25 May 2006

Legislator wants to "manage" political expression on the internet

At a recent forum, new Member of Parliament Denise Phua said she was shocked to see that anti-PAP opinions heavily outnumbered pro-PAP ones on the internet. She said the PAP should "manage this channel of communication." What does her performance tell us about the "quality" candidates that the PAP boasts of? Full essay.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes the surest way of getting noticed by one's bosses is to stick oneself out, be the loudest parrot extolling party lines, bear with the slight discomfort of getting roasted in public or sounding dumb, and very soon be rewarded by a less-than-enlightened management for one's "loyalty".

Anonymous said...

"[Nearly every observer I ask tell me they think the PAP has a desperate time looking for candidates prior to each election. "Scraping the bottom of the barrel" is how many put it.]"

So true! And I'm not surprised. When PaP declares amoral policies like the upgrading funds diverted to only PAP constituencies, it would make it very hard for honest and upright men and women to join them. In my view, no upright person of good character can bear to parrot that dastardly PaP policy, so the end result is that either you have to pay them an extraordinary amount to do so, or you get dishonest candidates, or both. That is precisely what had happened in our Singapore Parliament.

Robert L

Anonymous said...

imagine if all the new pap mp fare like her, what are the chances of them winning the election if there is no GRC??

if what she presented are the thoughts of current pap mps, it shows how delinked they are with the people on the street.

Shekyna said...

Honestly, how credible is a political party who insists that there is no need for opposition.

C H Tan said...

Denise Phua, is well known in her work circle to be a woman consumed by self interest, and spends her free time in spas, having facials, full body massage, aromatherapy etc. She'd rather have a pedicure and manicure instead of surfing the Net to find out about her constituents hardships. Check it out with her regular spa and beauty parlour.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alex,

You are really doing PAP a great favour and making life difficult for us, the APs! ;)

You are teaching them to think and the providing them the "right" direction in analysing "abnormal" situation from a proper perspective! This will make them wiser!

I would rather let PAP members think the way they used to think and less evolved! That will make our job easier! ;)

Well, PAP has been telling people to "think out of the box" but it seems that their mode of thinking is still very much structured and predictable. But pleaseee.... don't educate them to be smarter, ok? ;)

Anonymous said...

Personally, I don't get the impression that the well known bloggers in Singapore are anti-PAP, they are for the most part logical, reasoned and measured.

I think Denise has a distorted view of the opinions of the (internet?) people. Why do I say that? I shall try to elaborate on my thinking and hope I do not suffer a similarly flawed mentality.

I begin by saying I'm rather sad that constitutional study is not introduced as a national education subject. Even the Simpsons cartoon had an episode on the constitution, albeit a funny one.

The point is that not enough people in Singapore understand the difference between politics and government, which is why there is anti-PAP sentiment to begin with. Active citizentry begins with knowledge. (Some how I don't understand how HDB upgrading was ever allowed to see the daylight of election politics a decade ago if people already resent being "bribed", or do they?)

As citizens, we either support one policy or an alternative or oppose it altogether. It is not the party we should be unhappy with but with its policies.

However, it strikes me that the PAP are employing popularist policies that it is vehemently accusing alternative parties would be guilty of, if they came to power.

It seems that the lack of understanding that a government, state and political party are not one and the same, that breeds this arrogance of assuming joining the PAP is the same as joining the government. Even most of their political candidates are former civil servants. Does being a civil servant automatically qualify one to be a government official? Is it a natural progession from a top civil servant to become a government minister? Is it strange then that no top civil servants join the alternative parties?

The only way that this does not degenerate into some form of cronyism is that top civil servants be barred from crossing into politics or god forbid, allowing quotas to go to each party! This suggestion is impractical, but then again, a single party government will most surely monopolize or manage the civil service "talent" I would expect.

I would suppose after managing the political expression on the civil service, managing the political expression on the internet or media would be less insidious!

Therefore, I am of the opinion that Denise herself suffers from this flawed mentality of equating state, government and party as one, and using one broad stroke, categorizing even policy criticism as anti-PAP.

Anonymous said...

Denise Phua is clever and at the same time a fraud. I dont see how she could fail to understand what the issues are about other than the fact that she has a personal agenda, as pointed out by the first anon. I have heard whisperings too about how she was good at carrying people at the top during her HP days.

Anonymous said...

The old adage really fits Denise Phua:

"Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

Unfortunately, it was a discussion forum - at an university with academics no less. No chance to shut up for her.

Certainly, Denise removed all doubt. She also ADDED doubt - to the other new faces of PAP for GE2006, as well as the veterans.

And the 'scaring away investors' part is just oure bullshit. We have seen and heard it all: investors will flee, stock market will plunge, racial riots will break out, unemployment and crime rates shoot up and rubbish will pile up on the streets - in other words, VERY BAD THINGS will strike Singapore if PAP gets ousted.

This kind of irresnponsible, despicable and deceitful fearmongering must stop. Or one day, the people will make it stop, and it won't be pretty. PAP, you have been warned. There will be hell to pay if you don't get your act together..

Anonymous said...

"Denise Phua, is well known in her work circle to be a woman consumed by self interest, and spends her free time in spas, having facials, full body massage, aromatherapy etc. She'd rather have a pedicure and manicure instead of surfing the Net to find out about her constituents hardships. Check it out with her regular spa and beauty parlour."

C H Tan: Whether or not your comments about her being consumed in self-interest are true or false is not known to me, but her spending her free time spoiling herself is really her own business. She may be a MP but she is human too. The issue here is not how she spends her free time but her being politically apathetic.

boon said...

simplistically speaking, government = civil service + parliament.

Civil service is supposed to be neutral. They execute the directions from their bosses: the ministers.

The ministers are the most senior members of Parliament, which is dominated by one party, PAP.

Is it any surprise that people think of them as one and the same? It becomes Government = PAP = civil service. When we rant against "cheng hu", what is our resentment directed against?

Anonymous said...

Alex, firstly thanks for a blog that is interesting, intellectual and articulate. Let me offer an alternative explanation for this Denise Phua candidate, and indeed others like her.

I doubt she was chosen for her political savviness, let alone her political ideas -- which she seems to demonstrate amply that she does not possess. Or at least not in any measure that would suggest significant acumen.

I think the PAP recruits various personalities for various roles. She was obviously not one of those who was slated for high office.

She was recruited for two reasons: novelty and bulldog tenacity. A bit like asking the late Mother Theresa to stand.

She was, I can infer, very active in her campaigning on behalf of her autistic child. So she demonstrated doggedness and a certain passion for a worthy cause. So maybe the PAP found her admirable in her taking up the cudgels to fight for her child's and other autistic children's rights. And then also maybe she was a persistent bee in their bonnet about their education policies.

So, as is often the case with the PAP and indeed many organisations, if you complain and criticise so much, they put you in charge of fixing whatever problem you're complaining about.

This way you put all your complaining energy to good use. Then they also get to have a very dedicated person to work on this problem which they may themselves acknowledge is a problem which they don't themselves know how to solve. And since she must have done a heck of a lot more research and understands the condition better than the civil servants in charge, they invited her to be a candidate.

If it is indeed true that she spends all her time in spas as someone else has said; or even if that isn't true, I wouldn't be surprised that she personally is not a politically aware person but one who has just been consumed by her own issues (presumably the autism cause principally), so she was chosen for that skill set. To solve that particular area that the government felt was worth improving on, namely education for the special needs children. I believe that is part of their "leave no child behind" equivalent of an emphasis.

And PAP just generally wants to encourage more citizen involvement in issues, Singaporeans solving their own problems rather than whining that the government is doing a bad job.

And as an ancillary benefit, they get her in to also brainwash her about the wonders of the PAP, thus silencing one more critic and even converting her into a supporter.

Quite clever actually.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

I think the anon just above this has a very good point. The PAP is well-known for its policy of co-opting its critics.

Which leaves a new mystery: if the PAP is aware of the different qualities of its new MPs, why did they think Phua with her narrow interests, was the best person to nominate for the forum, to represent the party? (I am told the reps were nominated by the parties)

By the way, may I request readers to kindly choose a unique nick for yourself and use it consistently. There are too many "anonymous"; difficult to reply to any.

Elaine Giam said...

Alex, thanks for posting my comment above. Point taken. My name is Elaine. So why did they nominate Denise Phua? Precisely because of the above reasons. A baptism of fire, for her training. I don't recall but was she in a walkover constituency?

I think another reason she was chosen was because she is well spoken. She was addressing NUS students and from your other article, it seemed that she impressed at least the writer of that piece that she was articulate and had poise. She was therefore well chosen to get the respect of the audience, at least initially. They wouldn't have sent a Chinese-speaking grass roots person for that reason. The audience must feel a kinship with the speaker.

Maybe the PAP person who appointed her also realised that she is politically naive, that the best way for her to get up to speed on current issues is to talk on them, forcing her to do her homework.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Elaine. PAP wanted to show a softer side, and send her with her famed work on Autistic children to the forum. A live forum - it can't be easy. Did she have a choice? Can she don't go? And when she is there, I guess she did her best. We can only hope she gets up to speed soon and let us wish her well. PAP should have sent Ministers instead to the forum. But they sent a lamb. I guess she has to justify her new pay.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Alex

I'm sorry, I'm not here to pick a fight with anybody, so I'll just express clinically that I disagree with these sentiments:

"if you complain and criticise so much, they put you in charge of fixing whatever problem you're complaining about."

"PAP just generally wants to encourage more citizen involvement in issues"

"The PAP is well-known for its policy of co-opting its critics."

To put things back to the relevance of this thread, I'll say that in scraping the bottom of the barrel, the PAP has found a person who has a weakness and can be exploited through suitable bribery. You can select either the MP salary as the bribe, or the carrot of better state assistance for the autistic child. Either one of this would be an effective bribe, and the combination of both would form a rather powerful bribe for someone who has an autistic child.

I have earlier commented that it takes an extraordinary high pay to make somebody parrot the dishonest policies of the PaP, in this case they have found someone who succumbs to parrot the dishonesty through a powerful bribe.

Robert L

Anonymous said...

Hi, Alex

Sorry, I feel that I should add a bit more clarity to what I said about the extraordinary high pay to make somebody parrot the dishonest policies of the PaP. I always feel that I should give readers a complete picture of what I said, rather than expect them to refer elsewhere.

Imagine you pose this question to each of the new MPs: "What do you feel about the unequal treatment of HDB upgrading withheld from the opposition wards? Do you feel it is unfair to let their estates degenerate into slums like what SM Goh said?"

Ask them this and watch them squirm. If any of them shows signs of discomfort, then I say, good for them - for they realise they have been forced to endorse a dishonest decision. But if any of them shows no signs of discomfort and can flatly declare that there's nothing wrong, then you can conclude that here is a dishonest candidate right from the start. The PaP had played no part in corrupting someone who was already dishonest.

That is what I mean when I said PaP has to pay an extraordinary high salary in order to entice someone to stand for their party.

Robert L

Anonymous said...

if PAP guys put comments on politics into blogs, they would all give the same "sample answers" so it would just be a waste of time; disagreeing views can have more variety, which is why there are more of them

it is a pity that PAP considers any different views to be anti PAP

Elaine Giam said...

Robert L

I believe many people share your opinion. It is a fair assumption. Except I believe that this isn't how it actually works. I believe that the PAP instead persuades detractors' to change their minds, esp those whom the party considers to be capable and useful in furthering the interests of the country, by letting them in the inside track.

Much as many of us have our grouses against the party, these are more often on points of form rather than substance. We complain mainly about how things are done but few of us are able to come up with a viable alternative, a long-term solution. So I am operating on the belief that the PAP is mostly, bona fide, working in the interests of the country. To me, there are better ways of making money, more money it would seem to many ministers and MPs, and where you can enjoy a quieter life and without having sinister motives imputed to you. (hence the reluctance for many people to enter politics)

So to return to the point about candidates like Denise. I would not be surprised if someone in the PAP sat down with her and said, "Look, I think you have some valid concerns and frankly, you probably know better how we should improve education to children with special needs. So why not join us? Come and implement the policies you want. We actually need someone like you who knows her stuff."

So Denise and all her fellow candidates decide that it's worth working the system from the inside. And while they are brought in, their eyes are opened to a lot of policy-making, realising the full spectrum of issues and conflicting forces that have to be considered in making any particular grand decision. And that is when they are converted. That is when they realise, "Oh, actually, not easy to please everyone. Not easy to be gahmen. Now I see the full constellation of forces pulling in different directions, I understand why policies are made this way, because they may not be the best, but they are the least disadvantageous."

It is the same evolution that many of us make when we transition fm being employees, to becoming management.

A very interesting inside look to this all is found in the BBC comedy series, "Yes, Minister" and its sequel "Yes, Prime Minister". Here is where the clash between reality and ideal is vividly and humorously, but incisively and accurately, portrayed.

The problem with the PAP is a result of its monopoly on power. It has been callous and calculated -- it may have been right, but boy did they have to be so insensitive about it? So this arrogance has slowly been toned down as the population will no longer tolerate being talked down to. They have modified their style, tried to finesse policy making by being or appearing to be more consultative.

I wouldn't be surprised if the PAP wishes every citizen would join the party. Not so much for a monopoly but so that people would actively get involved in making their own lives and the society, see the big picture and not simply stand on the sidelines and comment without really knowing what it's all about.

I am not a PAP person nor did I even vote for them. I don't even live in Singapore and was disappointed that I didn't get to vote. But I am looking at this issue as dispassionately as possible. I've also lived in a number of western democracies and come to see that they are pretty overrated, at least for me.

In fact I believe that the issue of high MP salaries is subject to the law of unintended consequences for the PAP. The high salaries has prolly helped the Opp to recruit more candidates than it would otherwise, compared to the PAP. Look at the young team who fought against PM Lee -- how many of them earn 13k a month or more in their current positions? Did you wonder why they also all offered to give up their day jobs and work full time? Maybe the opportunity cost is less for them.

Chiam See Tong, bless his heart, he has done a wonderful job despite having to push his heavy cart uphill. But he is also earning that handsome salary: not bad at 71 yrs old.

So high pay really cuts both ways.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Robert L - I think it's too strong to put it in terms of dishonesty and bribe, although I know you're using the word in a much broader sense. I think Elaine G's co-option theory is closer to how the PAP has long worked. The person and his/her case and the party can quite sincerely see mutual benefit in op-option out of the best intentions.

Unfortunately, previous examples of co-option haven't been inspiring. The party seems to change the person and marginalise his/her cause more than the person changes the party. From the last election, see what has happened to Vivian Balakrishnan and Raymond Lim? They've become PAP robots like any other, spouting the same stuff.

PAP co-option, taking a bigger view, is bad for Singapore. The effect of the attempt is to move the debate over whatever issue inside the party, behind closed doors, away from the public domain. That is, if the debate isn't smothered altogether within the party. This is the problem with all "national movements" that the PAP tries to be. Its spirit is anti-democratic.

Someone who knows Denise said...

As someone who has known Denise since her teens , I can vouch that she has her heart in the right place. She's always had a heart for the underprivileged ; starting with helping out in the home for retarded children in the 80s (can't remember the actual name of the home). And I assure CH Tan , she has no time for pedicures or manicures - just look at her nails for goodness sake. I may not agree with her politics eg that checks and balances aren't necessary or that S'pore will lose investors if the opposition wins more seats; but I know she's sincere about making a change from within ; and that she does not need to "suck up" to the PAP for the MP's salary. She could easily have emigrated , but she chose to stay to make a difference. She's no politician , just someone with heart. And I suspect that's why she was "assigned" to the forum to portray the soft side of the PAP. Whether that worked is another matter...

Anonymous said...

""assigned" to the forum to portray the soft side of the PAP"

or are they paying us a lip service?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Alex and elaine g

I can understand how my views appear to come across too strong, I suppose the reason is that I have filtered off many of the complex issues and only looked at one solitary issue - the injustice meted out to the opposition constituencies over the last 10 to 15 years. SM Goh even warned that the two constituencies might be left to degrade into a slump, which any fool will interprete correctly as a warning that upgrading will never be provided, putting the lie to the excuse of PaP ward "treated first".

By focusing on this dishonest aspect of the ruling regime, I have no trouble coming to the simple conclusions which you thought are too strong.

Almost the only point I have raised is that all the PaP candidates are bonded to support this criminal policy, and it is entirely reasonable to believe that anybody of honest upbringing will never be able to admit they support it. When I said, ask the candidates this question and watch them squirm, I was being perfectly serious. It is a good test to see if they are aware that they had sold out, or if they already were crooks to begin with.

And to elaine, you will notice that I have avoided all the many other points you have brought up. That is deliberate, it is because I am self-aware that I too cannot resist losing my focus if I let one issue get blended into a whole lot of other issues.

I'll only make an exception over one point which we can settle straightaway without the need for further debate - the bribery part is that every single one of the PaP MPs did not give up their full-time salary, even when they are enjoying the MP allowance. Only the opposition MPs Mr Chiam and Mr Low did so. Hence to talk about opportunity costs for the PaP MPs is really out of order - nothing is further from the truth. Perhaps seeing that you are not in Singapore anyway, you do not see how much boost to their private careers they get when they become MPs.

From your cosy position outside of Singapore, you can cast aspersions over how the opposition candidates are willing to trade their day jobs for an MP's allowance. This to me is totally unfounded. What I see is that they know they have no hope of ever getting that allowance in the first place, and have even placed their existing jobs in jeopardy when they put their names on the opposition plate. These are brave young men and women who are risking their careers, despite knowing fully that they have no chance of getting the $13k.

Robert L

Elaine Giam said...

Well said Robert L. I agree that one of the biggest discomforts that any new candidate must surely have is the upgrading issue. It is something that sticks in the craw and really cannot be readily explained away in any ethical way. And that is why I believe that PAP has lost so much credibility and moral standing. A bit like the US and Guantanemo Bay.

It's interesting that you think that the new Opp candidates basically made an empty promise to give up their day jobs to become full timers. I actually believe they were sincere. But my point is that they were not highly paid lawyers or doctors who would have had to cut short their career trajectory and/or suffered an overall pay reduction. After all an equity partner of a law firm would lose more than the $13k in MP's allowance.

All the same I also believe all the candidates were courageous in joining the Opp and making a public declaration.

No need to feel hostile to my position. I am v sympathetic to the Opp and am not some kind of blind PAP loyalist; I am merely trying to be reasonable where I can be. I have only lived a short time overseas and always return within a couple of years, so I'm not some sanctimonious quitter :-D

Anonymous said...

Denise Phua is good person. Clearly a member of the cult-of-do-gooders. But such kind aunties we find them everywhere.