berthahenson

A political performance

In News Reports, Politics on January 20, 2013 at 12:38 am

Go buy The Sunday Times. If only to read Zuraidah Ibrahim’s piece on her experience covering elections in Singapore and what has or hasn’t changed. I love it when the veterans write, because they have institutional memory to draw upon and can give far greater context to events than a newbie reporter, however smart he or she is.

Those who are older and have followed politics over the years will recognise some of what she wrote, like former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s assertion that opposition-run town councils will lead to your rubbish chutes being clogged (I haven’t heard of this happening yet).

Or what he would have done to SDP’s Chee Soon Juan who once heckled then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in public asking “Where is our money?’’ (By the way, Mr Goh, when taunted, made a show of looking into his shirt pocket). I guessed Mr Lee would have decked Dr Chee instead (Now, that would have been an event worth capturing for the record!)

You might remember too the crowds who turned up at Eunos GRC rallies to hear the dapper lawyer Francis Seow, Singapore’s one-time Solicitor-General, who stood on the Workers’ Party platform, castigating the PAP government as a bunch of “eunuchs’’.

More recently, at the GE before the last, there was this dramatic scene of a harried court officer who had to mount the rally stage to deliver Dr Chee a summons. He and Dr Chee had been playing hide-and-seek all day.

Ms Ibrahim described election time as Singapore without the make-up. It’s also politics un-plugged, methinks. What I have always remembered when covering past elections is not quite what the candidates said at rallies, but how they treated people during their rounds. Ms Ibrahim referred to Dr Seet Ai Mee’s “chop chop’’ efficiency during her rounds of Bukit Gombak during one GE and SDP’s Ling How Doong’s more avuncular style. The people picked him. Electability is also about likeability. Whether that likeability translates into real ability as a member of Parliament, however, is something else.

Here’s a suggestion on assessing an MP’s performance.

Each MP should put up a yearly account to their constituents of what they did or said in Parliament. How many sessions did they turn up for? How many Bills did they vote on – and what did they say about them in Parliament? How many questions did they ask from ministers – both oral and written. What sort of answers did they get – and did the questions work in getting things done?

I’m sure (or almost sure) that every MP keeps some kind of record or at least their legislative assistants did (how many have such assistants anyway?)

I think this keeps constituents politically attuned and keeps the MPs accountable. Simply saying vote for me again (I am looking ahead to the next GE) because I am kind, good, committed etc and my party has done what and what… isn’t good enough. Thing is, what have YOU done lately for me as my voice in Parliament?

This yearly accounting could also include attendance at Meet-the-People sessions and the issues raised. The Prime Minister earlier this week gave his own report card for his Teck Ghee residents. I found it useful, because it gives citizens an idea of the issues that affect the people who need help. It’s probably only half a barometer of people’s worries – because the middle-class are more likely to take matters into their own hands than seek a petition from the MP. Now can the other MPs do the same? Or collectively as a party? The Workers’ Party too. If we want to have a Singapore Conversation, it would be good to know the real worries of the people, especially those who are down and out.

Now, back to the by-election. Some random thoughts, some of which are tongue-in-cheek and some not. Leave you to go figure.

a. PM Lee said Dr Koh Poh Koon could be more than an MP if elected. I think he said the same for defeated Aljunied GRC candidate Ong Ye Kung too.

b. Reform Party’s Kenneth Jeyaretnam will give one tenth of his annual MP allowance, SDA’s Desmond Lim will give one-third. I waiting to hear from WP’s Lee Li Lian and Dr Koh…

c. ST reported that WP had to defend itself from criticisms of its parliamentary performance at rallies -that they were too soft on the PAP. Thing is, I don’t think I have read anything, at least not in MSM, about WP being too soft and should have whacked harder.

d. ST reported WP’s Sylvia Lim saying that some things are submitted to G (alternative suggestions on certain policies)behind “closed doors’’. Goodness! That sounds too cosy a relationship! Why not tell the rest of us what they were?

e. Both WP and PAP candidates and their supporters are trying desperately hard to paint the candidates as “real’’ people. I suppose they are thinking about the likeability factor.

f. Given the “local’’ issues in the ward – not enough coffeeshops, ever-upgrading Rivervale Paza, lack of childcare, bus services – do they make you feel like ex-MP Michael Palmer had been sleeping on the job? No pun intended.

g. Kenneth Jeyaretnam has filed a police report about threats to his family. Desmond Lim has threatened to sue those who are asking if his volunteers were “paid’’. I haven’t heard anything about police reports and law suits emanating from the PAP. Yet?

h. TNP reported that Punggol-east residents are tired of shaking hands and having their quiet estate disrupted by by-election activities. I think the more important question should be: Are they intending to go to the rallies? Or is that crowd at night with feet in muddy waters merely gawkers and sight-seers who cannot influence the vote? (They make for nice pictures though)

i. Finally, does Ms Lee Li Lian mind being called Ah Lian?

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  1. I found it strange when watching the news on TV yesterday. They had reports on PAP, SDA and RP candidates walking the grounds at PE, shaking hands and handing out flyers. However, there was no report on WP. I wish media report things as they truly happen and let viewers judge for themselves.

  2. Forget the campaign for a minute. The local press has to do better. One headline that was circulated on Facebook (yet again) was “Lee Li Lian hopes to champion the elderly’s welfare too”.

    The “too” suggests a comparison, but the article only mentions the WP. I haven’t seen the print edition, but I think the word “too” is there probably because the paper has a spread of articles that leads prominently with the PAP’s elderly care policy. So what the ST has done here is not only to diminish the WP’s policy in terms of placement, but also patronise it even before you have read a single word of the copy.

    The RP led the way on the ramshackle mall in Punggol East. Funny that I’ve yet to see any headlines to the effect of “Dr Koh vows to fix Rivervale Mall too”.

    I’ve also often complained that the local press copies the same terms that politicians use, like “take care of a ward”. MPs put it that way for a self-serving purpose, nothing wrong with it. But journalists shouldn’t then appropriate that kind of vocabulary. First of all, “taking care of a ward” doesn’t describe an MP’s main job – which is to be part of the most senior voting body in the country. And secondly, no respectable journalist should ever appropriate his or her subjects’ own propaganda.

    Maybe these criticisms are unfair, because the local press today is admittedly quite far removed from the bad old days. I remember the New Paper in 1997 openly condemned the Workers’ Party with three tickboxes and a headline (“Is this the opposition you deserve?” or words to that effect). Don’t know what you were doing on that day but it couldn’t have been the best day of your career.

  3. I like the idea of the parliamentary report card. For the sharing of MPS perspectives: I think a number of politicians do that quite actively already. But featuring these views in the ongoing SGConversation would be beneficial too.

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