Monday, June 16, 2008

Singapore's 4 opposition schools- My unpublished comments

Hi friends,

I did an email interview with Straits Times' Syed Zakir Hussain on the so-called 4 opposition schools ie JB Jeyaratnam; Low Thia Khiang, Chiam See Tong and Chee Soon Juan.

Unfortunately, the editors did not print any part of my interview.

Since it has already been written, I thought I would share the interview with our readers.

To put the intervew in the correct perspective, I will include Zakir's letter also.

Straits Times Syed Zakir Hussain's letter (edited)

Dear Dr Huang,

I hope you are well. I'm a journalist with The Straits Times. We're working on a feature on "the four schools of opposition politics" in Singapore, and I was wondering if I'd be able to get your thoughts - as someone who's written (and blogged) on politics and related issues in recent years.

The feature is in the form of four stories on each of them (sort of an objective report card) - and we're speaking to political observers and a few others. It's essentially a short historical and current-day assessment of J.B.Jeyaretnam, Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Khiang and Chee Soon Juan - their approaches to politics, their track record and achievements (including in the non-conventional sense) and how their platforms/ideas have gone down with voters.

Would we be able to get your comments and views?

Our questions are:

1. How would you describe the political styles of each of these four politicians, say in two to three sentences each?

2. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these four "schools"?

3. What is it about each of these four "schools" that you feel might appeal - or not appeal - to the average Singaporean voter? Does each of them cater to a different type of voter?

Look forward to your reply.

Thanks! Regards,

zakir

Zakir HussainJournalist,

The Straits Times


My comments

My opinions about the 4 opposition leaders and their leadership styles

General Introductory Comments:

I do not entirely agree that the politics of J.B.Jeyaretnam (JBJ), Chiam See Tong (CST), Low Thia Khiang (LTK) and Chee Soon Juan (CSJ) are so different that they should each be pigeon-holed into separate school. Each of the 4 is an individual with his own personality and style but the 4 veteran politicians share the common goal of trying to break the PAP monopoly with the hope of establishing a sustainable and healthy multi-party democracy.

This project may yet again be misconstrued by some as Mainstream Media’s (MSM) attempt to drive a wedge between the different opposition parties as a “divide and rule” tactic but I am willing to give the editor/writer the benefit of doubt.

I qualify my statements by saying that I do not know any of the 4 gentlemen personally and my impressions are gathered from the main and alternative media ( like everybody else).

1. How would you describe the political styles of each of these four politicians, say in two to three sentences each?

JBJ:

He is the elder statesman of Sg opposition politics and a hero to many. He is the biblical David who broke the PAP’s 100% stranglehold at Anson and single-handedly opened the door for others like LTK & CST. He is the only true believer of the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy ( amongst PAP and other opposition politicians) and could be described as the successor of David Marshall. He is the archetypical Westminister opposition party leader who is fearless and uncompromising and whose sole aim in life is to see the development of free and unfettered democracy. He has given his whole life for his principles.

LTK:

LTK is a cautious politician, perhaps as a result of what has happened to other opposition personalities such as JBJ, Francis Seow, Tang Liang Hong. He appears to want to work within the system even if the rules, which are made by the PAP, appear unnecessarily suffocating and restrictive. He does not believe in being confrontational for its own sakes and is seen by some as being too accommodating. His recent statements that WP is not prepared for political rule for at least 10 years or more and that his work is of a watch-dog may signal to the PAP that he is keen for co-opetition ( like Coke and Pepsi) ie mutual existence without trying to destroying each other.

CST:

Least colourful of the 4. Other than clinging on to Potong Pasir ( which is no mean feat in itself ), he has shown himself to be happy to be a localised municipal politician ( like a mayor) rather than a national leader. Unfortunately he has not been able to groom any politician to take over his mantle (perhaps due to bad experience with CSJ) . Popular at PP as he is undoubtedly sincere and a people’s politician. Not a threat to the PAP who is willing to wait for him to step down from the stage after which PP will be back in PAP’s fold.

CSJ:

Having failed to get any headway into mainstream politics due to what he considers as uneven playing field in a system where the incumbent is seen to be both a player as well as the referee, CSJ is resorting to extra-parliamentary struggle and advocates civil disobedience as he feels that unfair laws should be challenged in order for true justice to prevail. To CSJ, he will not compromise even if by challenging injustice, he may be seen to be washing dirty linen in public. He is comfortable with using local and foreign media to bring attention to his causes.


2. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these four "schools"?

JBJ:

Strengths: Seen as hero who is the victim of the incumbent’s tactics. Legendary oratorical skills at rallies and in parliament. Only opposition politician who can face-off the senior PAP leaders. Reputation as the Lion of Anson.

Weaknesses: Poor organiser and tactician/strategist. Assumes the Westminster system will be accepted by Singaporeans ( who are easily swayed by MSM which supports one-dominant party politics ( eg PAP and China)). Seen as too old. Does not seem to have long-term strategy.

LTK:

Strengths: Strong grassroot support. Has empathy for the disadvantaged and poor. Good organiser and seems to have a plan (but seem too slow to many). Integrity is admired by all and is acceptable to the PAP so much that he has been cited as the type of opposition politicians that has a place in Sg’s landscape ( contrasted to JBJ and CSJ).

Weaknesses: Appears to be too accommodating and not providing alternative views and politics like a conventional opposition politician. Seemed to remain silent even when the people felt frustrated by the govt’s unpopular policies. Being upstaged by SDP and CSJ now is the defacto opposition leader. Dares not take risk in raising his profile for fear of attracting attention from the PAP?

CST:

Strengths: Honest and sincere politician who is still able to command respect of PP’s residents. No skeletons in the cupboard.

Weaknesses: Unable to recreate the old SDP. No successor in sight. Does not seem to have a viable long-term strategy for his party.

CSJ:

Strengths: Known to be good orator and surprised even MM with his eloquence. Appears to be an inspirational and charismatic leader who is able to get party members to believe in him and his causes. In any other country, he might have been a leader of a significant alternative party. A master in getting maximum media attention. All who have interacted with him are surprised at his intellect ( not what is commonly portrayed by MSM)

Weaknesses: The majority of Singaporeans see him as discredited politician more intent on antics than proper serious politics. Unable to convert neutrals and pro-PAP supporters to his cause. At Sembawang GRC, his vote share of 20% plus is the same as the hard-core anti-PAP vote.

3. What is it about each of these four "schools" that you feel might appeal - or not appeal - to the average Singaporean voter? Does each of them cater to a different type of voter?

JBJ:

Appeals to all idealists ( all ages even the young). Many support him due to sympathy for his sacrifice ( lost property/ career and decades of his life) and that he seems to be the only opposition leader who dares spar with certain senior govt leaders.
Not appeal: To pragmatists and those who see him as too confrontational and uncompromising.

LTK:

Appeals to many average Singaporeans esply younger group. However if he becomes more and more centrist and share the PAP’s stances on major issues, voters may feel that they might as well vote for the PAP instead of a PAP-clone. He has to make a breakthrough soon. If he does not raise the party’s profile, the idealistic will flock towards CSJ’s SDP or even JBJ’s Reform party.
Does not appeal: To the bleeding-heart liberals who will support JBJ/CSJ, But faced with no other choice, liberals will still vote for WP.

CST:

Appeals to middle and lower-class PP constituents because of his track record and empathy with them. But due to his age and health, his hold on PP has limited timespan.

CSJ:

Appeals to hard-core anti-establishment types and increasing numbers of people who are disillusioned with moderate parties like WP who are deemed too compromised.
Does not appeal: To majority of Sgaporean’s as MSM’s demonization of him ( eg Chua Lee Hoong’s unkind article) will have some effect on people’s minds. He has to try very hard just to convince people that he is a normal rational person.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

8 comments:

SHIMURE said...

Basically, they are 4 different person's and your assessment in their strengths and weaknesses are fair.

Of all the 4 person mentioned, there is at least one common ground. they are all instruments of change. Yet being small and all change is difficult....

I leave here with a quotation from Laotzu.....第 一 十 一 Section

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

In this case, they are here and that is their usefulness to remind people of change. Be it their actions big or small. Just by being an opposition, change or reminders of changes they serve.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi shimure,

These 4 opposition leaders obviously consider themselves as agents of change, if not why bother. To do nothing is to accept the status quo.

I wonder how many PAP govt leaders consider themselves as Agents of change too? From what we see in our daily lives, I think few PAP leaders consider themselves that. More likely they want to let the same system, same way of doing things continue for another millennium if possible. Very few PAP ministers are leaders in any sense of that word. Most are technocrats, some bureaucrats and some are there just to support the political infrastructures and to PREVENT CHANGE.

But change is inevitable- the cliché is that “Change is the only Constant”. Until the PAP itself becomes more democratic- where members rise by meritocracy and by sheer leadership ability, change in Singapore is going to be very slow- too slow for some who would have migrated by then.

SHIMURE said...

hi Dr huang,

One final point to add.... all 4 ppl have different degrees of political ambitions.....

Like what you said, those in power want to stay in power,

Those without power want to get power....

it is a dog eat dog world out there.....

Look at all the revolutions, wars and such.... these are acts of ppl with ambition.

SHIMURE said...

"But change is inevitable- the cliché is that “Change is the only Constant”. Until the PAP itself becomes more democratic- where members rise by meritocracy and by sheer leadership ability, change in Singapore is going to be very slow- too slow for some who would have migrated by then."

True true yet what r the benchmarks of leaders?

Anonymous said...

"Until the PAP itself becomes more democratic- where members rise by meritocracy and by sheer leadership ability, change in Singapore is going to be very slow- too slow for some who would have migrated by then."

if you allow that, another 'PAP' will come into power who will resist change( or abuse human rights and keep the people politically immature) and perpetuate party/individual power under the present political selective criteria. the people( local and global citizens) will then have to be subjected to the cycles of oppression and for many, to their eventual demise.

no, there must be a better way than that.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi ,

Shimure:

There are many theories regarding leaderships. Off the cuff I can name several traits that are accepted as being desirable in all leaders. Eg. Having EQ; Vision; High internal locus of control; courage; charisma;trustworthiness etc

Of leaders there are several types of which one classification known as Level 5 Leader I most admire. The level 5 leader has personal humility but has strong professional will (perserverance). This type is not the typical Richard Branson type but the quiet ones that appear in a crisis (sometimes by default) and they just grow into the job. I think in the Sg context ( I may be wrong), Tony Tan and Wee Kim Wee probably fit this model.

Yes there are no fixed and agreed benchmarks but from what I can see, Sg’s govt leadership is only by a strong man and the others are just keeping their heads down. ( Just like a flower/branch would keep its head down when a gardener is trimming the hedge!). I wish there is more a struggle of ideas ( even in the PAP) so that the best policies are chosen for the people’s welfare. If we are dependent on only one man ( no matter how good he is /was), he is not infallible and that is not good.

Anon: Yes if another group arises and behaves like its predecessor and prevents democratic change and expressions, then it is not acceptable. But if the people can be educated to be more participative and join major political parties so that when Party A has run out of ideas, Party B will get voted in to do its part for the country it will be ideal. Of course stability is important, we don’t want the situation in countries like Italy where they change govts more often than their mistresses! For this reason, I am keen on freer mutli-party democracies but based on the First-past- the-post ( Westminster model) and not the Proportional Representation ( unless it is severely tweaked to enable stable govts).

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Huang,

It's sad they didn't even use one bit of of your commentry for the news. More broadenly there are no faces of politics at all in Singapore too me. It's the capitalist drive and the utility maximisation aim that keeps the wheels running in our society.

Leanne

Onlooker said...

Somehow you manage to put my thoughts into words. Agree with most of your points.
Esp about LTK, Being cautious is good. People still get to elect him and that the main point and always will be.
The media or should I say "Propa gan da mach inery" is targeted at the elderly and the new arrivals.
Perhaps that why lots of news (esp ERP and Transit) are presented trivialized or are obscured.
For eg. The hi security toilet break would have been covered by media comprehensively if it had happen in other country.
And they still haven't found what they are looking for 3mth+ and counting.
But I forgot: "What to do, It happen . Let's move on." 5th School of complacent politic.
Strength: Many($),Guan Xi,Progress package(veto Bye in?), script articulate, Hygenic(wash hand after shaking), Verbose embellishment.

Weakness: severe disconnection(mai hum MDA rap), lack of empathy ,Complacent , Bochap , Kiasu , Kiasee , "low crime doesn't mean no crime", superficial and tendencies to monopolize.The whole list is goes on and on.....