Thursday, May 5, 2011

My first PAP Rally: an encounter with Teo Chee Hean and Michael Palmer

by Kirsten Han (source)


First up was Mr Michael Palmer. We waited for a little while as he greeted his constituents and supporters, taking photos with them and shaking hands. Then, when I felt that a window of opportunity had come up (i.e. a lull in the meet-and-greet), I decided to seize the chance. “Hi, Mr Palmer, we would like to ask you a question.”

He looked at me, a little uncertain. He had probably seen Ben and I standing by the barrier throughout the whole rally, taking notes on Ben’s iPad and snapping photos. I’m not sure where he thought we were from at that point. He opened his mouth to say something. I didn’t catch all of it and so I don’t want to misquote him, but I don’t think he was going to answer my question. A PAP volunteer then swooped in and said that it was time to take photos, or something to that effect. Both Mr Palmer and the volunteer then turned away from me, although they weren’t really taking photos either.

Then Ben stepped in. “Mr Palmer, I live here and I have a question for you.”

Once Ben said “I live here”, Mr Palmer was all ears. So Ben pressed on. “If the opposition were elected in Punggol East, would the PAP still carry out its upgrading plans?”

Mr Palmer told us that this would be up to the opposition, who would take over the town council. I was a little confused about this, because the opposition parties have hammered on this issue quite a bit during the previous rallies I had attended, and even PM Lee himself had said that the PAP gave priority in upgrading to PAP constituencies – indicating that it isn’t all up to the town council and the opposition party. So I asked, “But will the government provide the funds?”

“Funds for local upgrading projects will be controlled by the Town Council.”

I still didn’t feel 100% convinced/satisfied, but felt that Mr Palmer had probably said all that he wanted to say, which is his prerogative. So I thanked him, and Ben thanked him, and he went on his way to meet more of his supporters.

“Let’s ask DPM Teo now,” Ben suggested.

I agreed, but judging from Mr Palmer’s reaction, I said, “I think as someone who actually lives here you stand a better chance than me at getting a word in.” So Ben handed me his iPad and I stood back as he approach DPM Teo.

From where I stood, I couldn’t hear what Ben was saying, but I heard some of what DPM Teo said. I saw Ben gesture – I guessed that he was indicating where he lived. Then I heard DPM Teo say, “Where are you from?”

Ben said something, which I assumed to be “The Online Citizen”, and then DPM Teo very curtly said, “thank you for identifying yourself” and walked away. Ben raised his arm and called DPM Teo’s name, but he just kept walking.

I was horrified. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.

Now, I didn’t really expect DPM Teo to give us a detailed answer. Heck, I didn’t even expect him to give us a definite answer. But I did think that he could have spared a little time to hear the question and to give a short response. But he didn’t even stop to listen to the question. In fact, he had already turned and was walking away from Ben as he was speaking. He didn’t even want to hear what the question was. And that was what really got to me.

I understand that public figures, including politicians, are not beholden to the press, no matter how much the press wishes they were. I know that it is well within their rights to decline an interview, or decline a question. However, I did feel that he could have at least heard Ben out, listened to the question. And if he didn’t want to answer the question, he could have said so, or said something along the lines of “I believe this is something for Mr Palmer to address as the candidate in this constituency”. But to have turned and walked away, dismissing a person so abruptly, was just rude. And what was the “thank you for identifying yourself” supposed to mean? Are we supposed to feel threatened by that, as TOC volunteers?

Ben wrote about his experience here.

I was disappointed by this encounter because DPM Teo is a high-ranking member of the Singapore government. I think it highly unlikely that he is going to be voted out in this elections, and so he will continue to be a high-ranking member of the Singapore government. And as the Deputy Prime Minister, he is someone who has been elected by Singaporeans to represent them, not just nationally but on the international stage as well. Wherever he goes, he is a representative of all Singaporeans, not just the PAP-supporting ones. As such, I felt that he should not have turned his back on a Singaporean in such a manner, even if that Singaporean is a TOC volunteer.

And this is not even to mention the fact that this Singaporean (Ben) is also a constituent of Punggol East SMC, for which the rally was being held. Just minutes before this the PAP had been campaigning so hard for the people’s votes, claiming that the PAP “listens to YOU” and the PAP “knows YOU” and “cares about YOU”. And then DPM Teo snubbed a constituent just because of his affiliation to a website SM Goh declared to be “anti-establishment”.

I had heard accounts from friends and acquaintances of PAP candidates not wanting to shake hands with people who show signs of support for the opposition, or getting angry at people they deem to be too critical of them. But I had not really put much stock into these accounts, dismissing them as misunderstandings or perhaps an over-eagerness to criticise the incumbent. Today I saw it with my very own eyes, how a Singaporean was dismissed just because he was not a supporter. And he hadn’t even asked the question yet.

I did not join TOC to be anti-PAP. I did not join TOC to be “anti-establishment”. I did not join TOC because of any hidden “agenda” to pull down or undermine the PAP. I joined TOC because I felt that the mainstream media in Singapore was not giving us the full picture, and because I realised that there are so many people who would be neglected or forgotten, without a voice, if ordinary Singaporeans like myself stood by and did nothing. I have my frustrations with the PAP government and the policies they have passed, and I do strongly believe that change is needed in my country, but I have no hatred towards the party itself.

When I report something for TOC, even if it is a PAP event, I try my best to be as fair and balanced as I can be. When I first went to a YPAP forum, the organiser had been worried about the TOC report and asked me not to be too harsh. I told him that I would report what I observed, and try to be balanced. You can read the resulting article and judge for yourself.

As such, I don’t feel that my fellow volunteers and I deserve to be snubbed, slighted and dismissed in such a way. We are not TOC volunteers in spite of being Singaporeans, we are TOC volunteers because we are Singaporeans.

And when our leaders say that they want to reach out and connect with the people, they should not forget that we are their people too.

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