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.


SDP challenge in Punggol – what kind of democracy?

SDP’s recent announcement that they intend to campaign in the still-withheld Punggol East SMC by-election has sparked more than a few comments from political watchers expressing both support and stern condemnation. While everyone is fretting (or smirking) over a 3-, 4- or 5- cornered fight, many might not realise how differently Singaporeans think about democracy (albeit OUR democracy).

It seems that by and large what is supposed to be a system where the people, the rakyat, are represented by a candidate (and party) that speaks for their interests in parliament, decades of PAP over-dominance and gerrymandering have birthed democracy’s Singaporean midget-child, PAP vs “the opposition” where most Singaporeans see everyone who is not PAP as members of a vacuous and rag-tag group collectively known as “the opposition”.

As injurious as this concept may be for a system that is supposed to represent the rakyat, it seems to be something that Singaporeans have settled for in the meantime, ignoring the differences between the left-leaning SDP, the centre-left-but-appears-centre-right WP and the ever-enigmatic but definitely right-wing PKMS. While purveyors of fine democracy like Chee Soon Juan may balk at this like Gordon Ramsay does at McDonalds, our quasi-democracy is still a reality that he has to deal with, since it is the electorate that can’t tell the difference between one party and another, let alone the various policies that they have laboured over.

Now we all may think that this is good news for the PAP – blurring the identity of their opponents, diluting the dissenting vote and stating “in-fighting” among the other parties (why is it called in-fighting when they aren’t even in an alliance?) but here is where it will start to fall apart – when the PAP’s own policies inevitably fail (all things eventually do), and the PAP can no longer keep up the media and PR facade required to save their face, they will slowly but surely become another faceless party in that mass, with apparently nothing special to offer to Singaporeans.

Then it will be a time of “anyone will do” and perhaps the decades of pettiness, unfair political plays, high-handedness and morally dubious practices will lose PAP more votes at a time when it needs them the most.

In time, Singaporeans will figure that they need someone who takes an actual political position that represents their interests, and so far the SDP has presented itself most consistently in this manner. Whether it turns out that SDP is throwing pearls before swine still remains to be seen.