After a ferocious period election campaigning, today is the cooling off day for Singapore. I gather this means that candidates cannot talk publicly nor canvas for votes. No rallies, no comments on Facebook, nada.
However, media outlets continue to report on rallies from the past week. (ie, info does not just stop). Bloggers, normal dudes on Facebook, continue to talk. So what does the cooling off day accomplish?
Keep emotions in check- no rash decisions please
Sometimes, when we get angry, we sorta disappear for a while, keep quiet, ‘cool-off’, and come back more level-headed to ‘do the right thing’. This is similar. The election has been ferocious, and dirt has been thrown all around. I’ve seen a lot of anger on Facebook.
Gather your thoughts
There have been a LOT of issues raised, and a lot of competing claims about what are the salient points that the electorate should use to come to their decision. Will it come down to the PAP’s apology being seen as a sign of hypocrity (too little too late), or true change within the party? Will it come down to wanting a credible opposition in parliament, or wanting to keep talented ministers in their positions?
But at the end, we still gotta decide
Honestly, maybe even a day is not enough, given the complexity and historic nature of this election. Last night, it suddenly struck me that in recent times, long-standing governments of Egypt, Libya, Japan and Malaysia have all fallen. Suddenly, a Singapore without a dominant PAP is not that impossible to visualise.
So enjoy your cooling off day, gather your wits, and go and vote tomorrow. Come Sunday, everything would have changed, but everything would also still be the same. Onward we go, Singapore.
I’ve seen this happen in the US before, and I believe it’s happening now. Having felt out the population on all the issues, and trying out a diverse set of ways of attacking, all parties are now honing towards the few issues that do stick.
1. Everyone now agrees, mistakes have been made. Does the PAP need a co-driver to point them out in future?
The PAP now admits that it’s made mistakes- implying it doesn’t need the opposition to point out flaws to them. The opposition however says that it was exactly because they pointed out these flaws, that the PAP is now able to admit them. Who makes a stronger case may ultimately decide the election.
2. The quality of the candidates is again in the forefront
At the start, there was much attacking going on for the quality of candidates like TPL and Dr Janil P. This election was never really about them, however, and the focus has rightfully shifted. Now, the question is, will we be able to replace our current ministers if they lose? Are there talented individuals who can replace George Yeo, Wong Kan Seng, Vivian Balakrisnan? The bigger implication however is that these have to come from the PAP ranks only. Otherwise, we can rightly question whether Tan Jee Say and Chen Show Mao, in particular, should be given a chance to serve the nation more strongly. Nonetheless, this is normal in politics- the winners install their guys in power. Does the PAP have enough capable people to step up?
3. Personal attacks have been largely contained; instead we now focus on the PAP’s ministers
SM Goh tried lobbing one at Tan Jee Say; Low Thia Kiang has also had his competency questioned. Vincent Wijeysingha has had his sexuality cast in doubt, and Chen Show Mao has had his motives attacked. But these have largely died down, probably because questions have arose about PAP candidates too (Janil and TPL being the most obvious), but also because the PAP realises that a referendum on George Yeo, Wong Kan Seng, and so on, is more likely to tilt things in their favour than a referendum on whether Tan, Low, Wijeysingha and Chen are qualified (perhaps when they DO seem qualified, when you compare them to the PAP’s new candidates).
Interestingly, the opposition is happy to make this election a referendum on the mistakes of the same exact individuals, instead of drawing attention on their (lack of) governing credentials.
4. Upgrading and individual ward needs seem to be less important
There are only so many covered walkways and green gardens we need. These seem to be less important now than in previous elections. Especially after SM Lee said that voters of the opposition would have to ‘repent’, the PAP seems to be backing off from being seen as the big bad bully.
5. Ask what the MP can do for you
The PAP in particular tried to bring this to the forefront in the form of ‘upgrading’. While upgrading is not a key issue this election, nonetheless the role of the MP has reappeared in another form, in the ‘home boy’ advantage. Potong Pasir, Joo Chiat, Bishan-Toa Payoh, Choa Chu Kang and Mountbatten are just some examples where ‘born-and-bred’ seems to be a big issue this time around. It seems while voters don’t care about upgrading, they DO care about whether their MP will meet them and go to battle for them when they need help over small issues like welfare, social issues, and so on.
Which of the five matter to you?
These seem to be the five main topics that the election has centered on, in the past few days. I believe the results will center around how they play out. Everyone has their own way of voting, and may choose any combination of the five issues to base their decision on. It is going to be an interesting few days ahead.
I recently read the PAP attack the WP’s notion of co-driving. They point out that no car is ever driven by two people, since there is only one steering wheel. To fight for the wheel might be dangerous and reckless. They then pointed to the Taiwanese parliament as an example in which this doesn’t work- in that entertaining parliament, there actually IS physical fighting, which seems to bolster their case.
The USA’s system: Co-Driving without disaster
But they neglected to mention perhaps the biggest example of co-driving in the world. The USA. The Republicans and Democrats are certainly co-drivers of the USA, with each taking the wheel at each election depending on the nation’s sentiments and needs. You also get different sources of power, with the president, senate and house all providing checks and balances on each other.
That’s not a perfect system either, but last I checked, the USA wasn’t careening towards freefall and doom.
The PAP’s weakness: A lack of diverse opinions
Therein lies the exact problem with the one-party system- or more accurately, with the way the PAP executes it. It doesn’t really tolerate dissenting voices well, treating them as disruptive forces that are trying to grab hold of the steering wheel. They see those who offer diversity of opinion as safety hazards, rather than healthy devil’s advocates. Look for instance at how the high-profile Lim Boon Heng recently stepped down, and the one thing he offered to elaborate on was his staunch opposition to the Casinos being built.
I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with LBH’s stance. That’s a complicated issue that will take a much longer post. But the evidence seems to indicate that the PAP does not seek out and incorporate diverse opinions well- despite what they may say about the ‘healthy debates’ taking place behind closed doors. And no, debate- even fiery, strong-headed and controversial debate- does not have to lead to disaster.
Just ask America.
Link to the PAP’s view on “co-driving”
Another hot-button issue is incompetency. Recently we’ve seen our high standards of civil service slip somewhat as multiple floods occurred, and our home affairs ministry managed to lose Mas Selamat while continue to be super-ultra-vigilant catching the big bad wolves drunk driving at night. Let’s look at each issue.
After the first flood occurred, the PUB said that this was a freak accident that happened once in 60 years. They were probably right, since this seldom happened before. I give them a pass on that. Then, very quickly after, it happened again. I don’t give them a pass second time around. I mean, first time around, I’ll forgive you, second time, you need to face the music. But what happened? Nothing. No accountability. Nobody sacked. Just ‘efforts to help the situation’.
Basically the biggest case in our recent history was blotched, as a cripple managed to escape from the watchful eyes of our police. Sorry, for this I cannot give the government a reprieve. It is the biggest case in our history. If I were the minister, I would be personally overseeing Mas Selamat’s transport until he’s safely under lock and key in his cell never to move again. Some mistakes just cannot be made (just ask Tokyo Electric). Result? Nothing. The Home Affairs minister in fact gets a promotion to DPM.
Conclusion: I have always trusted the PAP to do the right thing. But dear PAP: if you’re not holding your ministers accountable, then you’re telling us that we, the people, have to do it. I guess that’s what elections are for.
As I read about the WP and PAP discuss something substantial (HDB policy), I realised that I had actually learnt something about what they’re talking about in school. Finally, I get to use my Economics degree for something. (warning: LONG post.)
The Debate on Flats
The WP wants to subsidise new flats. The PAP says that subsidising new flats is wrong because it will decrease prices for resale flats. This strikes me as a classic case of price discrimination, where you can sell the same product to different groups for different prices if you can fulfill two conditions: 1) You can stop one group from selling to the other group. For example, when I go to a restaurant at off-peak hours and they give me a discount, that’s price discrimination, because I have no way of selling that discount at a profit during a peak hour. 2) There are different groups willing to pay different prices.
Let’s examine each. Condition 1) seems to be met. The government can (and do) simply set legal conditions for new home-owners. Condition 2) is met too- just look at what Duxton @ Pinnacle went for, and how much it would go for on the open market, and you know that they are being subsidised. So this clearly is a case of price discimination going on here.
But the PAP’s argument is that 1) is not really met. They claim that there are no two groups that you can ‘stop from selling’. There is only one main group- new flat buyers. As evidence for this, they point out that 50 per cent of second hand buyers qualified for new flats. If you make new flats cheaper for them, the resale market comes down.
To summarise the PAP’s counter-argument: a) any policy for new flats will have a big effect on the resale market if most who buy in the resale market could also in fact buy new flats b) since 50 per cent can buy new flats, this resale market will fall big time.
Let’s think more closely about the HDB market. The PAP says that the two relevant market segments are ’eligible for new flats’ or ‘not eligible for new flats’. This is wrong. Ask new flat buyers around you, and it seems they fall more into two camps: ‘values location or immediately getting a flat more’, or ‘values price more’. That is why a new flat buyer’s eligibility doesn’t stop him or her from buying a second-hand flat.
The market now caters perfectly to these two groups. If you value location, you buy on the open market, because new flats are no longer coming up in ‘choice’ places like Bishan. Similarly, if you want a flat NOW, you buy on the open market. No choice. However, if you value price more, you apply for a new flat, and you get a cheaper flat but end up staying in a place like Punggol or Sengkang (and you’ll have to wait).
So let’s see what will happen if the WP’s policy is put into place. The new Punggol or Sengkang flats instantly go down in price. Hence, those who value price more apply for these flats- except that now more people will be able to afford them. How about those who value location more, or who want a flat now? Sorry, but Punggol or Sengkang is still not Bishan. Also, they will still not get their flat immediately. So they’re still not interested. They’ll still buy from the open market.
In short, the WP policy will subsidise those new flat owners who are price-sensitive (ie the ones who were NOT buying from the open market anyway). Their policy will not however affect those who can afford and are willing to pay more for either better location or to immediately get a flat (ie the ones who WERE buying from the open market anyway).
Conclusion: The WP policy will not affect the resale market. It will however subsidise price-sensitive flat owners, which is their aim.
Another Debate: The Debate on Reserves
That’s not the end of the story. The WP wants to pay for their policy by selling government land at a cheaper price. In basic accounting, this means that you are selling the land below (current/market) book value, which is a ‘draw down’ on the reserves. The PAP says this is an ‘illegal raid’ on the reserves. The WP says, ‘wait, your growth shares are the exact same thing’. To this the PAP says: no, we did not actually take money from the reserves. We are spending our surpluses. In your (the WP)’s case, there is no surplus being built into the plan.
The WP is right in that the PAP’s actions amount to basically the same thing. In basic accounting, if the growth shares were not paid out, then it would have gone to the reserves. In short, the PAP is making the reserves lower than they could be. Besides, imagine a situation now where we are GIVEN a government surplus. The WP will say, ‘let’s sell government land more cheaply’. The PAP will say, ‘let’s give growth shares’. Both situations will actually not draw down the reserves, if you are spending a surplus. But this depends on there being a surplus in the first place. If there is no surplus, then the PAP’s growth shares would also similarly be an “illegal raid” on the reserves.
But more importantly, this is not actually strictly illegal. The PAP is twisting the law a little since it is not “illegal” to use the reserves to subsidise government land: it is simply illegal to do so without the president’s consent. So, get the president’s consent (whatever that might entail), and the WP’s proposal is good-to-go, even without a surplus.
However, let’s say the president is being prudent, and refuses. So we need to count on a budget surplus. How likely is that? Well, I did a quick google search and turned up this: http://ideas.repec.org/p/sca/scaewp/0704.html Apparently, our government manages to generate ‘healthy budget surpluses year after year’. So the WP might be well-justified to say: hold on, in a realistic case, we will not be raiding any reserves at all. We’ll just be using the surplus to pay for cheaper new flats, rather than on growth shares.
Conclusion: The WP’s policy seems well-thought out. The key issue here is whether one thinks the surpluses should be used for growth shares, or for subsidising new flats. Now that’s something that my Economics analysis has no answers for.