Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hougang By-election: The Finale on the Battle of Hearts and Minds

Both PAP and WP have concluded their Election Rallies and interesting enough, both are battling for the HEARTS now. Both sides talk about HEARTs, bottom of my heart, touch the hearts... etc.

Watching the WP rally tonight reminds me of GE2006. The emotions ran high. The tears and sweat...

WP has successfully arouse the emotions of the voters again. Although I would say that the speeches by a few people could have been better and the points are really sounding very pale. It seems that WP's think tank was unable to come up with new angles, new issues and new rally slogans except that "Huat Ah".

To win an elections, it depends very much on the middle ground swing voters. WP has managed to secure the support of its hardcore supporters in Hougang in spite of the various problems it faced right from the start of this by-election... from the resignation of its Nee Soon Indian candidate Sajeev, the mysterious double singer of Dr Poh Lee Guan to the unfortunate Secret Squirrel leaking document to discredit Png Eng Huat etc, these hardcore supporters will not be swayed.

But emotions aside, my mind tells me that WP's Png Eng Huat is really inferior in many counts when compared to Desmond Choo. As an opposition member, we carry the flag of democracy and voice of the people into parliament. We must make sure that every MPs in the parliament counts in the battle for the rights and welfare of the people. There is no luxury like PAP which has over 80 MPs and they could afford a few MPs who cannot speak, debate and talk well in parliament. As my last posting has indicated, Png Eng Huat is really not ready to be an EFFECTIVE MP in parliament by the assessment of his performance during this BE.

But emotionally, I still hope that WP could win Hougang. Yes, I know, I have declared independence and not supposed to help any parties to win this election and I have stuck to this until tonight.

I have walked and worked the ground in Hougang many donkey years ago, prior to GE2006. I have emotional attachment of how we have done every little possible things to help the residents there, in spite of the lack of critical resources. We sweat with determination to over come all odds to achieve our aims. We helped to write parliamentary speeches and engaged in policy issue discussions to strengthen our MP's voice in parliament. Sometimes the debate on key issues could drag on over midnight. Hougang may not be the BEST constituency in Singapore in terms of infrastructure but we tried out very best to enhance all the heartware.

These are the experiences that one would not forget easily. Even for former WP members like Eric Tan, in spite of feeling betrayed and disenchanted with the party for whatever reasons, our hearts will hold true to the days we have spent in building and developing the party throughout the years. No one would want to destroy the work and foundation which he has contributed in building. Thus, I could understand why Eric, in spite of his disgruntled heart, has chosen to step forward to speak up for Png Eng Huat in all truthfulness.

I may be different because I have chosen a more long winded path. I may sound cynical and mean in my critiques of WP and its MPs, but ultimately, for a true blue fighter who believe in democratic development for Singapore, we will always stand in solidarity when the beating comes. My critiques of Workers Party and its MPs come at a cost to me but I don't really mind. I always believe that every parties, politically, will need to be checked and balanced. If they really take my critiques in proper light, I hope that they will benefit from it.

I have said before in my Facebook, I may just spoil my vote if the candidate from the opposition party really could not make it. But the truth is, I didn't spoil my vote in GE2011 when the opposition party team contesting in my Ang Mo Kio GRC was just so weak. I voted for them and that is heart over mind, really. Voting is never a rational decision for hardcore opposition supporters like me.

Thus, in retrospect, even though with all honesty, I find Png Eng Huat much inferior than Desmond Choo in many aspects, if I were to be Hougang voter, I would still vote for the sake of democracy development, the opposition party Workers Party.

For the middle ground voters in Hougang reading my post, I just hope that you could give democratic development a chance and vote for Workers Party. Yes, you have seen the true strength of WP candidate Png Eng Huat here which I have made unreserved criticisms on his bearing and weaknesses, but ultimately, Democracy needs the process to groom opposition members over time. Nobody is a born leader or politician. I believe that Png Eng Huat, after this tough battle, he would accelerate through the learning curve and hopefully, he would become a seasoned politician in time to come. I also hope that Workers Party would be humbled and recognize the fact that they alone, may not be strong enough to fight the battle against the mighty PAP machinery.

The arrogance of WP members and strategy is less than desirable. They have been overwhelmed by their success in GE2011 and unfortunately, become the prisoners of their own success. As I have said before, the success of GE2011 should belong to each and everyone who have played their parts in the GE2011 and not WP alone. Without the effort of other opposition parties raising various issues, WP could not make that critical WOW impact. This BE has demonstrated very clearly the lack of new policy issues and focus when WP is being left alone to do the battle. The issues raised in BE has been recycled again and again until they are very stale. WP must understand that their success in GE2011 is not solely due to their own effort or branding but rather, they have rode on the waves created by many other opposition parties in the build up towards the GE.

On the other hand, I hope WP could do some reflections on why there are so much internal problems and unhappiness within. I do not believe the series of events are the result of some high level conspiracy which Low TK seems to suggest at tonight's rally. I believe these things happen because there are disillusioned members who are unhappy with the management of the party by the leadership. Low TK has put it quite well that for our Nation, we need a government who is just and fair. However, this may also apply to running a party as well. I sincerely hope that Low TK and his CEC members should review and reflect upon whether the management style has been fair and just to others.

All these problems WP is facing, may just be the process of growing pain. As Low TK has rightly put, even PAP has gone through such painful growth process in its initial years. But I sincerely hope that Low TK would also realize the importance of the coordinated efforts of other opposition parties as well.

Last but not least, once again, for the middle ground voters in Hougang who are reading my blog, I sincerely hope that you can give Democracy a chance, vote WP.

Goh Meng Seng

Hougang By-Election: The Fist Fights

Disclaimer: If you have taken side, please don't take my writing too seriously else you risk detrimental effects to your health due to irritation and frustration. I am independent observer and do not take side. If my writing seems to be a skewed against one party, that is because they have done pretty badly during this By-Hougang. Just my personal opinion and don't you get overly worked up over it. I will not be responsible for any heart attacks or any other health complications due to readers' over-reaction from reading my post.

This Hougang by-election is pretty interesting and we do not have by-elections that often.

Both WP and PAP are using the same election strategy to date. They want their candidates to preserve their image and not get into ugly fist fights while their party "heavy weights" will do the dirty job for them. Their candidates will continue to say this will be a good clean contest while their party elders would just throw punches all over the place. Someone has pointed out, fighting through "proxies" are common tactic.

First, Mr Low Thia Khiang pulled his solid punches at Desmond Choo during WP's first rally. He said Desmond Choo "used taxpayers' money to paste it on his face", meaning, Desmond has used public money for the various programs which he runs in Hougang.

Desmond Choo responded in a cool and mild way, saying that these funds are raised from other sources, not from government coffers.WP didn't follow up with any further attacks thereafter.

When it ws PAP's turn to hold its first rally, DPM Teo didn't hold back his punches as well. He insinuated that Png was not the "best man" WP has put up because he wasn't even considered good enough for the NCMP position by WP in last GE2011.

Personally I find this as a non issue but Png, in defence of his status, replied right in front of the TV camera that he wasn't interested in NCMP seat at all and has "took out his name from the ballot" for consideration of NCMP. That sound really altruistic and solid stand until that elusive "Secret Squirrel" leaked the minutes of that CEC meeting which decides who is to become NCMP for WP.

Subsequently Png tried to explain that he didn't mean literally taking his name out of the ballot but just that he wasn't interested in the NCMP post in the first place. He said he has told the Party leaders and his team mates about his disinterest. Eric Tan has come out to ascertain that Png did told him that he is not interested in the NCMP post. Kudos to Eric because his testimony would lend the strongest support to Png's account, taking into account the fact that Eric left WP disgruntled because he felt betrayed.

Mr Low Thia Khiang has gone on record to support Png and personally guaranteed Png is a man of integrity. He has accused Secret Squirrel has made this calculative move in the "weak attempt" to damage Png and WP.

However, DPM Teo has continued his missile attacks on Png's integrity by noting that Mr Low has in fact confirmed that Png was dishonest because he was indeed deemed unsuitable to become NCMP by the party when he only garnered one vote in that ballot.

Now what do we have here? Putting aside about who is right who is wrong, Just look at the way both candidates handle the punches thrown at them. Desmond Choo has responded in a very appropriate way, using the soft approach, even close to making people crying that how hard he has worked on raising the funds for his projects and programs. This left WP speechless.

On the other hand, Png got himself entangled in the issue of doubts cast on his integrity and honesty. Someone asked me how would I respond if I am Png, the following is my reply:

Apparently, Png has made the grave mistake of replying to TCH. It wasn't an issue at all. He should have answered, it doesn't really matter whether PAP DPM Teo thinks whether he is the best candidate for Hougang. It is up for the Hougang voters to decide between him and Desmond Choo, who is the better candidate to serve Hougang. WP has nominated me to contest and PAP has nominated Desmond Choo. I won't comment on whether Desmond Choo is PAP's BEST candidate, whatever it means to DPM Teo. But let Hougang voters decide.

Such simple answer could just parry off the attack.

But since he has made the fatal mistake, he could have backtrack in proper manner. Just apologize for the mistake made in his response given to CNA. It is unwise to blame CNA for misrepresentation because it is all recorded on video. Honesty is the best policy now. Just apologize for making a mistake and say that after checking with the minutes of the meeting, he realized that he didn't raise the issue of not wanting to be NCMP during that ballot. Say sorry that he has remembered wrongly but he did indicate to so and so that he is not interested in NCMP. He has even spoken against NCMP scheme in rallies blah blah. But he cannot stop CEC members from giving him that vote of confidence to be NCMP.

That would end the saga. He was given the chance to make clarification but he screwed up again by being ambiguous. It gives readers the feeling that he was not forthcoming with his explanation. There is nothing wrong in making a mistake in your statement if you admit it outright. Don't try to explain it away when the words you used is indisputably clear. That will look very bad on you. Just admit that mistake and move on.

This come to my point. Whether or not Png is the best candidate nominated by WP, it seems that he is not ready to become MP just yet. He has ample time to think of a response to DPM Teo's attack but he failed quite badly. If he genuinely misrepresented his own thoughts during that CNA interview, it just shows that he isn't sharp and careful enough to say what he means, to mean what he says. If he could not even represent his himself effectively in such simple matter, how could voters expect him to represent their voice in parliament?

His second chance to clarify the issue went bad as well, if not WORSE. As I have stated, it will make one looks very very bad to try and explain ambiguity from words spoken in such an indisputable manner. He has risked his own credibility here. I have heard the voice recording of this little "press conference" outside HGTC. He fumbled.

If he cannot respond effectively to counter-attacks after one night preparation for it, could we expect him to debate effectively in parliament?

I don't know how well Desmond Choo is in terms of debating skills but at the very least, so far, he didn't expose his weakness in this aspect.

I hate to say this but really, Png does not seem to be ready to be MP in parliament, not because of all the doubts cast on his integrity and honesty, but rather, his inability to handle pressure, media and attacks from his opponents. He may be a good grassroot person, doing welfare work on the ground but when it comes to politics, it means more than social welfare work.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, May 21, 2012

Speeches by Png Eng Huat & Desmond Choo

Png Eng Huat has tried to avoid that little weird American accent but he should try not to "DRAG" his tone at the end of his sentences. There wasn't much substance on what he has claimed he would bring into parliament.

Desmond Choo has improved tremendously from his speeches in last GE2011. He is using the soft card quite effectively and he has dropped his "Angry Man" image. He is using the "soft persuasion" approach which he tried to "Touch the Heart". Nothing substantial in terms of policy views but just emotional persuasion. This is quite "refreshing" because this is normally the kind of approach opposition parties use.

I must say he has put up a good speech here.

There are differences between what approaches opposition and ruling party candidates could use in elections. Ruling party candidates cannot use the "Angry Man" approach because the anger in the voters are most likely the result from ruling party policies. Thus, it is easier for opposition members to use the "Angry Man" approach to get resonance from the voters.

PAP, as the ruling party, has limited approaches to use. Soft persuasion is the most effective way for ruling party.

Goh Meng Seng

Hougang By-Election: WP vs PAP V

The first round of battle between WP and PAP in Hougang BE has ended.

This little By-Election has escalated into a fight between WP vs PAP, instead of a fight between Png Eng Huat vs Desmond Choo.

I am not quite right in saying that this is WP vs PAP. On WP side wanted it to be Low TK vs Desmond Choo whereby Low TK puts up the most powerful attack on Desmond Choo's assertion of his good work in Hougang, accusing Desmond Choo of using taxpayers' money for his own political work. If you have watched the whole WP rally (either on the ground or via CNA Live Streaming), you will notice that Low TK has the longest speech. His speech was split into two parts, first part in Teochew just before Png's speech. He became the anchor speaker after Png has spoken.

There was something intriguing, Low TK was seen moving around the stage on the background while other speakers were speaking. I have never seen Low TK so nervous before and definitely, if there were to be any last minute coordination to do, as the chief of the party, he should have asked others to do it on his behalf.

The crowd at WP rally is reasonably large, though it is much smaller than GE2011. However, the passion and enthusiasm are lacking. These are worrying signs. WP MPs and speakers have generally avoided talking about Yaw-gate. Pritam attempted to criticise PAP for making Yaw-gate as an issue by going through the history and list of fallen MPs from PAP side. However, that doesn't mean that WP could get away from Yaw-gate that easily.

Low TK has lost the first opportunity to make a clear apology for the misjudgement in fielding YSL to succeed him in Hougang. He has only apologize for the inconvenience caused but not on the bad judgement made in selecting YSL. If Low TK would have apologize solemnly and taking a deep bow on stage, it would close the whole Yaw-gate chapter once and for all. But now, the doubts are still lingering in the minds of the middle ground voters.

PAP heavy weights have also missed their opportunities as well and committed some drastic mistakes.

PM Lee and DPM Teo have not backed up Desmond Choo's promise of keeping Hougang as SMC even if he won this by-election. This is only fair because it allows Hougang voters to judge Desmond Choo's performance appropriately and will have the option of voting him out if he underperformed. PAP asked Hougang voters to give Desmond Choo a chance to serve them, but they must also give the assurance that if they are not happy with his performance, they will have that option to vote him out.

PAP leaders and speakers have also made the critical mistake of accusing WP of not providing any "progress" to Hougang while they were the incumbent. It will only remind voters of PAP's unfair pork barrel politicking!

If PAP want to win, it must win over the minds, not the greed of voters. It must be seen as FAIR and JUST in dealing with resources for municipal improvement. PAP do not have a good track record in being Fair and Just in HDB upgrading and such. Unless PAP is ready to declare that it will play fair and provide Hougang the necessary funds for upgrading even if it loses, then it is right for them to harp on this issue.

In terms of performance of the two candidates, I would say that Desmond Choo is still performing better not only in his rally speech but also on his campaigning. He is playing the soft cards all this while.

WP will have to buck up and allow their candidate Png Eng Huat to highlight his strength, rather than his weaknesses. This is not going to help to try and put Low TK as the main campaigner. The hardcore supporters may continue to support Png because of Low but the middle ground voters may not buy that. They will want their MP to stand on their own feet.

Let's see whether there will have other surprises for the last few days of campaigning.

Goh Meng Seng

P.S. PAP has evolved from last GE. Their speeches are sharper and delivery has improved tremendously. Opposition parties as a whole will have a more difficult time fighting them next GE.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Health Care Cost: $86 for a Common Flu?

My friend went to see a doctor during May Day (1st May) for a common flu and he was charged $86.40 for it. This clinic is situated at Clementi Centre, right in the HDB heartland. My friend has insisted that I could just put up his name and address up with this bill and not blank these out before I post it.

Well, my friend could well afford the cost but he was thinking to himself, how could those lower wage workers living in Clementi afford it?

That could well mean almost 9% of their monthly pay if they earn only $1000 per month! PAP claims that household earning $1000 could well afford a HDB flat but I am doubtful about that. Maybe they didn't factor in all these costs like medical fee that they would have to pay if they fall sick.

Incidentally, some friends were telling me that MOH (Ministry of Health) has set up a "certification" scheme to enhance confidence of foreign medical tourists on our healthcare services. All medical equipment and supplies are supposed to be sent for certification before clinics and hospitals could use them here. These could well include just that little handy-plus plasters they issue you. Of course, certification will come with a fee.

I am not very sure how effective this scheme will benefit Singaporeans but it may benefit those hospitals (both private and "restructured" hospitals) which was involved in luring medical tourists. But wait, aren't we suffering shortage of hospital beds in our public/restructured hospitals? Why are these hospitals involved in making money from medical tourists in the first place? Aren't they supposed to take care of Singaporeans first?

Nevertheless, I believe that such certification scheme will definitely raise the cost of medical supplies that clinics are using. Obviously most doctors would just transfer these extra cost unto their patients!

I still believe that there are good doctors around in Singapore. Some clinics charges reasonably in HDB heartland. These doctors do not just aim to make big money out of their profession but apparently, they are happy to provide medical services to help people. But these doctors are becoming extinct. Most of the time, these doctors own the property which their clinic resides, thus they are not affected by the horrendous rental increases over the year.

Medical services like simple GP are getting expensive due to a few reasons. Big Medical groups tend to jack up the rental when they bid for clinic space and in the end, who suffer? These medical cartels have slowly monopolized basic healthcare services to Singaporeans and they know they could easily transferred any rise in cost to Singaporeans.

The build up of Medical groups should provide economies of scale to cut cost with bulk purchase and such. The savings from such lower cost should benefit patients but it seems that things don't work that way. Medical groups are acting like trade cartels and exercising their localized monopoly power, making Singaporeans paying more for healthcare services.

Poly Clinic actually uses the pricing from these big medical groups as a benchmark for their services. From that high pricing, MOH claims to give "hefty market subsidy" which is actually just a discount from high prices set by these cartels. This is why sometimes you would find that in spite of the claim of "Hefty Market Subsidy", the fees you pay to Poly Clinic for similar healthcare services could well be higher than your neighborhood independent clinic!

What is this country becoming to?

Goh Meng Seng

Hougang By-Eelection: Png Eng Huat vs Desmond Choo IV

I have to put up a disclaimer and caution here before I write further. It is not my objective or job to make sure any party wins this Hougang By-election. I am a non-partisan writer and I am only interested to provide more information and commentaries to make democracy in Singapore works better. It is similar to a free market economy, we would need to have free flow of information in order to allow our voters to have more information in order to make informed choices.

If you have taken sides, be it PAP or WP/opposition, please do not take my writing too seriously else you will risk being unnecessarily irritated. Let's begins.

Now that the air is all clear that we would be having only a straight fight between WP Png Eng Huat vs PAP Desmond Choo, I will zoom down to the two candidates. Before that, I must say, Dr Poh Lee Guan is really an enigma to me. He has pulled a stunt which is void of logic and common sense. He told TNP last night that he is standing in Hougang but only to find himself telling the press that he is the "unofficial spare" this morning. This is really a political suicidal move.

I went down to the nomination centre today with a group of friends to get a feel of the Hougang ground. There was a sizable crowd from both WP and PAP. WP tends to have more residents supporting them on the ground and that is natural when Hougang is WP's stronghold for the past 2 decades. However, the level of enthusiasm and passion were lesser than what I have expected.

As usual, PAP have buses bringing their members to the nomination centre from else where, most probably from the Sembawang and Tampines divisions. The PAP members have put up their best show of support but I guess it can never beat the spontaneous enthusiasm demonstrated by the residents.

Having said all these, I think the personal charisma and skill sets of both candidates play a very important part in this contest. Whether we like it or not, looks, public speaking/linguistic and PR engagement skills are very important attributes to win hearts, souls and votes at the ground level.

I have watched both Png and Desmond spoke after the nomination as well as the speeches they have made last year during the GE recorded on Youtube. As much as I would want to side with opposition, objectively speaking, Desmond Choo fairs much better than Png Eng Huat on all counts.

Png tends to speak with an uncomfortable American accent which sounds fake. This doesn't really go well for the heartlanders. His Mandarin simply cannot make it as compared to Desmond Choo. His pitch is just too high while speaking Mandarin. On top of that, Png seriously needs an image consultant because the overall look is pretty bad as compared to Desmond Choo. His hair looks awkwardly awful and he walks with a slight hunchback.

Desmond Choo comes across as a passionate and energetic young man but somehow his speeches has been littered with frowning eyebrows and shaking of head in frustration. It reminds of the TV 8 drama series whereby it is very common for actors to cry, shout and scream in frustration and anger. Nobody likes angry man.

As for political messaging and strategy, it is apparent that Desmond Choo is desperately trying to capture two important grounds: municipal issues as well as trying to portray that he is a man of his own with an independent mind. But his messaging sucks big time. For example, who will believe that he could be "independent of PAP"? This is a big leap of faith and logic to most people. But if he could just say that "I respect Dr Tan Cheng Bock very much and aspire to be the younger version of TCB in PAP". That would somehow sound more convincing because TCB as a concept, closes the gap from PAP to being independent minded and provides the possibility of such existence among the concept of PAP.

On the other side, WP leaders and Png tried to avoid on the contest of municipal issues but shifted to the notion of "providing the democratic voice", Hougang as the birthplace of democracy, Hougang voters have guts etc... This tactic targets at the emotional sentiments and evoking the pride and sense of mission for Hougang voters to help "defend democracy". This is a good tactic at the moment to galvanize support in view of the potential loss of votes due to Yaw-gate, but such theme could only go so far.

I am quite surprise when I watch the personal engagement that both candidates have done on the ground through some news clips. Watch the two short news clips below:

Desmond Choo

Png Eng Huat

Generally speaking, opposition members should be more natural and smooth in communicating and engaging residents on the ground. But observe the body language of Desmond Choo and Png Eng Huat. Png appears to be quite stiff and uneasy while communicating with residents, consciously keeping a "safe distance" from the residents. He is not as warm as Desmond Choo. On the other hand, Desmond Choo appears to be relax and comfortable while communicating with residents.

If these two candidates are contesting solely on their own merits, I believe Desmond Choo will win hands down. However, the truth is, Desmond Choo is fighting against the WP and LTK branding as well.

It is pretty clear that Desmond Choo has a relative advantage over Png Eng Huat in personal charisma, speech/linguistic abilities as well as PR skils. If Desmond Choo and Png Eng Huat are to engage in a Town Hall debate for all residents to participate, Desmond Choo may well convert more middle ground voters to support him. However, I don't think the conservative PAP would agree to have "political Town Hall debates" with its opponents neither do I think WP would let Png to participate in such debate due to the apparent disadvantages Png suffers in comparison.

I have challenged PAP Mah Bow Tan to a debate on HDB issue before but he refused to take up such challenge. It would be a bit of wishful thinking to expect PAP to initiate such a challenge to opposition. On the other hand, if Desmond Choo really throw the challenge to WP, it would be interesting to see how WP rejects such a challenge to debate when they have been stressing the need to preserve the opposition voice of Hougang in parliament.

For this Hougang by-election, it is inevitable that both sides would engage their "heavy weights" to endorse the candidates. There are obvious pros and cons in doing so. WP will need LTK's presence to boost the profile of Png Eng Huat since he is basically starting from zero. As for Desmond Choo, PAP has sent KBW and HSK to lend support to him. There are pros and cons in such tactic. You don't want to crowd out the media space with LTK and PAP minister's faces while depriving the two candidates the media space which they badly need for exposures.

If Desmond Choo works hard enough during the campaigning time with the right strategy applied, I would not be surprised that he could give WP a tough battle which will end up with a very close fight. While many observers are predicting the result to be WP-60% PAP-40%, I would expect WP getting about 55% vs PAP 45%. I won't even be surprised if it ended up with a very very close fight between the two parties.

Goh Meng Seng

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hougang By-Eelection & Impact of Sajeeev & Dr Poh III

As political observer, this week seems to be very exciting with all the perfect dramatic twists unfolding right before the Hougang By-election.

While we were anticipating an "unexciting" fight in Hougang by-election, WP former Nee Soon GRC Indian candidate Sajeev made an announcement I do not know Mr Sajeev well but I have heard murmurs of discontent from the Malay and Indian WP members prior to Fazli's (Malay candidate of East Coast GRC in GE2011) resignation a couple of months ago. The issue is bigger than mere appointment of cadre membership. The Malays and Indians felt that they were unfairly treated and would have expected that being candidates of the party, they should become one of the major stakeholders of the party as cadres.

For the record, back in 2006, right after GE2006, all WP candidates who aren't cadres were made cadres immediately. The rationale is that if the party is confident enough to offer them as candidates during the General Elections, they should be entrusted as the core stakeholders of the party as cadres. NSP applied this rationale in post-GE2011 as well: all candidates who were not cadres were appointed as one shortly after the GE.

The issue of cadre membership is a sensitive and tricky one. Only cadre members are allowed to vote during the Ordinary Party Congress (OPC) to elect the CEC members every two years. Thus cadres must be trusted and tested members so to ensure that they will not end up with infighting later on. However, most of the time the appointment of cadre membership in most of the parties in Singapore is opaque and the powers lie on the CEC, particularly the SG or Chairman/President only. This will result in the possibility of entrenchment and monopoly of power in the long run.

I could empathize with Fazli's and Sajeev's feelings. Imagine as a candidate, you were not appointed as cadre while some members working in the background got appointed as one, how would you feel? I have even heard of members going around declaring that candidates are not as important as election agents and members playing supporting roles! This is pretty absurd to me, especially to think that Malay and Indian candidates are critical assets of the party.

No matter how many Chinese candidates you have, without sufficient Malay and Indian candidates, you won't be able to field all the Chinese candidates in GRCs at all. Ironically, from the accounts provided by Sajeev, it seems that WP has totally neglected in grooming its slates of Malays and Indians!

Sajeev's press statement has also revealed that Sylvia has made a very unfair remarks about Indian members would leave the party once appointed as cadre. There is no basis in this assertion, if it is really made by Sylvia. There were Chinese cadre members leaving the party as well. WP and Sylvia have made a statement in response to claim that it is absurd to accuse WP as racist. However Sylvia didn't deny categorically that she has made such remarks before.

I think that it is important to bear in mind that whether an organization is racially biased or not depends on the perception it projected upon others, especially those people from the minority races. If there are WP members feeling that they have been unfairly treated due to their race, it is ringing a dangerous alarm bell within.

Although most people would question the motive and timing of Sajeev's resignation but looking from another perspective, he has provided more insights and information on WP during the time when the voters need to help them assess each contesting parties fully.

Will his resignation and revelation of WP's inner working affect the outcome of this by-election? I don't think it will make a big impact on the results of this by-election. It would at most put a 2% to 3% dent on WP's overall result. However, this incident may have a longer term implications. WP may find itself harder to recruit better quality Malay and Indian candidates to fulfill their ambitions in next GE to contest more GRCs and crossing over to Tampines and Marine Parade.

Dr Poh Lee Guan's latest involvement in this Hougang by-election is pretty intriguing. According to WP's statement, they are not aware of Dr Poh's intention to contest in Hougang, WP will only nominate Png Eng Huat and Dr Poh is still a WP member. It basically means that Dr Poh has submitted his form of application for political donation certificate was not endorsed by WP.

Initially, some WP supporters were saying that Dr Poh is the backup candidate for WP but apparently this is not the case. WP didn't plan for it that way. Maybe Dr Poh was hoping that if there is anything happening to Png Eng Huat prior to nomination, he would take the opportunity to become his replacement as WP candidate. But the chances of this happening is very slim.

Beside, once this news is out about Dr Poh being granted the necessary certificate to contest, WP would not hesitate to take disciplinary actions against him (i.e. expulsion from the party). Thus the likelihood of Dr Poh contesting is very high.

It is no mystery that relationship between Dr Poh and the top WP leadership has been down in the doldrums for many years since GE2006. He was slowly sidelined and eventually edged out of the CEC in the OPC held in GE2010.

Dr Poh was once the political star in WP back in the early 2000s. He was fondly known as "Ah Poh" around Hougang and was very active in Hougang grassroot activities. He was once appointed as the Town Councillor of Hougang. All these changed after there was an argument over election strategy for GE2006.

Among the present slate of potential candidates WP has, Dr Poh has the highest visibility and personal recognition in Hougang beside Mr Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim. If WP is looking for a matured candidate for Hougang, Dr Poh would naturally be the most appropriate choice. However, Png Eng Huat was chosen instead.

It would be natural for Dr Poh to feel disappointed by such decision. I am a little bit surprised that Dr Poh would go all out to contest in Hougang by-election against WP's will. He is not that kind of person who would take such a big risk. Nevertheless, I could fully understand his position if he really turns up at the nomination centre.

The impact of Dr Poh's decision to contest in Hougang By-election would be multidimensional. He will not merely be the key "third force" absorbing the swing votes from WP, his presence will also entrench doubts on WP's effectiveness in management. Due to his relatively higher personal profile in Hougang, he may suck up more votes from WP's core support rather than PAP's side. I will not be surprised if he could garner more than 12.5% of valid votes to keep his deposit in this by-election.

Taking into account of these new developments, my estimate of vote swing against WP may have to be readjusted downwards. I am expecting a higher number of spoil votes with a vote swing of 10% to 13% against WP. It will still win the elections even if its votes drop to below 50% but that would have very much wider implications on LTK's leadership.

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Hougang By-Eelection & Impact of YSL Saga II

It is a bit ironic for me to write about Hougang By-election on the EVE of 1st year anniversary of last GE. It exposes the weakness of the key opposition party WP which has its own MP self implode to such an extend that a hard fought seat has been lost less than 1 year after GE.

When is the By-Election

Sin Ming has reported that the Hougang By-election may be held on 26 May 20112. According to the same report, PM's ward Ang Mo Kio GRC will be holding by-election along Hougang as well. I have done some check on these information and find that it is quite likely to be so. I believe the details on the by-elections will be announced very soon. Nevertheless, I may be wrong but let's look at Hougang and impact of YSL so far.

NSP: Show or no show?

Nicole Seah has declared that she is not going to contest in the Hougang by-election. This is good news for WP and ardent opposition supporters who don't want to see 3 corner fight, but it is bad news for NSP. Nicole Seah has said something more than necessary to compromise her party's position. She has said that ANYONE who intends to contest Hougang would be disrespecting the decades of hard work Low Thia Khiang has put in Hougang. This may sound "good" on the surface but it has basically closed the door for NSP to contest in Hougang. Intriguingly, NSP SG Hazel Poa and Chairman Sebastian Teo have repeatedly said that NSP has not decided on this matter yet.

Is NSP still trying to call the bluff? Who else could they send beside Nicole? I don't think Hazel nor Sebastian would go to Hougang personally. Jeanette? Seriously, I don't believe anyone else in NSP would be effective or suitable for Hougang by-election at all. Thus, most likely, NSP will be a "no-show" in Hougang by-election unless they end up sending just anyone anyhow. That would be bad for NSP's branding and image in the long run because it would truly be viewed as a "spoiler", insincere and taking elections too lightly. One of the key reasons why I feel that sending Nicole to Hougang by-election would be a good move is because it would not make NSP look like a "spoiler" but taking the contest very seriously. So serious that they would stake their most popular candidate to contest.

3 Corner Fights Everywhere for Next GE?

With the loss of such strategic option, NSP will have a hard time in future negotiation to avoid 3 corner fights with WP. Interestingly, Zaobao has written a news report on WP's intention to contest in Tampines GRC for the next GE. (For some strange reasons, it quoted my earlier post while one of its reporter Yew Lun Tian has written a commentary making unwarranted attacks on me to justify not reporting on the same article.) It reported Sylvia Lim saying that WP intended to expand its contest to include 8 GRCs for the next contest. She has given a hint on where these 8 GRCs would be. She has indicated that proximity to WP's bases in Hougang and and Aljunied GRC would be the key consideration. If you look at the map, this would mean that WP's expansion plan would most probably include Tampines, Marine Parade, Bishan-Toa Payoh and either Pungol-Pasir Ris or Tg Pagar, on top of the 4 GRCs they have contested in GE2011.

NSP Strategically Cornered

NSP would not be able to put up a "brave front" during the negotiation in order to scare off WP from Tampines and Marine Parade. Who would believe NSP to have the courage to fight any 3 corner fights with WP in a GRC when it does not even have the courage to fight a 3 corner fight in a Hougang SMC now? Least to say that any "threats" of possible retaliation of sending teams to Aljunied or East Coast or even Hougang would be not be viewed as credible threats at all. NSP is strategically cornered. Its "subtle threat" of contesting in Hougang (in the hope for negotiation on avoidance of future clashes) has lost credibility after Nicole Seah's comment. This will affect all future plans and 3 corner fights in NSP's best turfs, Tampines and Marine Parade will be inevitable unless "miracle" happens. There is one possible way for such miracle to happen but I shall leave it to another post another day.

The Inconsequential AMK GRC By-Election Strategy

The initial information I gathered indicated that PAP might want to combine Ang Mo Kio GRC with Hougang SMC while cutting out Yio Chu Kang from the present AMK GRC to form a SMC by redrawing the boundaries prior to the by-election. This would raise the difficulty for WP in defending Hougang and provide a real chance for PAP to take back Hougang SMC while reducing WP's seats in parliament. However, I believe this plan has been shelved because strategically, it is unsound for the ruling party to risk its PM's standing for a SMC which doesn't threaten PAP's ruling party status. It might just worsen PAP's public image of playing dirty with such underhand tactic.

PAP may want to use the corresponding AMK GRC by-election to make a contrast to WP: PAP calls for by-election because it wanted renewal to its rank, WP wanted to call for by-election because its MP just screw up badly. PAP may also use the opportunity to sell the idea that they could put Hougang SMC under the PM's direct care in AMK GRC if they win Hougang. I do not think WP will contest in AMK by-election and whether other opposition parties will turn up is yet to be seen (quite unlikely to me). But if WP really did contest in AMK by-election, it would be an interesting contest. That could be seen as a way to counter PM's proposition... well, let WP win AMK and they could still let Hougang to combine with AMK Town council! However, this will be quite unlikely when we take into the consideration of the wide impact of Yaw-gate beyond Hougang. 

Depth of Yaw-gate impact

Even with the certainty of a straight fight in Hougang SMC, there is no reason for WP to feel complacent at all. According to verified information, WP is facing a rather serious and obvious backlash from the ground. These negative sentiments appear beyond the boundaries of Hougang and Aljunied. According to sources, WP has stopped the weekly sales of its publication Hammer for about two months now. They have stopped this very important ground activity just not too long after Yaw Shin Leong has been sacked.

The official WP's reason for the cessations of the weekly Hammer sales is that they wanted to concentrate on the ground work in Hougang and Aljunied. For those who lack the understanding of WP's political operations, weekly Hammer sales is one of the most important political ground work for the party. It provides consistent visibility of the party to the public, allowing the party to engage the voters on the ground while earning some funds for party's operations. It also allows the party to gauge public sentiments and judge the party's support around Singapore. WP will not stop weekly Hammer sales without any good reasons, especially so for an extended period of time.

According to sources, the real reason for the temporary cessation of Hammer sales is due to the ground's sarcasm and harsh questioning on what exactly happened to Yaw Shin Leong. They even got into argument with residents in Yishun which resulted a public show of discontent at the party. Eventually, WP decided to stop the Hammer sales altogether for the time being, hoping that such public backlash and discontent would subside after some time.  

Such public show of discontent at WP may not be apparently evident in Hougang but it is creeping into the middle ground voters' mind. There is no doubt that the YSL saga has long lasting impact on not only WP but on other opposition parties as well. Other opposition parties have also faced mean and nasty sarcasm from the ground with regards to YSL even when they tried to explain that ther are not WP. The vast and depth of the negative impact of Yaw-gate on WP and the whole opposition movement cannot be underestimated lightly.

Expected Vote Swing against WP and its implications

The expected swing of votes against WP is about 5% to 8%. Although nobody would expect a 15% vote swing but if it happens and there isn't a 3 corner fight, WP will lose its Hougang seat to PAP. As I have indicated in my previous post before, a 3 corner fight may not be a bad thing for WP if the third candidate isn't that strong. It would help to cushion the impact of vote swing against WP.

The extend of the vote swing in Hougang against WP would affect its strategic options for the next GE. If the vote swing in Hougang is so great that it became a neck to neck fight in Hougang, WP may be forced to readjust its strategic positioning for the next GE. It may be an indication of bigger than expected general backlash against WP, all thanks to Yaw-gate and WP may have to reconsider very carefully on whether it is wise for it to go all out for 3 corner fights with parties like NSP.

Maybe, hopefully, it would just be a "blessing in disguise" for NSP's apparent lack of will to contest the Hougang by-election so that it would not be blamed for whatever impending big vote swing WP may face. i.e. it will not become the scape goat for blame.


Although this coming by-elections in Hougang as well as AMK GRC will not be "exciting" at all, but the result in Hougang will be very important as a testing stone for future GE dynamics.

Even without a 3 corner fight in Hougang, the extend of the vote swing against WP will dictate on WP's ability and strength of bashing into others' territories. If WP actually loses Hougang (i.e. 15% vote swing) in a straight fight, it would mean that even Aljunied may be in danger in next GE as well. Aljunied GRC has only a margin of less than 5%. A vote swing of more than 8% against WP in Hougang stronghold would imply a disastrous impact on WP's overall party brand image due to Yaw-gate.

The result of Hougang by-election will also be viewed as the judgement of Hougang voters on Low Thia Khiang's legacy and the method he handled Yaw-gate. Hougang is after all LTK's home base to start with. Whether his decades of hard work and legacy in Hougang would be destroyed by Yaw Shin Leong will be reflected by the outcome of Hougang by-electoin. 

Goh Meng Seng

Top Irony Award for Labour Day

May Day has ended without much fanfare but at least SDP has tried its very best to put up its very own May Day Rally at Hong Lim Park. I suspect attendance was pretty poor because hardly any photo shots were made on the audience. But where were the workers? Where were the people whom SDP supposed to fight for during Labour Day?

But at the very least, good effort. The respectable Uncle Chiam, at his ripe old age, has managed to come up with a decent May Day Message. Never mind if it was co-written by other people but at least SPP bothers about Workers' plight.

Ironically, Workers Party which has a literal name about workers, has not issued any May Day message. Their website was infested with Trojans for quite a couple of days and was down. Maybe the Webmaster needed to take a break on May Day holiday since there was no urgency to get it up again when the Party didn't have any May Day message to post anyway.

The name Solidarity actually originated from the labour movement or trade union in Poland back in the 1980s fighting against the Soviet puppet government for workers' rights. Eventually the Solidarity forced political change in Poland and eventually won the elections to lead a coalition government. But it seems that National Solidarity Party of Singapore didn't seem to think that it has anything to do with Workers' rights because it didn't have any May Day message either.

The most ironic happening of all was from PAP, which many perceived as the "Number One Enemy" of workers as it continues its wage suppression with its liberal foreign labour policy, to have a full May Day message. As if the irony for PAP to monopolize the union movement in Singapore isn't quite enough, its Secretary General Lee Hsien Loong's message won the best irony of the day for Labour Day.

Who would think that the party which monopolize labour unions in Singapore to warn about increasing wages for workers? Well, the reasoning of productivity is flawed because it was PAP's liberal foreign labour policy which suppresses wages while depressing productivity at the same time!

Goh Meng Seng  

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Labour Day - Detrimental Effect of Rent Seeking Economy

I was thinking of taking a break from writing Labour Day message for this year but something inside me give me that urge to write on Rent-Seeking Economy. This is a topic which I have in mind for a long time since last GE2011.

What is a "Rent-Seeking Economy"? This is actually a technical economic term which any economic student would study in their university. In the simplest form, economic output (which we call GDP nowadays) is the result of the input of labour, capital and raw material. However, capital in modern days' term, is split into smaller units like funds, technology, land, and such. Whatever is produced could be termed as Value Add which could then, distributed to labour as wages, interests return for capital funding (Profits )as well as rent for land use.

Rent-Seeking behaviour may not only refer to maximizing rental return for land. It has developed into greater theory of how money was used to buy influence on government to redistribute wealth to their favor without creating new value or wealth in terms of value add via production of products and services as a whole. You may read more about Rent Seeking behaviour from Wikipedia.

Excessive Rent-seeking activities will result in the disproportionate distribution of value add to rent (land lords) vs wage (Labour) vs management (guild form of label). The label "Talent" put on management or political leaders is similar to the rent-seeking behaviour of medieval guilds. In fact, organized groups in Legal services as well as Medical practice are considered as rent-seeking organizations as well.

Rent-seeking behaviour may include legalized monopolies which exert influence on government to provide them special treatments and concessions. The recent extortion of $2Billion for bus companies and $0.9 Billion for MRT repair are examples of rent-seeking behaviour.

What has Rent-Seeking behaviour to do with Labour Day? The following is a quote from Adam Smith:

"As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce. The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which, when land was in common, cost the labourer only the trouble of gathering them, come, even to him, to have an additional price fixed upon them. He must then pay for the licence to gather them; and must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labour either collects or produces. This portion, or, what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land ...."
 Heavily skewed "property investment" which resulted into bubble prices and rent is a kind of rent-seeking behaviour. The only bigger value it has contributed is the initial construction phase as well as the minimum maintenance which it provides along time. 

We must recognize the fact that PAP's economic policy is ultra-capitalist in nature. It has steered towards Rent-Seeking behaviour which will seriously skewed distribution of value-add towards land lords (which are mostly under government or GLC's control). The introduction of Casino into our economy is also a rent-seeking in nature: i.e. lease land to Casino operators at very high prices, increasing rent of Hotel rooms etc but Casinos do not create "values" or "wealth" as a whole when you are just winning wealth from another person.

The end result of such rent-seeking behaviour is the continuous suppression of wages and exploitation of labour while giving excessively higher return to capital and land rent. It will end up with PAP only talking about the "ills" of increasing wages for Labour, stressing about "productivity growth" for Labour while ignoring the fact that rent has been increasing at rapid rate without corresponding "productivity growth" in them.

It will end up with PAP talking about danger of "inflation" if wages are increased for Labour while ignoring the fact that increasing rent by GLC-controlled properties would increase inflation as well. 

COE is a kind of rent-seeking tool as well. i.e. it seek rent for each vehicle's usage of road infrastructure. The erratic increase in COE would also affect inflation as well. 

Rent-seeking behaviour would favor capitalists which seek super-normal profits for their investment by suppressing wages. In the end, we will have uncontrolled input of labour from foreign countries to suppress wages so that these companies would be willing to pay slightly higher rent for land use. On the other hand, it benefits the largest land lords (which happens to be government and its GLCs) most, on the expense of suppressed wages. HDB could sell new HDB prices at record prices, GLCs like Capitaland and other REITS could charge exorbitant rents with the excuse of "higher traffic flow".... etc. One must note that they didn't create this "extra value" of higher population but rather, its the government's lax foreign labour policy which created such situation. This is also why income disparity widen so wide between the top and the bottom percentile.

We will also end up with financial system skewed towards excessive financial engineering which ended up with no real value creation but just a matter of shifting risks and wealth around. This is also how Minibond saga comes about.

Rent-seeking economy would slowly cripple real economic growth of the country, or even end up with social instability. More funds in this economy will channel into property as well as financial speculation while lesser funds are used for creating values via enterprises. REITS will continue their rent-seeking behaviour to extort unrealistic growth in their profitability through unrealistic increase in rents to retailers. This is also why we are seeing less and less smaller retailers run by smaller enterprises. 

In ancient medieval age, rent-seeking economies normally end up with farmer revolts. Most of the feudal states in ancient times were stable even though political freedom and social mobility was restricted. However, when rent-seeking activities took root and land lords started to extort exorbitant rents, income and wealth disparity started to widen to unreasonable stage. Most of the time, such rent-seeking economies would end up with farmer revolts, Kings and Emperors might just be overthrown eventually. Thus Prof Lim Chong Yah is right in saying that Singapore's gini-coefficient is reaching a dangerous state that social stability may be compromised if it continues left unchecked. Japan's decline from a economic power house is the fine example of how rent-seeking economy would destroy a country, even though Japan has went through political changes but it was still unable to walk out of economic gloom for the past decades.

There are people who have asked the valid questions, if PAP keeps insisting that productivity must grow before wages are increased for labour, then why are ministers' salaries aren't pegged to productivity growth? Most of the time, growth in top management of any companies are not pegged to productivity growth as well. One of the most effective way to detect income disparity and rent-seeking behaviour is to compare to GDP growth with wage growth over the decades. GDP as we know, is the growth in value add by the economy. If wage growth is slower than GDP, it would mean that value add has been disproportionately distributed to profits and rent as compared to wages. This is not surprising because rents for REITS could be adjusted at super high rate way above GDP growth rate. But why hasn't PAP spoken out against such high-increase in rents which further suppressed wages? The simple reason is that PAP government has vested interests in keeping rent and property prices high. i.e. it is the BIGGEST landlord in Singapore!

 In short, if workers are to depend on PAP to fight for their right share of economic growth, it is like expecting the tiger to save the deers. Unfortunately, PAP has monopolized power and influence on the Labour Unions here in Singapore. 

What we could do is to provide the necessary information and explanation on the ills of Ultra-capitalistic economic model which leads to Rent-Seeking Economy like Japan, so that more Singaporeans would understand where PAP is leading us to.  Unionists should exert more pressure and regain bargaining power in negotiating for a fairer wage for the workers. Don't be fooled by the talks on how wage will increase inflation and how wage increase should follow productivity growth. There will be little productive growth as long as PAP keeps on allowing enormous number of foreign workers into Singapore. 

Professor Lim Chong Yah has asked for a drastic increase in wages for workers of lower segment as a "shock measure". But I think this would only work if a minimum wage is imposed across the board on both local and foreign workers so that there isn't any big incentive for employers to switch to foreign workers when Singaporeans' wages are increased. 

It would be interesting if someone could get data comparison between GDP growth vs Wage increase over the decades. You will realize that how bad the situation is and how income and wealth gaps have been widen throughout the decades with PAP government siding on the wealthy and powerful due to their rent-seeking economic policies.

For this Labour Day, I would call upon all Singapore workers to take a good look at what PAP government has installed for us and what direction has it dictated for our future. Rent-seeking economy which favours the rich and powerful, making this land into the wonder lands of the world richest people will not create value for our workers. There will be little wealth created for sharing with our workers in such rent-seeking economy. We need to make sure that a fair wage is given to our workers for their honest hard work. We need to make sure that our workers have a fair share of our economic growth. We have to make sure that Singaporeans are not discouraged nor deterred by the high rent. We need to make sure that we will give PAP government enough pressure to correct the disproportionate increase in rent instead of keep suppressing our wages by means of excessive Foreign Labour inputs and ill-logic which disregard the declining share of economic fruits by our workers. 

Last but not least, Happy Labour Day to All.

Goh Meng Seng