Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Be Annoying!

Being a member of any of Singapore's opposition parties must rank as one of the worst jobs in the world. In the world of Singapore politics, being an opposition politician must be akin to being like an ant that has to go into a boxing ring against an elephant, particularly an elephant that makes it a point not to pull punches against ants.

Seriously, it’s a miracle when the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has to actually go to the polls to confirm its electoral mandate. A good many of Singapore's politicians are so entrenched in their constituencies that a vast portion of Singaporeans have never voted in their lives. I'm one of them. In three years of living in London, I managed to vote twice. In seven years of being back at home, I've not needed to visit the ballot box.

The poor old opposition is often left struggling for a bit of attention. If you compare elections to a sporting contest, Singapore elections are akin to a football match where the defending champions get so bored they look for an opponent to kick instead of the ball. Singapore politics is of course a bit more sophisticated; the opposition politician that was unfortunate enough to incur the wrath of the ruling party merely gets sued till his or her very presence becomes a liability to cow dung. Is it surprising nobody wants to become an opposition politician?

To be fair to the PAP, the successive governments it has produced have delivered the economic goodies and in Singapore, as elsewhere, the truism that, "Oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them," is strong. The PAP is simply not into losing or allowing anyone else a hope in hell of winning - Who can forget Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's threat in 2006 of - "Instead of spending my time governing Singapore, I'll have to fix the opposition." Singaporeans seem to agree with him. In nearly every election since I don't know when, the PAP consistently wins something like 81 out of 84 available seats, leaving two token members of the opposition, who, to their credit have managed to keep themselves in a job.

The pathetic state of Singapore's opposition has reached a stage where, the PAP has even contemplated ordering some of its members to masquerade as an opposition and the Prime Minister has been compelled to asses the two elected and single nominated members of parliament as not being very good (One speaks less than he used to, another is a little more cautious and the final one is dismissed as a passionate nit-picker).What can the opposition parties do about this dire state of affairs?

For a start, there is a serious need to get people who are serious about winning elections, and that means finding unity. As things stand, the opposition consist of a series of egos that seem to despise each other as much as they do the government. In Malaysia, Chinese and Indian rights parties managed to join forces with an Islamist party. On this side of the causeway with less ethnic and religious divisions, the opposition can’t even work together to organise a three-year olds birthday party. I remember attending a conference chaired by M Ravi, a part-time human rights lawyer and full time punch bag for the government. The conference was a sham, which was a pity. Instead of a rational discussion on the merits of the death penalty, I was treated to a ‘Worship Me,’ session by Mr Ravi and let’s not forget, the event was a book launch and he was selling his book at a special discount of $19.99 or something like that. I was skint and somehow I felt compelled to want to hang the bugger, even if I don’t actually believe in hanging.

The other thing that the opposition needs to do is to come up with some ideas. This is easier said than done. The PAP has done a fabulous job in government and it’s hard to disagree with a group of people who have this annoying habit of getting it right all the time.

Having said that, the PAP does not get it right all the time and in this, the opposition has failed quite miserably in its job to hold the government to account. Is it that difficult to do your research and ask questions in parliament and in front of the media? Sure, the PAP will be inclined to use bully-boy tactics (just think of MM Lee’s complacency remarks) but bullies are surprisingly cowardly when people refuse to be intimidated by them.

Think of the following:

Mas Selamat’s Escape

  • What happened to the security system in the prison? We’ve pumped millions into anti-terrorism facilities and one man with a limp has obviously gotten the better of all our investments.
  • Why is the Committee of Inquiry taking so long to reveal its findings? Normal commercial supermarkets have installed CC TV’s and have the facility to trace incidents within minutes. Surely, a high-technology prison should have even better facilities?
  • How did Singapore’s leading terrorist have so much freedom of movement within the prison?

Tanker Collides with Navy Spy Ship

  • What happened to all the radar technology on the ship? Sure, we’ve found the watch officer negligent, but surely a ship filled with the latest radar technologies should have had other fail safe systems?

Exercise Swift Lion – Death of two NSFs

  • How did a faulty fuse make its way into the ammunition?
  • We’ve been told that the suppliers in the USA and China were at fault. But why don’t we have final checks on our end? We spend five-percent of our GDP on defence; we must surely have the ability to check the quality of the equipment we receive from foreign suppliers?
  • Is the ammunition being used by our military of the highest standard?

In ten-years I’ve managed to find three incidences where tough questions should have been asked. Where was the opposition when these incidents happened? To be fair to the opposition, it seems easier not to ask questions because they may leave themselves open to accusations that they re unpatriotic and distracting the government from its job. But has the government answered the questions to the best of its ability? We’ll never know until the opposition loses its fear of being beaten down and continues asking the questions until they are answered to everyone’s satisfaction. Governments are elected to do a job and oppositions are elected to make sure they do it. Singapore can’t get the government it deserves until its opposition does the job it was meant to do.

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