Saturday, 5 September 2015

Thoughts on the Singapore General Election 2015

Ok, this post is probably of no interest to the non-Singaporeans (and I'm guessing even the Singaporeans are already sick of reading these type of posts), but I've got to get some thoughts off my chest, since I'm not in Singapore and can't ask the candidates directly.

For the record, I'm in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, which means that it's the PAP (Vivian Balakrishnan, Christopher de Souza, Liang Eng Hwa, Sim Ann), vs the SDP (Chee Soon Juan, Chong Wai Fung, Paul Tambyah, Sidek Mallek). Since I already know what the PAP is doing, I decided that I should be fair to the opposition, and headed over to their website to read their alternative policies. I read Healthcare, Economy, Population, had to stop, and didn't manage to sleep till 2 am.

By the way, my mom, Nic (and probably Bekah) and Nic's friend now think I'm weird. Because apparently most people aren't kept awake by politics.

Ok anyway, my thoughts on the three papers I read. By the way, I sort of jotted things down as I read, so it's best if you go to the above link and read all the papers as well:

Healthcare
  • Basically, the SDP wants to overhaul their medical system, and one thing they repeatedly say is that they want to change Singaporean's mindset (or at least, that's the impression I got). My question: How do you know you CAN change Singaporean's mindsets in four years? 
  • Their proposed system reminds me of Japan’s healthcare coverage and pension model. Are they aware of the fact that Singapore is an ageing society, and that to depend solely on the young to provide for the elderly works only when the population pyramid is wider at the base? (or ideally, bee-hive?) If they intend to have foreign talents pay as well, then how will they keep Singapore competitive? 
  • Why should we decrease defence spending to increase healthcare spending? Can you prove that this will not affect Singapore in any way? 

Economy 

Oooh, my favourite. Econs student here
  • How does not wanting to turn into a welfare state coexist with increasing social spending. Is there some sort of magical line, or has the party managed to channel the spirt of a Wonderlandian Queen?
  • What is the link between economy and democracy? Why are you harping about democracy in an econs paper? This doesn't seem to be a discussion between a free-market economy and a centrally-planned economy, so I do not get this whole section.
  • What does encouraging entrepreneurship have to do with increasing productivity and hiring Singaporeans first? I thought encouraging entrepreneurship meant getting more people to start their own business, but I don't see any of that here. I could probably quote Inigo Montoya here.
  • Ok, you guys really, really like using J.K. Rowling as an example of why the welfare system will work. Please stop with the anecdotal fallacy. 
  • As for the minimum wage thing, well, there are lots of articles on the net about this. But my question would be: What is your calculated probability that the minimum wage does NOT raise costs to such an extent that the prices of goods ends up being raised? 
  • When they keep comparing us to the EU, I can only conclude that they like the EU very much. So, are they saying that Singapore has a similar culture and hence similar policies can be implemented? Does that mean in a few decades time we can expect a Greece/Italy/Spain-sort of situation, especially if the AEC is completed on time and/or progresses further.
  • About their unemployment benefits: What are the percentages of workers who are retrenched and not asked to leave (and won’t companies just pressure workers to resign instead of firing them since they have to fund 10% of the plan)? If it’s only a small percentage, then what’s the use? And why exclude people, I can easily make the case that workers who are fired for disruptive behaviour are fired BECAUSE the job does not suit them and it harms their emotional health. Shouldn’t these people get the benefits and help to find an appropriate job too?
  • About raising taxes: I would really like to see Singapore's Laffer curve. What evidence do you have that we're not at the optimal point for Singapore? Just saying that other countries have higher taxes doesn't mean that we should have higher taxes too. 
  • I’m very suspicious of the assertion that “the PAP government has through the decades continued to push our economy towards competing with our neighbours on low wages” and not “upgrading our system to better compete on the platforms of innovation and efficiency.” Are Singapore wages today lower than say, Malaysia? Than Vietnam? Does the SDP know what the Industrial Internet/Industry 4.0 is? Are they aware of the SAP Innovation centre or the 2 Emerson facilities? Or, in the realm of policy, PIC? (Although there are certain innovation policies which are being abused, though from what I know, the government is cracking down on it)
  • I am disturbed by the fact that under their plans for increasing productivity, they make no mention of what they want to do for women, to help them in the workplace. Although Singapore’s statistics for representation is not that bad, compared to world averages, it is far from equal.
Education:
a.k.a. the part that really got me upset. 
  • Where are the policies for increasing the quality and quantity of teachers, which will be needed to carry out those changes? Finland, their example, is highly selective of their teachers, is it possible for Singapore to do this and still reduce class size (Which will necessitate either more teachers or the teachers themselves working longer hours). Reviewing teacher training and increasing/upgrading training says nothing about how you will attract good teachers, and lots of them.
  • Ok, and in their tertiary student, they want to "scrap tuition grant scheme for foreign students" because "[g]ood universities will attract good and, equally important, fee-paying students. There is no necessity to spend so much public funds to attract foreign students". For all their talk on how they want to make a more compassionate and cooperative society, they show NO compassion towards the foreigners in our midst (in this paper and the economics paper). This is basically what upset me so much. So they want to deprive poor but deserving students from foreign countries a chance to better their lives by studying in Singapore? Got it. It's nice to know that someone with more money is better than me (I'm basically like the ASEAN scholars. since I'm a MEXT scholar) because they can pay their way and I can't. Not without sizeable loans that my family can't afford (I have four three siblings ETA: Oops. I'm so used to saying 四人兄弟 (basically, 4 siblings aka 4 children in the family) in Japanese that I used it literally in English. My bad. I think if there was one more of us, my mom would be at her wits end). 
  • Basically, I have friends who are foreign scholars, and I'm a foreign scholar myself, so I am very disturbed that they want to reduce the international presence. I feel that it's vital for Singaporeans to be exposed to students from other countries. And not just rich, fee-paying students. We should be making friends with a variety of people, from all walks of life and all nationalities. 
  • About replacing the scholarship system with a loan system: Maybe it's because I'm in shuukatsu (job hunting) mode, but I see the value in getting students jobs after graduation rather than asking them to pay back money they might not have. 
Misc. Questions

I am very disturbed by the fact that I see nothing about foreign affairs. To badly paraphrase, no country is a (literal) island. So even though we are quite literally an island (ok, that was not the best metaphor), I want to ask the opposition (in general):

  • What is their opinion on the AEC and TTP?
  • What do they think of Yasukuni?
  • Who will they back in the South China Sea disputes?
  • Who do they support - the students in the umbrella protests or Chinese government. How will that change their foreign policy?
  • I could ask about affairs beyond Asia, but that might be too many questions. 
Why do I care about this? 
So just now, I mentioned that I've been asked why/told I'm weird for caring so deeply when I'm not even in Singapore. I actually bought a ticket to go to Tokyo just so I could vote, which means I will be rushing from a class camp (teacher won't let me leave early because "elections are not a valid reason) in Beppu to Fukuoka Airport to get to Tokyo.

Well, you're going to think I'm weird, but I worry about a black swan event. What if the opposition wins all the wards? It might be a very low possibility, but black swan events have happened before, and they will happen again. So I want the opposition to be of the very best quality. I want to know that even if the government changes, I have nothing to worry.

So far, I've not seen anything to assuage my fears.

I don't want a government that focuses on populist policies, that wants to put Singaporeans in a comfortable bubble. I want a government that will make the hard choices that lead to long term success. 

Maybe I read the phrase "running to stand still" too many times in my BM textbook, but I do believe that if Singapore does not continually improve, we will not be able to compete with the world. And we cannot improve by putting ourselves in a bubble. We should be going out into the world, and letting the world into our country, to learn from them, and to take the best that the world has to offer and make it uniquely Singapore. 

Final thoughts on the candidates themselves
Ok, I've been talking about the policies up till now, but I guess I should say something about the candidates too.

PAP:
Vivian Balakrishnan: I know him as the minister in charge of the Smart Nation Initiative. It just so happens that my research project happens to be related to the Smart Nation Initiative, so when I sent him (and Tharman Shanmugaratnam) a four or five paragraph email full of questions, I got a nice, detailed reply the next day. 
Christopher de Souza: He once helped my grandma by driving her to the hospital (for a checkup). And he remembers (at the very least) my sibling's names, which is cool because our names are rare and hard to pronounce. And when I was in Singapore, I remember him visiting the residents quite often. 
Liang Eng Hwa: No idea who he is. I guess he's not active in my neighbourhood. 
Sim Ann: Well, she was visiting residents in the non-election season. I remember cause I was sent a photo of my aunt and uncle with her.

SDP:
Chee Soon Juan: I think Chiam See Tong's a cool guy, an upstanding politician, and I trust his judgement. Let's just say that Mr. Chiam didn't seem to have anything nice to say about Mr. Chee in that old speech of his I read.
Chong Wai Fung: I know nothing about her
Paul Tambyah: I know nothing about him
Sidek Mallek: I know nothing about him.

On the bright side, the SDP guy that shook my hand but did not answer my questions in the previous GE doesn't seem to be there.

Ok, seriously, serious last thing
Tin Pei Ling isn't running in my ward, but I have to say that her response to the sexist claim that motherhood is her "weakness" is awesome.

And if you made it all the way to the end, please enjoy this picture of pineapple tarts:

Because at the end of the day, we will still have Singapore food.