LKY antagonising an entire generation of Chinese

From ‘Life after Cabinet…and death’, 11 Aug 2013, excerpts from ‘One Man’s View of the World’, Think, Sunday Times.

…Occasionally, when I disagree strongly with something, I make my views known to the Prime Minister. There was an instance of this when the Government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air channels.

A suggestion was made: “Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas.”

I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack?

I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show.

Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren. It will creep back, slowly but surely…

When the Speak Mandarin Campaign brought its War on Dialect to radio in 1982, clamping down on dialect broadcasts over Rediffusion, that didn’t stop master storyteller Lee Dai Sor from producing his own albums, TWELVE of them in fact. That’s more albums than all the Singapore Idols combined. His bestseller cassette, Ru Chao San Bu Wen, was a folk legend about incompetent Qing emperors. In 1983, he rejected SBC’s invitation to perform at a New Year show because he had to speak Mandarin. In the media, he reportedly ‘retired from broadcasting’, but now we have confirmation from LKY himself that the plug was pulled on his show because it was in Cantonese.

This was a man who could sell the Singapore Story better any million-dollar NDP, but had to pursue his passion working for Radio Australia and Rediffusion Malaysia when his own country turned him away. Celebrated as a folk hero, drama company Toy Factory produced a play about Lee’s life, titled ‘Big Fool Lee’, a homage to Lee’s influence as the voice of a generation who refused to be muted by LKY’s social engineering. ‘Big Fool’ died in 1989, but his spirit, like dialect, lives on today.

Dialects have already crept into mainstream consciousness and pop culture, ‘slowly but surely’ no matter how LKY tried to suppress it with the same vigour as SARS. As late as 1990, Cantonese ‘patriotic’ songs like Sparrow With Twigs were banned from airplay and only recently reinstated. In a big way too, being featured in local movie ‘That Girl in Pinafore’. It’s not just the older generation ‘threatening’ to make dialect fashionable again. Local rapper Shigga Shay boasts about being a ‘Limpeh’. Mr Brown’s ‘Lekuasimi’ was a spoof of an NDP song. Royston Tan’s 881 made us (the English-educated included) all sing ‘Che Lang Che Pua’ in KTVs again.

We continue to order ‘kopi siew dai’, not ‘coffee, less sugar’, and order ‘har gao’, not ‘prawn dumplings’. Dialect has already been embedded in our social fabric, gone beyond the days of ‘Wah Lau’, and there’s nothing a 90 year old Hakka politician can do about it. Especially when his own PAP successors are using it as rhetoric. Goh Chok Tong used ‘pah see buay zao’ in reference to ‘stayers’. You could use the same phrase for Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese and what have you. If there’s anything that needs a resurgence it’s Mandarin itself, our general grasp of it left a lot to be desired, though we have more than enough PRCs moving here to help us, well, ‘keep up’ with the language.

Unlike Mandarin, dialect doesn’t exist in textbooks nor does it appear in listening comprehension tests.  It lives only in the hearts, minds and mouths of Singaporeans, young or old, proud enough to speak it and keep it alive, campaign or no campaign, a glorious artifact that binds us to our roots. Anyone can be a polyglot or Chinese scholar if they train hard enough, but only in Singapore can one be a true master of the dialects, like the late Ah Nan was. Those who agree, please Kee Chiu.

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Singapore Girl announcing that she’s from China

From ‘Stewardess making announcements:Why the need to specify her origins?’, 25 May 2013, ST Forum

(Kua Bak Lim): WHEN on board a recent Singapore Airlines Beijing/Singapore flight, I was puzzled when the flight stewardess who made announcements in Mandarin identified herself as someone from China. It struck me as odd that the airline found it necessary to make such a distinction when it came to announcements in Mandarin.

I then asked the in-flight supervisor whether the stewardess or steward on board an SIA flight to London needed to declare that he or she was from the United Kingdom when making announcements. The answer was no. This piece of personal information about the staff is completely irrelevant to the announcements, regardless of the language spoken.

This, in my view, tends to be divisive for the staff on board. I also find it disconcerting for SIA’s image as a world-class international airline. One also cannot help but notice that there seems to be the subtle insinuation that Singaporeans cannot speak good Mandarin, which is certainly not true.

Would the SIA management please comment?

There’s no need for an SIA stewardess from China to announce her origins simply because her accent and grammatical precision would be a dead giveaway, if the intention is to cater to PRCs on board. SIA has been hiring foreign staff for a while now so it’s no secret,  though they still insist on keeping the ‘Singapore Girl’ moniker.  As of April 2013, 7 out of 10 cabin crew are locals, with Malaysians, Thais, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Koreans making up the numbers. It is perhaps the only airline in the world to brand their attendants after a nationality. Even Air India doesn’t call their ladies ‘India Girl’, nor China Airlines ‘China Girl’. The latter is also derogatory in the local context, often associated with mistresses and illegal immigrants than a glamorous profession that involves pushing foodcarts up and down a aisle asking if people want the chicken or the beef.

Interestingly, according to the SIA recruitment site, it’s a prerequisite to be ‘proficient in English and Mandarin’ if you’re a Taiwanese, whereas the requirement specified for candidates from China is just ‘a HIGH level of English proficiency’, though I believe the average Chinese or Taiwanese native could deliver any announcement in Mandarin without much difficulty at all. No such language criteria has been set for the Singaporean candidate, though you’d need to have A and O Level credits in General Paper and English respectively. Which means you can fail your Chinese exams and still become a successful Singapore Girl. But having splendid passes in GP or even Chinese doesn’t necessarily make you proficient in ANY language. The writer above seems highly optimistic about our locals’ standards of spoken Mandarin, but if we were that good we wouldn’t need ‘Speak Mandarin campaigns’. Even ang mo children put Chinese Singaporean adults like myself to shame. I can only remember one Chinese nursery rhyme during my childhood, the one that goes ‘san zi lao hu’ (Three Tigers, Three Tigers, run very fast, run very fast, one has no eyes, one has no ears, very strange, very strange), compared to today’s non-Chinese kids reciting Confucian EPICS like San Zi Jing.

So how many Singaporeans you know are actually up to the task of delivering a message to international travellers over a PA system? How many can deliver a simple interview to a Mandarin news crew in full sentences? How about telling a Chinese tourist the TIME? Not a lot, apparently.  Ex Mediacorp actor Ix Shen says we have a TOTAL DISREGARD for grammar and sentence construction. Sumiko Tan posits that English educated folks like herself lacked interest in the language because it was forced down our throats and not promoted in a fun, lively way. Journalist and film-maker Pek Siok Lan mocks our ‘half-baked English and half-baked Chinese’. Back in 1981, a Taiwanese professor urged us to ‘DROP Singapore Mandarin’ because we were over -‘translitering’ it. We could consider a Speak Mandarin mascot like Water Wally or Singa, but it would be hard to conceive of a character related to Chinese culture without making it a dragon or coming across as racist and xenophobic.

From a business and customer service standpoint, it’s better for SIA to let a ‘professional’ handle a Mandarin announcement than risk an unseasoned Singaporean butchering it in front of PRCs, generally thought to be so proud of their language they wouldn’t stand for anything slipshod and ‘half-baked’. It would also be a hassle for the cabin crew if PRCs started throwing up their meals because they heard us speak. But you don’t have to tell people you’re from China because it’s obvious and it would confuse everyone about what ‘Singapore Girl’ means. I suppose with enough practice, a true ‘Singapore Girl’ would be able to deliver Mandarin with striking confidence. Maybe that would be the ‘makeover’ that we locals can truly be proud of, a bilingual SIA stewardess who knows what is Chinese for ‘mild turbulence’ and ‘fried mee goreng’, rather than say, toning down on blue eyeshadow.

Malaysians protesting at Merlion Park

From ’21 Malaysians arrested at protest’, 12 May 2013, article by Amelia Tan, Sunday Times

Twenty-one Malaysians were arrested yesterday for staging a protest at the Merlion Park against the outcome of last Sunday’s Malaysian general election. The rare police action followed earlier warnings that such gatherings are illegal, and after nine Malaysians were warned for participating in a similar protest last Wednesday.

In a statement last night, the police said that “while foreigners are allowed to work or live here, they have to abide by our laws”. “They should not import their domestic issues from their countries into Singapore and conduct activities which can disturb public order, as there can be groups with opposing views. Those who break the law will be seriously dealt with.”

….Last week, the police warned nine Malaysians for “actively participating” in an illegal gathering at Merlion Park on Wednesday, when about 100 people went to protest against the Malaysian election results.

…Separately, the police also reminded migrant worker rights activist Jolovan Wham of his responsibilities as organiser of a Speakers’ Corner demonstration today, also related to the Malaysian general election. He has been told to take appropriate measures to ensure that the event complies with Singapore laws. The police said they were informed that Mr Wham had posted on Facebook that he was organising the demonstration to show solidarity with Malaysians calling for fair elections and that “he had invited foreigners to observe the event“.

“The Speakers’ Corner is a designated site for Singaporeans to freely speak on issues as long as they do not touch on matters which relate to religion or may cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups in Singapore. Only Singaporeans and permanent residents of Singapore are allowed to participate in demonstrations held at the Speakers’ Corner,” the police spokesman said.

The terms and conditions of the use of Speakers’ Corner is ambiguous on what constitutes a ‘demonstration’, or if you may be just an ‘observer’ and not a ‘participant’ in the event. In 2001, when public demos were banned from Hong Lim Park, the police described such activities as coming together for a ‘specific cause’, ‘chanting slogans’, ‘displaying placards’ and showing gesticulations such as ‘CLENCHING OF FISTS’. I’m not sure if clapping furiously and going ‘Hear, hear’ in response to a rousing speech constitutes participation, but standing from a distance and folding your arms with an expressionless face may have protesters suspecting that you’re a plainclothes police officer instead of a supporter or observer. You may even get crowd-surfed involuntarily if things get out of hand.

The earlier Merlion Park protest had special appearances from two Mediacorp actors, namely Zhang Yaodong and Shaun Chen, who in the image below, are clearly seen ‘participating’ in an illegal activity. Not sure if it’s stated anywhere in their Mediacorp contract if celebrities (and role models to our ‘impressionable youth’) are allowed to engage in political protests. They may inadvertently get innocent bystanders into serious trouble if screaming fans at the scene who have no idea what ‘Ubah’ or ‘Bersih’ are all about get rounded up by the cops for disrupting public order. You may, however, be part of a campaign to ban shark’s fin soup, though that may upset more people than your political beliefs.

Careful, almost a clenched fist there!

It’s not the first time that our Merlion has seen gatherings of this sort. In 2011, a petition for an SMTown Kpop concert was held in the form of a flash mob. Not sure if a police permit was applied for in this case but amazingly (also unfortunately), it turned out to be successful. These kids with their sick dance moves and placards look dead menacing. Slogans on A4 paper? Amateurs. If you want to get something out of your protesting, choreograph a mass-dance, dammit!

Thanks a lot too, Singa the courtesy lion, for giving Malaysian activists ideas for a venue.

There are other ways to show solidarity for a political cause if you’re a foreigner. You could blackout your Facebook profile for a couple of days before reverting it to a pic of your baby. If you’re a Myanmese you could join fellow countrymen to book entire theatres and watch Rambo viciously gun down junta villains (with permission from the authorities of course). You could even have a sit-down dinner in a nice restaurant with face-paint, sing patriotic songs in unison and get nothing more than dirty looks from diners without having a ring of police surrounding you like a phalanx in a Roman army ready to charge a castle.

Screengrab From Martyn See's 'Speakers Cornered'

Screengrab From Martyn See’s ‘Speakers Cornered’

But if you insist on venting your frustrations on crappy governments outdoors, you could do it ‘picnic’ style, like the Bersih 2.0 get-together in 2011 at Speaker’s Corner, where instead of slogans you could hand out yellow roses as a nod to the days of ‘Flower Power’. Just make sure you keep your friendly neighbourhood Police in the loop so they can send their stakeout/riot police team to defuse an ugly situation in the event you start marching around with burning stakes, flipping cars over and then torching them. Singaporean protesters can do without such police permits having been cowed into submission over generations. It’s the foreigners with their campaigns and balls who’re viewed as potential threats (But our government welcomes them with open arms anyway). I mean just look at them, dressed in matching black garb and holding up what looks suspiciously like secret society code numbers.  My God, our riot police have their work cut out for them!

The 8 is upside down. Maybe that symbolises something. Hmm.

Maybe it’s time we drop the name ‘Speakers’ Corner’ and just call it Hong Lim Park instead, since nobody goes there just to ‘speak’ anymore without some fist-pumping or incitement going on. Maybe we should have a demo at Speaker’s Corner to protest against the name ‘Speaker’s corner’. We could sit in unwashed, loving huddles, have a feast of organic tofu and sway holding hands to a live ukelele rendition of ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear some Flowers in your Hair)’.

Here’s a sample of events which render the title invalid and outdated:

- Pink dot (2009)

- Give Vuikong a Chance (a petition signing event, 2010)

- BRING BACK MY MCDONALDS PIG TOY (2010)

- Slutwalk  (2011)

- M Ravi dancing (for no one) (2012)

And of course, a recent May Day event about some white paper. Wonder what’s all that fuss about.

Workers’ Party flooded with Chinese

From ‘Workers’ Party lacks minority representation’, 28 Jan 2013, ST Forum

(Paul Antony Fernandez):…As a Punggol East resident, I have reservations about whether the decision was the right one – during 10 days of campaigning, I did not see a Malay, Indian or anyone from a minority race among the WP members. I had thought that perhaps such members could not be around due to their work commitments, but at the WP’s victory parade yesterday, there was still no one from a minority race among their number.

The WP was formed primarily to address the concerns of workers across the board, especially low-wage workers. After General Election 2011, I realised that the WP was flooded with Chinese members. During the campaigning, I asked Ms Lee about the representation of the minorities in the WP, but did not get an answer.

Has WP leader Low Thia Khiang forgotten our national pledge where we pledged equality regardless of race or creed?

Just truckin'

Just truckin’

You’d have to worry for the electoral process if you have people like Fernandez here basing their vote on how multi-racial a party is rather than whether their candidate could do her job well. Since the exit of Michael Palmer, the PAP too has been lacking in minority race representation, that of the EURASIAN (Other than Christopher De Souza). Why isn’t Fernandez chiding the PAP for not fielding a Eurasian candidate as a one-for-one replacement instead of a Chinese colorectal surgeon? What, then, would be Fernandez’s ideal quota of minority race in any party, 1 minority for every 3 Chinese? Would a high-ranking Malay or Indian who calls the shots in a predominantly Chinese party be considered adequate ‘representation’? What did Fernandez have to say about the 4 TANS in the last Presidential election? Was that election, like the recent WP Punggol campaign, erm, RACIST too?

It’s easier for the ruling party having the strength and numbers to make their team as diverse as possible. The GRC system also practically ensures that the PAP is sufficiently multiracial, nevermind its sneaker motives. In 1988, Ling How Doong and Chiam See Tong from the SDP were challenged by Goh Chok Tong on how the party could claim to be multi-racial when they in fact fielded an all-Chinese team for the 1984 GE.  Goh then suggested that such a selection could lead to an ‘all-Chinese Parliament’. Chiam was also against the ‘Team MP’ concept which was ‘racialist’ and challenged the ability of minority races to get into politics ‘by their own merit’. At the time, it was assumed that a Chinese voter was more likely to support a Chinese candidate, more so if the latter spoke their dialect. Fernandez’s concern about racial equality is a relic of an era when people tended to vote emotionally and communally, rather than as the educated, savvy, mature voter who thinks of his representative as a SINGAPOREAN first rather than a Chinese/Malay/Indian. In fact even after a decade (2008) since the SDP race scuffle, the Prime Minister himself didn’t think the country was ready for a non-Chinese Leader.

Opposition parties do not have the luxury to be multi-racial and multi-gender just for the sake of it, when they really need the best possible candidates regardless of race or sex from a limited pool to challenge the PAP. In spite of its small number, the executive council of WP already has its fair share of (two) Malays and (one) Indian, which makes Fernandez’s snap judgement about WP’s make-up rather petty and unfair considering the overall demographics of Singapore. With such strong preconceptions about race in politics, one is prone to selectively zooming in on images of Chinese faces and ignoring the few seconds worth of ‘minority representation’. The deception would be magnified if Fernandez wasn’t in fact following the parade truck on the ground from start to finish (Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap were on board), but watching it on TV. It’s uncertain if he was paying any attention to WP’s activities since the GE 2011, or was just basing his conclusions of WP ‘Sinocentricity’ on the blue-collar vibe of the typical ‘Huat’-hooting WP audience.

And I don’t remember there being a single mention of the word CREED in our Pledge. Maybe Fernandez imagined it, like how he imagined the ‘flood’ of Chinese faces in WP.

PAP blaming Punggol East loss on ‘by-election effect’

From ‘PAP leaders expected contest to be difficult’ 27 Jan 2013, article by Rachel Chang, Sunday Times

In the wake of its defeat in Punggol East, People’s Action Party leaders yesterday said it was always going to be a difficult contest for the ruling party because of the “by-election effect”. The Government’s candidate always has a tougher fight in a by-election because voters see the contest as one to choose an MP, not a government, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a statement last night.

Opposition parties, he added, encourage this line of thinking. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the loss was precipitated by the by-election effect, the circumstances that triggered the by-election – former Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer’s resignation after admitting to an extramarital affair – and a host of unresolved local issues. As an example, he pointed to the upgrading works at Rivervale Plaza, which stalled due to the contractor going bust, and apologised that the situation has been an “irritant” to residents.

Speaking at the PAP’s Punggol East branch among a shocked and downcast activist corps, Mr Teo said “we always knew it was going to be difficult because this is a by-election”…”There were circumstances already as we came into this by-election. And of course there were local issues as well. So we knew it was going to be a difficult fight.”

The ‘by-election effect’ can be summed up as: ‘Voting 1 more Opposition member into Parliament won’t hurt the ruling party, so why not?’. The PAP has a dismal record with snap polls ever since the shocking ‘watershed’ 1981 Anson by-election which brought JBJ into Parliament, and it seems convenient to attribute the loss to voters simply wanting greater representation of an alternative voice. I doubt that’s all there is to it. Perhaps the PAP should reflect deeper, and not just on the ‘local issues’ surrounding Punggol. Maybe Punggol residents voted to send a stern signal that something is not right with the ruling party, that sending a fresh-faced Lee Li Lian into Parliament would knock some sense into them, or as WP chief Low Thia Khiang would bellow: ‘Slap the driver’ when he’s sleeping. Except that the driver, now awake, has started to blame the map rather than his own sense of direction. This isn’t just about Rivervale Plaza or straying politicians, but about the people seizing the rare opportunity to give the PAP demerit points for overall substandard performance on a national scale, without really seeking to overthrow it. All the National Conversations in the world won’t jolt PAP into action as much as a single seat in Parliament usurped by a member of Opposition.

It’s not just a case of swinging percentages. It appears the media also swung wildly in its bid to predict the winner of this election. Basing their analysis on an informal (illegal?) poll of Punggol residents, ST called this as an ‘uphill battle’ for the Opposition. In a piece by Robin Chan, political correspondent ( ‘Vote swing among highest in history’, 27 Jan 2013, Sunday Times), ‘the fall of Punggol East is therefore perhaps NO SURPRISE’. Ah, the magic of hindsight.  Some may argue that PAP simply lost this game of wits, that they chose the WRONG candidate to run for election. Newbie in the field aside, the Son of Punggol was initially reluctant to run as candidate, having been hand-picked and summoned to PM Lee’s office for a ‘tea session’. Li Lian, on the other hand, is a veteran in comparison. In the pivotal 1981 by-election, PAP similarly attempted to pit a new face (i.e a nobody) in the form of Pang Kim Hin against JBJ . It was like Paris Hilton’s chihuahua squaring off against a pitbull on steroids. This was what Lee Kuan Yew had to say about the shock result in his memoirs, having left the campaign under the charge of then Minister for Trade and Industry Goh Chok Tong.

“I was disturbed, not by the defeat, but because I had no signal from Goh that we might lose..”

Like any wounded predator in battle, the first thoughts of any dominant party unfamiliar with defeat are always about getting back on their feet to ‘even the odds’. The PAP seems to be spending more time sharpening their claws than licking their wounds.

In a scathing ST review which was unusual at the time, Pang was criticised for being a political lightweight, lacking ‘physical stature’ and coming from a ‘wealthy background’. Even his occupation as an officer in the army was picked on as a reason for failure. By pitching a ‘small boy’ against JBJ, some residents felt that the PAP wasn’t taking the constituency seriously. There were even whispers of nepotism as Pang was also the nephew of ex Minister Lim Kin San. The PAP persists in its rigid faith and protection of their losing candidates; Lee Kuan Yew stood by Pang after defeat, and his son as PM continues the tradition with fresh incumbent Dr Koh, even if everyone knows by now from the Palmer incident that the selection process and its machinery is not all that reliable as it’s hyped to be. No one is going to admit that they chose the wrong man for the job, especially the Prime Minister; that would be an admission of lack of ‘foresight’, which is almost as heinous for a politician as confessing to an affair.

So, what did Punggol residents make of a colorectal surgeon who was ‘arrowed’ for the job, or the PAP for treating the by-election as a sparring contest and rite of passage for new blood, knowing full well their track record of losses in the past? Did the PAP put the greenhorn Dr Koh on the spot because they could ‘afford’ to lose Punggol East, and they were just afraid of slotting a more experienced and valuable candidate against WP? How bad, really, did the PAP want Punggol East? Was Koh mere ‘sacrificial lamb’, part of the PAP masterplan, that the loss would prepare the Pawn of Punggol for an easier fight when he returns with a vengeance as part of a team of PAP old dogs in a future GRC?

Without knowing what’s really up PAP’s sleeve, perhaps this celebration of a ‘political awakening’ and predictions of WP shares going up is somewhat premature. If they were intent on making Dr Koh a PAP man, this by-election would benefit him win or lose. Teo Chee Hean himself was inducted via a GRC by-election under the helm of none other than Goh Chok Tong. By taking a strictly strategic view of such polls without reflecting and asking the more important questions (like whether PAP-owned companies should sell software to town councils) the real losers in the end are still us Singaporeans, no matter how many blue umbrellas we flood our stadiums with.

Son of Punggol doesn’t need your sympathy vote

From ‘I’m not seeking sympathy: Koh’, 14 Jan 2013, article by Amanda Lee, Today online

Sharing his hard-knock story was aimed at getting residents to understand him better and “not about garnering sympathy votes“, said Dr Koh Poh Koon, the People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for the Punggol East by-election.

…At his introduction as a PAP candidate last week, Dr Koh shared how he was born to a bus driver, did odd jobs to help support his family of seven and studied medicine on a student loan. When he and his doctor wife bought their Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in 1998, they had to borrow money from a relative and were left with just S$11.50 in their bank account.

This led to some criticism that Dr Koh was “milking for sympathy votes“. Asked about this yesterday, he said: “It’s inevitable that people will think that way. But the way I look at it is that there is no better way for people to know me without understanding where I come from, where I started, because this is me.

‘THIS IS ME’ happens to be Dr Koh’s campaign message, a slogan that pitches down-to-earth openness and honesty, but is also a statement embraced by people asserting their identity in the face of prejudice, like transgenders or homosexuals for example. ‘This is Me’ is about being ‘true to yourself’ no matter what others say, even if it means walking down Orchard Road in bikini and jeans like Ris Low. As with any election candidate one should reserve a tinge of healthy skepticism when he delivers a moving rag-to-riches story as his selling point. Humility is a virtue that should be in every politician’s toolkit when appealing to the ‘everyman’, but one also shouldn’t brag about ‘hard-knocks’ childhood poverty like it’s a major career achievement in your CV before it cuts too close to the plot of Slumdog Millionaire.

If taken at face value, Koh’s story of triumph over adversity and making it big as a surgeon despite being a humble ‘kampung’ boy is somewhat admirable, but it’s unlikely that anyone would ‘sympathise’ because that’s all in the past. What matters is you have a HDB flat now, a car each for yourself and your wife, and in the noble and lucrative business of fixing people’s intestines. Nobody’s going to vote you in out of sympathy even if your daddy kicked you out on the streets to make a living selling fish hooks handcrafted out of discarded paper clips. Besides, nobody knows for certain if you’re not merely exaggerating your personal history, especially if you’re an unfamiliar face. It’s what you can do for us, NOW, that makes the difference between voting you in vs the more experienced guys in the blue, red and yellow shirts contesting for Punggol East.

A sympathy vote is usually cast when a recent event, usually a misfortune, is witnessed leading up to elections, because people generally tend to forget or ignore what happened to you years before. If your wife left you because of your commitments in ‘pounding the streets’, I may give you a chance because you paid the ultimate price for serving the country. If you said ‘sorry’ for letting the nation down just before polling, I may be swayed by your earnestness. If you severed your arm rescuing a kitten during a walkabout I may vote you in without even thinking. But telling me about how you once had less than $12 in your bank account doesn’t do it for me, because it’s not a sacrifice or a heavy cost that has anything to do with your passion for politics. Still, if all else fails you could resort to CRYING on stage and national TV. This is how you do it:

Nicole Seah. Tears of an Angel

Lim Boon Heng. Now that’s what I call a real Man.

Khaw Boon Wan. Someone give the man a handkerchief for God’s sake!

So, son of Punggol, you don’t have to worry about sympathy votes because you’re not getting any from me (if I were a Punggol voter). But that’s just ME.

Police investigating Straits Times’ Punggol East by-election poll

From ‘Police looking into ST publication of by-election poll’, 13 Jan 2013, article in Today online.

The police is looking into the Straits Times’ publication of the findings of a poll on the Punggol East by-election, said the Elections Department today. The article, published on Jan 10, polled 50 Punggol East residents on which party they were rooting for in the by-election.

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, publishing the results of any election survey from the day the writ of election is issued until the close of all polling stations on polling day is not allowed. The writ of election was issued on Jan 9. In a statement today, the Elections Department said: “In response to media queries about the poll on the Punggol East By-Election published in the Straits Times on 10 January 2013, the case is currently being looked into by the Police.”

Since the article was published, netizens have questioned the legality of the report in online forums and social media.

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 9.33.09 PM

The Jan 10 article in question was titled ‘ST poll: More rooting for PAP’, which is misleading because out of the 50 Punggol residents surveyed, 19 supported PAP vs 10 for Opposition, and the remainder were ‘UNDECIDED’. It seems rather premature to say anything about the Punggol sentiment on the ground from such results, in particular something like ‘the EDGE that the ruling party appears to hold may be a reflection of  the incumbency advantage it has always held in a middle-class, traditionally PAP-leaning ward’. No details were given from the article on how the poll was conducted, but it appears that it was done through interviews of random residents. ST Editor Warren Fernandez confirmed my suspicions:

“Our reporters spoke with residents in Punggol East to get their comments and a sense of the ground for our election reports. This was not a full-scale survey, or scientific poll, by any means.

One would question the bias inherent in such straw polls where participants have to respond to a team of ST reporters who’re more than happy to publish your name and your OPINION for the whole country to see. It would be interesting, if it weren’t illegal, to see instead how Punggol residents would vote anonymously, through an online poll rather than having someone from a government-endorsed national paper approach you with a notepad and stuffing an audio recorder in your face. Maybe the 21 people weren’t ‘undecided’. They just didn’t feel comfortable, or afraid even. It’s as scientific as having Ah Long San going around asking what you think of graffiti. But that’s not quite the point is it? Does a straw poll have to be ‘full-scale’ and statistically rigorous before it is considered illegal? Here’s see what the Law says:

Blackout period for election survey results 78C.

—(1)  No person shall publish or permit or cause to be published the results of any election survey during the period beginning with the day the writ of election is issued for an election and ending with the close of all polling stations on polling day at the election.

[31/2001]
(2)  Any person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
[31/2001; 10/2010]

(2A)  The offence under subsection (2) shall be an arrestable offence within the meaning of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010.

[10/2010]

(3)  In this section, “election survey” means an opinion survey of how electors will vote at an election or of the preferences of electors respecting any candidate or group of candidates or any political party or issue with which an identifiable candidate or group of candidates is associated at an election.

Nowhere in this section of the Parliamentary Elections Act does it specify how thorough a survey must be before it’s allowed. But if you generate absolute numbers as to how many ‘rooted’ for PAP or Opposition, that sounds more than just an ‘opinion’ to me. You’re saying 19 people will vote PAP vs 10 for anyone else, clearly a statement of voter preference.

Such tightening of election laws was imposed in 2001 by Minister of Information and the Arts Lee Yock Suan, in response to the Internet facilitating such polls and this ‘crystal ball gazing’ having the potential to ‘sway voters’ or even influence election results.  In the last GE, Temasek Review’s Dr Ong Chor Teck was ARRESTED for conducting an exit poll on Polling Day. No idea what happened to him since. I doubt this was a ‘full scale’ or ‘scientific’ poll either, but I wonder what would have happened if he wasn’t behind a ‘socio-political’ PAP-bashing website, but from ST or Mediacorp instead.

What exactly is so dangerous or subversive about publishing pre-election polls? How is this more illegal than posting a personal opinion or how you voted on your Facebook page or blog, especially if you’re someone influential with a large following, a celebrity for example? Xiaxue is an unabashed PAP supporter, should we allow her to gush about her favourite political party during and after elections? So what if the ST thinks the PAP has an ‘advantage’ based on a crappy survey; don’t we ALL know that already? Not only is a ST pre-election poll illegal, it is also redundant in my opinion. If I want to know what Punggol residents think of the rising ‘son of Punggol’ or ‘unity candidates’, I’d access forums or eavesdrop on uncles at kopitiams, not scour the ST for anything remotely insightful. If the ST were let off with a mere warning on a technicality of ‘scientific rigour’, imagine the floodgates opening for the online random polls that would follow. If the premier mainstream paper can get away with it, what’s stopping me from publishing an informal poll on my Facebook, this blog, or via email to family and friends?

There were a trio of reporters responsible behind the article, a team consisting of Elgin Toh (who also wrote a breaking follow up ST article hours after this titled ‘Elections Department says police looking into ST report‘), Lim Yi Han and Chia Yi Min. But it’s senior management who needs to step into the firing line ( if anything even comes out of this) for allowing it to go to print. In the spirit of colorectal surgeon butt jokes, may the police PROBE sufficiently into this poll so that justice is served, and let’s hope some otherwise decent journalists don’t get their asses fried over this fiasco.

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