Produced and edited by Indrani Kopal.
|Friday, 28 November 2008|
| Gandhi Ambalam & Maurice Neo|
What have the American presidential and the Malaysian parliamentary elections, both of which took place this year, have in common and what lessons have they brought for Singapore?
One was in faraway America mandated to take place once every four years and the other an equally mundane affair. But they both had a profound impact on the already receptive psyche of Singaporeans.
What was considered "unthinkable" unfolded in America. For the first time in the country's history an African-American was elected to the highest office of the land. A monumental achievement indeed, considering the fact that it was only in the 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement took place, one that was met with fierce resistance from some groups in the white community.
Earlier in Malaysia a political tsunami swept aside the well-entrenched racial politics of the ruling elite that dominated the country for more than half a century. The elections there ushered a historic new era in the country's politics.
Can we in Singapore be insulated from these two phenomena? There is no doubt that the PAP leadership through its well-oiled propaganda machine will try. Contrary to ground sentiment, the authoritarian ruling elite keeps mouthing the same old refrain that Singaporeans are not ready to accept changes to the status quo. But is this the true reflection of the average Singaporean?
A survey last year of close to 2,000 Singaporeans by two academics at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies found that over 91 per cent of all races polled said they would accept a prime minister of an ethnic group other than Chinese.
In Malaysia one of the biggest changes is the move from the debate on race to the question “Who are the politicians serving?” It was clear from the electoral results that across the board Malaysians demanded better service from politicians and did not buy the racial claptrap from the ruling elite. Malaysians wanted good governance not racial politics.
In the same vein, Singaporeans are not convinced by PAP's worn-out insistence that Singaporeans vote along racial lines, hence the necessity for the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system.
Wasn't it in 1981 that the late Mr J B Jeyaretnam was elected to parliament in a by-election, defeating a candidate from the 'majority' community in the Anson ward? In the 1984 general elections that followed, Mr Jeyaretnam again defeated a Chinese candidate, who was endorsed personally by the then prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew as "ministerial material", with an increased majority.
The GRC system was concocted by the PAP and implemented in the 1988 general elections. The claim that the scheme was to maintain "minority" representation in Parliament was pure fiction. It was clear to independent political observers that the system was introduced to perpetuate PAP's stranglehold on power.
Lately, in continuing to propagate this racial myth, our state media has resorted to scaring the people that racial tension in Malaysia increased after the landmark elections this year. Perhaps what is most frightening for the Singapore autocrats is that Malaysia can no longer use racial fear as the instrument of policy in elections.
Instead, what the Singapore Government fears now is the contagion from Malaysia. The new found self belief and the ability to overcome fear propagated by the ruling elite is just the thing Singaporeans need.
The PAP goes to the extent of dismissing the Pakatan Rakyat's push for a less race-based politics, even to the extent favoring the cronyism of “Umnoputras”.The reality of the move towards democracy in Malaysia seems too much for the Singapore state to accept. The new dawn in Malaysia is too close for comfort.
As a result the racial myth in Singapore is still being perpetuated to instill fear. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently regurgitated that voters in Singapore are not ready to accept a non-Chinese prime minister anytime soon. He was echoing what his father said in 1988 when Lee Sr rejected Mr S Dhanabalan, who was far more qualified than Mr Goh Chok Tong in Mr Lee's own words, as prime minister.
But in America, Mr Barack Obama was elected president riding on the winds of change. The American people had the final say of who they wanted as their leader, black or white. Mr Obama's message of hope and change also resonated with many Singaporeans. But alas in Singapore it is the prime minister who has the last say of who gets to be the leaders.
Is it not clear from the rhetoric by the Lees that it is the PAP that is not prepared to accept a non-Chinese as prime minister?
But can the PAP continue to stem the tide of change that is fast reaching our shores, change not only from nearby Malaysia but also from faraway America?
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singaporean woman was killed after being held hostage when militants attacked a top hotel in India's financial capital, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday. The Foreign Ministry said the woman was identified by her husband as 28-year-old Lo Hoei Yen, who was in Mumbai's Trident Oberoi hotel when the militants struck.
Local media said she was a lawyer in India on business.
The attacks and a two-day standoff with commandos killed 124 people, though 143 guests were freed earlier in the day from the Trident Oberoi.
Expressing that yoga was an ancient Indian art, the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) on Monday said that no religious connotations should be attached to it.
"Blood flowing like a river"
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Andrew Loh / The Online Citizen
In a quiet little corner of Hong Lim Park on Saturday, two women sit silently. In their hearts were the victims of the on-going war in Sri Lanka.
As the sky threatens to open up and raindrops begin to fall, Madam Susila and Madam Annapoorani tell The Online Citizen (TOC) that they are observing a silent, non-violent demonstration.
“It’s a motherly feeling that we have towards the children of Sri Lanka whom we see on the news,” says Mdm Susila. “We are here to show our concern for the war there.” The two women decided to go to Speakers’ Corner because it broke their hearts to see the victims of the war on television and they wanted to do something. “My heart just can’t take it,” Mdm Susila says.
She is 66 years old and has three children. Her two daughters are in Malaysia and Canada. Her son in Singapore had earlier brought her to Hong Lim Park at 1pm and is very encouraging of her presence there today. “Singaporeans should help stop the war,” Mdm Susila urges. She has a special affinity with Sri Lankans as her cousin is married to a Sri Lankan woman who now lives in Singapore.
The two women at today’s demonstration have been friends for 48 years. Mdm Annapoorani, who is 75, tells TOC that her family of three boys and three girls has given her their “full support” for today’s event.
Accompanied by four friends, the women were undeterred as the rain got heavier at one point. They opened their umbrellas and continued to sit in quiet defiance. Mdm Susila suffers from asthma but she was determined to see through the six-hour protest, in spite of the weather. She and Mdm Annapoorani have been fasting since 7am.
Mr Thamizhmaraiyan, one of the friends of the women, told TOC that they had wanted to put an advertisement in the Tamil language newspaper, Tamil Mirasu. “We wanted to let people know about this protest and ask them to join us,” he said. But the newspaper rejected their advertisement. “We were willing to pay for the advertisement,” says Mr Thamizhmaraiyan, clearly disappointed.
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|Shrinking economy tests Singapore|
|Saturday, 22 November 2008|
| John Burton|
Singapore's government faces its biggest test since taking office in 2004 after forecasting that the economy will shrink 1-2 per cent next year.
The prediction followed weaker than expected third-quarter gross domestic product figures.
Official data said the city-state's GDP contracted 0.6 per cent year-on-year in the three months to September compared with an initial estimate of a 0.5% decline.
A recession next year would be the fourth that Singapore has suffered since independence in 1965 but some economists believe it could be the country's worst. The sudden downturn may prompt the government to call an early election before scheduled polls in 2011 in case economic pain leads to a backlash against the People's Action party that has ruled Singapore for 50 years.
The economic slowdown threatens to widen Singapore's large income gap between the rich and poor. The government of Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister might also come under criticism for investments in western financial groups that have turned sour.
The Government of Singapore Investment Corp, which manages foreign reserves, has invested in UBS and Citigroup in the past year. Temasek, the state investment company, took a stake in Merrill Lynch.
Mr Lee and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's independence leader, head GIC, while the premier's wife is in charge of Temasek. The severity of the downturn could determine the continued durability of the Singapore model, seen as a pioneer of authoritarian capitalism, in which the public gives up some civil liberties in return for economic prosperity.
Song Seng Wen, an economist at CIMB-GK, a local brokerage, said Singapore could see its GDP shrink 3-5 per cent annually over the next few years.
It is public money and $16 million is no small change. Most of us have never seen, or ever will see, $1 million in our lifetime.
Town council funds are obtained from our monthly conservancy charges and should be used for the maintenance of our estate. So, why was there such a large sum of money left behind for investment? Does it mean the council has overcharged us? Would such excess funds be better utilised to upgrade the estate facilities, or better still, be returned to each individual household via rebates?
The town council is a non-profit organisation. Why is there a need to invest such sums of money in an investment tool?
Are there enough transparency and audit processes in place to ensure checks and balances against the use of such funds? We have already heard of many large non-profit organisations like the old NKF and Ren Ci mismanaging their funds, what about town councils?
If a council made a tidy profit from such investments, what would happen to the principle sum and the investment gains? Again, is there enough transparency in this area?
Now that the council has made a loss in an investment gone wrong, does it mean there are insufficient funds left to support ongoing or future projects? Does the entire estate have to suffer the bad judgement of a few individuals. What fall-back plan does the town council have in making good these losses?
The Government has advocated high pay packages to public servants, because their pay should be commensurate with the risks they take, just like the CEO of a private organisation. But when mistakes are made, the CEO has to answer for them, most often at the cost of his job. So who should take the rap for these mistakes? And what actions will be taken to prevent future cases like this?
Karen Woon (Ms)
Several people came to know our activity through the report in the Straits Times on Nov 13. Word of the event was also publicised through SMS, email, Facebook as well as blogs online.
The vigil began with an introductory address by S. Sivabalan, after which organisers and attendees proceeded to light candles to signify their hope for peace in Sri Lanka. They also left their personal messages on the board provided.
We distributed flyers and badges to those present who shared their views and concerns on the war.
Several curious on-lookers also approached us to enquire about the situation in Sri Lanka. They indicated surprise and mentioned how little they knew of the conflict.
Along with the discussions taking place all around, some observed silence throughout as a mark of respect for the deceased.
Prominent figures in Singapore’s civil and political society, including members of the Reform Party, Singapore Democratic Party and National Solidarity Party came to show their support. Braema Mathi of AWARE and blogger Ng E-Jay of Sgpolitics also graced the event
The glow of candle lights grew along with the crowd as the evening went on, with the elderly, teenagers and whole families turning up.
At about 7pm, V. Rajarahm ended the day by thanking the attendees and gathered everyone to take a final group photograph.
The WorldWithoutWar.sg team wholeheartedly thanks everyone who showed your support and stand in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka. We hope to see you at our upcoming forum.
Photographs by Chan Sijia
|A dent in Singapore's financial hub dream|
|Thursday, 06 November 2008|
Despite the island state's emergence as a regional financial hub and its limited exposure to the toxic securitized financial products which have blown big holes in Western banks' balance sheets, Singapore's economy is in a bad way. That's because its economic growth is still highly reliant on commercial trade, with merchandise exports representing over 220% of gross domestic product (GDP), according to a Credit Suisse research report.