Saturday, April 29, 2006

PAP worried about the leadership of PM Lee

You'll never hear anyone from the PAP admit it in public, but some influential figures in the party are quietly worried about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's ability and performance as party leader and PM.

As election day draws nearer and the pace of campaigning picks up, concerns are mounting about PM Lee. There is an undercurrent of feeling both in the party and in the Singaporean community that he may not up to the task of leading the PAP team to the resounding victory which will be needed if he is to step out of his father's shadow and establish himself as the leader of his party and country in his own right.

So far his campaigning has been lacklustre. He has fired a few shots at the opposition parties, but is yet to score any solid hits. Asking the opposition to "be serious about what they stand for and stop evading the real issues", as he did yesterday, isn't good enough. As we enter the final week of the campaign, he will have to improve on that significantly.

He has also made the embarrassing mistake of running with the "First World" argument in the last few days. Leaving aside the argument itself, using the phrase "First World" to compare Singapore to other countries is a serious gaffe on the international stage. It's a phrase that is now seen in the international community, along with the phrase "Third World", as inappropriate and disrespectful. Over the last decade it has fallen out of use. Now, diplomats and overseas politicians describe coutries as "developed" or "developing" instead. The PM of Singapore should know that, and he's making Singapore look like we are ten years behind the times by using such language. What must other coutries think of Singapore because of this? They already criticise us enough without our PM handing them another reason to ridicule us on a platter.

Of course, there is no doubt that PM Lee will lead the PAP to victory in the election. But simply winning the election won't be enough to establish his credibility because, let's face it, it would be impossible for him to lose. To be taken seriously, he will have to return the PAP to power with an increased majority. That will mean winning 83 seats, or all 84, and that looks unlikely.

It seems that the opposition parties have sensed the PAP's vulnerability under PM Lee. They have moved away from their usual tactic of contesting less than 50% of the seats in Parliament, which they adopted when the PAP was under the leadership of PM Lee's father Lee Kuan Yew and his successor Goh Chok Tong. This tactic was a tacit acknowledgement of the strength of the PAP's position under those two leaders. In this election, 47 of the 84 seats are being contested by the opposition parties, which appear to have determined that the PAP's position under PM Lee is weaker than it has been for the last few decades and that this is the time for them to make their move.

This has all led some observers to draw some unflattering comparisons between the Lee family and America's Bush family. The father of current American president George W. Bush was George Herbert Walker Bush, a successful past president of the USA. PM Lee's father, Lee Kuan Yew, is also a very successful past leader of Singapore. George W. Bush is now widely seen as trying his best as President, but lacking the ability and intellect to fill his father's shoes. As the election campaign goes on here, PM Lee is starting to be seen in the same light. There can be no doubt that he is trying very hard, but he lacks some of the presence and skill of his father, and just doesn't seem to be in the same league as a politician.

PM Lee's has excellent pedigree still makes him a valuable asset for the PAP. The Lee family name is a vote winner and no one in the party thinks we should be without him, but the question is should he really be the party's leader? There is a popular perception in Singapore that he is the PM simply becuase of the influence of his father, and there is no point in denying the truth of that. There are others in the party who are more talented and would make better leaders both of the PAP and of Singapore, but as long as MM Lee is involved in politics, they will not have a chance to challenge his son.

In the meantime, the PAP will have to make the best of having PM Lee as it's leader, and will be campaigning very hard over the next 7 days to hold back the opposition.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Nomination day - the perfect outcome

Nomination day could not have produced a better outcome for the PAP in Singapore.

Why is that? Wouldn't we have been hoping for a walkover in this election - to have have had more than half of the seats in Parliament uncontested so that a PAP victory was assured even before the poll next Saturday?

No. That would have shown Singaporeans and the rest of the world that our electoral system is a sham, and given ammunition to those who say that Singapore is not a real democracy. Now these things are true, but it is certainly not in the PAP's interests to admit them. We have always denied these accusations, and the number of opposition nominations in the coming election gives us another way to continue doing so.

We can now claim that the "large number" of opposition nominations is evidence of the health of our political process. We can crow about the openness, transparency and fairness of Singapore's electoral system - things that the opposition and other countries criticise us for not allowing. In doing so we will conveniently ignore the fact that in any real democracy the thought of 44% of seats in parliament going to the ruling party even before the any votes are cast would be unthinkable. That's just what has happened in this election though - in 37 of the total 84 seats in the Parliament the PAP was the only party to nominate a candidate. This is because in Singapore, the PAP use our control of the government and judiciary to rig the system to keep the opposition beaten down and weak so that an election will never, ever be a free fight.

Even though we now only have to win 6 of 37 seats being contested (that's a whopping 13%) to remain in government, it's important that we put on a show of having to work hard for victory. This evening, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kept up this lie by saying "So we are fighting this election to decide who will form the next government of Singapore". Everyone knows that the PAP cannot lose this election, but we will pretend that the opposition could actually win, because in a real democracy that sort of thing can actually happen, and we have to pretend that Singapore is a real democracy.

Which brings us to the point about the PAP needing opposition parties. Don't think that putting the opposition parties completely out of business would be in our interests. We could do that in a heartbeat if we wanted to, but it's better for us to have them around. We just cannot afford to let them become strong enough to pose a genuine electoral threat to the PAP. We cannot maintain our lie about being committed to democracy if there is no opposition, but nor can we allow an opposition movement to gain enough momentum to oust us from government.

That's why this nomination day has turned out perfectly for the PAP. Now we will claim that the opposition parties are giving us a run for our money and that our victory is not assured, even though all the cards are stacked in our favour. Then when we win, we'll claim our "victory" shows that Singaporeans truely trust us and are skeptical of the opposition. It's so easy.