Swee Say has been a fixture in the Labour Movement for the last 8 years and has exercised considerable influence in this sphere. But now that he has announced his clear intention not to fill the post again, the question is: who will (and will it matter)?

Every NTUC Secretary-General since Devan Nair has held a cabinet position, often concurrently. I don’t expect that to change this time around. Why this is so is probably because of the longstanding relationships between the NTUC and the PAP, as an alliance between the two had formed during the struggle for independence and during the years after. Some say that the PAP controls the NTUC. Others say that the NTUC has clout in government. Perhaps both are true.

Either way, this means that the pool of candidates is not very large – look at the cabinet. The other heirs apparent over the years have faded away – Josephine Teo, Halimah Yaacob and Ong Ye Kung all once held key positions but are no longer with the movement.

Neither Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How nor the Assistant Secraties-General: Ms Cham Hui Fong, Mr Patrick Tay Teck Guan, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Zainal Sapari seem to possess the political clout for the position.

In my reckoning, it seems possible that Josephine Teo may be positioned to take up the mantle, but at the same time she still doesn’t command the political power necessary for the position. It would be a step backwards as well, since she had already left the NTUC to fulfill her role as Minister of State.

Grace Fu seems another possibility, since she is also a minister in the PMO and well exposed to the private sector, but an another interesting candidate pops up within the cabinet.

Chan Chun Sing.

Kee chiu.

Kee chiu.

Whatever you want to say about him, he has a certain demeanour that the rank-and-file can understand; something that reminds me of Lim Swee Say – very “on the ground” (okay lah, “low class” if you’re a hater), in spite of a career as a SAF scholar. Moreover Chan Chun Sing was the chosen replacement for Lim Swee Say in my Buona Vista constituency. Who is to say that history will not repeat itself (because it is going to be the same people making these decisions)?

Chan Chun Sing as NTUC Secretary-General will throw up synergies with his current portfolio as Minister for Social and Family development. Hopefully his constant exposure to those who are suffering the most will mean that he will find avenues to raise wages to sustainable levels as NTUC Sec-Gen.

We’ll have to wait for October to see.

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.