Sunday, December 18, 2011

"A Nation Awakes: Frontline Reflections"


ABOUT THE BOOK (launched on 16 December 2011)

Few nations if any, have ever held two national elections in a span of four months. Fewer still are key players who took part in both. This book is the story of extraordinary men and women who fought Singapore's 2011 General Election in May and the Presidential Election in August. Together with their loyal and dedicated supporters, they displayed great courage and conviction, and in so doing changed the political landscape forever.

The writers of this book represent a broad spectrum of Singapore society - student, teacher, university researcher, social worker, doctor, economist, lawyer, advertising, media and IT personnel, blogger, housewife and retiree. They cut across all age groups from their twenties to their sixties. They have come together in this book to relate and share their personal journey with Singaporeans.

Unlike most post-election commentaries written by third-party observers, this book is unique as it allows readers to hear from the horse's mouth how in four short months, Singapore's single dominant party system has given way to the emergence of a politics of diversity with positive implications for the country's future system of government.


• Foreword by Sir Ivor Crewe
• Preface by Tan Jee Say
• Prologue by Prof Staffan I Lindberg
• From Essay to ‘Ho-say’ by Tan Jee Say
• Fear No More by Dr Ang Yong Guan
• Building A Singapore Our Future Generations Can Be Proud Of by Michelle Lee Juen
• I Could Not Say No by Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss
• Is There a Climate Change? by Dr Wong Wee Nam
• The Doctor’s Heart by Dr Leong Yan Hoi & Dr Tan Lip Hong
• A Personal Journey To The 2011 Elections by Dr Paul Ananth Tambyah
• Beyond Social Work But Not Apart by Dr Vincent Wijeysingha
• Let’s Run The Race Together by Fahmi Rais
• Singapore’s Social Media Revolution by Jarrod Luo
• Staying Relevant With Neither Sound Nor Fury by Alex Au
• All The World’s A Stage by Bentley Tan
• Young And Emancipated by Nicole Seah
• Bridging the (Democracy) Gap With Youthful Passion by Dexter Lee
• A New Lease Of Life For Old Fogies by Patrick Low
• Like A First Lady by Patricia Khoo Phaik Ean
• Epilogue: Get Organised For A Broad-Based, Non-PAP Government by Tan Jee Say
• Appendix: Summary Extract Of Essay by Tan Jee Say


“The courageous spirit and vision of Tan Jee Say and other bravehearts from Singapore’s opposition parties and civil society in the 2011 elections resembles a collective ‘Singa’s roar’ which continues to reverberate across this city-state in Southeast Asia. The ‘Singa’s roar’ resonates with other popular movements striving for democracy in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and around the world.”

-- Associate Professor Lily Zubaidah Rahim, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney. She is an author of several books on Singapore and Southeast Asia.

“I met Jee Say in Singapore a few months after his historic candidacy for the presidency, nearly forty years after we had been students together at University College, Oxford. The ideals of fairness and justice of his youthful days had clearly survived a very distinguished career in the public service and in finance, along with passion and courage.”

-- Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, Member of Parliament and adviser on national reconciliation in Sri Lanka; he contested the presidency of Sri Lanka in 1999. He is currently the Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.

“This book brings out the robust and diverse nature of Singapore, and these attributes are positive for the development of Singapore as a financial centre.”

-- Tim Tacchi, Senior Partner, TT International, a global fund manager with its head office in London.

"It gives me great pleasure to introduce and commend this fascinating and stirring book about Singapore’s recent presidential and general elections....By revealing the feelings, thoughts and motives of a diverse group of hard-working professional Singaporeans…, this book is testimony to the vital importance and benefits of active citizenship, vigorous democracy and public-spirited leadership. Many of the individual accounts of involvement in the elections are a moving reminder of the personal sacrifices that people are willing to make to further their vision of a better society. To support an opposition candidate in a country accustomed to continuous single-party rule is to risk job security, business prospects, family life, personal privacy and social acceptance. Although the contributors to this book would never make the claim themselves, they are all modest heroes.

....The founder of the modern Olympics said that “the most important thing is not winning but taking part”. This is the message that shines out from the contributors to this book. The presidential election was one of those elections in which the official winner was in many ways the loser and the official loser was in many ways the winner. By showing that it was possible to launch a major challenge against the dominant party, Jee Say Tan and his friends and supporters bestowed a great service to the people of Singapore, not only this year but for the future."

-- Extract from the Foreword by Sir Ivor Crewe, Master of University College, Oxford. He has published and broadcast extensively on British and American politics mainly in the subjects of elections, parties, public opinion and public policy.



The Online Citizen (TOC) interviews Tan Jee Say (TJS)

TOC: When did the idea for this book come about? What were the motivations?
TJS: The idea came after the Presidential Election ended. Like the GE before it, the PE was hotly contested. To have one heavily contested election is already quite unusual in Singapore, to have two in a span of 4 months is unprecedented and this led to much heightened political awareness among a normally docile and apathetic electorate. We feel this should be recorded and our contributory role explained so that Singaporeans can understand and appreciate how ordinary people like ourselves can make a difference.

TOC: Your media release says the writers of the book represent a broad spectrum of Singapore society. Do they include any PAP members and/or supporters?
TJS: The broad spectrum refers to the writers coming from all social-economic sectors rather than political. PAP members and supporters are not included because this book is about the role of non-PAP forces in transforming the political landscape whereas PAP wants status quo.

TOC: What do you hope this book will achieve?
TJS: We hope the book will help Singaporeans get rid of their fear about participating in the political affairs of their own country and see it as normal, healthy process in taking Singapore to the next level.

TOC: Are there any other things you would like to say about the book and the book launch?
TJS: This book is unique as it is written by players not bystanders or political observers.It is an insiders account which is seldom seen in Singapore.


The Online Citizen (TOC) interviews Paul Tambyah (PT)

TOC: When were you approached to write for this book? Describe the circumstances.
PT: Soon after the Presidential elections, Jee Say brought up the idea of writing a book to document the remarkable events surrounding the two elections. He asked me if I would contribute and I readily agreed.

TOC: Why did you decide to contribute?
PT: I thought that it was important for me to be a part of this book as I had been a part of the campaigns and I thought that it would be useful for Singaporeans to hear a little background that could not be conveyed in a Rally speech. I was also proud to be associated with the people in the campaign and pleased to be asked to contribute to this historical text.

TOC: What do you hope the stories contained the book will achieve?
PT: I sincerely hope that the stories in the book will show how ordinary Singaporeans who are part of the mainstream but are not satisfied with many of the policies and directions that are being promoted by the ruling party can come forward sincerely to offer alternative views. These views now have a number of platforms by which they may be heard and Sinagaporeans, being a mature people can decide for themselves which policies are best for themselves and their families. This book is one such platform and I hope that it will help more Singaporeans to come forward. This can only be good for Singapore


Extract from Associate Professor Tambyah’s chapter:

Paul Ananth Tambyah

One day in 2009, I received a call from a friend who was politically active in the ruling party asking if he could talk with me in person. I was a bit apprehensive, but when he said that the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) had decided to nominate me for consideration as a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), I decided to say yes. It turned out that the SMA, which represents a significant proportion of general practitioners (GPs) in Singapore, was upset about several issues that had come up recently. It perceived there to be a media campaign highlighting errant doctors, especially those in the private sector. More importantly, the SMA guideline on fees which had helped self-regulate the profession for years and was, in fact, established as a result of prompting from the Ministry of Health, was suddenly deemed anti-competitive and had to be withdrawn.

The SMA warned of dire consequences, all of which have come to pass at both ends of the spectrum. At the lower end, we have the spectacle of corporate GPs charging less for a consultation than a hawker charges for a plate of char kway teow! Naturally, these GPs are forced to shift the charges to medication prices, and reducing the impetus to prescribe judiciously. Patients are thus locked into high-cost drugs often prescribed for chronic illnesses, contributing significantly to the rising cost of healthcare in Singapore. Other GPs have had to become highly qualified beauticians in order to cover their costs by offering aesthetic services. After the elections, the moves to incorporate more GPs in the management of chronic diseases are a positive sign, but one only hopes that the paperwork will not be too great a hurdle. At the other end, we have the story of Dr Susan Lim charging what her patient was willing to pay and numerous others who have not garnered the attention of the media, but are well known within the medical community.

The SMA, for some reason, thought that I would be bold enough to speak up in parliament about its concerns, and that perhaps things would change for the profession and for patients. Subsequently, I received a message letting me know that the professional bodies had nominated me for NMP and that I had to go for an interview. I called my good friends Siew Kum Hong and Braema Mathi and asked them about the interviews and the wisdom of going ahead with the application. Both had done very good work as NMPs despite the constraints of the position and they encouraged me to go ahead.

The interview began with a question on what issues I would raise if selected. I was frank and began by talking about patients who were penalised for diseases that they had through no fault of their own. I asked, which parents would choose for their child to have leukemia and thus why should they be forced to deplete their Medisave accounts or their resources so that they became eligible for Medifund in order to pay for the treatment. I did not get a very encouraging response and, in fact, Mrs Lim Hwee Hwa turned the question around and asked whether I thought that the same principle applied to other sectors of the economy. She asked if I felt that GST should be lifted for essential goods, as I had argued that basic, essential and children’s healthcare should be free. I was cautious but I said I did feel that GST should not be imposed on basic necessities such as rice and milk, and cited other countries which exempt these from GST. At once, I saw from the faces across the table that I had mentioned the unmentionable. Apart from Mr Low Thia Kiang who had a silent grin, the rest of the committee had stern faces.

To lighten the mood, Mr Michael Palmer asked what other issues I would raise. I mentioned that I had been nominated by the SMA and thus was morally obliged to bring up issues of concern to the organisation in addition to patient issues. The issue I highlighted was the plight of the ‘HDB GPs’ who face rising costs and are unable to pass these costs onto their ‘heartlander’ patients who often cannot afford expensive medications or treatments. The result of this is well documented in the SMA GP surveys which I cited and which have shown declines in the income and standard of living of the average GP in Singapore over the last decade.

This was met with some incredulity as all the MPs, beginning with Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, began to point out that at every meet-the-people session after the university admissions process started, anguished parents were out in force to appeal for their children who did not get into medical school. My answer was a little weak as I mentioned that they probably did not realise the average GP’s plight, or even know that more than half of the graduating class were GPs doing the hard work of primary healthcare in Singapore’s housing estates.

I now know why Singaporean parents want their children to become doctors – this was wonderfully explained by Professor Lee Wei Ling in her Straits Times (ST) column on 23 December, 2009. Singaporeans parents anxious about their own health and that of their families resonate with the situation described by Professor Lee in our public hospitals. The rest of the interview was unremarkable, and to be honest, I was not too surprised when I discovered through both The Straits Times and The Online Citizen that nine other worthy individuals had been chosen as NMPs (five of whom had listed then-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as their favourite politician!). I did write in to ask why I was not selected, but the reply was merely a polite “we are unable to comment on the special select committee’s decision” on either mine or Kum Hong’s non-reappointment.

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