Monday, February 18, 2013

18 February 2009

It has been four years since I officially joined the Workers' Party on 18 February 2009. It was a Wednesday night. At that time, whenever a person wants to join WP, he typically has to clear the final hurdle of membership, which was a one-on-one interview with Mr Low Thia Khiang. The interview was usually held at his MPS once he sees all his residents.

The interview was more of a session for Mr Low to get to know every member-to-be, and to simply get a feel of the person. Typically, the member-to-be would have volunteered for WP for a period of time and has gotten an existing member to support his membership.

I had never met Mr Low in person before. I had only seen him on TV. So I felt very awe-struck and honoured to get the chance to sit down and have a one-on-one chat with him. I was just a 25-year-old SMU student at that time.

He asked the usual get-to-know-you questions like what I was doing, about my family, where I lived, why I wanted to join. 

And what has stayed in my heart until today was what he shared with me knowing that I was still young. He told me (and I'm paraphrasing a little): "Take care of your studies, your job, and your family first. And when you can take care of your personal life, you can take care of the party and then the country."

This showed me, at that very early stage, that the WP, through the words of Mr Low, is a party that cares for the personal well-being of its members. That the party understands that behind every member is a family, a job that feeds the family, and a life of his own. That has been something which has remained true till today.

That story is one which I would share with every would-be volunteer or member who asks me "What if I cannot commit every day or every week to the party?"

That is just one story out of many which I can share. But that's for another day.

Four years have passed. The party has given me opportunities to learn and grow. I have taken those opportunities with humility, no matter how small those opportunities may seem. With every opportunity that I experienced, I have learned to appreciate better the way the party works, understand better the reasons behind the decisions that it makes, and get to know better the people in the party.

For those of you have just begun your journey as a volunteer or a member, look back at your first day and what motivated you to take that first step. Because remembering the story of how you began will help you keep going and ensure that your efforts are sustainable for the long term.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Percentage of Singapore Citizens declined from 86.1% (1990) to 62.2% (2011)

Population of Singapore (1990 - 2010)
Source: Department of Statistics, Singapore

Population of Singapore (%) (1990 - 2011)  
Percentages calculated from numbers from sources
Source 1: Department of Statistics, Singapore
Source 2 (for 2011 figures): National Population & Talent Division

Friday, July 30, 2010

Opening Address @ Division S Toastmasters Humorous Speech & Evaluation Contests 2006

This opening address was given in October 2006 when I served as Division S Governor. The venue was at AIA Changi auditorium.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The young can turn WP into faster machine (ST 2007 Interview with Mr Low Thia Khiang)

3 November 2007
Straits Times
(c) 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

You gave the PAP a passing grade earlier this week. But you also mentioned that they can be more tolerant. In what areas would you like to see more tolerance?

They can be more tolerant towards political activities by political parties, such as when we wanted to apply to cycle at East Coast Park, the permit was not granted. I'm sure that isn't going to threaten public security.

So I believe there is room where the Government can look into allowing more political space, to a have more open and consultative kind of environment, where they allow some activities like peaceful demonstrations in an area. Currently, they may allow you to do so at the Speakers' Corner. But I'm sure we can afford to have more than one Speakers' Corner here.

How is your party's recruitment efforts? Do people reject you now because of fear?

No. People do come forward to join us. The challenge really is whether people who join us will remain and be actively involved in the party activities because I think everybody is hard- pressed for time. We are all volunteers.

We do have young people joining us. But I believe we don't have a sufficient number yet to have the critical mass of manpower that we want.

You have said that you might one day contest in a GRC. How serious are you about that?

Well, my answer, as I have said before, is that I do not rule out the possibility that one day I might contest in a GRC. Many people are very interested to know when it would happen. My answer is you would know on Nomination Day.

But what is the likelihood of that happening?

Well, I don't want to speculate because there is still some time before the next election.

Some wonder if you might be just like Mr Chiam See Tong and stay in Hougang like he is staying in Potong Pasir?

You will know when the time comes.

But wouldn't your younger members very much love you to join them and contest a GRC?

Then perhaps you can ask my younger members whether they like me or they think I am lao-kok-kok (old and stuttering) already - 'You join us, you may spoil the chance'.

But by keeping the option open that you may one day join them in a GRC, is that one way that you encourage them, to sustain their passion in WP?

Well, I think the passion has to be their own. And they must have the political passion to serve. They can't depend on whether I would join them one day or not. That is hypothetical.

The PAP is only three years older than the WP. Why do you think the two parties are so different in what they've accomplished?

You cannot compare at all because one is a ruling party, monopolising the power and the resources since 1959. The Workers' Party has been the opposition since 1959.

And you know what the PAP has done after becoming government. They have moved to capture the ground in terms of grassroots, in terms of regulation, restriction and all that, curtailing the development of the whole political process.

I think it is no mean feat that the Workers' Party has survived until now. And you look at the other political parties at the point in time, where are they? What happened? Why? I think people must ask these questions.

Over the last few months, quite a few netizens online wonder why the Workers' Party has been very quiet, especially in the wake of the CPF changes. What is your response?

First of all, the Workers' Party is a responsible party and I do not believe in just making statements, just making comments for the sake of making noise, or of being labelled or afraid of being labelled inactive or quiet, in particular for the CPF issue.

When the PM spoke at the National Day Rally, not all details were out. It is imprudent for a responsible political party to start jumping up and down without even knowing what are the details, what is the concrete plan.

We have made an informed statement and we can properly represent the public and tell the public what is our stand. I know this is the Internet age but I think we can't just respond because people want us to respond.

But what if that is precisely what some people want now - speed, fast, instant?

I don't know, but I think, I'm a bit slow, I have to admit that. I have to admit that I am slow. And people who want it faster should perhaps consider joining the Workers' Party.

I'm old, maybe slower. The younger ones will be faster, so we have more younger ones, perhaps maybe the Workers' Party will move faster. So those people who think that we are slower, well, come and join the Workers' Party to make it faster.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

5 factors that stirred the ground (ST Report on 2006 GE)

Review - Insight
5 factors that stirred the ground
20 May 2006
Straits Times
(c) 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

ON AND off, it drizzled at the Woodlands Stadium on the night of May 6, but the men in white from Ang Mo Kio GRC paid scant attention.

With cellphones pressed to their ears and pens in hand, the People's Action Party (PAP) candidates and their key branch activists jotted down numbers on a map of the GRC divided into precincts.

Counting agents at various polling stations, watching the tallying up of votes, were phoning in estimates of votes cast for the PAP.

They could work out roughly the support in each precinct as the voting slips from the ballot boxes from different polling districts are separated according to the respective political parties and stacked.

As the night wore on, their faces turned sombre.

One branch activist muttered: 'Not so good.'

But he hastened to add: 'But not too bad either.'

Up against the Workers' Party (WP), the PAP team in Ang Mo Kio GRC won 66.1 per cent of the 146,059 valid votes cast - the best showing among the three GRCs where the PAP clashed with the WP.

East Coast won 63.9 per cent and Aljunied, 56.1 per cent.

Still, the Ang Mo Kio result was a whisker short of the national average of 66.6 per cent and far from the 'high 80s' that PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng had defined as a good mandate for the team led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

For the WP, it was a 'decent' showing by the young team of newbies.

In contrast, the contest in Aljunied GRC saw the PAP incumbents facing down a WP team widely viewed as its Team A. From Day One of campaigning, it was deemed the match to watch and the fight was fairly close.

Led by party chairman Sylvia Lim, the WP group grabbed 43.9 per cent of the valid votes cast from the PAP team anchored by Foreign Minister George Yeo.

Two weeks on, PAP activists say the results were 'within expectations' but the sense that there is much more to be accomplished in firmly securing the ground in both places is also palpable.

But what are the factors that, on reflection, were critical and may well have a bearing on how the two GRCs will be managed from now on?

Insight talks to analysts, the newly-elected MPs in both GRCs and 150 voters in these areas.

The geographical factor

SECONDS into his rally speech in Ang Mo Kio, 30-year-old Yaw Shin Leong gunned for nostalgia.

'How many of you here are former constituents of Cheng San GRC?' the Workers' Party (WP) candidate asked the large crowd that had gathered at Ang Mo Kio Street 51 two days before Polling Day.

About a quarter raised their hands.

'I'm very glad that we came back,' he told them, to roars of approval.

Almost a decade ago, the 'quiet mountain' - as Cheng San is known in Chinese - was the battleground of the fiercest clash between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the WP. The 1997 election ended with the five-member WP team getting 45.2 per cent of the valid votes cast.

Had the ghost of Cheng San returned to haunt the PAP this year?

The WP clearly counted on it. Party chairman Sylvia Lim acknowledged it from the outset, saying it was one reason for contesting Ang Mo Kio, despite the impossible odds of upsetting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's team on his home turf.

About one-third of the 159,872 voters in the GRC are from the old Cheng San GRC, 'where traditionally there has been WP support', says Ms Lim.

In 2001, Cheng San was spliced up and absorbed into three GRCs.

Two of its five wards went to Ang Mo Kio, another two to Aljunied and the remaining to Pasir Ris-Punggol.

Sources tell Insight that the areas that went to Ang Mo Kio were where the PAP had fared particularly badly in the 1997 election.

They now form part of the Cheng San and Jalan Kayu wards in the GRC.

But the past patterns did not change on polling night. PAP MPs confirmed with Insight that the tally at both wards were below 65 per cent, the worst among the GRC's five wards.

Sources say that PM Lee's Teck Ghee ward topped the list with 69 to 70 per cent, followed by veteran Inderjit Singh's Kebun Baru (around 68 per cent) and newcomer Lee Bee Wah's Nee Soon South (66 per cent).

The support for WP in the old Cheng San areas can be traced as far back as 1976, when the party put up a strong showing in the then-single-seat Jalan Kayu. Its candidate M.P.D. Nair received 38.4 per cent of the votes against PAP's Hwang Soo Jin.

So, what's at the root of the long-standing support in the area for the opposition? Analysts interviewed are unable to pin it on any particular issue. Reasons they gave range from the Tang Liang Hong episode to the Government's resettlement policy.

In 1997, they attributed it largely to the Chinese-educated constituents' unhappiness with the way the PAP dealt with WP candidate Tang Liang Hong. It continues to rankle.

Says sociologist Chua Beng Huat: 'People vote emotionally. They were angry that Tang was hounded, angry that they didn't get a chance to vote again. This kind of sentiments settles in.'

A public relations executive who lives in Seletar Hills and wants to be known only as Mary is still 'very upset' over how the Cheng San GRC was taken off the electoral map in 2001.

Says the 35-year-old: 'You can't just keep erasing those GRCs with low scores for PAP. There's no sense of fair play. You should be working harder to win people over. That is what's truly called a strong mandate.'

Singapore's resettlement policy is also blamed for some of the long-held resentment towards the ruling party.

Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 in the Jalan Kayu ward has the lowest score and its MP Wee Siew Kim believes it is due to a 'residual core of people who may have been affected by previous policies'.

About half of the 4,000 homes in the area's 24 HDB blocks have families relocated nearly 30 years ago from villages in old Bishan and Mr Wee says they are still unhappy.

Retiree Ng Ah Yee, 71, is typical. After 30 years of living in his three-room flat, he is still angry at being 'forced' to move from his attap house in Bishan.

'The Government asks you to move, you move,' he mutters. 'It says it will take care of us, but they never do. Our medical bills are high, and the Progress Package isn't really for us. It's for their own good, so that they can buy us over.'

As most living in the area are long-time residents, political attitudes are also probably passed down from father to son, mother to daughter.

But Dr Balaji Sadasivan, MP-elect for the Cheng San ward, prefers to see the bright side.

'In 1997, 54 per cent voted for PAP, so about 10 per cent came over to us this time. To a large extent, it is due to the popularity of the Prime Minister,' the Senior Minister of State for Health tells Insight.

In Aljunied GRC, the talk is less about the old Cheng San GRC and more about the influence of neighbouring Hougang, the single-seat constituency held by the opposition. WP chief Low Thia Khiang retained it with 62.7 per cent of the votes, up from 55 per cent in the 2001 GE.

Insight understands that support for the PAP dipped in those GRC areas that border Hougang, especially Hougang Avenue 3.

Foreign Minister George Yeo believes the 'Hougang spillover effect' is because the two constituencies are 'connected organically' and their residents mingle daily.

'Many families have friends and relatives on both sides. Residents cross the boundary every day to shop, take buses and the MRT,' he tells Insight.

Grumbles or praises spread quickly by word of mouth and the complaint of a 40-year-old retrenched worker in Aljunied is not uncommon. Unhappy that he had to co-pay for upgrading in his town, he was all praise for Mr Low's argument that lift-upgrading should be free.

'I respect him for that. Since he's not moving here, I'd move there if I could,' says the man, who lives in Hougang Ave 10.

The middle-class myth

IT IS conventional wisdom that middle-class voters are more likely to support the ruling party, as they have too much at stake to want to rock the boat.

But the assumption seems to waver in Aljunied, where one-third of the 75,000 homes are private property.

But the votes of the 145,141 residents show there was 'not much of a difference' between private and HDB estates, MP-elect Cynthia Phua tells Insight. 'Support in private estates was just a little stronger,' she adds.

Likewise in Ang Mo Kio, where private homes make up one-seventh of the households.

Dr Balaji says the PAP's showing was lower in the eastern part of the Seletar Hills private estate, divided by Seletar Road and stretching from Jalan Lebat Daun to Seletar Hills Drive.

The houses are older and owned mainly by well-off retirees. Their main worry is means-testing, he says.

'When the Progress Package came, they got only $200 so they knew they were in a different category from the HDB dwellers. So they were concerned whether under a similar type of classification, they may not be able to get health care.

'But the fact is we're in the early stages of looking into means testing and we may not even proceed with it.'

Insight spoke to 30 private homeowners and many felt neglected by a PAP Government that favours poorer Singaporeans living in public housing.

Neighbours and fellow retirees C.C. Pek, 69, and B.H. Kang, 70, who live in semi-detached houses along Jalan Kelulut, voted for the WP.

Says Mr Pek: 'If we were living in HDB flats, they'd have built better walkways for us right now and would have delivered promises made before.'

The pair cited the loss of a food centre, the cancellation of bus service 103, and how talk of a police post to be built nearby had not materialised.

Lifts on every floor, refurbished common areas and flat interiors are just some of the programmes HDB residents stand to gain by voting PAP, but none of it applies to private estates.

Thus for middle-class Singaporeans living in private property, a party's ideas and what it stands for could well matter more. Says Engineer Andy Sim, 28, who lives in a private flat in Aljunied GRC: 'We want stability but we also want a different voice in Parliament.'

Better calibre of opposition

FOR too long, a common lament among voters has been the slim pickings in opposition ranks. But apparently, not this time.

Speaking for many, Mrs Chew, 32, a sales manager living in the Sengkang part of Ang Mo Kio GRC, says: 'It's obvious WP has grown to be a stronger party with the sort of people it has recruited. It's a good sign and is worth encouraging.'

Sympathy also plays a part. 'I wanted to give my vote to the young WP team as an encouragement. I didn't want them to lose their deposit,' she admits.

In contrast, the PAP team did not impress some voters.

Researcher Ng Boon Yian, 28, who lives in Serangoon North in Ang Mo Kio GRC, was concerned about 'worrisome signs of some PAP MPs being out of touch with citizenry's political expectations'.

In Aljunied, the WP's team impressed voters like 51-year-old K. Sathish: 'Before, nobody seriously believed WP has plans. But this time, they had a fairly decent manifesto and candidates.'

Some like a 22-year-old undergraduate who lives in a terrace house in Kovan are even willing to give them a chance even when they are inferior to their PAP counterparts.

Says the undergrad: 'It didn't matter because they made up for it by demonstrating humility and tenacity to establish an opposition presence in Singapore.'

More critical though, few believed the PAP teams would lose.

Says a 36-year-old executive living in Buangkok Crescent in Ang Mo Kio GRC: 'I knew there was no way the PAP was going to lose, so I needed to express my unhappiness with my vote.'

The Gomez fracas

AMONG those who said they voted for the WP, more than half said they were turned off by how the PAP handled the Gomez incident.

Mr James Gomez, one of the five WP candidates in Aljunied GRC, had claimed he submitted his minority certificate when he did not.

While he later apologised for what he said was an 'honest mistake', PAP leaders said the apology was inadequate as they felt he was trying to discredit the Elections Department.

They repeatedly pressed the WP to reveal publicly what exactly happened.

Over and above the perceived high-handedness of the PAP, some resented what they saw as an infantile treatment of the electorate.

Says a former accounts executive who is in her 30s and wants to be known only as Ms Lim: 'Look, we can decide for ourselves if someone is an idiot. Look at how poorly Chee Soon Juan's SDP did in Sembawang GRC compared to the rest of the opposition.'

PAP MPs also admit that Gomezgate - as some have termed the scandal - has had a direct impact on votes, particularly in Kebun Baru.

Its MP-elect Inderjit Singh had revealed publicly that Mr Gomez had told him earlier his 'mistake' was just a 'wayang' (an act in Malay). He feels his actions could have cost him 'two to three percentage points'.

'I had a lot of feedback. Reaction wasn't good,' he tells Insight.

Likewise in Aljunied GRC. PAP team anchor George Yeo admits: 'When we went around, people had already formed a judgment about the Gomez affair but they felt that we had given it too much emphasis and that it became too dominant an issue.'

Like most Aljunied residents interviewed, Mr Sathish feels the PAP needs to trust voters more and let them reach their own conclusions. 'The PAP didn't and lost the moral high ground,' he says.

National not local fight

THAT the WP chose to engage the PAP at the national, rather than local level, in all its fights, means the ruling party could not capitalise on its strengths: its track record running the towns and its ability to provide attractive plans to develop the local area.

In Aljunied especially, PAP candidates and grassroots leaders describe the battle as a microcosm of the clash between the two parties, instead of a local contest between the two teams fielded there.

As PAP candidate Lim Hwee Hua puts it: 'They took the campaign to a national level and capitalised on the fact that people wanted an opposition.'

PAP team anchor George Yeo adds: 'We had a good local programme, which was hardly discussed, because the WP concentrated on national issues.'

The WP, from the outset, made the whole GE a referendum on the future of the opposition in Singapore.

Voters like Eric, a 39-year-old IT professional, hopes the PAP will drop its tactic of using upgrading as a carrot.

He says: 'Those who vote for the opposition still pay taxes, so that was not a good tactic. The PAP likes to use this as a form of pressure, which is what a good government shouldn't do.'

Reports by

Li Xueying, Laurel Teo, Sim Chi Yin, Goh Chin Lian, Tee Hun Ching, Lynn Kang and Sonia Tan.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cooling-Off day is not a Cool idea

By Nathaniel Koh

[This article was first published in the Workers' Party newsletter "Hammer" in the first issue of 2010]

In December 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong proposed that the day before Polling Day be designated as a “cooling-off” day.

During this cooling-off period, no form of campaigning is allowed. This means that mass rallies and door-to-door visits are banned, and party logos and symbols cannot be displayed. These regulations are similar to those that apply on Polling Day itself. However, the only exception is that party political broadcasts can be televised alongside news reports on the election.

Are the Prime Minister’s reasons for introducing a cooling-off day really valid? Will this cooling-off day be open to abuse?

Debunking the Prime Minister’s reasons

The Prime Minister gave two reasons: rational voting and public disorder.

Firstly, the Prime Minister argued that voters should be given an extra day to think through the arguments and vote rationally. That reason is flawed because it is assumes that Singaporeans have not been voting rationally in past elections and will not do so in future elections. Our country has one of highest literacy rates in the world. Our people are one of most highly educated in Southeast Asia.

In proposing this change, the Prime Minister has underestimated the intellectual strength of Singaporeans and is signalling that Singaporeans are incapable of making rational judgments through the ballot box. These assumptions reveal the distrust that the PAP has of Singaporeans.

Secondly, the Prime Minister argued that the extra day will lower the risk of public disorder. He recalled that there were occasions of pushing and shoving at election rallies. That reason is flawed because at previous elections, there were no reports of public disorder on the day before polling day.

Precautions against public disorder have already been introduced in previous elections, where supporters of different parties are allocated separate sections. Contesting parties are not allowed at the announcement centre on polling night when the results are released. In addition, parties are assigned separate assembly centres for their supporters to gather.

Open to possible abuse

In the book Media and Elections published by the Council of Europe in 1999, the author, Yasha Lange, writes that having a cooling-off period may be open to abuse. While cooling-off periods are generally observed according to the letter of the law, they are commonly breached in spirit. He cites the example of the 1996 presidential elections in Russia where the incumbent Russian president used the state-owned media to create fear of voting for the opposition candidate by airing films that depicted gloom if the opposition candidate wins.

Another way in which the cooling-off period can be abused is by scheduling non-election programmes, or by showing government officials carrying out their ‘official duties’ on TV. According to the European Union’s Election Observation Commission, in the 2004 presidential elections in Indonesia, during the cooling-off period, the state television company devoted disproportionate amounts of coverage to positive reviews of the incumbent president’s activities and achievements in office. Examples included showing a daily pro-government programme and advertisements for education reform, which was paid for by the Ministry of National Education.

Abuse of the cooling-off period could also happen in Singapore. For example, if the opposition campaigns on the issues of health care and public housing, the relevant government ministries, through their civil servants, can put out statements rebutting the opposition’s stand on those issues without the need for any PAP candidate to appear. Although this does not violate the letter of the law, it ignores the spirit of it.

Comparing Singapore with other countries

When the cooling-off period was announced, the mainstream media made comparisons with other countries to show that this regulation will not be unique to Singapore. Australia, Indonesia, Italy, and Russia were some of the countries that were mentioned. Let us examine the campaigning periods of those countries and the primary reasons for them having cooling-off periods.

The campaigning periods of those countries are long and drawn-out. Australia’s federal elections in 2007 lasted for 20 days, while the 2009 parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia lasted for 20 and 33 days respectively. In Italy, the 2009 parliamentary elections lasted for about 56 days, while the 2009 presidential elections in Russia lasted for 29 days.

In contrast, Singapore’s general elections in 2006 lasted for just 9 days. Even with the proposed extension of campaigning to 10 days, there is still a wide gap between the campaigning period in Singapore and that of other countries that have cooling-off periods. The issues that Singapore faces are too important and wide-ranging to be debated on within just 10 days. So if a cooling-off period were to be introduced in Singapore, then the duration of election campaigning must also be brought in line with those countries mentioned.


The Prime Minister’s reasons for introducing the cooling-off period are flawed. His proposal assumes that Singaporeans are prone to vote irrationally and display disorderly behaviour. On the other hand, The Workers’ Party believes that Singaporeans are rational voters, have maintained public order in past elections and will continue to do so in future elections.

Based on the experience of other countries, a cooling-off period in Singapore would be open to abuse. Civil servants and government ministries can still speak on behalf of the PAP during the cooling-off period, whereas opposition parties have no way to make their point.

This proposal for a cooling-off day is just one of the many obstacles that the PAP has put in place to favour themselves and disadvantage the opposition and Singaporeans. Nevertheless, with or without a cooling-off period, the Workers’ Party will continue to its present its programme for the betterment of our country and work hard to win the hearts and minds of all Singaporeans.