On 1 September 2023, Singapore welcomed a new elected president. Some Singaporeans are rejoicing. Some are relieved. Some are mourning. Some are shocked and many are disappointed. I’m none of the above.
Interestingly, a friend of mine was surprised that people who often disagree with the government like Tommy Koh, Jack Sim and Donald Low all threw their weight behind Mr Tharman. Frankly, even though they have my respect, I’ve never seen these characters as real dissidents. Incidentally, every single one of my prof friends, even those who are not pathetic academics, wished that Tharman would win because they consider Tan Kin Lian to be beneath them and unfit to be their president. Yes, elitism exists among critics’ of the “ruling class”.
Even more interestingly, Mr Tan himself is more than a little surprised and disappointed. That’s because he has been naively thinking that the ground sentiments would translate into votes. No, he accepted the results graciously and certainly didn’t accuse the ELD of rigging the elections. Neither did he go on Twitter to instigate protests. Although I expected the results and I’m still happy in the minority, there are several issues that need to be clarified. First, is suggestion that Tan Kin Lian is Singapore’s Donald Trump.
Some of us may know that Tan Kin Lin has always been helpful with advice on financial matters. Back in 2008 when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and many Singaporeans lost their shirts from investment in derivatives like minibonds, Mr Tan was a prominent volunteer at Hong Lim Park, helping people seek compensation from banks which had used misleading sales tactics on them. Since then, if you have been following his social media, he has given his personal attention even to people who have casually consulted him. He may lack the air of aristocracy, but he is certainly an approachable guy.
Interestingly, some people voted for Tharman but asked Tan Kin Lian for help. Why? Because Tharman is not so “approachable”. Who is the “free rider” now? This is so Singaporean.
Now who in his right mind would call Tan Kin Lian Singapore’s Donald Trump? Sure, he’s a bit goofy and ignorant of things outside his area of expertise, but is Mr Tan a megalomaniac? Does he claim that nobody knows more about almost every subject than he does? Donald Trump? Yao mo gao chor ah?
Of course, it isn’t surprising that Mr Tan lost the presidential elections. A Singaporean friend remarked that only Tharman is presentable on the world stage. I reckon than many people think so too, but what about the “protest votes”? To be fair, the voice of protest on social media isn’t weak at all. In the weeks running up to the presidential elections, social media has been abuzz with anticipation of protest votes in response to inadequate investigation into the Ridout Road expose and some minister‘s paid leave pending investigation. The results surprised and disgusted some people.
Of course, it’s a sarcastic statement from Naufal Muhammad but frankly, I can’t imagine the results turning out any other way. The only part that needs some explanation is, what about the scandals? Well, when scandals plagued the party, we saw the popular analysts talking about how trust in the government has been eroded and how this could lead to the end of one-party rule. We’ve seen all the POFMA and even a lawsuit being applied here. Will these “hamfisted” moves backfire? I’ve never; not for one moment, thought that they would. That’s because I understand Singaporeans better.
Prominent activist (though some of my friends who only read newsPAPers have never heard of him) Mr Tay Kheng Soon even predicted all doom and gloom for the party judging from the few flags that were displayed on National Day. I told him not to be too hopeful. These folks have clearly underestimated how kiasu, kiasi, gian png Singaporeans can be. Operation Ong Lai:
While some folks were genuinely angry and many were joking about a minister’s phone that automatically deleted messages, make no mistake, almost none of them had the slightest wish for an end to the party’s dominance. Paradoxically for Singapore, the only way for the opposition to gain any seats at all is to continue to guarantee that they will not topple the one-party rule.
You may find this odd, but the number of genuine opposition supporters may vary over an ultra short campaign period. At the beginning when all the dirty linen is exhibited, you could be forgiven to think that the ruling party is doomed. But when the ground sentiments start to look really bad for the party, many of the most vocal critics will shut up and quietly cast their kiasi votes.
Apart from turning simple folks into amateur investigators and prosecutors, behind all the jokes and mockery, the recent Ridout and Iswaran scandals actually stoked Singaporeans’ fear and worry about their one and only bao jiak investment – their home. What’s going to happen to property prices if the party were brought down? Democracy means responsibility for my own decisions. Who is going to make all the decisions and tell me how to live my life when I’ve been spoon-fed and held by the hand all my life? And while many people around me complain about not being able to retire, the majority know not what to do if they were really given the chance to retire. I had predicted that instead of causing the government to lose support, the recent scandals might have the opposite effect. We can’t call it sympathy votes. How about kiasi votes? Change scares the shit out of clueless, spoon-fed Singaporeans.
A PLP (pathetic lightning pleaser) friend enjoying good passive income after retirement often told me that I should be thankful that my life is much better than those in neighbouring countries. But wait a minute. Aren’t we comparing apples with oranges? Shouldn’t we compare past and present in the same country?
An Indonesian accountant told me that we shouldn’t complain about our MRT when it’s already so good. I told her that she should have come to Singapore 30 years ago. It was even better back then. Unfortunately, she was not born yet.
10 years ago, I was enjoying semi-retirement. Working part-time was sufficient for me to enjoy a satisfactory standard of living. What happened now? I need to return to full time work and even then, I’m only earning half of what I used to earn. Am I better off? That’s how we should compare.
Regardless of who became president, there is nothing that he can do about our need to “welcome” 9% GST in a few months’ time. I must now get used to going to the supermarket early in the morning and pick up the “quick sale” food items and restrict holiday destinations to Indonesia and Thailand. Of course, many Singaporeans can still afford to eat well, but we will all be squeezed one way or another as everyone in the food chain scrambles for “margin of safety” by squeezing other Singaporeans in excess of 9%. Folks in the position to squeeze others may not need to worry so much. Those at the bottom of the food chain will suffer. Ultimately, this society is tailor-made to suit the selfish and uncaring.
Someone asked me what I thought of Tan Kin Lian’s logo and campaign slogan. Well, I quite like the logo. Unfortunately, it can’t be eaten. Trust and hope are abstract concepts that can’t beat the taste of a sweet, sour, juicy fruit that you can distribute freely.