A little on the by-election

1. http://ifonlysingaporeans.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/chance-to-see-spore-without-its-make-up.html

A fascinating insight into elections over the years from the viewpoint of a deputy editor, with many fun facts for the younger generation – especially interesting because a lot of the remarks are made with the benefit (and the political safety) of hindsight. Note how it portrays the uncertainty surrounding election results – chillingly accurate (even Bertha Henson got it wrong!).

On a sidenote, I wonder if “likeability” will remain a crucial factor in future elections – as the Internet generation becomes of voting age, it appears that candidates must stand up to scrutiny from more avenues. Being affable on the ground may not make you more popular among voters who don’t themselves tread the ground. We might have already seen this in Potong Pasir.

2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YM-b_ZvxfXg

Wondering how former minister George Yeo had moved on from his role in the cabinet, I did a couple of Google searches which eventually led me to this video of his final press conference as Foreign Minister back in 2011. To me, this is one of the most significant videos of Singapore’s political era (I would add to this list the funnies, PM Lee’s apology rally, and perhaps last year’s National Day Rally, but I don’t claim to watch many).

George Yeo is a very measured speaker – no surprise, having helmed Singapore’s diplomacy for so many years – and it’s interesting to see how he melds the views of the old guard (with the subtle suggestion of “getting our domestic politics right”) with his acknowledgement of the changing environment and his attempt to describe the change (throughout, but an especially eloquent expression about 22 minutes in). This is certainly something which should be chronicled in our history books.

3. I had a surprising encounter and subsequent conversation with a Bangladeshi who was born in Johor in the 1950s/60s, now living in the UK. He’d moved from Malaysia because he’d felt pessimistic about the country’s bumiputera policies and future. A big fan of LKY, he had observed and marvelled at Singapore’s progress from across the Causeway.

According to him, many of his contemporaries had left Johor for Singapore and worked their way up the system, many of them identifying with Singapore’s meritocratic system. The lunchtime chat was too short, but there were a few of his viewpoints I found rather intriguing. I’ve clearly mixed quite a lot of my personal thoughts into this, but anyway:

a) The idea that the immigrants who first settled in Singapore developed a national identity through the policies that were introduced – scattered examples include National Service (well, obviously), the ban on littering (apparently, when fines were enforced, Singapore became litter-free “overnight”) and meritocracy. Are we Singaporean because we have been conditioned to act/ think in a certain way?

b) The idea that introducing foreign workers from a different culture threatens to uproot some of these values already ensconced within the society – he made a distinction between a “Singaporean Indian” and an “Indian Indian”. Clearly, there are strong arguments against xenophobia, but by classifying and dismissing such acts/ comments as “xenophobic”, is there a real problem we’re avoiding here? Could this just be the ugly manifestation of rejection from the system, akin to how organ transplants are rejected from the body?

c) Most people believe the largest threat to Singapore’s survival is comfort and complacency. Indeed, there are people who pinpoint the majority of our domestic problems on the “complacency” of the ruling party. The conversation, however, made me wonder if we (the younger generation) had lost the collective willpower that our forefathers clearly possessed. If that’s so, perhaps it would be worth turning the mirror towards ourselves as well. I know, this is a very Old Guard mentality, but who can say who’s right here?

4. On spoiled votes – I’ve said this before somewhere, but I still feel strongly that people should have the right to spoil their votes if they are undecided. A feature (I would say flaw) of voting in general is that response captured in a single vote is binary – either 1 or 0 for a candidate. I don’t claim to know much about democratic and election systems, but this looks flawed on the surface because it forces people to make a binary choice, even though they may only be slightly inclined towards a certain candidate.

I do think it’s worse to vote in favour of a candidate you’re only 51% in favour of than to spoil your vote, both from the viewpoint of fairness and fidelity (i.e. mapping candidate preferences to votes). An example: if 900 people with a 51% preference for a candidate voted one way and 100 people with a 100% preference for the other candidate voted the other way, the result would be 90%-10% – both unfair and unrepresentative to the extent to which each candidate is preferred. Obviously, the example could be taken the other way as well, although the result is less skewed in terms of absolute preferences. If all the people with a slight preference chose to spoil their votes, the other candidate would win with 100% of votes.

Evidently, the problem here is the voting system itself and not the people who chose to spoil their votes (though it seems to be the best compromise, given the impracticality of other systems). The only valid reason why I would condemn spoiled votes is if they were unintentional – but the solution to that is education.

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