[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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

[Thoughts on the changes to the NMP scheme]
In an interview with a reporter a few days ago, I was asked if I would consider running as a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) under the new scheme which would include a new sector - the people sector.

Since the NMP scheme is non-partisan, it would mean that I would have to quit the People's Action Party. I have been in the party for almost four years and I feel that my voice has not been drowned in the party and I am still in the position to provide feedback. My views on the PAP and engaging citizens on new media platforms have also been considered.

I was also asked about my views on whether young people should join the PAP or be nominated as an NMP under the new scheme. The advantages of being in the party would include the strong support of party comrades and the reputation. Being an NMP would mean that the individual would be independent and not have a huge resource base.

NMPs would also not have constituents to serve. The NMP scheme also allows for people with experiences in niche areas to have a voice.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

[More Photos from Vietnam]
After calling on PM Dung in the morning, I attended the Asia Europe Foreign Ministers Meeting.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

[Political changes heartening]
I wanted to go for today's Parliament sitting. In fact I went there but was not properly dressed and I was not allowed to enter! So I didn't manage to hear PM Lee deliver his speech on Singapore's political changes. But I managed to read the points of his speech online.

I must admit that I am heartened by the changes and I am happy not because it was what I predicted but more importantly, it would allow Singaporeans more choice.

My two measures of a good politician are this: Firstly, the politician's debates in Parliament. Secondly, the politicians' attitudes and behaviour on the ground.

Changes to the NMP and NCMP system would allow more politicians to enter the fray. Singaporeans then get to hear what opposition MPs have to offer, how they conduct themselves in Parliament and whether their views represent the people.

Singaporeans would then have greater choice to choose and see more constructive debates in Parliament. The playing field would be seen as a more level playing field.

The changes made to the size of GRCs would allow smaller GRCs. Political parties who want to contest can do so now and not be disadvantage as compared to in previous years where the numbers required were much bigger.

I think at the end of the day, it is Singaporeans that will benefit from these changes. And this makes the next General Elections more interesting to watch just because we have more choice. And because Singaporeans deserve the best system Singapore can offer.

[Smaller Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) are possible]
I was almost going to sleep . I turned off my lights. There I was lying on the bed and thinking. Suddenly something struck me and I decided that I should blog about it.

A few months ago a classmate of mine, in a discussion of Singapore's political, economic and civil spheres, asked the class and questioned the rational for having more ministers in the Cabinet. The move may indeed be the early stages of a plan for a new political system.

Consider this: If GRCs are going to grow smaller, and if each continue to be helmed by an anchor minister, what is missing in this picture? No prizes for guessing! More ministers!

One way to confirm this is how the political boundaries would be redrawn would then be to look at the people who have been promoted and see if this fits into the jigsaw logically.

I can't really recall off hand the number of new ministers that were added and who they are, but this sounds like a probable scenario. Until the Prime Minister reveals his cards, this could very well be pure speculation but who knows!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

[Visit to Quang Nam Province]
From Danang, I did a day trip to the heritage sites of My Son and Hoi Ann. My Son is an important site of the old Champa. Hoi Ann is old port city which still has a sizeable Chinese population. There are still clan associations for the Hokkiens, Teochews, Cantonese, Hainanese and Hakkas. It also had a Japanese settlement once which was closed when the Tokugawas turned inwards.

Visit to My Son Sanctuary

Lunch with Party Secretary of Quang Nam Province People's Committee Nguyen
Duc Hai and Chairman of Quang Nam Province People's Committee Le Minh An

Visit to Hoi Ann

Leaders of Hokkien Clan Association

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

Monday, May 25, 2009

[Remaking Singapore's political system]
Before I start talking about the changes to expect for Singapore's political system, let me share a conversation which I had with Prime Minister Lee last year during a ministerial dialogue. This conversation was after the dialogue so it was not reported anywhere.

Having studied various political systems, I then asked PM Lee about allowing more opposition members into the political system by lowering the barriers-to-entry into politics (high election deposits, forfeiture of election deposits). My rationale was that politics is about plurality and diversity and the system should reflect this.

PM Lee replied and said this: "What kind of leaders do you want in Parliament?"

Of course my answer to the question was capable and credible leaders.

Then he replied asking me how credible a leader could be when he/she promises to share his political salary after being voted in. I kept silent and noted his point.

Well I should have reminded him that he gave a portion of his salary to charity too but the premise for that was moral consciousness and not a political promise. In that sense, both are quite different scenarios.

Or I should have told him that I did not want to have elitist leaders serving. I could have said that I wanted open, approachable and MPs that are easily accessible - well Facebook allows that now but not all MPs are that "addicted" to Facebook. I could also say capable leaders that have respect for all individuals and not use table tennis tactics in their political moves.

I would now try to dissect my conversation with PM and uncover his principles and see how they could apply to political changes.

In a previous post about elections in Singapore, I showed the increased vote share of the PAP after the Group Representation Constituency system. The table showed the results of Parliamentary Elections over the course of Singapore's history.

Add in the rhetoric about the PAP surviving in Singapore for the next 50 years and the remarks about brain drain and how Singapore can only afford a one-party system.

For one, that would not change.

Then I listen to the remarks about how a stable government is good for Singapore and Singaporeans as a whole - mainly from a business point, in terms of investments both foreign and local.

But one thing is for sure, the PAP wants alternative voices in Parliament but these voices can exist but they may not have to participate in the electoral process. Is that possible?

I believe that a stable one party system can allow for plurality. One is for plurality to come from within - which is the PAP. Secondly, it is through schemes such as the NMP scheme and the NCMP scheme. If the PAP's tactic is to continue to have political hegemony over Singapore's system, then the way to keep the PAP in power and to allow more alternative voices outside of the PAP is to bring in such voices from outside the existing electoral system.

Is it then wrong as a ruling party to prevent the opposition from gaining power? My guess is that any political party in power would think the same way to exert this limitation. If Singapore falls to an opposition party tomorrow, do you think they will not enact changes to prevent the PAP from regaining power?

Moving beyond that, I think that revolutionary changes such as a proportional representation system or systems that allow two votes, which were mooted by a Today reporter sometime back, seem too far fetched. If Singapore adopts this system, it will mark a shift from its traditional pragmatic approach. While it is not impossible, it is not highly plausible. Although this system would allow for a higher number of opposition MPs into Parliament through the electoral system.

So I agree that an incremental approach would be used since the ruling party has been very conservative in many ways even in civil society dealings. What this means is that schemes like the NMP and NCMP scheme could be relooked. Maybe a new scheme would then be introduced.

I believe the fundamentals of our current political system would still focus on stability. And any bold change would make political watchers sit up. For now we can only wait and see if the drama is as groundbreaking as The Little Nonya.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

[Visit to Danang]
I had a short but useful visit to Danang which is midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The Vietnam Government is putting priority on the development of Central Vietnam to ensure balance in the country. Vietnam has been described as a long pole with two baskets at the end. Well, if that is the case, the centre of the pole which weighs on the shoulder is Danang. Singapore businessmen have traditionally looked only at the Hanoi and HCMC regions. It is time to also look at opportunities in Central Vietnam which is growing healthily.

Swimming at China Beach

Visit to Cham Museum

Meeting with Bishop of Danang Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri

Visit to Chanh Toa Cathedral

Visit to Embroidered Paintings Gallery

Meeting and Dinner with Chairman of Danang City People's Committee Tran Van Minh

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

[The Kings Have Set Sail!]
The Berlin Wall to be located at Bedok Reservoir has been shipped from Los Angeles and will arrive in Singapore on 9 June. It will be unveiled on 9 November at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.

The four panels bearing the graffiti images of two kings are only painted on the West Berlin side. Approaching it from the eastern side meant certain death during the Cold War. That's why we call them the Kings of Freedom. Now, like magi on a long voyage, they are on the way to Singapore.

The Wall is a long-term loan to us from Robert and MeiLi Hefner.

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

Thursday, May 21, 2009

[Syria's Grand Mufti Dr Hassoun]
I had a wonderful meeting with Syria's Grand Mufti Dr Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun this morning at Foreign Ministry. He has a view of religion which most Singaporeans would be very comfortable with. When he gave a talk to the European Parliament early last year, his speech emphasizing that states should be created on a civil basis rather than a religious basis received wide applause. He said that 'there's no such thing as a holy war, there can never be a holy war, only peace can be holy'.

The Grand Mufti is in Singapore at the invitation of MUIS to give a distinguished lecture. We have some 60 religious students studying in Syria. He came with a son who is the Mufti of Aleppo.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

[Ups and downs]
In between a summer term that would end soon, I have been trying to balance my time between preparing for publication of the next issue of The Blue and Gold and future challenges and sustainable measures for the publication even after my departure from SMU.

I have also squeezed in some time to be involved in another publication for international students in conjunction with SMU's 10th anniversary in 2010.

On the grassroots front, the involvement has been scaled down although I am still involved in normal day-to-day things such as helping out with the team's activities like a recent trip to Sentosa and Henderson Waves.

For now, it is back to research for a project presentation next week and an interview that would highlight my years in SMU.

Of course there are also a few events to look forward to.

[Six approaches for a new world order]
I missed the live telecast of the President's opening address of the 11th Parliament last night but managed to read the transcript in The Straits Times this morning.

The six broad approaches that President S R Nathan highlighted last night to tackle a new world order made sense.

With the economy at a low point, it is important to continue to tweak the system to deal with new challenges. The is because economic growth has been and will continue to be the important benchmark for Singaporeans to judge Singapore's success. And it is because of economic growth that continues to hold the system together.

For someone that has seen the poorer side of Singapore due to previous exposure, I feel that there is a pressing need for help for them. In every free market economy, the gains are always unequal and emphasis on redistribution policies should not leave out the lower percentiles but should be the focus. But there's nothing like a free lunch going by past rhetoric of the government.

On education, it is important to upgrade the skill sets of graduates to prepare for the knowledge based economy which we have embarked on. I cannot say that it is a bad thing to focus on increasing the prospects for polytechnic students to get their degrees, but the fundamental supply-demand economics should be kept as the basis. Meaning to say that there should not be an oversupply of graduates which would result in oversupply and lower wages. That said, there's always the world to look at for jobs. President Nathan has said it right, education is the key to a better future.

Like every political realist would attest to, diplomacy and links to the world outside of Singapore will be important. I am sure readers of this blog have a clearer picture of our Singapore's links with the world by reading the posts of Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo.

Integration between locals and foreigners who make Singapore their home is essential. It will be an extension of the multi-racial and multi-religious dynamics that we are used to in embracing foreign talent.

The most exciting part in the development in Singapore's political climate would be future changes to the political system. Whether it is democracy, authoritarian, republican or whatever form of government, moral values should be the basis and the legitimacy for the government's existence. The changes to come should ensure the active participation of all Singaporeans.

But like every uplifting speech, it is more than words that matter. Looking forward, the debates that follow would be interesting to watch. More importantly it is how these words translate to action, to be rooted in policy that really matters.

[Ang Pow Distribution]
On Sunday afternoon, I was invited by the Bi Hu Tan temple to give angpows and hampers away to needy Singaporeans at Blk 701 Bedok North Road. The event was co-sponsored by the RC.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

[More pictures from Tokyo]

Greeting Empress of Japan at State Banquet

Call on President by PM Taro Aso

Meeting with Lower House Member Nobutaka Machimura

With former Sony Chairman Ohga

Conferment at Keio university

At the gate of Keio University after conferment of Hon Doctorate on President Nathan

Founder of Keio, Fukuzawa

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