Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the Parliament Vote to Endorse the Population White Paper

So much ink has been spilled on the Population White Paper. And many, many commentators have shredded it most capably in their analyses that I feel I have nothing fresh to add.

[In truth, I do have some unique opinions on the white paper and their 'sanguine' population projections. But because there are some uncertainties in my own predictions, I would prefer to wait for certain events to pass  before publishing my thoughts in the fullness of time.]

So, I am left to comment on peripheral issues. There are two in particular, one unrelated to the title of today's post. That one will be in a separate post. The topic for this post is below.

In the recent Parliamentary vote to endorse the White Paper, Low Thia Khiang called for a division to the motion.

The news article that I linked to above described it thus:

"WP leader Low Thia Kiang stunned those in attendance by standing up to ask the Speaker for a division to the motion, effectively meaning the House could not decide to pass the paper by a verbal vote. The House doors were then locked and the assembly took to an electronic vote.  "

Low Thia Khiang is more canny than most politicians. Certainly more so than your regular PAP MP who most likely coasted in on the coat-tails of a "heavy-weight" in a GRC.

Here is why Low Thia Khiang's request is important:

In the USA, there are many websites that record and consolidate the voting records of senators and representatives on bills presented before Congress.  One such website is Project VoteSmart. The idea behind such websites is that citizens can better distinguish between what politicians say and what they actually do

In particular, as a citizen, because you elect someone and send him or her to Parliament to represent you and your interests, it behooves you, then, to check that your representative votes on legislation in accordance to your wishes. Checking your representative's voting record is one way of seeing whether you've been taken for a ride during the election campaign.

In the vote to endorse the White Paper, there were 77 "ayes", 13 "nays" and 1 abstention. All "ayes" came from the PAP. The sole abstention was from NMP Eugene Tan. 

Notwithstanding the PAP party whip, tellingly, because there are a total of 99 MPs, there are still 8 MPs unaccounted for, 5 of which are NMPs and 3 are from the PAP. Inderjit Singh was the most prominent in being absent from the vote, being a PAP MP and one who had openly voiced his misgivings prior to the vote.

In another news article, he was quoted as saying, "All I want to say is I was not present for the vote. I spoke from my heart and will do what I can to change things."

Thanks to Low Thia Khiang's request for a division to the motion, who voted for what is now a permanent part of the parliamentary record. Clearly, a lot of people are interested in this. I expect that the record of that parliamentary vote will be found here soon.

We will see what the coming years ahead hold. And in 2016 or earlier when the next elections are held, some PAP MPs may regret not absenting themselves as Inderjit Singh did.

Even if they backtrack on their endorsement in the interim, if nothing else, because of Inderjit Singh's example, the voting record would show them to have been either spineless or indecisive.

On Mainstream Media's Non-Coverage of the White Paper Protest

The recent non-coverage of the protest at Hong Lim Park this past Saturday has once again demonstrated how captured they are by the PAP. Bertha Henson had the best commentary on this, but then again, she should; she used to be part of the establishment, which gives her not just insider information but also the freedom to speak, now that she's no longer working for SPH.

One minor quibble, Bertha, if you're reading this. I would prefer if you distinguished between the PAP and the Government. I know it's understandable to use G. as shorthand for the PAP-controlled government, given Singapore's history, but it should bear repeating that the PAP and the Government of Singapore are not one and the same thing.

Bertha had one good piece of advice. Go read OB Markers by Cheong Yip Seng, former editor-in-chief of the Straits Times.

After reading his memoirs, I can categorically state that I have a better understanding of the pressures that editors and journalists in the mainstream media face, being excoriated sometimes by both the public and cabinet ministers for the same published articles. If there was ever evidence that people view things in a way that confirms their preconceived notions and suspicions...

I can also state categorically that I empathize with the view (espoused by LKY) that the mainstream media has the role to educate and persuade the public to certain points of view for the benefit of the country.

To a point. On matters of national security and foreign policy for example. But I am far from convinced that this is an appropriate role for mainstream media on other matters of national policy where the paths ahead are less clear. Like population growth. Open, informed and vigorous public debate would be preferred to propaganda.

Cheong Yip Seng's memoirs were in fact more interesting for what they did not cover rather than what they did cover. Part apologia and part hagiography (of LKY), they skipped over how the media has been used as a political weapon to silence and/or discredit opposition party politicians, and to muffle criticism or hush up failures by government agencies or processes under the rubric of "protecting confidence in the government".

But to me, this is now all moot. I no longer read the Straits Times, and I stopped watching TV a long time ago. Ergo, I no longer consume mainstream media in toto.