Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CORE VALUES - Political Parties.

I have been dragging my feet to write about this article about CORE VALUES ever since I have attended an Army Logistics course last year. Finally, the recent saga of my ex-WP comrade Yaw Shin Leong voting PAP instead of SDP in GE 2006 has prompted me again to contemplate about this critical issue.

Many people in internet forums and blogs have their say about this saga, mostly unfavorable about Yaw's vote for PAP in his constituency. Personally, I respect each individual's vote. Politicians must be first a citizen then a politician. And each citizen's vote should be sacred and kept secret. Unfortunately, in spite of kind advices, Yaw has chosen to declare his vote to various people and even through his blog. This is a grave mistake to start with.

But my assessment is that the damage is not as big as some would think. The fact that SPH's Chinese papers have not publicized and politicized this issue so far, demonstrates that there is a concern from the establishment that the silent majority of Chinese voters may not think badly of Yaw's choice of vote. The truth is, the Chinese papers have been portraying SDP in very bad light and it would only serve WP or Yaw's position if they publicize about Yaw's vote against SDP in the last elections.

Having said that, I do not think it is wise for Yaw to tell anyone of his vote, neither do I think it is necessary to ask for Yaw's blood, like resignation from WP or opposition politics altogether. This is just a lack of strong CORE VALUES on both sides, Yaw and his critics who are asking for his blood.

CORE VALUES are shared values for a movement, organization or institution. CORE VALES are the guiding light and principles for the members of such platforms to carry out their individual's duties. For example, Disney may just have a simple CORE VALUE of "Bringing happiness to mankind" and this will translate to each and every decisions made by the management leaders as well as actions or duties carried out by its employees. The overall impact is an atmosphere of joy for its services.

In terms of political CORE VALUES for any front line political workers, we yearn to build a multi-party political system in which proper checks and balances are installed. This, I believe, is our common CORE VALUES. At different stages of political development, different priorities and considerations should be made accordingly. At this stage of political development for Singapore, it is about breaking the PAP's monopoly of power. Thus the strong responses from many hardcore Anti-PAP and Opposition supporters are expected. To them, it is not about candidates that matters; some even declare that even if it is an insect, they will still vote for opposition. It is about lowering PAP's votes so to send a strong signal to them.

However, ironically, for this group of voters who will even vote for an insect rather than PAP, they are the ones that are asking for Yaw's resignation. Their frustration over Yaw's choice of vote is understandable. But is Yaw really worse than an insect? I am afraid not. Then why are they calling for his blood? Yaw might have made a serious mistake in terms of inconsistency with the common CORE VALUES but I do not have any single doubt of his sincerity in working towards the common goal of multi-party parliamentary system.

If Yaw's critics would rather not vote for Yaw if Yaw continues to work in opposition politics and contests in their wards, then I would say that they are also having the same voting consideration like Yaw, so why would they asking for Yaw's blood now?

The main problem with many young political activists in this era is that they have weak understanding of what their CORE VALUES imply. Or rather, they do not really understand about the CORE VALUES of the whole political movement at all. This is a result of a lack of proper political education process within the organizations (i.e. political parties) that they are working in.

Most of the programs carried out by opposition parties are basically more functional in nature. Like how to run election campaign, sell party newspapers, carrying out Non-Violence ACtions etc. What is lacking is the molding of political ideology and direction. If you ask any opposition party members what their party ideology stands for, most likely they will give you a blank. Same applies to PAP too.

As for why Yaw has acted in such a way is probably due to the conflicting values he has in mind: Pro-Singapore vs Political Pluralism. Pro-Singapore requires him to vote "responsibly" but Political Pluralism would require him to cut down PAP's votes of mandate. But if one views that cutting down PAP's monopoly of power (i.e. depriving them two third majority for a start) would be good for Singapore in the long run, then such conflicting dilemma would not even exist.

My strongest criticism of Yaw's reasoning lies in his stand that even if his very own comrades stand in his ward, he would also make the same consideration: candidate vs candidate. This is really a no brainer to me. For example, during last election, IF I have to apply his standards of consideration in AMK GRC, how could I ever vote for him, even as comrade? Comparing him to Mr. Lee HL? I simply voted for him and his team basically because we are standing on the same platform, share the same aspiration, CORE VALUES, direction and beliefs. IT IS NEVER ABOUT CANDIDATES, so to speak. As long as opposition parties could come up with decent candidates better than insects, then the consideration is about how to break down PAP's monopoly of power.

If I ever have second doubts about my own comrades as candidates, I would not even stand as a candidate myself. This is simple political logic.

In fact, during GE 2006 campaign, PAP has tried to use the same logic by comparing candidates in Aljunied GRC one to one: Sylvia Lim to George Yeo, Tan Wui Hua to Lim Hwee Hwa, James Gomez to Cythia Phua, me to Yeo Guat Kwang, Rahizan to Zainul. If voters really take the bait in making such comparisons, I seriously doubt that we would cross the 40% mark. Ironically, Yaw in his confusion of priority of CORE VALUES, has chosen to vote according to PAP's advocated logic. Yaw's reasoning is more damaging than his vote.

What went wrong? Its about the STRENGTH of CORE VALUES and POLITICAL IDEOLOGY.

Political ideology may sound "outdated" to many in this globalized world but it is still a necessity for any political party to function coherently, just like Disney or any other organizations, via their decision making process as well as members' training.

The recent Malaysian Elections is a good illustration of how a strong CORE VALUES work for the benefits of the opposition parties there. The common shared CORE VALUES is about anti-corruption and moving towards depriving BN the two third majority to curb its abuse of powers. Almost every party workers of the opposition parties know exactly what they are fighting for. A coherent force with a shared common CORE VALUES will help to spread the CORE MESSAGES of the campaign more effectively.

There is much work to be done to enhance the scope and depth of this common CORE VALUES of political activism in the days to come up to the next elections. Else, we may just face confusion of priorities and CORE VALUES again in future elections.

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, May 18, 2008

蔡玉萍:爱国与民族主义 一线之差

蔡玉萍:爱国与民族主义 一线之差




民族主义比爱国更复杂。民族主义,根据Ernest Gellner(1997)是“以文化大同为社群组织根基的政治原则”(Nationalism is a political principle which maintains that similarity of culture is the basic social bond)。这里牵涉的是一个当代人类社会的重要组织——国家作为一个垄断政治和军事权力的实体,和她相关的主权和疆界问题,极端民族主义者相信只有与其具有同一文化承传的人才有合法性(legitimacy)成为其国家(nation-state)的成员,并且每一个国家公民都必须具有同一文化承传。民族主义者不但为国家的疆界划上界线;他们亦坚持只有具有同一文化承传的人才可成为他们国家的合法领导人。


民族主义是特定政治和社会制度的产品。欧洲在19世纪起开始饱受民族主义的困扰,德意志的极端民族主义情绪最终导致对犹太人的种族清洗(ethnic cleansing)。民族主义情绪很多时是由于不同文化社群间的经济资源和政治权力分配不均所致,例如在一个国家人数较少的少数族群却比主要民族控制更多的经济资源和政治权力(我想汉人在西藏的经济和政治垄断是激发藏独支持者的民族主义情绪的原因之一)。在其他时候,民族主义是受外国压力所激发,19世纪的中国民族主义情绪就是对西方帝国和殖民主义的一种反抗。今天中国愤青的民族主义情绪是因为他们认为西方传媒和政府对中国存在偏见和偏袒西藏所引起。


统治者可能视民族主义情绪为一团结人民和动员群众的上佳工具,但虽知民族主义的核心理念──相同文化承传是统治合法性的唯一原则,在现代文化多元的社会是不能实践的。要满足这个原则,就需要是一个民族,一个国家(one nation, one state)。人类历史告诉我们,民族主义情绪一旦被点燃,后果堪虞。如果受西方传媒和政府而激起的中国民族主义情绪把矛头指向中国境内的藏人和其他少数族裔(包括外籍人士),我相信这也是中国政府和社会所不愿见到的。

民族主义是感性、激情和浪漫的,是建基于对特定社区和文化的认同上的。遗憾的是,在社区文化的认同过程中,在寻根,在界定“我们”是谁的同时,我们亦同时在界定“他者”和排斥被界定为“他者”的人。因此,民族主义和在二次世界大战后,国际社会所强调的理性、平等和包容等普世人道价值有明显张力,甚至是相违背的。在一个民族主义的视角下,一个公民的经济、政治和社会权利取决于其文化根源(cultural roots)和对领导者所属高等文化(high culture)的掌握。没有这文化根源的人,如选择留下就只有两条命运──被同化或是成为次等公民被压迫。



Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Criteria of Good Political Leadership

My deepest sympathy and condolences to those who have been suffering or dead in the recent two disasters in Myanmar and China.

Not so long ago, I was chatting with a couple of friends over coffee and the topic of "Pay and Performance" of political leaders surfaced. And of course, the necessary quality and traits of good political leaders also surfaced.

Many people have many versions of what constitutes "GOOD" political leaders. PAP's definition is that political leaders like ministers must be "SMART", "Intelligent" and "Talented" as "ELITES" of the population. And they argue that we should not mind paying millions for these "ELITES" to compensate their "SACRIFICES" they are making. (Well, to me, if its a supposedly a "SACRIFICE", why should we be thinking of "COMPENSATING" them? Well, this is another issue for another day!)

A friend who has high regard for old pioneers like Dr. Goh Keng Swee simply say that, the BEST political leaders need not have the highest IQ, not even need to be ELITES. The GOOD political leaders simply PUT THE PEOPLE's INTERESTS before THEMSELVES.

That pretty much sum up what "For the People, By the People" means and the view is that political leaders should be paid well enough to have a comfortable life but NOT to become millionaires.

The measurement of PERFORMANCE is not about how much RESERVES they could accumulate but rather, how well the people have been taken care of. Particularly, how the welfare of the people has been taken care of.

The two recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China actually demonstrate very well the difference between a GOOD GOVERNMENT and a SELF SERVING GOVERNMENT.

Many people do not understand why, the Chinese Communist Party in China is able to hold on to power for so long as a dictatorial regime without facing massive revolts or demands for its demise. CCP has controlled its power base mainly through HARD POWER of the guns and barrels, as well as its SOFT POWER, through its actions on the ground in coming in timely as a force to save its people during disasters.

A dictatorial regime cannot stay too long in power if it is merely ruling by the iron fists. In modern history, Dictators in places like Cuba, North Korea, Libya and such, has been able to prolong their grips on power by using not only military might/suppression but also by their Soft Power by providing schemes of welfare to their people.

The commitment and determination of CCP Prime Minister Wen in dealing with the crisis at hand has gained much respect from the ground. I think this will become the greatest assets to the CCP monopoly of power for many years to come.

On the contrary, Myanmar Military Junta is seen as self-serving in times of crisis. They could disregard the needs of the its people totally in times of disaster and yet tries every means to block international aids to reach its disaster area! It has not been seen as sending much troops or reinforcement to help those in distress nor has any willingness to deliver timely aids to them as well. Such a government which only thinks about its own consolidation of power instead of the interests and welfare of its people, will definitely fall in time to come.

The above examples of two different government signifies what constitutes a GOOD GOVERNMENT. The distinctions exist even for dictatorial regimes like China and Myanmar. Good political leadership simply means CONSTANTLY PUTTING PEOPLE'S WELFARE AND INTERESTS ABOVE SELF INTERESTS, be it democratic, dictatorship or otherwise.

This is also basically why I am willing to go into alternative politics at this moment because modern PAP, as contrast to its early humble beginnings, have become more self-serving rather than putting Singaporeans' welfare and interests above their own. It has become more stingy on spending on citizens' welfare but generous in offering themselves million dollars annual pay. They have cut back, in relative REAL terms, many spendings on citizens' welfare as compared to the prior 1990 era.

And yes, to be able to understand the needs and interests of the people, good political leaders need great amount of empathy, least arrogance on talks about how much they have "sacrificed" in taking up political office. And in my view, only political competition will make the ruling party spend more money on the welfare of Singaporeans. This is obvious in recent hype about how much money has been spent in Aljunied GRC, cheap 50 cents lunch and such. But to me, this is still not enough as it is just a sign of pork barrel politics, not a national wide effect to increase welfare spending in the supposedly richest country in SEA.

So the next question is how do we pay our political leaders? If the idea is to judge performance on how well the leaders have taken care of the citizens, their pay should be measured against the well being of the citizens. Pegging it to 10X of the GDP per capital (average pay) is justifiable. Pegging it to 50X of the mean of the lowest 20% of the percentile, is reasonable. But to peg their pay against the highest pay, is really absurd because it means that the incentives for the political leaders to increase pay is to make the lives of those having the highest pay BETTER!

It is indeed quite ironic in this case that I have more respect for the leader of a dictatorial regime like China than our ill-democratic leaders here in Singapore. It is all about the core values we have for selecting political leaders. If you ask me to choose between a very smart and intelligent person and a not so smart but truly have the interests of people at heart leader, I will definitely choose the later.

I truly hope the political logic of voters will change in time to come.

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Two Stories - The Hut and Water

I am going to tell you TWO stories here today.

Story ONE: The HUT

Long long time ago there is one village which build their own huts which cost them $400 each.They live happily there but somehow they are not asset rich.

One day, one developer approaches them and promises them that he could make their huts value more by putting up sales to foreigners. A hut that cost $400 can sell $4000 in the new market that he is going to create. This is 10X the cost of the huts they own now but on one condition: they must let him buys cheap land and monopolize the building of huts in that village.

He will let them buy at "market subsidy" of the new huts he builds. He will sell them $3000 instead of $4000 of market price. So he shows them ...look.. now your hut as an assets is 10 times more than it used to be and I give you subsidies when you buy new flats! The deal is definitely a good deal!

Many peasants are happy until a few years later, when their children get married and have to pay $3000 for a SMALLER hut! Imagine....initially a hut only cost $400 to build, but now they have to pay $4000 per hut!

Another story The Water

Long long ago there is another village with a big wooden water container that provides water to everyone in the village. Everybody will have to contribute water once a while when the water runs low. Sometimes when rain.. then its a windfall and everybody saves the trouble. Everyone is happy until someone suggested to have one village head that could provide regular water to the collections.

Hey.. wouldn't it be good if someone just give us FREE water once a while...without us doing it ourselves? However, no one thinks much about being village head that needs to do extra work to fill the water on a regular basis.

One day, an outsider comes to the village and knows about this thinking. He wants to be the village head with a fee. He promised to give them one bucket of water per month but secretly, he punches three little holes into the wooden bucket and collected water from it. So everyone agrees to pay him a fee to be village head.

In one months time, after collecting 3 buckets of water from the three holes, he keeps his promise and gives one bucket of water to the villagers. Everyone is very pleased.

Wow.. got free water! They say. This goes on for some time until someone starts to challenge this village head to provide more water each month.

The village head then promises to give 2 buckets of water each month. Everyone is very happy. However he secretly pokes another 2 holes into the bucket. Thus by the end of the month, he collects 7 buckets of water but gives 2 buckets to the villagers.

The villagers are happy again but after some time, someone challenges him again,
saying the water uses up quite fast, so need to provide more water each month. Giving 2 buckets of water each month is just not enough. Everyone is tired to refill the water time and again as consumption seems to be very high. So the village head promises to give 3 buckets of water each month.

So again, he pokes another 2 holes into the bucket, now total of 7 holes to collect 10 buckets of water each month, giving 3 buckets to villagers.....

End of Story telling. :)

Goh Meng Seng