Archive for November, 2015

The hypocrisy of Calvin Cheng’s “Dangers of a politicised elected presidency”

November 16, 2015

I refer to the 16 Nov 2015 Straits Times letter “Dangers of a politicised elected presidency” by Calvin Cheng.

Calvin wrote:

The problem with the elected presidency goes beyond the quality of the candidates – the problem is that the process has been politicised.

It is clear from the previous presidential election that candidates are no longer content to just be a figurehead with a second key to our reserves – several candidates campaigned on a platform of a more politically active elected president who can draw from his popular mandate to act as a check on the Government.

Calvin should realise that the president is empowered by law to check on the government on certain important matters concerning our reserves. Therefore, checking the government is not entirely at odds with the president’s role. The checking role is very common in all walks of life:

• There are checkers for every examination paper sat by our students including our Cambridge GCE papers.

• The board of directors effectively act as checkers on the CEO

• The quality control of every manufacturing firm is a checker

• The manager who approves and signs his subordinates’ work is also a checker

Checkers are not antagonistic but essential to the well functioning of society at all levels. Because checking is so important, it should be welcomed, not brushed aside. Only irresponsible people refuse checking.

Calvin wrote:

First, such a politically active elected president could ignite a constitutional crisis because, in our political system, the President is not meant to be an alternate source of political power, much less a check on the Government.

Even if his powers are curtailed constitutionally, an elected president intent on making his political views heard will be hard to stop.

A politically active president could thus reach beyond his constitutional role, by appealing to his electoral support.

The president’s checking can simply mean an extra pair of eyes to help the government spot mistakes for the betterment of the country and the people. Whether or not the government disagrees with the president, there can be no constitutional crisis because the constitution clearly doesn’t require the government to follow the president’s advice on matters outside his jurisdiction. To say otherwise is to doubt the constitution and to question its legal authority.

The government should not fear the president’s political views if its own views are robust, unshakeable and impeccable. To say otherwise is to say that the government’s views are shaky and cannot stand the test of arguments. Wouldn’t that all the more suggest the need for more checks beyond ‘own self check own self’?

Furthermore, the government can easily out speak the president through the press and the television which it firmly controls and which have been deemed more trustworthy according to the Institute of Policy Studies.

Calvin wrote:

Second, after every general election, a time of healing and national unity is necessary for the country to move forward.

How can there be healing if the injurers are not taken to task and not given their due justice? How can the injured heal when there is nothing to stop the injurer from continuing to rub salt into wounds? How does Calvin expect the injured to show unity with the injurer when the injurer never apologises and does not even think he is wrong?

Calvin wrote:

The presidential election, if it continues to be politicised, will quickly become a proxy for a mid-term referendum on the Government, with each party backing its own candidate.

Mid-term feedbacks are common in many levels of society. Students sit for mid-year exams, employees undergo mid-year reviews, companies submit mid-year financial reports, even quarterly reports. Given its importance, wouldn’t it be all the more necessary for the government to be subjected to mid-term reviews?

Calvin wrote:

This means that instead of focusing on technocratic competence, governments will end up having to deal with politicking every two years, effectively shortening the electoral cycle.

This is unhealthy both for governance, as well as for national unity.

Calvin is presupposing that politicking happens in a vacuum independent of technocratic issues. That is not the case. All political issues are ultimately technocratic issues. If the technocratic competence of the government is not regularly challenged, we will end up with technocratic incompetence every now and then like we did back in 2007 to 2011. Thus, contrary to Calvin’s assertions, politicking based on technocratic issues is both healthy and essential for good governance.

Calvin should not fool himself into thinking that silencing Singaporeans, including the president, is the hallmark of national unity. It is not; it is the hallmark of dictatorship.

Calvin wrote:

A permanently politicised country is a road that other countries have travelled, and one we would do well to avoid.

Calvin should quit kidding himself. All nations are pollicised for better or for worse, by authoritarian or democratic rule. Even China is politicised albeit by the Chinese Communist Party.

Calvin wrote:

In the light of this, it may well be prudent to scrap the elected presidency, and revert to the old system of an appointed one, which produced respected and loved presidents such as Mr Yusof Ishak, Dr Benjamin Sheares and Dr Wee Kim Wee.

It’s quite obvious that appointed president Devan Nair isn’t someone Calvin would think first as a loved and respected president. By PAP standards, Devan Nair isn’t one of the respected and loved presidents. Thus, contrary to Calvin’s assertions, the old system of appointing presidents doesn’t automatically yield respected and loved presidents (according to PAP standards).

Calvin wrote:

The president should be a figure for national unity, and elections, by nature, divide rather than unite.

Does Calvin think there can be national unity under President Tony Tan who is himself a through and through PAP man for decades? If the politicising of the president is something Calvin frowns on, surely Calvin should frown on Tony Tan becoming the president? Or Calvin prefers to fool himself thinking that Tony Tan, after decades as a key PAP man, suddenly shed his PAP colours overnight when he became the president?

Does Calvin seriously believe Tony Tan would have been a uniting figure rather than a divisive figure if he had been appointed rather than elected?

Calvin wrote:

The second key to the reserves can then be held not by one man with a political agenda, but by a Council of Grandees, which can include the appointed apolitical president, the Chief Justice, the head of the civil service, as well as well-respected people from the unions, professions and businesses.

Calvin should not kid himself thinking that the law profession, civil service, unions, professions, businesses are not political in and of themselves. Singapore’s biggest union, the NTUC, stands side by side PAP in every national day parade. DBS, under ex-chairman Wee Cho Yaw, donates to PAP foundation. The law society stood firmly with the PAP government on many issues including the lawsuit involving Dr Susan Lim. Our ambassadors to Australia and Hong Kong have written to the press to defend their political masters. My ex statutory board director writes weekly essays to the whole department, some reeking heavily of political (PAP) agenda.

What is the point, may we ask Calvin, of transferring our reserves key from the politicisable elected president to the equally politicisable council of grandees? I can think of one reason. In the case of the elected president, the politicising can go either way while in the case of the council of grandees, being appointed by the PAP government, the politicising will more likely go only one way. Herein lays Calvin’s hypocrisy: while waxing lyrical about the need to depoliticise the president’s role, Calvin’s solution is one that tilts the already unfair politics even more in favour to his PAP political masters.


IPS post election survey 2015

November 9, 2015

I refer to Institute of Policy Studies’ post election conference slides: Post election survey 2015 (S1_GK_POPS-8_GE2015_291015_Web1.pdf).

Response rate

The survey response rate of 24.5% (page 10) is rather low. This may compromise the randomness of the survey.

Percentage importance VS mean score

IPS ranks “need for efficient government” as the top issue of 2015 because it bears the highest mean score (page 21).

1 - need for efficient government

However, there is no change to the mean score for “need for efficient government” between 2011 and 2015, so it can’t explain the sharp change in voter sentiments between 2011 and 2015. To explain the sharp change in voter sentiments, we need to look for larger change in numbers.

Take the issue of “fairness of government policy” for example. The mean score rose marginally from 4.1 to 4.3 between 2011 and 2015, not substantial enough to show up on the radar screen. But the percentage of voters who viewed this issue as important or very important rose sharply from 81% to 94%. This sticks out more prominently.

2 - fairness of government policy

It is important to know what to look for in the data that we have.

Issues with larger increases in percentage respondents viewing it as important

The issues that have seen much greater increase in number of respondents viewing it as important or very important compared to 2011 were (1) fairness of government policy, (2) work of former MP, (3) foreigners & immigration, (4) neighbourhood facilities and (5) upgrading:

3 - work of former MP
4 - upgrading

Amongst these five issues, it can be presumed that the issue of foreigners and immigration worked against the PAP while the other four issues worked for it. Thus while the opposition had rightly capitalised on the issue of foreigners and immigration, this issue alone could not overturn the combined influence of the other four issues that the PAP was able to bring about by the sheer strength of its financial muscle.

The Pioneer Package may have contributed to the sharp increase in the percentage of respondents giving importance to fairness of government policy. This together with sharp increases in percentage of respondents who placed importance in upgrading and neighbourhood facilities suggests that ultimately it was generous providence that bought PAP success.

Comparing 2006 with 2011

We can similarly compare 2006 and 2011. The issues that experienced sharper increases going from 2006 to 2011 were cost of living, party manifestos, job situation and upgrading, which were roughly the more prominent issues back in 2011.

Candidate characteristics

IPS concluded that the electorate placed greater emphasis on a GE2015 candidate’s honesty, fairness, efficiency and empathy (page 25). However, because many GE2015 candidates were new faces, there would not be sufficient track record to judge them on these attributes. These would therefore be rather useless attributes in explaining electoral choice.

Communication channel

The percentage of voters influenced by TV, internet, grassroots workers, door-to-door visits, friends/family/colleagues increased in GE2015 so all these may have contributed to the election outcome.

Little separated the top three channels of TV, newspapers and the internet. What’s interesting to note is that amongst internet channels, Facebook stood head and shoulders above the rest.

5 - top 5 internet channels

There may be an urgent need for the opposition to expand its Facebook reach towards swing voters.

Party credibility

6 - credibility

All three most credible parties experienced sizeable increases in the percentage of voters viewing them as credible in 2015 but that did not translate to the same electoral success. Perhaps when it comes to credibility, being the second or third most credible party means nothing when compared to the most credible party.

It is unlikely for the opposition to ever match PAP in credibility because it can never be in a position to show that it too can deliver. While a lot of good can come from speeches or manifestos, in the context of practical minded Singaporeans, talk or sales brochures seldom trump action and actual physical providence.

Election system

There is a marked increase in the percentage of voters who perceived election fairness as being important in 2015 and this may have worked to PAP’s favour. PAP may have learnt not to be too blatant in its abuse of the election process to gain acceptance by the masses.

7 - election system is fair

Cluster analysis

IPS categorises voters into three groups:

1) Conservatives (those who support the status quo)
2) Pluralists (those who support political pluralism and change in electoral system)
3) Swing voters (those whose views are mixed)

IPS doesn’t give details on how it decides who supports the status quo and who doesn’t but from its brief description, it’s possible that IPS based its decision on respondents’ views on some mixture of the following issues:

1) Need checks and balances in parliament
2) Need for different views in parliament
3) Important to have elected opposition party members in parliament
4) No need to change election system

The problem with the above criteria is that they don’t specify how much check and balance, how many different views in parliament or how many elected opposition members of parliament. For example in the case of having elected opposition members, it’s possible that a respondent might give a “yes” answer even though in his mind, he is thinking of no more than just a handful of opposition members. From the given answer, IPS would conclude that this respondent is a pluralist (if other answers do not contradict) but in actual fact, this respondent is closer to a conservative than to a pluralist.

It would have been far better if IPS had simply asked respondents if they had switched votes this time. That would be more straight forward and surer in identifying the swing voters.


While IPS flagged differences between various voting groups’ mean scores to various issues as being significantly different, most of them hardly differ by more than 10%. It therefore seems that on average, voters of different groups by age, household income, education, ethnicity, housing type, gender, citizenship status do not differ too greatly from one another in voting pattern. That is, even new citizens do not vote too differently from citizens at birth.

However, as noted at the beginning, mean scores may not as meaningful as percentage respondents in deciphering voting patterns.


The percentage of respondents who viewed an issue as important or very important may be more meaningful than the issue’s mean score in deciphering voter sentiments.

Based on issues that experienced greater increase in number of respondents viewing them as important or very important, the key to PAP’s 2015 electoral success may have been its tremendous power of providence.

Facebook emerged as the runaway champion amongst various internet modes of communication.

It may not be of much use to be the second or third most credible party when up against the most credible party. Opposition parties must start to move decisively beyond talk and manifesto towards physical actualisation of its providence ability to match up to PAP’s credibility.

IPS’ cluster analysis’ categorisation of various voter groups is not very convincing. A simple question of whether the respondent switched votes may have been better.

More to ST report on Singapore’s Legatum 2015 performance

November 3, 2015

I refer to the 3 Nov 2015 Straits Times report “Singapore economy tops key sub-index”.

Firstly, there is no such thing as the economy sub-index being the key sub-index. According to Legatum 2015 report (page 40):

“Finally, the Prosperity Index score is determined by assigning equal weights to all eight sub-indices. The average of the eight sub-indices yields a country’s overall Prosperity score.”

Thus, the economy sub-index is not a key sub-index but simply one of eight sub-indices of equal weight.

ST reported:

Singapore’s economy topped a list of 142 countries in an annual global prosperity sub-index released by the Legatum Institute yesterday, on the strength of its export market and productivity rate.

The Republic dislodged Switzerland to grab the top spot this year in the economy category of the Prosperity Index, which classified 47 per cent of its manufactured exports as “high-tech”, the third highest in the world.

The title and the opening paragraphs say it all, economy alone is sufficient to sing Singapore praises despite the fact that Singapore didn’t make it to the top 10 in any of the other sub-indices and only managed an overall ranking of 17th.

It is worth noting that China is ranked 3rd in Legatum’s economy sub-index even though China’s per capita GDP is still quite low by international standards. Hence, Legatum’s economy sub-index doesn’t necessarily reflect a nation’s level of economic attainment.

According to Legatum, the economy sub-index is a combination of many factors including high-tech exports. But many of our high tech exports are by foreign firms the revenue of which goes mainly to foreign firms, not to Singaporean firms or to Singaporeans.

About half of Singapore GDP belongs to foreign firms and foreigners. These should be factored out to obtain our true economic performance. We cannot include the economic performance of foreign firms and foreigners as part of our economic performance as a nation just as we do not include the salaries of our tenants as part of our household income.

For example:
• A household couple earns $8,000 in total from wages
• They rent out a room for $1,000 to an expatriate who earns $10,000

The household’s income is only $9,000. The expatriate’s $10,000 salary is not considered part of the household’s income.

Singapore is renowned for having one of the world’s highest per capita GDPs. For example in 2010, our per capita GDP (PPP) of $57,902 was second highest in the world but our indigenous per capita GDP (Singaporeans and PRs) then was only SGD $47,148 which was only about ¾ that of our per capita GDP. If we factor out PRs’ GDP, the true figure for Singapore companies and Singaporeans might be even lower.

ST reported:

The index found Singapore to have the second-highest capital per worker in the world at US$240,750 (S$337,290), behind Luxembourg.


Don’t be fooled by the above reporting. “Capital per worker” isn’t one of the eight sub-indices in the Legatum Index but one of the sub sub or sub sub sub indices.

ST reported:

Among Asean nations, Malaysia came in next highest after Singapore, ranking 44th overall followed by Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. Indonesia climbed up 21 places in the last seven years – the most by any country in the world, to rank 69th overall.

The establishment loves to compare Singapore with our immediate poorer Southeast Asian neighbours when in terms of economic development we are closer to our fellow East Asian dragon economies. The Legatum rankings of our fellow East Asian economies are:

17 Singapore
19 Japan
20 Hong Kong
21 Taiwan
28 Korea, Rep.

Our ranking isn’t exceptional when seen in relation to the rankings of our fellow East Asian peers.