Monday, May 29, 2006

Overseas voting - Version PAP

Overseas voting - Version PAP
Damaso G Magbual
May 25, 06 2:23pm

Overseas voting was introduced in April 2001 ‘to provide Singaporeans with strong links to Singapore to have their say through their votes’.

However, a cursory reading of the provision of the law on overseas voting will tell us that it does not enfranchise overseas Singaporean citizens as a whole but only those who have direct (government employees) or indirect (employees of international organisations of which Singapore is a member) affiliation with the government.

There definitely is merit in the observation of a student in Canada when he said that there is “…unequal rights to vote for all Singaporeans … who are not associated with any government or public agency” referring to himself and all Singaporeans who are similarly situated.

Voting is a basic human right and not a privilege, which the state grants to its citizens. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights speaks of suffrage as universal, it means all citizens of a given state, who are not reasonably restricted by law, have the right to vote. A primary concern of the right of suffrage is participation and international norms favour expanding rather than restricting this right.

Principle of non-discrimination

Hence, Singaporeans who have no direct or indirect affiliation with the government staying overseas and are not allowed to vote are arbitrarily denied a basic human right. This violates the principle of non-discrimination in the treatment of voters’ eligibility, which is an essential characteristic of a free and fair election.

Some jurisdictions/democracies (India, Taiwan, Chile) do not grant their citizens residing outside the country voting rights. There are two basic reasons for this.

First, the setting up of systems and procedures on how the overseas citizens can vote on election day is in itself an administrative nightmare to the electoral body. Then there is the difficulty of designating the electoral district/constituency to which the votes will be assigned. Both reasons may not apply to Singapore. It is a known fact that the technological advance of Singapore is the envy of its Asian neighbours. Hence, setting up systems for overseas voting that will cover all Singaporeans should not pose any problem.

Secondly, the city/state has a limited number of districts/constituencies (23 SMCs and GRCs), unlike India, which is the biggest democracy in the world. Again, designating the district of an overseas voter should not present any problem given Singapore’s level of technological sophistication.

Some countries have certain restrictions on overseas voting but these restrictions are not on the right of citizens to vote. The restrictions are on their participation in a given election. France and the Philippines for instance, allow their overseas citizens to vote in some elections (national elections as against local elections) or for some positions (national versus local constituency). This avoids the difficulty of designating specific constituencies for the overseas votes.

Singapore restricts the rights of certain voters; the two examples cited restrict the type of election and the position to be voted upon. The former violates the basic principle of equality before the law and therefore discriminatory. The other two do not.

Discouraging support

The provisions of the Parliamentary Election Act that defines overseas voting is not only discriminatory to the overseas citizens but denies the political contestants who do not belong to the People’s Action Party a level playing field. Voting rights to overseas Singaporeans are limited to those with ties or affiliations with the government.

The PAP has been the dominant party - a virtual hegemony - since Singapore became independent. Those allowed to vote, since they are overseas by reason of their ties to the government are presumed if not expected to vote for the PAP. This certainly places the other parties at a distinct disadvantage.

The restriction on overseas voting to Singaporeans with ties to the government tends to confirm the perception that the PAP as the ruling party, has thrown at the opposition every possible obstacle to grow and develop as viable parties.

Too often changes in policies have almost always made it more difficult for opponents of the PAP to compete. The provision of block voting for the Group Representation Constituencies, the redrawing of political districts, and now the discriminatory provision of the overseas voting, all tend to confirm the impression that indeed the PAP has done everything to discourage support for the opposition.

The graduate student in Vancouver, Canada has a legitimate grievance in that the law is discriminatory. Hence, either the law allows all overseas citizens the right to vote or confine the right of suffrage only to citizens residing in the country. This is equality before the law!

DAMASAO G MAGBUAL is attached to the Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel).

No wonder Singapore is the 83rd most democratic country in the world!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Exiled dissident Tan Wah Piow on Singapore elections

Singapore: New regime, old authority?
Yong Kai Ping and Kuek Ser Kuang Keng
May 6, 06

Is Singapore opening up under the new administration of Lee Hsien Loong? Are the new casinos a sign of greater freedom? Will the Singapore elections promise any breakthrough for democracy in Singapore?

For one of Singapore's most renowned dissident, Tan Wah Piow, the new regime under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is experimenting with a slightly more liberal agenda to counter the cynicism among the young, but party politics is still very much under strict control.

According to Tan, the whole political process in Singapore is so "sterile" that nobody will challenge the state's authority unless the state feels there is a need to loosen up a bit for their own interest.

"In Singapore, they will give you the basic rights if only when they feel is good for them," Tan told malaysiakini while visiting friends in Kuala Lumpur last week.

Tan's 'infamy' stems from his student activism heydays at the National University of Singapore (NUS) during the 70s where he was jailed eight months for "inciting riots".

Fearing for his safety, Tan fled Singapore in 1975 and sought asylum in United Kingdom. Later he was admitted to Oxford and studied law. Currently holding a UK passport, Tan is a leading human rights lawyer in London.

Tan spoke extensively on Singapore's coming general election which takes place today. The People's Action Party (PAP) was denied a walk-over victory as in previous elections and now having to contest for 47 out of 84 parliamentary seats, an unprecedented event since 1988.

Q: How do you view the new administration under Lee Hsien Loong?

A: I don't see anything new in terms of mindset. They have made it illegal to campaign via blogging and text messaging during the elections.

Lee Hsien Loong tries to look as though he is giving the opposition a fighting chance. But why they need to take that kind of action against Chee Soon Juan (who was bankrupted for defamation by the government and thus not eligible to contest) if they want to show themselves as being democratic?

The message that you sent to the population is "don't mess around with us." That is the most serious consequence to Singapore's political culture.

It is reported that Lee Hsien Loong wants to wipe out all the opposition in the coming elections to gain a stronger mandate.

Goh Chok Tong's lost four seats when he first led PAP into an election. The second time, he lost two. It is not a question of losing the elections, but the percentage of votes obtained. The benchmark Hsien Loong will be judged on is probably Goh's first elections.

I think he will have to win with less than four opposition seats. However people say that the PAP is now fielding more professionals and they have also implemented the group representation constituencies (GRC) system. To win one (constituency) is already very difficult for the opposition, let alone a GRC.

Probably what they are most afraid of will be the active cynicism, the attitude of "I don't care, you will get in but I will dissociate with you" among the younger generation.

You can praise your own regime by whatever way, people just 'switch-off'. It means the justification for nation building is difficult for them. They won't identify with the party and the state, if I have to leave, I will leave (through migration).

So you think the PAP can't capture the people's attention? But there have been efforts since the 80's to get the people to be involved.

What they are doing appears to be extremely progressive in getting more public participation. There are a lot of those institutions for the old and young but the underlying motive behind is still the hegemony of one party, which is what distorts the whole process.

If you challenge the decision of the state, you will be accused of all kinds of things. They will undermine you before you start. The moment they smell that you have the opposition tendency, they will mark you and if you are really an oppositionist, then you will get into serious problems. If you exist as an individual, they can tolerate you as a eccentric, tolerate in the sense that they won't put you in jail. The moment they sense (you are) organising, then you are in deep trouble.

You don't think the regime is more open now? They are allowing gambling.

That is the neo-liberal economic philosophy, which needs not necessary involve political liberalism. I hope people are not misinterpreting this.

They are experimenting a bit of this and that, but that absolute control is undeniable.

Do you think they are experimenting with political liberalism?

I can't say they are exactly the same as the Lee Kuan Yew's regime, they are experimenting a slightly more liberal agenda but the party politics is still under very much direct control and monitoring.

They will never cease using the Internal Security Department (ISD) to monitor the opposition. I think once an instrument of the state is used to monitor the opposition to serve the ruling party, and not for national security, you can't call such a system democratic.

But why?

They need to respond to the demand of the younger generation, to address the perception that they (PAP) are intolerant and so on. They need to demonstrate that the government is open-minded and tolerant of dissent.

I suppose that is why the senior Lee (Kuan Yew) wanted to test the younger generation's disappointment. The (televised) debate among Kuan Yew and the youths ended up as (a debate) on whether it is right to be disrespectful (to Kuan Yew), but that is not the issue.

So do you still pin the hope on the younger generation?

I think in every political process, they still need new ideas. The youths seem more distracted and show more concern for materialism than political ideals. Singapore wanted to use, although not overtly, Israel as a model to harden national consensus and the sense of national survival.

But I think that is a different context because Israel is very different from Singapore in terms of ethnicity, religion and so on. You can't copy the whole model, the idealism and the sense of nationalism, The urgency is not there.

The whole justification that Singapore can't have democratic space is that you are surrounded, and thus adopting a kind of 'under siege' mentality. You might get some support in the early period but not in this age. I can always pack up and go, then come back to Singapore as a visitor.

There is definitely a close political culture and historical link between Singapore and Malaysia. It is better for us to emphasise on our common destiny instead of differences. Is it by coincidence that the younger generation did not feel any affinity for Malaysia or is it the consequences of the way the Singapore state handles the relationship. I think Singaporeans will know more about Europe or Australia or those places where the culture is alien compared to Malaysia. We have to ask ourselves, is this healthy? Can Singapore's long term destiny be completely independent from Malaysia?

You think Malaysians have the same misunderstanding towards Singaporeans?

If you study in Britain, then you will know how people in the campus look at Singaporeans. There is the impression that they are arrogant, does not have that kind of maturity to understand the differences and disparity; and that they always think they are more sophisticated. In UK campuses, the 'kiasu' mentality is alive and kicking.

Malaysian Chinese may see Singapore as a heaven for career, and really, Singapore, I must say, is very well managed. (But) that cannot be a justification for the restraints in giving political rights. I think Singapore is effective because it has a powerful state intervention apparatus which is far better than any industrialised country.

Someone told me that the government is giving more publicity to the opposition. Apparently Lee Hsien Long is trying to appear to have a clean fight so that they can enjoy a more convincing win. And PAP will win convincingly again.

The whole political process in Singapore is so sterile that nobody will challenge the state's authority unless the state feels there is the need to relax a bit for their interest. In Singapore, they will give you the basic rights if only when they feel is good for them. That's why I can never agree with them.

PAP may be able to contain the opposition but it may not be able to deal with one enemy - that is, itself.

PAP has been in power for so long that it has become arrogant and thought it could do whatever it wants to the people. It forgets that time has changed and people are beginning to wake up to the reality of their circumstances.

PAP's habit of keeping Singaporeans "brain dead" could have backfired on the party. It has not been able to get members who can think critically and creatively. Most of its members are brilliant scholars but not real problem solvers. For quite a long time, these scholars have not been able to solve the structural unemployment problem in Singapore. And this is probably one of the main reasons for the dip in the votes for PAP.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

"Open the windows, breathe the fresh air and at the same time fight the flies and insects"

One of the things GE 2006 has shown is that almost everyone has changed/improved except the PAP.

The voters have matured a little and are less apprehensive in letting their displeasure with the ruling party be known. This is manifested in the increase in votes the opposition parties received.

The electorate has also become less materialistic as seen from its rejection of the 180 million upgrading carrot.

The opposition parties have become more sophiscated. Unlike previous GEs, they were better organised and able to avoid 3-corner fight. They have also become shrewd enough not to fall for the baits PAP dangled before them. The fielding of 6 rookies to fight against LHL in AMK is widely regarded as a masterstroke of the WP.

PAP, on the other hand, is still using the same tactics its has been using for the past 30 years. By sticking to the old strategies, PAP has shown itself to be much out of touch with rapidly changing reality. And this is likely the main cause for the dip in its votes, from 75.3% in 2001 to the current 66.6%.

The new generation leaders of PAP could well take heed of the advice of the former PRC Chairman, Deng Xiaoping, "Open the windows, breathe the fresh air and at the same time fight the flies and insects."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Chiam See Tong Rally at Potong Pasir

On the eve of D Day, I went to the Potong Pasir rally to have a feel of the support Chiam See Tong gets in his home turf.

As I made my way across a field to the stage, I heard 2 men, standing at the entrance of the PAP RC centre, shouting "Shut up" towards the stage where a SDA candidate was speaking. I really find such behaviour rich.

Most of the SDA speakers, Sebastian Teo, Dr Vincent Yeo, Yip Yew Weng and even Chiam reiterated what they said in previous rallies, mainly on bread and butter issues and upgrading.

Steve Chia said that if Goh Chok Tong revealed Potong Pasir town council accounts to the media, Goh must also reveal PAP-run town councils acccounts and, if possible, the ministers' pay. He further said that Potong Pasir was no longer a contest between Chiam and Seetoh but Chiam and Goh Chok Tong and the $80 million upgrading. All these were not reported in our 3 online MSM.

The turnout was at least twice the size of the first rally held there.

Chiam was clearly adored by his residents especially the middle age and senior citizens. When he arrived they gave him a rousing welcome. Quite a few of them, including an old man who had difficulty walking, also presented him with garlands. When the rally ended a few hundreds of his supporters followed him on a mini procession. Well, Chiam seemed to have the support of his residents but would they be tempted by the upgrading? It is possible for these innocent residents have been unjustly punished for too long!

Of the 3 online MSM, CNA gave the briefest coverage on the rally with the article, "Political parties hold final rallies before Polling Day".

TODAY gave a gist of most of the speakers' speech in the article, "SDA rides on Chiam's personality, appeal".

STI reported mainly on Chaim's and Steve Chia's speeches in these 2 articles, "Chiam trusts voters are mature enough" and "SDA hits out at estate upgrading."

Friday, May 05, 2006

SDA Rally at Jalan Tenteram on 4 May 2006

As I'm in Jalan Besar constituency, I went to listen to SDA GRC candidates at Jalan Tenteram again to help me decide on my vote.

The speeches were almost the same as those I heard on May Day, focusing mainly on high cost of living and the running of town council. Regarding the progress package one of the speakers, probably Sebastian Teo, said that most Singaporeans would get would be $1,200 which was only the minister's half day pay.

The turnout was ok and the response modest.

None of the 3 online MSM covered the rally except for the publication of Dr Vincent Yeo's speech in TODAY in the article entitled "Singapore Democratic Alliance".

Thursday, May 04, 2006

WP Rally at Yishun

Tried to attend the WP rally at Yishun last night, but, my God, the crowd was so huge that I couldn't even hear clearly from the loud speakers! Though I reached there a little late (at 8.30pm) because of work and rally-caused traffic congestion, I think I would still be on good time if I were to attend other rallies.

The crowd spilled over from the field to the open area in front of the HDB flats and to the corridors of the flats. The police had a busy time preventing people from standing on the road.

After spending a futile twenty minutes looking for a standing place where I could hear properly, I gave up and left the rally.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

SDA Rally in the Park

Last night I attended the SDA rally in the most pleasant rally site I've been to so far - Choa Chu Kang Park. I chose the rally because I would like to hear what Steve Chia has to say in the ward he would be contesting.

Steve Chia charmed his audience by seeking it's preference on the language/dialect(English/Hokkien) for his speech. Though not entirely proficient with Hokkien, he, nevertheless, was able to engage his audience well. He spoke mainly on job issues, high cost of living and high prices HDB charges on its flats.

As in all SDA rallies, Chiam See Tong, made a short speech. Last night he rebutted PAP charges that he is a poor judge of character and on his stand on streaming in primary school.

Steve Chia was quite a good speaker and the turnout was substantial considering this is a SMC ward.

Straits Times Interactive didn't cover this rally at all, while CNA and TODAY gave a fairly good coverage on it.

In the article, "SDA's Chiam rebuts PAP charges that he is a poor judge of character", CNA though published Chiam's rebuttal stopped short of naming the past crooks in PAP. TODAY named 2 (Teh Cheang Wan and Phey Yew Kok) out of the four (Teh, Phey, Wee Tung Boon and someone whose name I couldn't catch) in its article, "Chiam hits back".

TODAY also had another article, "Don't force Singaporeans to retire, says Chia" that covered Chia's speech on jobs and the profits HDB could have made on Duxton Pinnacle flats.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

SDA Jalan Besar GRC Rally at Jalan Tenteram

Attended another SDA rally at Jalan Tenteram on May Day. As I was held up by the rain, I missed the annoucement of the job-matching portal,, set up by SDA Tampines GRC candidates; and the speech by Steve Chia.

Most of the speakers I heard focused on jobs and town council issues. The leader of the team, Sebastian Teo, also made it a point to tell the audience that they were not short of talents. He stressed that they have professionals and successful businessmen in their team.

The candidates spoke relatively well as compared with those SDA peakers at Potong Pasir rally on 28 Apr 2006. The turnout, though, was smaller than Potong Pasir's probably because of the heavy downpour.

Straits Times Interactive gave quite a good and balanced coverage to this rally, while CNA carried a short article, "Swipes & sarcasm galore at SDA rally" that spotlighted the jabs made on the PAP by the SDA speakers. TODAY did not mention anythng on the rally.

Monday, May 01, 2006

WP Rally at Hougang

For a change, I went to the WP rally at Hougang last night.

When I reached there the rally had not started but the crowd was building up fast. By the time the rally started I was not able to see the field behind me as it was covered with people. The crowd was not only Singaporeans from all parts of Singapore but Hougang residents turning out as family units, father, mother and their teenage kids, to support their MP and his party. The whole family would clap and cheer their MP and his members whenever they heard something they could relate to.

It was a real shame that none of our 3 online MSM reported about the huge turnout and its enthusiatic support for the WP.

Except for Gopal Krishnan, Lee Wai Leng and Goh Meng Seng, the theme of the rally for the speakers that night was on how to keep the healthcare cost low. Krishnan spoke of the neglect Indians faced when Hougang was under PAP while Lee poked fun on our "1st world status". Goh gave a 5-point rebuttal to Lee Hsien Loong's claim that PAP always deliver what they promise. Of the 5, I can only remember 2 which were the restoration of CPF cuts and the building of a hospital at Yishun.

All the speakers have good oratory skills. Even the young AMK contestant, Lee Wai Leng, was able to draw much cheering from her audience.