It must have been a disappointing moment for Dr Chee Soon Juan. I’ve repeatedly posted the comment: “Only votes will count” after TOC’s photos of the impressive turnout at SDP’s rally. Indeed, the crowd didn’t matter. Only 38.79% of Bukit Batok residents gave Dr Chee their votes. Thinking that it could go either way, I had predicted a very narrow margin of victory which could be on either side. The by-election effect didn’t work in this case. Dr Chee had said at his rally that there is only an upside and no downside voting for the SDP. The ruling party has already formed the government. The projects in the pipeline would go on as planned. The SDP has found a very seasoned consultant for their town council management in the form of Mr Yeo Yeu Yong. Apparently, the majority of Bukit Batok residents didn’t feel that they need another voice in Parliament.
The people have spoken. And so has Dr Chee. I have a lot of respect for the man, but I cringed when he kept accusing the media for distorting what they’ve said. I’ve pointed out to Dr Chee on Facebook that people are not stupid. They know he is the underdog. They know the media has not done him any justice. But their attitude reads: so what? I think the main reason why Dr Chee lost is because he did not read the ground correctly. It’s also not completely true that he is fighting against the entire PAP machinery. This is a by-election after all and the people have nothing to lose by voting in an opposition MP.
A slightly different set of factors are playing out in this election. I envision this electorate (like any in Singapore) to comprise the haves and have nots. The haves would undoubtedly vote for the ruling party. What about the have nots? Only some will vote for the opposition to try to change the system. Dr Chee presents himself as belonging to this group. The other have nots are not interested in changing the system or rocking the boat. Neither do they see much hope in an MP who is just as financially challenged as they are! They see a lot more hope in canvassing for favours from the powers that be – favours which Dr Chee will have a hard time doing. From the start, it is obvious that Dr Chee’s campaign targets the have nots. During the last GE, he identified himself with those who can’t afford Haagen Dazs ice cream. Is that a good strategy? Many in the anti-elitist camp love his ideology, but does that impress the majority of the have nots?
Yes, Dr Chee no longer goes into the intellectual stratosphere to expound his political ideologies. He touches on down-to-earth bread and butter issues now. He targets the have nots who form the majority, but I think he may have overestimated the people’s keenness in reviving the gotong royong spirit. A caring constituency where people help one another? Neighbours look out for each other? Volunteers to do this and that for the constituency? I’m afraid Dr Chee is still not down-to-earth enough for the second group of have nots at Bukit Batok. There is nothing better to convey a sense of security than wealth, power and resources. The PAP could have asked “Do you want an MP who is as poor as you are?”. Hand on heart, how many will kee chiu?
The famous sentence uttered by a female contestant in a reality show in China vividly illustrates the ultra-pragmatism of Chinese women – a mentality that is sweeping across this part of the world. She would rather marry a rich man she doesn’t love and sit crying in a Mercedes Benz than to laugh while riding on the back of a bicycle ridden by a man she loves.
It doesn’t make sense to some of us, but it seems to me that the electorate has changed in the same direction, not just at Bukit Batok, but everywhere else in Singapore. And I see this as a tragic trend. There was a time when residents of Hougang and Potong Pasir loved and supported their financially challenged MPs in spite of all the threats and “sanctions” that the ruling party imposed on them. This group of proud, righteous folks seems to be petering out. As we can see from the dwindling support for the opposition in their strongholds in GE2015, even the voters in these 2 wards have become more pragmatic. What more can be said of other wards? It just saddens me to think that Low Thia Khiang will have absolutely no chance of winning Hougang under present circumstances – by speaking in Teochew and visiting funerals. People don’t care about whether their MP has a heart or has done his best, putting in a lot more effort than the rich and powerful who just carry out their duties on a part-time basis. There is a shift in thinking now. What do I get for supporting you? The richest, most generous and influential guy wins. Extrapolating the trend, Dr Tan Cheng Bock will have a hard time winning the next Presidential Elections. His opponent’s unfair advantage will be granted not by the powers that be but by the voters themselves. No need to litter obstacles in Dr Tan’s way.
Coming back to Bukit Batok, even bicycle romance is a thing of the past in Singapore and Dr Chee is still talking about gotong royong spirit. Again, I salute him, but nowadays, in Singapore politics, only Santapolitics works. Not being a politician, I can afford to offend the electorate which has tragically lost a big part of what defines us as compassionate human beings. Let me recount an episode which illustrates what I mean by Santapolitics.
Over the weekend, my MP and his entourage came knocking on our doors. I was first greeted by a bunch of very enthusiastic RC members who asked me if I have any issues to discuss with my MP. They also tried to get my contact details and urged me to join the RC. In the background, I heard my neighbours busy dictating their wishlist to the MP. One even went back into her flat to change into a nice dress to take a selfie with him. What’s everybody talking about? Covered walkways, cycling tracks, rubbish bins, mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats, playgrounds …. and for a moment I thought that Santa Claus was here, accompanied by the exterminator. The RC members talked to me about the new covered walkway, I smiled and thanked them. Well, Mr Ng wanted to shake my hand at least, but he had to ask me a few touchy questions which led to a 30-minute discussion/debate. Many of the things I said are covered in Red Dot Rants and some of the postings in this blog. The RC members who did so much elaboration on upgrading works were stunned and completely silent as the MP tried his best to explain the government’s policies to me. They were only prepared to answer questions about upgrading works and the future construction of amenities. Rightly or wrongly, this is Singapore. They don’t see MP as lawmakers. They see them as Santa Claus and the RC volunteers are not very well-prepared to answer questions about policies from this atypical Singaporean. In the end, my MP said something that almost made me laugh. It went something like this.
“You and I don’t have simple solutions for the issues you brought up. But If you look at our kids, they are much smarter than we are. Given our experience, I’m sure they can come up with solutions when they become leaders.”
I see it as an exit strategy. It’s certainly unfair for me to take up so much of his time and deprive others a chance to dictate their wishlist. I initially thought that this conversation would be a waste of time. But I think I did gain something out of this exchange. At least I’m reassured that the folks at the RC won’t ask me to join them anymore.
© Chan Joon Yee