[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Thursday, April 30, 2009

[Remarks at the ASEAN-US Business Council Luncheon, 28 April 2009]

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

[Inventor of Segway helping Heartware]
When Raymond Huang of Heartware (www.heartware.org) told me that Dean Kamen was prepared to help Heartware's Youth Enterprise Development, I was thrilled. I happily agreed to sign the document appointing him as Patron. Dean Kamen is of course the genius who invented the Segway. His latest product the Ibot is simply incredible. See the videos below.

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This weekend will be the end of this year's Singapore International Film Festival.

It's my first year catching films at the SIFF. There were many other films which I wanted to watch but had no time to slot them into my schedule. But I have been inspired so much that I have decided to compile some videos for this post. Maybe it's because I am on an emotional high.

The first, is this trailer which (presumably) kicks off every SIFF screening. I watched this just last weekend at Singapore Panorama Shorts 1.

The second is a trailer for last year's SIFF. It is meaningful because of the message that it sends.

And finally, an inspirational trailer, also from last year's festival which comprises the thoughts about the Singapore International Film Festival. Highly emotional and touching.

I look forward to next year's edition with anticipation. And want more people to join me in watching great films.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

[A new model of political governance]
Ho Kwon Ping's thoughts at the Asia Journalism Fellowship seminar Singapore Beyond Lee Kuan Yew: Institutionalising the Singapore Way goes beyond political systems of governance that we know about. And it presents many comparative dimensions.

"Singapore’s equilibrium is stable, but static. There is no process by which a ruling party paradoxically, renews itself through defeat in the polls. And by which an entire nation self-corrects by one party taking over from another quite regularly. Obama after Bush, Blair after Thatcher – these are all the pendulum swings of a dynamically stable equilibrium."

This sentence reflects, in a sense, why the Singapore system does not tolerate failure. Further, this sentence spells the fate of Singapore without the PAP.

Ho Kwon Ping acknowledges that the Singapore system is one which is responsive to its citizens and able to deliver better livelihoods and capable of leadership self-renewal beyond Lee Kuan Yew.

He states two qualifications: first, whether political renewal within the PAP can produce leaders of sufficient calibre that Singaporeans will continue to support this unique one-party-dominant system. And second, how the Singapore society and its people fare and fend for themselves beyond Lee Kuan Yew.

And that is why he says that the ruling PAP had better be sustainably competent. Internal political self-renewal of the PAP has to sustain beyond Lee Kuan Yew according to Ho Kwon Ping.

This self-renewal is what I am sure of. I recall one incident at a Young PAP dialogue session where we were discussing the PAP after Lee Kuan Yew. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had then said that the PAP system is like a bus - it will just go on rolling because the wheels have been put on and the system has been tested.

Ho Kwon Ping, through comparing Singapore and China, posits that there could be a new emerging model of governance: "Both the PAP and the CCP believe that they can buck the trends of history and create sustainable, uncorrupted, vibrant and responsive parties which can rule uninterrupted for much longer than a half century. Certainly, their track records to date give reason to take their attempts seriously, even if the weight of history is not on their side. If they do succeed, however, they will have created a new model of political governance which will genuinely challenge the fundamental assumptions of Western liberal democracy with its requisite two-party model."

He further feels that Singapore will outlive not only Lee Kuan Yew but even his own party with respect to his second qualification.

The Singapore that Ho Kwon Ping sees, will continue to be shaped beyond Lee Kuan Yew - slowly liberalising, accommodating and changing towards the demands of the new generation in incremental steps.

But I feel that this does not mean an overnight change or an about-turn, and it is what Ho Kwon Ping acknowledges. This is so because incrementalism is in some sense path-dependent as Sociologists would know.

Indeed the seminar has been insightful. Both speakers shared many examples. There were comparative elements which peppered both speeches. I also finally see the people whose works I have been reading - Tan Tarn How, Simon Tay, Chua Beng Huat - in person.

The question and answer session was very intellectual. Notions of whether the PAP will divide after Lee Kuan Yew, the emergence of internal critics and what impact it would have on the cohesiveness of the PAP, rule of law versus rule of man, whether the Lee Kuan Yew way is the Singapore way and the price to pay for the Singapore way.

For the Singapore way there are political trade-offs but how can the PAP ensure its sustainability? What ultimately then is the cost of having the Singapore system? Are Singaporeans prepared to pay the cost?

I am not allowed to go in-depth for the question and answer session and I hope the broad strokes I have painted will give a jist of the discussion many of which were interesting ideas. I left the session not with many answers but with many questions unanswered but I will find those answers as I observe how the Singapore system evolves and changes in my generation.

[Can Singapore fail?]
“In 1981, Singapore’s long-ruling People’s Action Party was shocked when it suffered its first defeat at the polls in many years, even though the contest was in a single constituency. I asked Dr Goh Keng Swee, one of Singapore’s three great founding fathers and the architect of Singapore’s economic miracle, why the PAP lost. He replied, “Kishore, we failed because we did not even conceive of the possibility of failure”.”

That was one of the three possible scenarios Singapore will face after the retirement of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (MM Lee). That anecdote was shared by Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore in a seminar this afternoon.

In his opening address, he had acknowledged the sensitivity of the topic and that it was a politically charged topic.

The topic, Singapore Beyond Lee Kuan Yew: Institutionalising the Singapore Way, from Prof Mahbubani's viewpoint was answered using three questions. One of which was the possible scenarios Singapore will face after the retirement of MM Lee. The other two are whether it is legitimate to pose the question of Singapore’s prospects beyond MM Lee and what has Singapore done to ensure the protection of MM Lee's legacy.

I was quite encouraged that he did not side-step the question but dealt with it honestly. Prof Mahbubani also cited Samuel P. Huntington, who is well known for his works on democracy, which I had blogged about more than a year ago when I tried to analyse the prospects of democracy in Singapore.

To cut to the chase, I will summarise the answers that were provided. Firstly, Prof Mahbubani acknowledged that it is legitimate to discuss Singapore’s prospects beyond MM Lee. Citing MM Lee's achievements in nation-building, his wise advice as a statesman and his power to rally and persuasiveness. "His retirement will naturally create a huge political vacuum," he adds.

To answer the second question, seven important measures were stated. The development of an exceptional education system, national service which has been deeply ingrained into Singapore's DNA, strong public society and strong civil society, a politcal party that has managed to win elections over time while dealing with the successful transitions of two Prime Ministers, multi-racial harmony, meritocracy and a culture of honestly in the public, private and people sectors.

For the final, three scenarios were posed: Singapore will make a smooth transition, the legacy of MM Lee will be reversed, and a mixed third scenario where the PAP continues to rule Singapore successfully but it has to do so with a strong opposition movement. The latter two are quite unlikely and improbable.

These three scenarios resonate with the elements of transition to democracy - transformation, replacement and transplacement.

But the key point that I feel he was trying to make is that one needs to consider failure when attempting to succeed. What I took home is this: we should look at how we can fail, why others fail and what we can learn from those who have failed.

And this is part one of my post on the Temasek Foundation – Nanyang Technological University Asia Journalism Fellowship Seminar which was held at the National Museum this afternoon.

I will blog about part two tomorrow, which is based on Ho Kwon Ping's opening message and perhaps paint the mood of the question and answer session.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank NTU SCI Assistant Prof Cherian George for allowing me to attend this seminar.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

[Dialogue with Residents of Chartwell NC]
They laughed when I recalled that the last time I met residents of Chartwell NC was during a rainy, windy evening when the only subject of interest was the proposed dormitory for foreign workers. This time, we met at a resident's house at Penhurst Place. The mood was much more relaxed. We started by congratulating Lim Hwee Hua on becoming Singapore's first woman minister. There was some interest about my recent experience at Pattaya.

One lady worried about the lack of information about safety provided to Singaporeans who travel to other countries. Another raised the issue of inconsiderate cyclists, the maintenance of covered drains and better amenities for those on wheelchairs. There were a number of questions about the economy - how long this downturn would be, help for those who can't service their mortgage loans, dependence on foreign workers. Hwee Hua and I answered the questions as best we could. Before the session concluded, we took some group pictures.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Saturday, April 18, 2009

[Post exam chill out]
The girls Ramona and Eunice had earlier asked me to join them for steak at Aston's at The Cathay. I had to give it a miss as my jog at Hougang Stadium was delayed as a certain school was having their sports day.

I had planned to join them for tea in the afternoon and they suggested watching Taken instead. I'm not going to give a full review of Taken here but will aim to summarise my thoughts on the movie.

Apart from the stellar cast, I immediately recalled the name at the start of the film credits - Luc Besson. He wrote and produced the movie. I met Luc Besson in Singapore in 2005 during the 117th IOC Session in Singapore. He was in town to as part of the team for the 2012 Olympic Games. It was a close encounter and the IOC Session was a memorable experience for me.

Essentially, the movie has two overlying struggles - familial relationships and money over life. I loved Liam Neeson's action sequences and his desire to save his daughter who had been kidnapped and engulfed in the activities of an overseas triad. Passionate but not as touching as other love stories I have watched.

Dinner was at a friend's place and before that, Eunice and I went over the the Singapore Art Museum to catch the exhibition on Wu Guanzhong, This is Not a Print! and At Home Abroad. The latter is an exhibition by five Singapore artists, one of which is Ming Wong who is presenting works at this year's Venice Biennale.

Indeed it is Ming's work on social prejudice that triggered several thoughts. Angst Essen/Eat Fear is a story of a German cleaning woman and a Moroccan car mechanic who is a migrant of Moroccan origin. The artist plays every single role in the film and speaks in German as well. I think it is through "fitting into" the role that allows him to bring out the different social prejudice emotions in the film. His version is created based on the original 1974 film titled Angst Essen Seele auf (Fear Eats The Soul) by German director Rainer Fassbinder. Interestingly, this fear also ties in with the time period that Ming produced the film - during times of heightened xenophobia in Germany.

I felt that Zulkifle Mahmod's soundscape, False Securities, has parallels to Boo Junfeng's Bedok Jetty which was shown as part of the National Museum's Digital Homelands project.

The other works did not strike much thoughts.

[Beyond the facade of SMU]
While walking to City Hall after visiting the Singapore Art Museum yesterday, I walked past the elaborate SMU Admissions campaign advertisements. I marvelled at the glossy photos that screamed "A Different U". Well any business law student would reckon that its a mere puff. But instead of that thought, why not look further than that facade?

I was initially asked to blog for the official SMU blog, but somehow the further negotiations never took place. And the blogging stint never did materialise. I would have expected it since I head one of the university's most controversial publications which would cause the messaging of the advertising campaign to crumble if I did end up blogging there.

Well how time flies. I am now at the end of my third year in SMU and I feel is a great time to share my thoughts about my SMU experience. And what I am going to say may not very nice to hear, but I will say it nonetheless.

Life in SMU is really tough. I must admit, SMU students can be branded as superheroes. We have to juggle countless projects, group meetings, CCA, community service and the list goes on. So if you want to come to SMU, be prepared for the workload.

Once, a prospective student asked me about the workload. My reply to him was that it is how you manage your time that is important. For me, I am blessed because I plan my time well by taking note of deadlines and assigning my time according to my priorities. It is increasingly tougher for me as I am also involved in a lot of out-of-school activities like grassroots and major events. That sometimes takes up a bulk of my time.

The SMU curriculum is not about being exam smart. I believe that SMU is different because the weightage of a module is spread out across several components. So one not only needs to be able to score at the exams. The SMU student has to speak up, be heard and articulate his/her thoughts well. There is also the role of managing people which is crucial. For projects in SMU, group members are sometimes randomly assigned, and as luck would have it, you either work with someone who's a high-flyer or a slacker who doesn't know how to even do citations properly. A group member could either make or break the outcome of a project. And you have to deal with it because that's what it is in life too.

How different is SMU then? Honestly, that image about SMU being different is akin to the fluff some students spin in their presentations. SMU students are go-getters. They go all out for the grades and not only that. SMU students, through their involvement in this, that and the other, build their contacts with the outside world. And when they graduate, the have the edge over others.

But that said, not all SMU students are like that. On the whole, these are the broad strokes. But one has to look further than that. Some employers say that SMU students are all talk and no action. I think we have to look at the context of the statement and not engage in a stereotype mentality. Of course I have met some like that but there are also the quiet ones as well. That surprised me too.

In essence, while the school environment cultivates the way students behave, the individual matters too.

For incoming Social Science students, here's one word of advice for the interviews: Share your opinion but back it up with facts. An important knowledge of current affairs is extremely important. Be prepared, don't be caught off-guard.

And for those who have been admitted, good luck. Here's a tip on how to get that A+. I haven't really tried it out yet, neither have a scored an A+ yet. Not yet, since this video guide was just released.

All the best while I look forward to a happy graduation.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

[Aborted Summit in Pattaya]
As our convoy travelled from Pattaya to U-Tapao Airforce Base at about 4pm on Saturday for our flight home , it was as if nothing had happened. Apart from litter outside the hotel, there was not a red shirt in sight. Everywhere there were signboards welcoming leaders from ASEAN and the wider region with their national flags fluttering in the wind.

But in fact huge damage had been done to ASEAN and to Thailand. For the second time, an ASEAN Summit had to be postponed because of demonstrations. This time leaders were already in Pattaya or arriving. Except for Indonesian President SBY who arrived late and could not leave U-Tapao, the other ASEAN leaders were staying at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort. The leaders of China, Japan and Korea were at the Dusit Thani unable to join us at the conference centre. Australia's PM Rudd was in the air and flew back. The NZ PM was probably in Bangkok. UNSG Ban Ki-moon stayed on in Vientiene. Others like the heads of the World Bank, IMF, UNCTAD and ADB also had their travel plans disrupted.

We sympathised with Thai PM Abhisit and knew that he had no choice but to cancel the Summit meetings. The alternative was violence which he was determined to avoid especially when so many leaders were in Thailand as guests of the government.

It is unclear how the red shirts were able to break through the cordoned areas. The reason for the Summit meetings being held in Pattaya and not in Bangkok was precisely so that the conference area could be properly secured. Up till Friday evening, all seemed well. Then on Saturday morning, we learned that the Chinese PM could not get through. We were then told that the meetings would be rescheduled to the afternoon and evening. Having arrived at the restaurant for lunch early, I was waiting for other ministers when hundreds of soldiers with plastic shields streamed in on the far side of the swimming pool. I decided to go out to take some pictures. I was assured that the soldiers were only having a lunch break. Only later did I find out that the red shirts had broken through the gates and were moving in to occupy the conference centre nearby.

Halfway during lunch with the other ministers, we were informed that the Summit meetings had been cancelled. Within a few minutes, our security officers instructed us to leave the table immediately and go back to our hotel rooms. We could hear loud commotions. Along the way, India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, an old friend, called me. We greeted each other but delayed no further because the security people were getting anxious. We hurried to the next building and were bundled off into the hotel lifts as the shouts got nearer.

Up on the 12th floor, I could see the red shirts milling around the conference centre, moving hither thither. Soldiers and policemen stood in groups not really engaging them. Not long afterwards, I could hear helicopters whirring overhead picking up people from the rooftop. Out at sea, naval ships on patrol moved closer to shore and small boats also picked up passengers.

PM was told by the Thai Government that he and the Singapore delegation should evacuate by sea, to be ferried by small boats to a nearby LST which would take us to Sattahip naval base. From there we could drive to U-Tapao. It all seemed quite unseemly to me that leaders and ministers had to leave in this way. But anyway we packed our belongings and waited for instructions since the Thais were responsible for our security. Happily we were informed around 3.30pm that the demonstrators had dispersed and we could travel by road to U-Tapao with full dignity.

The situation appeared unreal or surreal to me. While all the hubbub was taking place, Caucasian tourists continued sunbathing behaving as if nothing was happening. On the beach, I could see swimmers, sailing boats and windsurfers. In my mind, I did not really believe that there was imminent danger. The immediate objective of the leaders of the red shirts was to disrupt the Summit which they had already achieved. I didn't think they would turn on us in an indiscriminate way as foreign leaders and ministers were not their targets. In any case, every delegation had armed protection. But one could never be sure. Incidents could always happen and agents provocateur might be working to foment violence. The last thing we wanted was to be caught in a crossfire.

When we arrived at U-Tapao, PM Abhisit was there to send off PM Lee and other leaders. China's PM Wen Jiabao was about to take his leave. President Arroyo and PM Thein Sein had arrived there earlier by helicopter.

As we boarded the RSAF Fokker transport aircraft, it all seemed like a bad dream. But for the Thais, the nightmare continues.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

[The aftermath of the ASEAN Summit protests]
I received an email slightly after midnight to inform me that Minister is back home safely.

It is very unfortunate that the ASEAN Summit and other meetings with leaders from India, China, South Korea and Japan have stalled at a time where cooperation on the looming economic crisis is critical.

Further, an agreement on investment with China which was supposed to be signed was hampered by the cancellation.

A statement to condemn the actions of North Korea's missile tests were highly anticipated as well.

But news sites seem to play up the security issues and concerns that involve the demonstrations. And that was the point that was reiterated by Singapore as well in an MFA statement.

"Singapore knows that the Thai Government has put in maximum effort to host successful Summits, but in the end it decided to ensure the safety of the delegates ahead of other considerations. We support and understand the decision and hope that these Summits will be reconvened as soon as possible."

We can only hope for better times and stability in Thailand. That is of concern as Thailand has several major summits to host till the end of the year as Chair of ASEAN.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

[Minister Yeo's Facebook updates of ASEAN Summit situation]
I have posted Minister Yeo's Facebook updates on the situation at the ASEAN Summit in Pattaya. The ASEAN Summit has been cancelled as of now.

00:43 - George Yeo will be joining PM for a whole day of meetings on Holy Saturday

10:37 - George Yeo is waiting to be told when Chinese and Korean delegations are able to clear through demos before meetings can begin

13:11 - George Yeo is worried for ASEAN's reputation. Stand-off continues with a number of non-ASEAN leaders stuck in their own locations away from the conference centre.

14:21 - George Yeo is deeply disappointed that the ASEAN plus meetings have been cancelled because the red shirts have broken through the gates and moved into the conference centre. Had to stop lunch halfway.

15:30 - George Yeo finds the unfolding situation surreal. Helicopters are whirring overhead and naval boats are coming to shore evacuating delegates while by the poolside are sunbathing tourists and at sea windsurfers are still zipping about.

17:16 - George Yeo Flying home By RSAF plane soon. Thanks for everyone's good wishes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

[Red Shirts at the Gate]
After the meetings this morning, I had a couple of hours off before PM arrived. The security people did not like the idea of me going to the gym because it is near the perimeter fence where red-shirted demonstrators were gathering and shouting on the other side. They relented in the end and brought me by buggy via a longer route. But I could hear the din even as I was doing my exercises. I did not feel unsafe at all. On my side of the fence were hundreds of uniformed personnel (soldiers and policemen), some resting on the grass, many looking quite bored.

It is sad how a people could become so divided, Last year it was the yellow shirts; now it is the red shirts. One ASEAN foreign minister from a neighbouring country said to me that there must in the end be national reconciliation. Question is how? However I must say that the Thai Government is fully discharging its responsibility in the Chair. We are all well looked after. The meetings are efficiently organised and the work of ASEAN is properly attended to. With the economic crisis affecting everyone, the focus of all our discussions is promoting economic cooperation and resisting protectionism.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

When I was asked to watch the latest MCYS by a friend in advertising I was expecting something artistic since I had seen their first commercial on TV sometime back. A mentor in MCYS had asked for my thoughts and I told him that I loved it for its artistic integrity. I hadn't knew that it was directed by Yasmin Ahmad until I watched Muallaf.

The TV commercial made me think of Kuo Pao Kun's play The Coffin Is Too Big For the Hole. Both have links to the theme of death. In Kuo's play, the protagonist's death causes a huge commotion at the cemetery where the coffin is to be buried. The hole for burial, is too small and hence the coffin cannot fit.

Why do I bring this up? Because, in Kuo's play, death was a grand affair. What do you want to happen at your funeral? Would it be something grand like what happened in The Coffin Is Too Big For the Hole or something ordinary where people say good things about you?

I think death is a great time to reflect about life. In the latest MCYS TV titled Funeral, death is a simple affair. It is not a reflection of the grand things the protagonist did in his life. Rather, it is the uninteresting and little things that would not longer exist when he is not around.

There are several observations, one of which is the multi-ethnic make up of the family. Yasmin's last film Muallaf was a controversy in Malaysia, but this multi-cultural dimension can be embraced by most Singaporeans for we live in a racially tolerant society. And I accept the diversity.

Ultimately, I think the message is not about how you die, but how you live and be remembered by people close to your heart. What impact did you make in the life of others?

Deep down beyond the analysis, the real message is about the family and getting married. How would you react to that?

Monday, April 06, 2009

[Jogging at Bedok Reservoir]
This evening, a group of us jogged around Bedok Reservoir which is a 4.3km circuit. Some came in response to my Facebook invitation. The others were my regular kakis. After the afternoon rain, the weather was perfect. In fact, as I was striding, I thought to myself how beautiful it was. I was in good form today and clipped one minute off my last week's timing.

When we adjourned to the fitness corner, I did my usual post-run chin ups in between chatting with other runners who were resting or stretching. Looking in the direction of the water, we could see the sun setting. Next to the fitness corner, an area has been neatly sealed off by a fence where the site for the Berlin Wall is being prepared.

A regular runner whom I chatted with complained about the maintenance of the public toilet. He was a little embarrassed to raise it with me, explaining that he had complained before to no effect. I thanked him and promised to follow up.

Henry, the mobilisation i/c for my jogging at Bedok Reservoir, took some pictures. He is pretty fit, taking pictures while I was running, then running ahead to position himself for more pictures, repeating this quite a few times.

Those interested in joining us should get in touch with me through Facebook. I don't jog often because of my work schedule but if there is an available window, I'll call up Henry and he'll SMS everyone.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Saturday, April 04, 2009

[A word on the PAP and general elections]
I've been watching blogs and websites that have written about the elections and so far what I have read are what people mostly think of the general elections and their anticipations.

I have been guilty of that too. Elections are linked to the idea of democracy and since I have been doing a paper of comparative democracy in Thailand and Singapore, I've been reading many academic papers on the subject. Freedom House, a website on democracy classifies Singapore as "partly free" and our score on "political rights" is 5 while "civil liberties" is 4.

That does not say very much. It is difficult to quantify "political rights" and "civil liberties". At least that is how I feel.

While doing research on Thailand, I came across a chart comparing the number of MPs elected versus those who have been appointed into the House as a percentage. The elected members are important to have an idea of democracy in Thailand therefore I decided to do the same for the Singapore case by adapting this methodology.

I compared the number of PAP MPs that were uncontested or unopposed (hence there was not voting for them) against those who were voted for and came up with a percentage.

From the data, 87.0 percent of PAP candidates that were fielded did not experience the "baptism of fire" in the first general election in 1968. The subsequent general election in 1972 had put a large percentage of PAP candidates through the test. In the last general elections in 2006, 44 percent of the candidates that were fielded by the PAP had a walkover and were appointed into office. This means 37 candidates out of the 84 that were fielded took the route to Parliament without any contest.

Next, I looked at the percentage of Singaporeans that were allowed to vote over the last 10 general elections. This data would be quite relative to the data on the percentage of candidates that were unopposed. The highest percentage of voters in an election was in 1972 at a high of 89.5 percent. In the last general elections, 56.6 percent of the electorate had a chance to vote.

Lastly, I looked at the support of the PAP over the last 10 general elections. This is measured as a percentage of vote share among the number of votes cast. The PAP had the highest vote share in the first elections. It was 86.7 percent. After the oil crisis in 1985, the vote share of PAP had dipped by 16 percentage points. During the currency crisis circa 1997/1998, the percentage of votes for the PAP climbed from 61 percent to 65 percent. In 2001, on the onset of the 9/11 crisis, votes for the PAP soared from 65 percent to 75.3 percent.

I hope this paints a more comprehensive picture of general elections in Singapore in addition to what others have been writing. Feedback is most welcome in the form of comments and emails.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

[Tribute to Foong Choon Hon]
Foong Choon Hon played a critical role in establishing Wan Qing Yuan as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. He worked tirelessly on it and with the greatest enthusiasm. To collect materials and historical information, he travelled up and down the length of Peninsular Malaysia and visited centres in Mainland China and Taiwan. Appreciating the importance of the 1911 Revolution not only to ethnic Chinese worldwide but also to all Asians, through the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, he helped build bridges of friendship to many countries in East and Southeast Asia including Japan. Not a few Malaysians, Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, Hongkongers and others were encouraged by his efforts. They consulted him and invited him to give lectures.

Choon Hon was greatly pained by the separation of Chinese across the Taiwan Straits and expressed this pathos in poignant terms in the split boulder at Wan Qing Yuan with the two halves bearing the calligraphic writings of Koo Chen-foo and Wang Daohan. Leaders from both sides of the Straits are regular visitors to Wan Qing Yuan.

Choon Hon also understood the legacy of Dr Sun and the 1911 Revolution in Singapore's own evolution towards nationhood and had Lee Kuan Yew's tribute to Dr Sun inscribed in stone at the entrance. The 1911 Revolution and the May 4th Movement which 90th anniversary will soon be celebrated had a profound influence on the Chinese in Singapore as they struggled for dignity and development.

In this labour of love, Choon Hon received the full support of Kwek Leng Joo and members of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI). I had the privilege of working with him on the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall project for many years and learnt much from him. Though no longer young, he was still full of energy. He would come into my office panting, with a leather bag full of documents and newspaper cuttings, arguing his case with passion. I can still picture him with his distinctive white hair somewhat dishevelled, his voice rich and booming. When he argued that we should commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Tongmenghui in Singapore, I agreed with him immediately and persuaded Chua Thian Poh of SCCCI to include this important date in its 2006 calendar. Kwek Leng Joo then personally went to Taipei to extend an invitation to Kuomintang Honorary Chairman Lien Chan. We are sad that Choon Hon has left us on the eve of the centenary celebration of the 1911 Revolution but his memory will live on in the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and in the hearts of Singaporeans and many others. By reminding Singaporeans that our forefathers had contributed to a cause much larger than themselves, he has strengthened our spirit and inspired us to see our future and the world in larger terms.

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