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Day 5 After Seng Kang Fell

This is not a finance post. If you are looking for one, best turn away now. But if you like to read most of my stuff, read on.

For the first time in my life, I will reside in a GRC managed by the opposition.

If you asked me for 12 months, or 6 months ago whether this would happen, I would tell you the chances of this happening are very very slim.

The main reason I felt that way is that in the last few years, the government has sought to address many aspects of Singaporean’s concerns that the opposition may not be able to identify a “big monster” that needs to be slain.

It did not help that the strongest opposition party, the Workers Party has been painted as a pretty poor manager of their Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

My friends and I looked at the situation and assess that the most likely outcome: A clean sweep.

The PAP will take back Hougang and Aljunied.

This election was special because the traditional rallies could not be held. This put a further dampener on the opposition party because traditionally that was their most popular communication.

Not many people felt like listening to what the PAP have to say. Many felt like going to the rock concert that is the Worker’s Party rally.

The ruling party with all their budget, would easily drown out the opposition in terms of online and social engagements.

The first surprise during the campaigning for myself was that the Singapore subreddit was very pro-opposition. I grew to discount what I see and read online, and the gripes from my friends.

They can complain all they like, but eventually, what they put on the paper might be a different thing all together.

This election feels weird.

At 11pm, my friend messaged me:

“I got a bad feeling of a clean sweep. PAP was really damn chilled this time round. Like they know it is going to be a damn easy win.”

At 11 plus, the sample count of each GRC/SMC starts coming in.

The sample count is not the final results but the final results usually do not veer too far from the sample count.

Most of the sample count points to business as usual.

But then we saw that the sample count for Marine Parade was 57% to PAP. That Worker’s party team in Marine Parade were not the strongest.

Then it was announced that Dr Chee got 43% in Bukit Batok. PSP’s Ang Yong Guan got 46% at Marymount.

That was when we know maybe Singaporeans is going to surprise both of us.

Why did Seng Kang Fell?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I have been living in Seng Kang for like at least 20 years. Everything has been good. The town center development was pretty slow though.

So I am not so sure why one in two Seng Kangers would vote for the opposition.

Here is what I gathered:

  1. PMD is pretty big or important in Seng Kang. This is especially so because the Seng Kang resident base is pretty young, food delivery is pretty popular. And Lam Pin Min played a very big role in killing it.
  2. Relatively credible opposition candidates. Compared to the previous two elections, this time Worker’s party candidates were fielded. The branding was better than the previous opposition party. Jamus Lim did well in his exchange on TV and He Ting Ru carried herself as pretty credible in the last election
  3. Relatively young electorate. The majority of the people are in the sandwich generation that faced a lot of life stress at the moment (read Inderjit Singh’s Facebook post below). They might not like what they see currently and yearns for some fresh, alternative ideas
  4. Electorate against Shithousery. On one hand, there are enough people condemning what Raeesah Khan said in her private social posts a year ago. On the other hand, there are enough people looking at this and see this as ruling party’s shithousery
  5. The fxxking long vote queue. My friend was cursing and swearing about the 2-hour queue to vote at Palm View Primary School. I dunno about you, but many might attribute this mismanagement as a product of what is wrong with the policymaking in this country.
  6. It is not a unique Seng Kang thing. With a little bad luck and a little good luck elsewhere, Seng Kang might go to the PAP, and West Coast or East Coast could have gone to the opposition. The reality is even Dr. Chee, with all his history, garnered 45% of the votes. Clearly, it is not only Seng Kang residents that were not very happy.

A few people would think that this is about the decision to vote for the opposition or the ruling party.

I will say most of those who voted for the opposition does not know what they will get by voting the opposition in.

But they took our chances anyway.

The electorate 5 years ago cannot believe how poor the quality of the opposition was. 5 years later, they might have realize they do not have a choice.

They have that feeling that there is something very corrosive eating at the core of the ruling party.

It has become less of what they think about the opposition but how they looked upon the ruling party.

Why The Ruling Party Didn’t Come Away with a Clean Sweep

There were many good commentaries about why the election went the way it went, but I want to highlight what former members of the ruling party said.

Here’s how former People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh assess why things are the way it is on his Facebook (Part 1 and Part 2):

Some have observed that the PAP’s campaign-style was similar to that of the 1980s and 1990s. Many have frowned upon personal attacks, name-calling, and character assassination.

Further, police investigations and POFMA also appeared to rile voters up. On the other hand, some observers noted that the opposition was more gentlemanly in their campaign than the PAP this time. While the PAP had to deal with the issue arising from Ivan Lim’s suitability as a candidate, this did not appear to have been initiated by any political party. The opposition camps focused on attacking policies and not individuals which individuals perceived the PAP did. I think it is clear that Singaporeans are saying that it’s time to show magnanimity and focus on issues and constructive criticism.

The young voters were especially agitated by Raeesah Khan being hit with a sledgehammer. The young voters were disappointed by the PAP’s approach Forcing WP to declare their views on Khan was perceived as bullish which did not go down well with not just younger voters but even older voters who want to see a more compassionate PAP. In fact, many feel that what tipped the scales in Sengkang was the treatment of Raeesah Khan rather than Jamus Lim’s popularity.

This style of politics is outdated, and opposition members should not be viewed as enemies especially when we, as a nation, are plagued with the same concern – making Singapore competitive again. Contestation of ideas should have been the priority and not contestation among individuals.

– Part 1

Although the 4G leadership has said umpteenth times that the “fourth-generation leadership will listen to Singaporeans ‘with humility and respect’”, and that they will widely consult with Singaporeans when formulating policies, the reality is that many do not feel that these leaders have delivered on their promises based on their actions.

Instead, the general image of the 4G leaders is perceived to be one of arrogance, an elitist, natural aristocracy who projects a “we know best” attitude. The world is complex and many of the 4G leaders don’t have enough experience to solve some of the issues the nation is facing, especially related to the economy and some social issues which need a good feel and touch of grassroots issues. If the leaders could have developed efficient channels of feedback and sincerely listened, rather than depend on their narrow circles for feedback, they may have had a better sense of real issues plaguing companies and Singaporeans.

They should have adopted a collaborative approach in dealing with various cross-sections of society and Singaporeans who could contribute from outside government. The Covid-19 was an opportunity for the 4G leaders to demonstrate their capability. While they worked hard, we cannot characterize their performance as excellent, like how the leaders handled the SARS issues in 2003. The management of the Covid-19 pandemic how Singaporeans reacted to it seems to display a lack of complete trust in the government and the leadership.

Before and during the GE, a few blunders, audio leaks, poorly drafted PAP press statements further eroded confidence in 4G leadership. The PAP governments in the past have always had the complete trust of Singaporeans but this seems to have been shaken in recent years.

– Part 2

Former People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament Hong Hai wrote this extract from his book The Rule Of Culture: Corporate And State Governance In China And East Asia, published by Routledge (2020):

Fourth, voters young and old want a level playing field in political contention. The ruling party ignores this at its peril. In its wisdom, the Government introduced the group representation constituency (GRC) to ensure minority representation in Parliament.

Twinning, or two to a GRC, could have achieved this objective, but it was decided to have three.

That was selectively expanded to a maximum of six, before being reduced this election back to a cap of five.

This has been widely perceived as tweaking the system to allow political neophytes and unelectable candidates to hitch a ride with heavyweight ministers.

It undermines the legitimacy of these candidates, some of whom are catapulted to high-paying office-holder positions shortly after the election.

In the upgrading of Housing Board estates, priority was given to constituencies that voted PAP, in effect leveraging the resources of the state for partisan support of the ruling party.

The People’s Association does not allow opposition MPs to be advisers to grassroots organizations, effectively cutting off elected MPs who are not from the PAP from supervising grassroots organizations in their own wards, whereas PAP MPs automatically become advisers. Even PAP losing candidates are often appointed advisers, over the elected MP. It is manifestly unfair and the practice should stop.

The list goes on. Past PAP supporters were prepared to close an eye to these inequities for a greater cause, that of national solidarity under one-party flag.

Right from the start, the electorate saw the mudslinging take place when PAP’s Tan Wu Meng chides WP chief Pritam Singh for supporting poet and playwright Alfian Sa’at.

Then, they put Workers party on the spot again by asking the party to make a stand on the Raeesah Khan situation.

Too often in the past, the whole election got distracted by incidents such as this. But the younger electorate could clearly smell what they were trying to do. The more they tried to drag opponents through the mud, the more pissed off some of the younger electorate get.

Lee Kuan Yew’s Comments on Singapore’s Future

The Late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave his view about Singapore’s survival when he is not around anymore in the book, Singapore in Transition: Hope, Anxiety and Question Marks.

You can make your own judgement how far we are from what he has said:

Q1: How confident are you that Singapore will survive your death? 

Lee: “All I can say is, I think Singapore is safe for 10 years. No trouble because there’s a team in place that will handle it. Whether it will be 15, 20, or 30 years, depends on them getting a team of players very soon.

Part of the team is in place but you need a leader. You need somebody who can communicate, who can mobilize people, move people. It’s not enough to have a good policy. You got to convince people.

Q2: What about beyond 10 years?

Lee: “I think there will come a time when eventually the public will say, look, let’s try the other side, either because the PAP has declined in quality or the opposition has put up a team which is equal to the PAP and they say, let’s try the other side. It must come.”

Q3: How will it happen?

Lee: “It depends on when it happens and whether it happens all of a sudden or it happens gradually. If the decline in standards happens gradually, an opposition will emerge of quality. I mean, the public can sense it.

I think the more likely is a gradual evolution because it is most unlikely the way we have evolved the party and the renewal of the party leadership that you will get such a clash of opinions that it will divide the whole leadership, the MPs and the party machinery into two, or into one major part, one minor part.”

Q4: What will happen if it takes place suddenly?

Lee: “If it is sudden, well, you’re landed with an emergency. In that emergency, I think the people will just take somebody like me and a few of those friends and say look, let’s make a bid and stop this from going down the drain.

Q5: What could possibly make it happen suddenly?

Lee: “You have a rumpus in the leadership. They disagree profoundly, either for reasons of principle or personality and suddenly it breaks up… I cannot tell you what’s going to be in maybe 20, 30 or 40 years, not possible. We might have a genuine difference of perspective what the future should be, what kind of Singapore will survive, and thrive in that future. We might have a clash. I don’t know.

I’ve lived long enough to know that nobody settles the future of his country beyond more than a decade or so of his life. Stalin grabbed the whole of the eastern part of Europe, grabbed all the Asian republics right up to Siberia, and took Outer Mongolia, which belonged to China under his wing. That’s 1945. He’s dead. The 1950s or something, Khrushchev came up. In 1992, it dissolved – less than 40 years. They threw up a Gorbachev who never went through a revolution, who did not know that he was sitting on a boiling cauldron.”

Conclusion

A lot of people might have concluded that the opposition won pretty big in this general election 2020.

I think the people do not know if they have won or not.

They took risks because they think they had to. They saw how things are for 5 years and have more question marks than assurances the next 5 years would continue to be great if they gave the ruling party a strong mandate.

A few individuals risked $13,500 to put themselves up as opposition candidates. The chances of them forfeiting their money are big. On top of that, your employers, society, and the government will look at you very differently due to your political affiliations.

Joining an opposition party in itself is a risky endeavor.

Hell, a 80-year-old man feels that he does not have a choice but to come out from his bungalow to do something about it.

But maybe in times like this, the electorate feels that to pull us out of this rut, we need to turn to risk-takers.

Majority of the new candidates put out by the ruling party are either civil servants or lawyers. The candidates from opposition parties are more diverse, with more and more candidates with business backgrounds but there are still a fair number that are lawyers.

Those who voted for the opposition didn’t know if they won. They took risks.

For all we know, the residents of Seng Kang, West Coast (narrowly), and East Coast (narrowly) will start seeing the degradation of their estate due to the lack of amenities.

A lot of us didn’t win because a number of people are not confident the ruling party is willing to really listen and able to effectively bring us progressively forward.

In the last few elections, the emphasis by the ruling party was on sticking with people with “good track record”

Based on the election result, 40% of the Singaporeans seem to be questioning “what track record?”

Judging from the scary things I heard about non-ruling party managed town councils, I would probably have a chance next time to update everyone on the possible degradation of where I live.

This may make Seng Kang residents repent their decision.

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Not sherwin eu

Sunday 19th of July 2020

Hi Keith, think your article is balanced and focuses on real ground issues of a resident. I went to the famous hougang coffeeshop on the night of elections for the first time and saw spalling concrete at the HDB, less frequently painted blocks. It did feel like HDB 10 years ago.

Reading the various commentaries, it seems the infra and amenities was already lacking in sengkang, promised but not delivered. Given the WP caliber were comparable to PAP and the Jamus Effect, i think most would be indifferent and wouldn't mind giving WP a chance to see what they could bring to the table and not let PAP have it easy.

The next 5 years will be a defining time for SG, leadership handover, generational crisis and to see if the opp can deliver so that the people can imagine a blue govt.

Kyith

Sunday 19th of July 2020

Hi Not Sherwin Eu, that is a strange nick. I think they definitely look a bit dated. however, I could also say the same that when i passed by some blocks in Clementi, they looked dated as well. We are not sure what caliber the new candidates bring. We are not sure if it matters in the grand scheme of things at all. We have 5 years to observe.

Small-Time Investor

Thursday 16th of July 2020

Hi Kyith

I used to stay hougang for years before moving to one of the pap grc ward , i frequent hougang area quite often as well like one week 2 to 3 times, and recently visited my friend's place which is aljuni grc since the last visit was more than 10 years back.

In terms of environment cleanliness and facilities, there are not much difference from the other wards. Definitely and rest assured , it won't become a slum. haha

John Tan

Thursday 16th of July 2020

Hi Kyith,

Your comments seems to constantly unfairly denigrate the quality of the opposition. Maybe you have not done your research on opposition recently that's why you are surprised by election results.

Opposition candidates today have educational qualifications better than many PAP candidates and real world private sector business experience rather than just civil service or Army.

Hazel Poa - Cambridge first class honours, admin service, entrepreneur He Ting Ru - Cambridge, corporate legal counsel for MNC Benjamin Pwee - Cambridge, Harvard, admin service Leong Mun Wai - MD of OCBC securities, GIC Paul Tambyah - World renowned infections disease specialist, incoming President of international infectious disease professional association. Leon Perera - double first class from Oxford, business consultant entrepreneur. Chen Show Mao - Cambridge, Stanford, Harvard, partner in international law firm Jamus - LSE, business school prof Tan Jee Say - Oxford, former Principal Private Secretary like Heng Swee Keat. Francis Yuen - President of Asia for Honeywell.

As you said, it is dangerous to join opposition and people have little to gain by joining them. It is a thankless task. Low chance of being MP, high chance of getting attacked by PAP, no connections to government linked companies or directorships, no benefits, not even primary school admissions for being grassroots leader. So why do these qualified people join them instead of PAP? Because they care for Singapore and you can be sure their heart is in the right place. With so many benefits of joining PAP, can you be sure everyone joins them for the right reason?

Kyith

Thursday 16th of July 2020

Hi John,

Thanks for your comments but I would like to push back on some. Unless you have read something I have previously written, I did not make much comment about the caliber of the opposition nor the ruling party. I think what I state was:

Majority of the new candidates put out by the ruling party are either civil servants or lawyers. The candidates from opposition parties are more diverse, with more and more candidates with business backgrounds but there are still a fair number that are lawyers.

Those who voted for the opposition didn’t know if they won. They took risks.

I actually wanted to put out this piece and another piece that is a little bit more fun. So for that piece I did my research. And I noted the background of those you mentioned but also those who joined the ruling party.

I have nothing against their background. As as you have said, I highlighted that joining the opposition is more of a high-risk stake.

My comment is more of questioning the background of the people behind policymaking. Generals, civil servants, lawyers, engineers, business owners. No affiliation to whichever party. And the question i asked would be that if you wish to grow as a manufacturing and business hub, would putting a lot of lawyers and civil servants make sense? I would venture even further on the productive value of having a lot of economists.

Hope that explains.

Ray

Thursday 16th of July 2020

I don’t live in Aljunied-Hougang nor Seng kang. All I know last year before Christmas, someone or something pissed at my flat’s staircase landing. He or she or it left a stain of piss and the smell hung around for so long that after Christmas, I asked a town council housekeeper to clean it up. I even show him where the stain was. Then he told me this is not his block and he will inform his colleague for me. But the smell survived until New Year. So I downloaded one-service app to upload a pic of stain and on the next day, the stain was gone and the bad smell was also gone. And you know what, the smell will not be missed. Do you know where I live? Radin Mas SMC. I believe the guy got like 75% of the votes.

Another pesky issue is my flat’s level 1 lift lobby always has a pool of water after cleaning. Do you know why? Because the floor is not levelled. I am lazy or indifferent or I like to procrastinate. I didn’t upload a pic to one-service. I did upload some other issue which is recurring (more so than some stock’s dividends). Burning incense. I lived so close to the ground level that the smell can easily find me.

So if you feel your town is going down, man. Download one-service app and start your complains. Don’t be like me who is lazy, indifferent or like to procrastinate. Work it, baby. Get Professor Jamus down there!

One more thing, in 2011, WP got 54.72% in Aljunied GRC and against Mr. George Yeo. In 2015, WP almost lost and got like 50.96%. And this year, WP got 59.93%. It means more people voted for WP this time round. Why is that? How come WP garnered more votes in a town that is in a state of “degradation”? I mean something must have happened. Maybe they clean up their act after 2015 or you are hanging out with the wrong friends? Perception can be deceiving. I don’t know man. Maybe Aljunied people is like me who don’t know how to make a table of “Singapore Dividend Stock Tracker” so we just anyhow vote lah.

By the way I like your tracker very much. Keep up the good work. Also please fix the Vicom row. Vicom split shares and now it shows 0 in your table. Thank you.

Kyith

Thursday 16th of July 2020

Hi Ray, sorry about the Vicom one! I will fix it soon.

Thanks for your perspective. I realize from the comments, most do think my main concern is the degradation of the estate. But I am enjoying this exchange and it brings out different perspectives about things. I note the swing in Aljunied GRC over 2011 to 2015 to 2020. I could make a comment but it will be too long. The vote count actually went up. Was it due to the council management? The town council saga has been a major talking point, and my interpretation is that if it is bad enough, they are that incompetent, it will factor in people's minds when they are casting their votes.

Yet it went up. Either the Aljunied electorate voted regardless of their own sufferance or things should be pretty ok.

Ho

Thursday 16th of July 2020

Can I just say that Sengkang prices have been stagnant for a very long time. An old 3 bedroom condo is easily below a million. Not much new developments or any major transformation. Under PAP.

I don’t think there will be a major change to Switch to WP. I didn’t see it happening in Aljunied as well - real estate prices held firm.

The major change will come if PAP wins it back from Opposition. They will be pressed to make a difference. I saw that in Potong Pasir

Not bad to be in Sengkang now in my humble opinion. Can be a candidate for a lot of estate improvements later. Cheers

Kyith

Thursday 16th of July 2020

Hi Ho, that seemed to indicate that I have to be a long term investor in Seng Kang haha. I checked the prices in Potong Pasir and Hougang last time. They didn't drop much because some fundamental factors outweigh the others. For the condo comment, instead of Sengkang, could you cite another example that is comparable to Sengkang but contrast in results?

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