Category Archives: Politics

Kevin Rudd’s Leadership Challenge

Watching Australian politics from afar has provided some light entertainment of a real democracy at work, together with some of the short comings of the system. When compared to the stability offered by the “Singapore model” it can look a bit dysfunctional at times. Don’t get me wrong, I support the full democratic option over any other political system we have on offer. However, there are times when you just wonder if a benevolent dictatorship would get things moving along quite nicely; for a while at least.

The latest episode in the ongoing saga of “How to Make a Political Party Implode” is the challenge from Kevin Rudd for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party. Julia Gillard, the incumbent prime minister, actual took the leadership from Mr. Rudd in a similar fight back in 2010.

Before the last election the mix of comments on an Australian news site that I frequent were fairly balanced between Labor and Liberal supporters. The election result confirmed that mix with no clear majority won by either main party. This forced Labor to form a minority government with the help of some independents and the Greens.

Over time, as each policy failure and broken promise piled up, the sentiment shifted to be strongly against the Labor government. I now frequently read comments that include “I used to always vote Labor, but I will not be voting for Labor at the next election.”

The opinion polls of various newspapers and the dedicated polling companies all reflect the pattern in the comment pages.

The first time the government was facing certain annihilation at the next election Ms Gillard challenged Mr. Rudd and won the caucus vote to take over as prime minister. This resulted in a brief surge of support for Labor with Australia’s first woman prime minister at the helm. It soon ended as people took stock of how the leadership challenge was executed (rather nastily) combined with continuing policy failures and broken promises.

With opinion polls again in the doldrums and Kevin Rudd itching for his old job back rumours of another leadership challenge was all over the Australian media again. This was doing nothing for consumer and business confidence, which has been on a steady downward trend since 2010.

Most people I know in Australia want an election to throw out the government and put in a new one. Unfortunately that’s not too likely just yet, so let’s look at some of the alternative outcomes for tomorrow’s leadership ballot.

If Gillard wins with a large majority then Rudd will be finished for the foreseeable future, if not terminating any prospect of ever leading the Labor Party again. I don’t think it will be quite the landslide victory that most people seem to predict though. This is because politicians never easily give up power and with Gillard as leader they are absolutely doomed to lose at the next election. Rudd gives them a far better chance of getting re-elected and staying on in power according to all the opinion polls. Therefore, if there is a resounding defeat of Rudd then it is a damning reflection on his apparent problems with his personality and management style.

If Gillard wins with a small majority it gives Rudd a chance of coming back for a second attack, although he has personally assured everyone that he would not challenge Jullia Gillard again. This of course leaves the door open to challenge someone else in the future! Gillard would be in a weak position, knowing that many MPs in her party no longer have confidence in her ability to lead and win the next election.

Rudd winning with either a small or large majority would probably have enough momentum to give him some time and space to repair the damage of his own and Gillard’s government’s poor performance since the last election. However, I feel the electorate has had enough of Labor, especially the two leadership challengers, and will throw the government out with a resounding defeat.

If Rudd loses he has a few options up his sleeve. He could quietly go to the back benches for the rest of Julia Gillard’s leadership. If the result is close he could try again, breaking his promise as most politicians are known to do. In utter frustration he may decide to support a vote of no confidence, or even quit the Labor party and become an independent, both forcing an election!

Whatever happens, it has certainly been entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. You just don’t expect elected members of a modern, open, democratic nation like Australia to act like school children. I do believe the result will be closer than many expect, just on the self-preservation mentality that is inherit in all humans, especially politicians.

In the mean time Singaporeans will probably be reminded of what a real democracy is like by their own leadership and told of how good the PAP is for them and their country.

 



The Great Firewall of China – A Daily Surfing Comparison

I’m quite passionate about freedom of speech and information, especially when it comes to the internet. If you follow internet censorship issues you would have heard of the Great Firewall of China, which is essentially a government controlled list of sites that are deemed to be unsuitable for the common Chinese citizen.

You probably think that’s not such a bad thing to do, as the government would block sites such as those that contain child porn, support for terrorism and other “bad” sites, right? Well let me take you through a typical surfing experience that most of you will probably be familiar with and see what you think after that.

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open an email from my dad who has sent me a link to a video on Youtube and watch that.
  3. Since I’m on Youtube I check out my subscribed channels and watch a few more videos.
  4. I open a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia.
  5. I click on a few interesting articles and share one on Facebook with my friends.
  6. I see an email from my blog notifying me of a comment, so I go to my blog to log on to the administration dashboard and approve the comment.
  7. I decide to check a friend’s blog on Blogspot before opening Google Reader to check my news feed.
  8. Looking at Endgaget’s news feed I see an interesting article with a video from Vimeo.
  9. Another article mentions a company’s Twitter feed containing their latest announcements, so I click on the Twitter link to check out what is happening.
  10. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet, so I log into Facebook to check out the feedback.
  11. After that I decide to see what is happening with my blog, so I log onto Google’s Webmaster’s Tool, Adsense and Analytics.
  12. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page and check out the respective ratings on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com).
  13. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article about Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.
  14. I decide to see what’s happening on the Wikileaks site, as it’s been quite quiet lately.

Here is what I can do in China with no problems:

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open a a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia.
  3. I click on a few interesting articles.
  4. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet.
  5. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page.
  6. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article about Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.

Now I’ll explain what happens with each step:

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open an email from my dad who has sent me a link to a video on Youtube and watch that. Youtube is blocked.
  3. Since I’m on Youtube I check out my subscribed channels and watch a few more videos. Youtube is blocked.
  4. I open a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia. 
  5. I click on a few interesting articles and share one on Facebook with my friends. Facebook is blocked.
  6. I see an email from my blog notifying me of a comment, so I go to my blog to log on to the administration dashboard and approve the comment. My blog uses Google’s +1 and Facebook’s Like functions, which are blocked, thus making my blog take a very long time to load when it tries to access these sites.
  7. I decide to check a friend’s blog on Blogspot before opening Google Reader to check my news feed. Blogspot is blocked and Yahoo’s news images are blocked (part of my Google Reader feed).
  8. Looking at Endgaget’s news feed I see an interesting article with a video from Vimeo. Vimeo is blocked.
  9. Another article mentions a company’s Twitter feed which contains their latest announcements, so I click on the Twitter link to check out what is happening. Twitter is blocked.
  10. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet, so I log into Facebook to check out all the feedback. Facebook is blocked.
  11. After that I decide to see what is happening with my blog, so I log onto Google’s Webmaster’s Tool, Adsense and Analytics. Google’s sites are either blocked or have intermittent availability making for a frustrating user experience.
  12. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page and check out the respective ratings on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com). IMDB is blocked.
  13. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article on Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.
  14. I decide to see what’s happening on the Wikileaks site, as it’s been quite quiet lately. Wikileaks is blocked.

This makes for a pretty sad web surfing experience for a non-Chinese-resident in China. Any website that you use that has social media integration normally takes forever to load as those components are blocked (they timeout). However, if you are living in China then there are Chinese equivalents for almost all the blocked sites, which of course are “government approved.”

A government should have no say in what information its citizens can and can not view. A government should educate its citizens to make socially responsible decisions through the standard education system and guidance programs, such as ratings systems for movies. Ultimately the decision of whether to view the material should be the citizen’s own choice, who is aware of their own responsibilities and the consequences of their own actions.

A government that decides what information a citizen can and can not view thinks their citizens are beneath their leaders and not capable of rational thought. The other option could be that the government is scared of its own citizens being empowered by information. Perhaps it’s a combination of both!

Censorship is just wrong and is always abused, thus education is the path to a more progressive society.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_websites_blocked_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China



Singapore General Election 2011 – Aftermath

I’m not Singaporean, but I felt I was more excited about the recent election than many of my Singaporean friends. The result was never in doubt in my mind, PAP would win, leaving it to be a question of whether the opposition parties managed to get more than the one GRC the Workers Party (WP) was targeting. After all the votes were counted only the Aljunied GRC was won by the opposition, resulting in six WP representatives entering the parliament.

While many enthusiastic supporters of the opposition were looking for a huge success against the incumbent PAP, the majority (~60%) of Singaporeans still feel the PAP is the party to lead them into the future. Although I’m sure that many Singaporeans who did vote for the PAP also hoped that the opposition would win the Aljunied GRC.

This strange reasoning of voting for the PAP, but hoping for the opposition to win some seats is because many Singaporeans will tell you that this election was about sending a message of dissatisfaction about current PAP policies, an increasing level of arrogance and a disconnection from the lives of average Singaporeans. They wanted opposition members to win some seats to make sure that their voice was heard at the ballot box and during the next 5 years in parliament.

However, from an outsider’s perspective I feel that this election was about far more than that. This was an election about the awakening of Singaporeans to decide what type of Singapore they want for themselves and more importantly their children or grandchildren. It was a vote for a more transparent and open government, one that listens to its citizens and cares more for them, an end to dirty political tricks and a more balanced media. Essentially a freer, more open and democratic society that is inclusive of all citizens rather than being dominated by the elite few.

Apart from the obvious anger about the PAP’s performance this change was largely brought about with the engagement of the internet generation through the use of Youtube videos, Facebook, alternative news sites and personal blogs. This has turned many an apathetic Singaporean into a politically aware individual. I saw my Facebook news feed flooded with different points of view, mostly in favour of the opposition. There were also some amazing comments from people who were having a “hallelujah” moment as the censorship machine was thwarted by the internet and my friends finally saw the bias of the government controlled media. I personally can’t read the Straits Times because I find that I want to start yelling at the reporters for not doing their jobs!

The PAP now knows that Singaporeans will vote against them in large numbers, especially the internet generation, of which there will be many more at the next election. Whereas most SMCs and GRCs had a large majority in the past, requiring a massive swing to the opposition to ever be in doubt, quite a few seats would be in the opposition’s hands with less than a 10% swing in the next election.

What happens over the next 5 years will ultimately determine the pace of change in Singapore in the near future. I see a few scenarios:

  1. Lee Kuan Yew passes away and the PAP suffers a power struggle resulting in a split into two parties, creating the strongest opposition party in Singapore and possibly an immediate election.
  2. The PAP listens to the message that Singaporeans sent during the last general election and adopts appropriate policies to placate the anger. This will make it much harder for the opposition to make inroads in 2016, irrespective of their performance in Aljunied. Singaporeans do not like to rock the boat!
  3. The WP manages the Aljunied GRC effectively and gains respect of not only the local residents, but other Singaporeans who see that an opposition party can run a GRC well, giving them confidence to vote for the opposition. The opposition members of parliament perform well, attacking poor policies and providing the voice in parliament that Singaporeans want. The WP also manages to attract star talent and creates strong grassroots programs to build awareness and support across Singapore. Meanwhile the PAP does not address the concerns raised in 2011 and Singaporeans are even angrier in 2016. This results in a huge change in the parliament with a loss of the majority needed to pass legislation freely, or even a loss of power for the PAP.

Many people outside of Singapore would consider an election result that gave 81 of the 87 available seats to the incumbent party a huge defeat to the opposition. However, I believe that the 2011 general election will be remembered by many as the turning point in Singaporean politics, where the foundation of a strong opposition movement was laid. Thus defining a move towards a freer and more open society, together with the building of a modern Singaporean identity!