Sunday, May 8, 2011

After the battle: Aljunied GRC

The MIW have lost the hearts and minds battle in Aljunied and a new management will soon move into town councils there.

The General Elections 2011 demonstrated convincingly that Singaporean netizens walked the talk after they aired a slew of personal, municipal and national level grouses on the Internet.

Their votes have spoken. So what's next?

Cabinet transformation
High on the agenda for the People's Action Party (PAP), which has returned to power, is the selection of a new Minister for Foreign Affairs. Few in Cabinet can match the philosophical musings (eg, comparing Singapore's destiny with the rise and fall of Venice) and appreciation of historical moments as outgoing minister George Yeo.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) will lose two political appointees. They are Mr George Yeo Yong-Boon and Mr Zainal Abidin Rasheed, its Senior Minister of State. Both stood as PAP candidates in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency and lost their seats to the Workers' Party (WP).

Bottomline: It is possible that PM Lee may double hat as MFA minister while the rest of the new Cabinet gets into steady state mode. Some young ministers showed an unfortunate lack of sensitivity during the hustings and this is likely to count against them, especially for the MFA slot.

Four defence and security issues that Singaporeans will have to watch closely include:
* The Points of Agreement (POA) that will lead to the land swap with Malaysia.
* The sea border negotiations with Indonesia and Malaysia. Unresolved for years, this has given Indonesian Navy warships a good excuse to wander into what Singapore deems as Singapore Territorial Waters (STW) with passive agressive challenges using high speed runs and blinding searchlights at night.
*  The Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with Indonesia. The deadlock in talks is holding back closer and more meaningful defence relations with Indonesia. The Siabu Air Weapons Range in Pekan Baru is slowly but steadily deteriorating in Sumatra's harsh tropical weather and is just one casaulty of the failure to renew the DCA.
* To a lesser but no less important degree, the MFA needs a minister who can fend off pressure for Singapore to contribute Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops for assorted missions overseas. The United States, in particular, has been knocking on doors of its partners around the globe to lessen the burden on US forces. The unspoken line is for coalition partners to spread the load as a larger pool of international participation reduces the odds of an American ending up as a war casualty.

The outgoing Aljunied team
The PAP has never had a better opportunity to prove to the electorate that its multi-million dollar ministerial salaries are calculated because its candidates are worth it. Don't get me wrong. This is not a snarky remark.

For years, ministerial pay has been a hot topic which has been dissed by the MIW.

Singaporeans will watch closely where Mr Yeo's career path will lead to. Whatever the case, he is unlikely to require a handout or remain unemployed for long.

If he is given a job with a state-linked company as a consolation prize, this saving grace will only fuel unhappiness that minister's cannot hold their own in the private sector. By this I mean the real private sector, not privatised companies that are government-owned as it would lend credence to the view that a hidden hand helped nudge Mr Yeo into his new job.

The spotlight will also fall on the future for Mr Zainal and Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and 2nd Minister for Finance and Transport.

Will HR professionals and talent scouts beat a path to these candidates with (multi-million dollar) job offers in hand? This is a delicate matter which the MIW must weigh carefully because a botched job placement plan will erode its morale high ground when debating ministerial pay.

Bottomline: I reckon Mr Yeo will be retained as a consultant to the MFA. Other government departments (OGDs) such as the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) have done so for outstanding individuals and I expect MFA to do the same.

The future for Aljunied residents
The five-year window for Aljunied residents to repent starts today.

If the PAP is to distill lessons from the 7 May'11 GE for the top takeaway, it should be this: The playbook is outdated.

Any attempt to make Aljunied residents pay and pay for their decision at the ballot box will backfire. In the social media era, every resident has a voice and any reprisals will be magnified as residents cry foul online and offline.

While the old regime's playbook may have recommended a scorched earth policy by withdrawing and leaving hollowed out town councils, this tactic will not work today.

The change in management will test grassroots volunteers. Will they withdraw from the community they live in and therefore send a signal that their time and sweat is allied more to party colours and not a genuine desire to serve the residents? Will MIW grassroots stay in place with a passive aggressive attitude to disrupt, delay and destroy goodwill between Aljunied residents and the new town councils?

With citizen journalists on the prowl, any attempt to do so make backfire, with unintended results for the party.

This isn't a case of letting Aljunied residents have their cake and eat it. The WP team will have to shoulder the burden, voters will have to live with their decisions but the children, young adults of non-voting age and elderly must not be part of the collateral damage in the politicking.

If the WP fails to deliver, there is always another GE for people to decide.

Bottomline: No scorched earth. A proper handing/taking over should be executed. Incoming town council members should be briefed on potential trouble spots and institutional memory must be handed over. Grassroots volunteers and leaders should place community interests above party loyalty.

To leave Aljunied residents hung out to dry smears the MIW's image that they are there for the people.

This would only serve to give its critics more ammunition to blast the PAPies when the next GE comes around by 2016.

Next: After the battle: Hits and misses in GE 2011 by various political parties that engaged the mainstream and social media


Anonymous said...

The Clausewitzian Trinity rings true... the country must have harmony btw the Government, Military and the People, failing which collateral damage occurs.

Callsign 24 S said...

CJ, good writeup !

singazine said...

'Senang Diri' added to Singazine. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that George Yeo be assigned a post
Foreign Minister Mentor

Anonymous said...

To say that Indonesians are wandering into STW is wrong. The waters that the Indonesians are operating in is ITW, only that they have not seriously patrolled it in the past until they lost the border dispute with Malaysia. The DCA was stacked in Singapore's favour compared to the extradition treaty and the Indonesians have every right to reject it. A large part of the DCA was to obtain Indonesian permission to re-use what was traditionally known as Area West and Area South training areas over Indonesian airspace. RSAF used to exercise in those areas until LKY offended Habibie and the Indonesians shut it down. By the way the Siabu weapons range was only to keep the Indonesians happy. Singapore reneged on the range setup by changing the software displays so that it artificially limited the ACMI capability to within the range so as to give the impression that it invested in building up an instrumented range for the Indons. The ACMI pods used there are essentially the same rangeless system used back home, but with a software limit to cap its capabilities.

The RSN also conducted a lot of unilateral live firings in the South China Sea Training Area D45/15, half of which lie in ITW. Just because the Indonesians did not object or closed an eye to it in the past does not mean that Singapore has an unreserved right to using it. A lot of its predicament today lies in the way Singapore treated its neighbours, especially taking advantage of Indonesians. The Thais have woken up to Singapore's ways and negotiated for the F-16A/B to be given to them almost as a gift in exchange for being able to use Udorn Airbase, after years of being shafted by RSAF using Korat for peanuts. It is about time the arrogant MIW learn some humility.

Anonymous said...

if these ex-Ministers get cushy jobs with commercial companies, it wont be for their talent. It will be a reward for policies they have made in the past that benefited these companies, or to buy their connections to continue to influence policies that favour these companies. Its called the revolving door between govt and business. Legalised corruption in countries run to profit the rich.