Singapore Media Watch

Monday, October 23, 2006

Editorial Review: Into The Den Of Tigers: An Insight Into PAP Thought And Principles (Part 1)

Under the cloak of anonymity at online forum meanderings, I have always presented myself as a vigourous critic of the PAP regime.Because of my success in hiding the truth of my sentiments, I was offered a rare chance by a friend to witness a meet-the-people session, and observe how the backstage of such events operated.

Here I post my accounts. I have opted to suspend most judgements toward statements and views I heard during my jaunt, so that you can formulate your own.`Know thy enemy'- objection is pointless if you know not what youobject to.

These nuggets of wisdom compelled me to saddle forth andtry to understand the inner workings of CDCs, and ascertain their purported link to the ruling party. I agreed to my friend's invitation, fully cognizant that it was her attempt to recruit me into her district's CDC.

The PAP was always onthe lookout to herd bright, young people into its wings, and peer recruitment was one of its many channels. In accordance with its paradigm of elitism, channels tended to dilute as one moved down the education ladder- local undergraduates had frequent access, while opportunities for involvement were rarer for polytechnic/ITE students,unless the students went on to university where they'd finally be acquainted with such bodies.

As a polytechnic student who made local university, the world of youth political involvement was alien to me until my degree years. NUS had a formal Political Society (although their involvement was obviously partisan toward the PAP); and my friend, a long-time CDC volunteer, became earnestly involved in inviting ministers for talks on campus via a link between the two tributaries.

Within 1-2 years she was regarded as a de-facto link to Singapore politics and politicians, and who else but she would be on active hunt to fill the ranks of her cadres. (I don't know about the strength of politically-linked organisations with NTU and SMU) The meet-the-people sessions were conducted at night in kindergartens located at void decks, with room set aside for waiting, personal interviews and offices for volunteers.

They were conducted every Wednesday, with one Wednesday per month administered by young volunteers. Naturally, residents were more hesitant to attend sessions run by na飗e little tots, and attendance was higher at normal sessions run by veterans.

The term `meet-the-people' appears neutral and carries no unusual connotations, but anyone who's seen them once will depart with the imprint of beggary and desperation. Basically, local residentsgathered and poured their problems out to their Member of Parliament, whose job was to write letters in appeal to relevant organizations,usually for aid.

Most problems fell in the range of financial woes,neighbourly disputes, or appeals on petty legal penalties. Thus,`meeting the people' had nothing to do with small talk or asking how people are- it is all about grievances and appeals.

At this particular constituency, a very prominent up-and-coming minister held court; and according to my friend, all volunteers enjoyed working for him because of his candour and affable persona.

When I arrived, I realized that there were 3 other students from my university invited by my friend for the same purpose. Soon each of us was paired with a volunteer, and asked to sit beside him while head ministered resident grievances.

Initially, I thought that attendees would take turns to see the MP directly when their turn came, but itwas not the case. Instead, they were filtered into 3-4 separate tables where interviewers wrote down their cases on dictation. Then, they met the MP and repeated everything they'd spoken over again.

I never understood how this was efficient, compared to seeing the MP directly and having a separate person write the grievances down while the resident spoke to his MP. Later, I read critics suggest that this allowed `prank cases' to be screened, to avoid wasting the MP's timeon ridiculous appeals. So I was assigned to sit with my friend at one of the `filtering' tables, where we took our share of writing down the appeals of 5-6parties for the night.

"You guys are lucky!" remarked the friend, whowas referring to his 4 guests, "Such exposure arrangements are usually reserved for PSC Scholars to prepare them for political careers."Halfway through our work another volunteer came, with 2 cups of herbal tea, in full-embroidery china teacups with holding saucers and covers, no less.

"Ah, that's nice." I thought, "Tea for the troubled appellants? before seeing the tea laid out in front on us, the administrators! After my friend documented for the first 3 appellants, he turned andasked if I wanted a go. "I thought I was just an observer?" I asked, to which he suggested that getting involved would be a good`experience' for me.

To avoid scorning his hospitality, I obliged andtook the next case. At the end of the night I couldn't avoid feelingpity for the attendees, many of whom were wretched cases- like elderlycouples who couldn't work and were denied financial aid by private funds because there were worse cases; or single children with only one parent left, who happened to suffer from dilapidating illnesses and school fees posed problems.

I was glad I played a small hand in the process of helping them out. Ah, but this was the essence of shrewd recruitment, was it not? By allowing the guests personal involvement, the CDC handed them a subtle sense of ownership and psychological stake.

Now that we guests felt good about our involvement in helping the destitute, we were more likely to return and repeat the good deed.This was all fine and well, for who would accuse charity of being criminal?

Unfortunately, my apprehensions were ignited by the matters communicated to me after the session, and the implications of joining up. Soon the 4 of us `guests' found ourselves sat in a corner, conversing with an old volunteer of the CDC. He identified himself as the head administrator of the branch, and was so experienced that he had been involved in such work since the days of the founding fathers.(1960s-70s)

The CDC had pulled out its heavy artillery to convince us of the nobility of its cause.Of course, we never had the impression of being hassled to agree toanything; and the new host was most friendly, treating us as honouredguests. Throughout our `visit' everyone was accommodating andpleasant; our only awkwardness on their disproportionately-good hospitality toward virtual strangers.

Soon the new host launched into a tirade on domestic politics, always giving his guests room to express their opinions, and perhaps silently gauging the quality of their thoughts. My companions seemed enthused about their involvement thus far, and spoke earnestly, while the jaded one adopted a listening role.

Inevitably, the `headman' didn't wait long to make his own views known. I had counterpoints tomany of his assertions, of course, but it was unwise to throw stone sat the tigers in the tigers' den."I think this government has done a fantastic job. I was around since the old days when we had nothing- look at us today! And in such a short time, too! Lee Kuan Yew is a man of remarkable vision. And GohKeng Swee was a brilliant economist.

In the beginning, Tuas only consisted of swampland; he took one look and visualized the Jurong Industrial Park.""You youngsters have no idea how lucky you are. My son- he's a liberal arts graduate who went to the West to study, and stayed overseas for awhile. He's come back, of course, and tells me often, `I've seen i tall, and I know we really have things good here.' ""I don't understand why that fellow Chee Soon Juan wants to stir up somuch trouble.

Everyone's living in peace and stability, and there he is always rocking the boat!" he continued, "What's worse, he is collaborating with foreign organisations to attack Singapore'sreputation! Why is a Singaporean doing this? That' why we have been wise to deal harshly with him.""Fighting an election is like fighting a battle. We need tactics andstrategies like in real war. For instance, I am friends with many hawkers and shopkeepers in this neighbourhood. They will inform me immediately if the Opposition drops by to hand out flyers or promote themselves."

One of my companions responded in admiration, "Wow, you guys arereally close-knit and serious about your stake in the residents.""The problem with this government is image. We deliver but don't knowhow to look good, and the international press misunderstands us. Too bad, because charisma is always a hard issue for smart people who are perpetually engrossed in real work.""Yes!" exclaimed another companion in keen concurrence, "How often do you get a government who delivers? Image is secondary, so we should beappreciative for the PAP's work instead."

The indoctrination was working only too well, but not before I fired a few cautious salvos.

Part 2 of the article to be continued tomorrow.


The author is a guest contributor who is known by the pseudonym "Angry_One" in local forums. He prefers to remain anoynmous. Any comments to his article can be corresponded directly to him here.

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