Saturday, November 17, 2007
Beyond Politics of Labels
Recent happenings in the political arena is rather interesting.
First, it was "Wayang Party" posters pasted around the venue of WP 50th Anniversary Dinner. The PM Lee's comment of "AWOL" which is directed not only on Workers' Party but also me. Then the ultimate one is, in th name of "rejuvenate" Hougang, they are going to tear down 9 blocks of flats which is a stronghold of support for WP's MP Mr. Low Thia Khiang. Prior to this, due to the "bad connotation" of "compulsory annuity", they just change the label to "longevity insurance" to make it sound "nicer and acceptable"!
All these labels are of course, politically motivated. The label "Wayang Party" first appeared in internet forums and subsequently used by PAP Dr. Ng Eng Hen during one of his GE 2006 rally speech. And now, it is used in an organized smearing campaign about WP. No matter who is the master mind behind this smearing campaign, it just demonstrates that they are either envious of WP's success and progress or that there is certain anxiety behind the rising of WP in the political field.
This anxiety of WP's rise is also felt in the recent PAP members meeting whereby PAP's grassroot members have fired off various questions on the WP's close fight in Aljunied GRC in GE 2006. If WP is such a "Wayang Party" as PAP minister has once pronounced, why would PAP grassroot members show such anxiety? I think the heat is great on the PAP side, so much so that PM Lee has to use another label "AWOL TEAM" to describe WP's Aljunied Team in GE 2006 in order to defuse the anxiety of his party comrades in this ward.
When reporter Peh called me with regard to PM Lee's latest label, I could only laugh at it. AWOL means "Absent Without Official Leave". It means that you must be "Officially" elected as MP first before you could talk about "Official Leave". Thus, if anyone who is elected as MP but does not attend parliament sittings or just sleeping during parliament sittings, or he or she does not perform the duty of MP by scrutinizing the policies brought up by the government, or he or she does not conduct regular meet-the-people sessions, or he or she does not attend all those necessary meetings which are related to the running of the town councils, then we could conclude that this person has gone "AWOL": meaning that he or she is not performing the duties expected as a MP. Are the WP candidates (including me) in Aljunied GRC elected as MP but did not perform our duties as expected of us? Obviously not.
From another angle, the perspective behind this comment is rather narrow. Maybe it is due to the fact that this comment is a direct response to "localized" politics in Aljunied GRC, that is why the context is much narrower. On a broader perspective, I think many of us in non-PAP politics have only one aim, that is to push for political democratic development for Singapore. As far as I am concerned, I am still working towards my political beliefs. Did I "AWOL" or give up on my political beliefs? I have to disappoint many people to say that I have NOT given up the fight yet! ;)
The anxiety of PAP grassroot members in Aljunied GRC was heightened after Mr. Low Thia Khiang has spoken about winning one GRC in the next election. They must have sensed the possibility of Mr. Low walking out of the Hougang in the bid to fulfill that promise of winning that one GRC. It is only natural.
But the later development really intrigues me. HDB has just announced the plan of demolishing 9 blocks of flats along with the market and industrial buildings which are located in Hougang ward. This time, they use the label "rejuvenate". But it was not so long ago, during the GE 2006 hustling that PAP has come up with upgrading plans for the estates, especially the market, as an "election carrot" (alas, that's pork barrel politics!). The same label "rejuvenate" was used too. But this time, the idea of "rejuvenating" the place is to tear down everything? Is this a PAP's "retaliation" for losing more votes in Hougang? A "retaliation" for the rejection of PAP's offer of upgrading for the market? Since you do not want upgrading, I will tear it down kind of mentality? Or is this a direct response to Mr. Low's vow of winning at least one GRC in the next elections?
There are two dimensions of the impacts of such moves by PAP government. Politically, it is not the first time that PAP has tried to cut off the support level of opposition parties in "danger zones" by administrative means . The market place at Hougang is a very important battleground for both PAP and WP as it is the focal point of everyday lives of those living in the town. Both PAP as well as WP members have been very active at the market place during as well as off election period. Since PAP has not been able to win the battle on the front, it would be tactically advantage to remove the battle front altogether. Needless to say, the nine blocks of flats are the stronghold of WP.
But why is PAP doing this? The reason is obvious. They do not want Mr. Low to walk out of Hougang to contest in a GRC by reducing the potential support, thus the buffer of winning percentage for WP in Hougang. They hope that by making the battleground in Hougang more tight, WP will think twice about taking the risk of letting Mr. Low to lead a team in other GRC while leaving this Hougang ward to another candidate. Will their wish come true? We will wait and see. ;)
On the other dimension, such moves will affect many people. First, the livelihood of those who depend on the market will be adversely affected. Secondly, those living in the town as well as those across the street at Aljunied GRC will be affected too. One of my friend called me up the other day to lament about this latest announcement. He lives in Aljunied GRC just across the street opposite the Hougang ward. The demolition of the market will grossly affect his family.
From the social perspective, many elderly folks who are used to the living in the neighbourhood will be greatly affected. Elderly folks who live in that neighbourhood are normally lonely folks who depends on the dynamism of the social psychological support of the neighbourhood to keep their lives active. Friends made in the neighbourhood are part of their social psychological support for their daily lives. To ask them to shift and to adapt to new environment will create emotional problems for these elderly folks. Nothing, in terms of infrastructure, could better the "kampong spirit" built up in Hougang now. Has HDB taken this important factor into considerations before they make their decisions? It just shows that HDB lacks the empathy to understand the social needs of these elderly people.
I hope that the self-proclaimed "First World Government" would see beyond the politics of labels and put more substance of the heart in their policy making process. No matter what is the motivation of all these labeling, the ultimate aim of a government is to make policies that take good care of the people. Politicking with labels without taking the people's needs (social, culture and economic needs) into serious consideration is definitely not something that a "First World Government" government would do.
Goh Meng Seng