The Irony of Lee Kuan Yew’s “Insightful” Worldview

My wife passed me a physical copy of an article entitled “Foreseeing Red: Lee Kuan Yew on China” published in the current issue of Time Magazine. Turns out that three researchers from Harvard University (Graham Allison, Robert Blackwill & Ali Wyne) have interviewed him on his views on China, United States and the rest of the world and will be publishing a book entitled “Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, The United States & the World“. In the article from Time, there were the printed excerpts on his views about China. 

[Read more...]

Why I am glad to predict the Punggol East by-election wrongly

To start, I predicted the result of the Punggol East by-election wrongly as my guess is 51% for the ruling party and 48% for Workers Party with the 1% split for the minnows. Of course, with no polling data available, the way I came to the prediction was to look at the historical datapoints we have in the past. Most of the people including myself (and I am no pundit but a private citizen) would have made the following assumptions and come to the prediction that the ruling party, People’s Action Party (PAP) is the likely winner to the by-election. [Read more...]

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson

Written by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson, the central theme of the book “Why Nations Fail” is to explain the huge differences in incomes and standards of living that split the rich countries of the world from the poor, and put forward a perspective based on how institutions created from politics can evolve the way towards progress or fail depending on their nature of being inclusive and extractive. The book also sought to debunk known theories such as the geography hypothesis advocated by the ecologist and evolutionary biologist, Jared Diamond, the culture hypothesis and finally the ignorance hypothesis proposed by the economists. There are interesting insights extracted from this book that any interested reader of politics and economics will enjoy and how they can be applied in context on Singapore in the present day. [Read more...]

Where & Why did Social Media succeed & fail in GE 2011?

After the past 10 days of intensive campaigning, cooling off and subsequently polling day for the Singapore General Elections 2011 (GE 2011), an interesting question comes to mind, “Why has social media worked for the opposition parties and failed badly for the ruling party particularly the case of George Yeo?” I examine certain aspects of the campaign in an attempt to answer this question and point out the lessons learnt from this election and how the learning points can be move forward to the next. [Read more...]

Are Property Prices affected by who you vote for?

Recently, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that the property prices of Aljunied GRC will go down if the voters of that constituency vote for the opposition. In his words, “If you have the wrong government, your property prices go right down. Ask why in Hougang the property is not as high as their neighbours.” Given the residents of Hougang SMC has been voting for Mr Low Thia Khiang for the past 20 years and assuming Mr Lee’s comments to be true, the direct inference is that the value of the HDB flats for the Hougang SMC should now be far lower than similar flats in the same neighborhood placed under Aljunied GRC.

The best way to do this is to find out how the prices of the HDB flats in Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC have fluctuated over the past twenty years. This dataset is difficult to collect and requires HDB to provide them. However, it turns out that we can look at the current 1-year resale transacted prices of flats in both areas and answer the question to a large extent. The aim of this HDB e-service is to “assist potential resale flat buyers and sellers in making informed decisions, taking into account the prevailing trends in the HDB resale market” (source: HDB). So, we did the following by looking at 2 sets of data: 3 room flats & 4 room flats from Hougang Ave 5 (under Hougang SMC) and Hougang Ave 8 (under Aljunied GRC) and computed the median prices. All transactions found in the data set are arms-length transactions which means that we exclude resale transactions that may not reflect the full market price, for example, I buy a flat from my parents at a reduced resale flat price. Hence HDB’s data is indicative of the real market prices. Here’s what we found:

From the above table, the resale flat prices did not vary signifcantly. In fact, although flats from Hougang Avenue 5 (under Hougang SMC) were older than those from Hougang Avenue 8 (under Aljunied GRC), they seem to fetch higher resale prices. Do note that the Ministry of National Development control both the demand and supply of public housing in Singapore. We all know that buying a flat is an important decision for most families. Hence it is reasonable for us to assume that a couple will examine all the factors which will affect the value of the flat they intend to buy, for example, accessibility to transport, amenities, the condition of the flat and the living conditions in the neighbourhood. If MM Lee’s assertion is true, very few people will buy flats in Hougang Ave 5 and consequently the resale prices of flats in Hougang Ave 5 should not be above those in Hougang Ave 8 under Aljunied GRC. The data seems to contradict what MM Lee has said about flats in Hougang SMC falling below flats in Aljunied GRC. Perhaps the ruling party can provide the facts and figures as to why they assert that property prices under Aljunied GRC will fall if the opposition party wins on May 7.

Other Interesting articles:
[1] Mr Wang, Property Values and Your Choice of Political Party
[2] Sze-Meng Soon, How Govt and MPs should tackle home affordability
[3] Tay Lay Kuan has extended my analysis http://bit.ly/lJb5PM on Hougang & Aljunied to Potong Pasir SMC & Toa Payoh-Bishan GRC. No evidence in MM Lee’s claims on HDB prices.
[4] You can read this research paper “The political economy of housing prices: Hedonic pricing with regression discontinuity” by Wong Wei Kang and Eddie Sue. Have a conversation with my former colleagues from Singapore Angle and the main results does not differ much from what I have computed.
[5] You can read another post Hougang constituency 4-room flats retain value well by Alex Au aka Yawning Bread that also indicate the prices for 4 room flats.
[6] Chong Kwek Yan & Giam Xingli published this interesting analysis entitled “No evidence that flats in Opposition-held wards are worth less” via Facebook using multiple comparisons tests. If I am still working as an academic (i.e. I practically have very little time because of the focus I put on my own start-up), that will be the same approach that I will have adopted and I will apply clustering theory to look at the data sets as well.

The Problem of Relative Choice for Singaporean Voters

Some time back, the Prime Minister of Singapore announced a few sweeping changes to the election system to encourage more dissenting voices within the Parliament in Singapore. He proposed the following changes namely:

(1) Permanency and Number of Nominated Members of Parliament in the Singapore Political System: Nominated Members of Parliament will feature as a permanent fixture in the parliament. The number of NMPs are fixed at 9. In addition, the Constitution and the Elections Act will be changed to allow a maximum of 9 Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs). The number of NCMPs in each parliament is equal to the difference between nine and the number of opposition MPs elected. One important thing to note is that no more than two NCMPs may come from the same GRC ward.

(2) 12 single member constituencies (SMCs) and lesser six-member GRCs: We will have 12 SMCs and we are not sure how these new ones are going to be formed. It is likely that 3 new SMCs will be carved out of the present electoral boundaries. The other change is that there will be fewer six-member GRCs.

It is not in the interest of this article to offer an opinion on the policy whether cynical or positive, but instead, it may be interesting to apply some behavioral economic reasoning involved in how the establishment is applying the problem of relative choice for the Singaporean voters. Based on David Ariely’s model about relative choice in his book, “Predictably Irrational”, here is a situation which one can relate to. Suppose if I have two choices (A) and (B) where it is difficult to compare given different attributes, the introduction of a decoy choice (-A) will provide an individual with a choice that is comparably be better than (B) and tips the individual towards (A).

We will aggregate these new changes in the Elections Act and Constitution and call it choice (A), which is the outcome that the establishment is willing to compromise, i.e. if all the conditions apply, the new Parliament after the next election will have a maximum of 20% representation from the opposition. Given all the recent debacles made by the Singapore government, for e.g., the escape of Mas Selamat and the loss of investments from Temasek, it is difficult for the establishment to determine the anger that is brewing within the voters in the electorate. So, one possible outcome is a freak election where the voters will end up bringing the opposition to power or the loss of many PAP MPs leading to a possible 70% PAP – 30% opposition scenario. Let me call that option (-A). Of course, it looks increasingly difficult to maintain the option that they will stay in power with a 82 PAP to 2 Opposition scenario. So, we call that option (B) which is likely to be ditched by the voters given increasing unhappiness with the government’s policies. To ensure no freak election, the best way is to offer choice (-A) and (B) such that the most optimal choice is (A). Basically, the 20% representation is an option which the PAP has worked out to be a viable option to tempt the voters in making the choice (A).

References:
[1] Dan Ariely, “Predictably Irrational”

An Afternoon with Scott Goodstein in Ad-Tech Singapore 2009

scottgoodsteinwebThe online machinery behind Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign was a successful case study in the integration of internet technologies with political campaigns, particularly in the role of fundraising, organizing supporters and vote canvassing. Scott Goodstein, the External Online Director in Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign, is currently in Singapore and has deliver a keynote address in the Ad-Tech Singapore 2009 conference. Together with a group of social media practitioners from all walks of life, the organizers of the event arranged a special interview with Scott this afternoon. We have a discussion about the lessons learnt in deploying the internet technologies to the Obama Campaign and here is a summary on the points of discussion that ensued: [Read more...]

Singapore General Election 2009 Likely?

In times of crisis with people gravitating towards the government for assistance in domestic concerns, it is usually a good time for ruling parties (from UK to Singapore) to call for a general election. With recent happenings in Singapore, is it worth the effort of the ruling party of Singapore to call for a general election? In this article, we examine the progress made by the government and the factors that might be for or against their favour in calling for one in the coming year.

With a global financial crisis propagating across the world since late September this year, most countries including Singapore will likely face a long period of negative growth. For some of us, this may be the most disastrous financial disaster in our life times which started off from a subprime mortgage crisis in late 2006. Depending on your own perspective, it is also a challenge because great wealth is usually created in such times.

How does this affect Singapore’s political landscape? Given that the political scene in Singapore is strongly linked to the government’s performance of managing the economy, it may be a possibility for the ruling party to call an election when people will gravitate and rally around a common cause in such difficult times. If you look back to the last two elections held in 2001 and 2006, you will see some emerging trends. The election in 2001 was called after September 11 and the internet bubble bursted. At that point, the ruling party used global events to rally the people, winning a landslide with 75.3% of the popular vote. Compare to the most recent election in 2006 where the economy was recovering, the ruling party only won 66.6% of the popular vote.

What has happened between last election till now? In 2006, Singapore was undergoing an economic recovery followed by the decision to build two Integrated Resorts and organizing the IMF-World Bank event. Within the last two years, Singapore has also brought the first F1 night race into her shores. With the building of the integrated resorts and Singapore’s reputation as a financial hub for southeast Asia, there is a strong growth in private wealth, drawing not just from the rich within the region but from China, India, Middle East and Russia. With such growth, the domestic side of Singapore faced a different reality. The electorate has faced with the rise of the good and services tax (GST) from 5 to 7%, followed by a lot of real estate activity via en bloc sales, and finally led to a year of extraordinary inflation of 4.2% coming from rising costs from NETS payments, transportation, costs of living and utility bills. Of course, there are other issues which took centre stage over the past two years: the University of New South Wales debacle, the ministerial pay increase, the rise of retirement age to 67 with annuities scheme looming over the horizon, the recent purchase of shares on UBS, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch by Temasek and GIC and today, the losses of S$12M made by town councils from the constituencies held by the ruling party. With some issues that threatened and eroded the strength of the ruling party, the option to hold an election during such tough times may not be as appealing for the ruling party as compared to the one in 2001 that is focused mainly on national security.

There are a few factors that could tip the election both ways for the ruling party. Let’s start from an optimistic position for the ruling party. The first will be the vast talent pool that the ruling party enjoyed in her selection of candidates. The strength of the PAP to attract competent talent who might have been dissenting voices against them in the past leaves the opposition very little opportunity in party growth. Even though the Workers Party (WP) has managed to attract professional talent in the last elections, it is still an uphill battle for them to be able to get people to contest in all the constituencies. In fact, in such difficult times, even with the electorate begrudging the high ministerial pay and the rising costs of living, they will prefer to vote for the ruling party with a pragmatic perspective given their strong track record in economic recovery. The second reason is strong grassroots support within the ruling party. The ruling party has a strong grassroots machinery that can be fully utilized to last a nine day election campaign from marketing to canvassing votes. In the last elections, the Workers Party had to rely on very few volunteers to help them with 10,000 flyers over one estate. If the strong infrastructure of the ruling party is not a factor, they have also provided good incentives for the electorate to vote for them, from estate upgrading to progress packages before and after the election.

How about the flip side of holding an election next year? Of course, if you are away from Singapore for the past two years, there are some changes on the ground. Being back from Cambridge for the past three years, I have witnessed one general election and a lot of interesting events moving from cyberspace to the real world.

Social or the “not so” new media has become a new tool for the opposition and civil society groups to take on the establishment on several niche issues. In fact, in the recent rally speech, the PM has made two announcements: (i) to allow political podcast and videocast online and (ii) the opening up of Hong Lim Park for protest. It is a telling sign that the ruling party has come to terms with the realization that there is no way to regulate cyberspace given the power of technology and social practices of netizens to spread information at such a quick rate. Even though the ruling party has adopted the principle of selective liberalization, it has given the society more space and diversity for debate with restrictive conditions. Within weeks of the opening of Hong Lim Park (aka Speakers’ Corner), the online activists have now moved into the offline world, for example, the recent protests made by Tan Kin Lian in a non-partisan effort to seek redress from the financial institutions for the investors who bought the highly toxic structured Lehman products from the banks. If not more, we are also seeing a more outspoken younger generation who even used Facebook to organize a petition against transportation hikes in the polytechnics.

If that is not enough, a lot of young people in Singapore are lately inspired by the campaign ran by Barack Obama calling for change from the younger generation. The social media has transformed various political landscapes within the span of one year from US, Korea to Malaysia. The next election will be exciting because the last election only showed the Internet emerging as a platform to verify and counter checked the news from the mainstream press, like the famous Hougang photo from Alex Au. It has not reached the level of vote canvassing or political donation like the way how the Obama campaign has done with the US Presidential elections.

Recently, I have made a gentleman’s bet (over a pint of beer) with Sze Meng (a fellow colleague here in SA) that the next general election will happen in 2009 (but seriously, it should be 2010). How will be the next general election decided upon? It depends on the people, the economy, and how the ruling establishment plans to navigate the country out of recession.

Author’s Note: This article is originally published in the Temsoc Newsletter at the invitation of Ms Gayle Goh, the Temasek Society; a Singaporean political and current affairs society in the University of Cambridge. Note that I have made some edits to the original article published here.

Author’s Afterword in 2010: So it did not happen last year and looks like I owe one colleague of mine in Singapore Angle a pint of beer. :)

Why SAF Officers have fast track promotions

The headline “US soldier takes potshots at SAF” by Loh Chee Kong (Today, 12 March 2007) examines several themes in an research journal article “The Roar of the Lion City: Ethnicity, Gender and Culture in the Singapore Armed Forces” (Armed Forces & Society, 2007, 33:265-285) and the rebuttals from MINDEF in response to several issues raised in the article. The piece was written by Sean P. Walsh, a graduate from United States Military Academy currently assigned to 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany.

In the article, Walsh explored several themes such as ethnic diversity, professionalism & civil military relations of officers and role of women in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). While most of his sources are cited as private interviews, it is difficult to ascertain the quality of the interviews, given that we only know that one of the interviewees is a United States army officer stationed in Singapore.

One issue of interest revolves around the fast track promotion and professionalism of SAF scholars. Walsh asserted that some SAF officers see that their military careers as “a stepping stone to other careers in politics, business, or the civil service” and inferred that there is a lack of professionalism at the institutional level.

We offer a hypothesis to show why the policy makers in SAF have decided to adopt such a policy of fast track promotion of military officers, particularly the overseas SAF scholars. The basic reason is to prevent military officers from consolidating too much power such that a military coup is possible in Singapore. In fact, by adopting such a policy, it reinforces the culture of the military being integrated with the civilian government. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew once mentioned the possibility of a military coup if a freak election result happens, “Without the elected president and if there is a freak result, within two or three years, the army would have to come in and stop it.” (Reuters, 16 Sep 06). That adds to another dimension in asking the question, “Is a military coup possible in Singapore given that there exist such a mechanism to stop the military officers in acquiring too much power?” (see this article Après nous, les militaires by Alex Au). Of course, that is an extremely complex question which we can leave it to another day.

What did they leave out?

On the aftermath of the BlogTV.SG event with George Yeo

So, you have seen the “Big Boys Blogging” episode last night in BlogTV.SG. Honestly, I have moved on immediately after the report on the event to the Singapore Angle team and the teaser. When I decided to go on the show, I was under no illusion in thinking that engaging in such a conversation with our minister for foreign affairs, George Yeo will make a big difference in our lives. At the very least, it provided me (a private citizen) an opportunity to have a decent and frank conversation with the minister, while at the same time, see and judge for ourselves after the show whether the feedback and criticisms from the other bloggers on BlogTV.SG are valid.

The whole event took about three hours to film, but the whole show on TV is only reduced down to about 23-25 minutes. The segment involving Gayle and myself in the discussion was only about 40 minutes. So, the question that is burning in your mind, “Is there any controversial comment or remark that was not disclosed in the final version of the show?” The answer is no. However, there are some talking points which are omitted and reproduced here:

  1. “As a public blogger, are you afraid of being misinterpreted? Sometimes, it can be propagated as falsehoods, how will you deal with it?”: His answer to this question posed by me was candid and simple and goes along the lines that if you are prepared to be a public blogger, you should be prepared to handle such situations. However, our minister did not offer any solution if such a problem would arise.
  2. The use of new media to engage young and older voters: George Yeo spoke about the need to educate older voters on the use of internet. He raised the example that it would be difficult for the younger bloggers to teach the older generation and thought that he might be able to bridge the gap by setting an example to learn how to do it. This is the actual precursor to the question which Gayle and I posed later to him on the relaxation of new media for political parties in Singapore.

To the credit of BlogTV.SG (perhaps with some nudging from us in the teaser), they did not censor the most interesting part in the whole discussion. That was George Yeo’s answer to my follow-up question on whether the opposition will be allowed to use the tools of the new media in the future, given the ruling party is adopting these tools to engage the voters. It does confirm our suspicion that the establishment is planning to relax the control of the internet. After all, they have been dropping hints since the PM’s rally speech last year. Yet I remain skeptical until the official word from the government is out on the issue of freedom of expression in the internet.

Given my previous experience coupled with misgivings from the other bloggers, I should count myself lucky that I was not misquoted on both occasions (including the previous ST roundtable). Even saying so, I still advocate that we should speak truth to power in the blogosphere if our views are distorted or misrepresented in any way. It is up to the individual blogger to decide whether to turn up for such events. My final opinion is that we, the bloggers have the advantage of the last word and giving our version of the story will make it difficult for the mainstream media to spin their story.

Acknowledgments: I thank the whole Singapore Angle Team for their support and encouragement before and after the event, the BlogTV crew for their hospitality and the hosts (Xue Ling and Flying Dutchman), Gayle and George Yeo for an interesting discussion which transpired in Brewerkz last Wednesday (3 Jan 2007).

Update: See Gayle Goh for her last word on the issue and some extra segments of the whole interview can be found in BlogTV.SG site.

This is a follow up post to this article: A teaser to Big Boys’ Blogging.

A Teaser to “Big Boys Blogging”

Call this a strange coincidence or just luck: each time I meet a politician in some event, I ended up sitting down with him or her in a roundtable or interview weeks later in the mainstream media. The last time that happened was with Penny Low. Our meeting during the ST political roundtable was anticipated by a social entrepreneurship event a week earlier. Similarly, my meeting with George Yeo at BlogTV.SG was foreshadowed by a meeting in a coffee session three weeks earlier.

The invitation from BlogTV.SG was circulated to the group on 27 December by KTM. Turns out that Huichieh received the same invitation on 26 December but was then busy with the migration to Movable Type. As usual, I was arrowed, though there was much discussion among ourselves regarding possible questions, most of which were unused. On hindsight, considering that these were rather substantive sort of questions, they probably don’t belong on the show given its format anyway.

We were well aware of the misgivings that various bloggers voiced concerning such events. Nonetheless, we figured that it’s best to form a judgment after we see things for ourselves. After all, there is a sense in which bloggers possess the last word to what transpired in such events; at minimum, we can always present our versions. Besides, the famous Gayle Goh was going too (I knew because she rang me up for possible questions beforehand).

Due to a gentleman’s agreement that we will not tell our story until after the show is aired next Tuesday, I will only provide a teaser based on my earlier encounter with George Yeo on 4 Dec 2006 (check out this earlier article on my personal blog). But this much I will say: there was a somewhat surprising comment from George Yeo during the BlogTV.SG interview and I am pretty curious to see whether it will be aired in the final version. I was told that they will place the extra excerpts of the interview on the site. That is all I will say until the show airs next Tuesday.

Related Links (Update):
[1] George Yeo, “BlogTV Experience”. The picture above is from Ephraim’s blog.
[2] Gayle Goh, “On Meeting George Yeo”.
[3] BL, “Big Boys Blogging” at Brewerkz”.
[4] Rambling Librarian, ” Yet another missed opportunity to be on BlogTV.SG”.
[5] Mr Wang, “Starring BG George Yeo & Mr Wang? Nah”
[6] Kway Teow Man, On Happiness, Expectations and Freedom of Expression.
[7] Cognitive Dissonance, Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.
[8] Elia Diodati, Engaging a Politician: Your Danse Macabre .

Impact of US Midterm Elections to Singapore

Map-USmideterms.png

Recently, the United States have completed their midterm elections on 7 Nov 2006. The Democrats has successfully recaptured the House of Representatives and the Senate from the Republicans [1]. From the exit polls (from CNN), the main reason for the Republicans to lose power in both houses is corruption and not Iraq (strangely, it’s the fourth most important issue). The first casualty of war in the aftermath of this election is the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense. It also leaves the likely scenario that George W Bush will be a lame duck president till 2008 when he completes his second term.

With a Democrat Congress and Senate and a Republican president, it is interesting to examine the dynamics and implications of the midterm elections towards Singapore. This article examines the impact of the US Midterm Elections on Singapore and splits the discussion into three parts: (i) a Singaporean’s perspective of this elections, (ii) the prelude towards the 2008 presidential elections and (iii) the impact of the midterms towards Singapore in the next two to five years.

A Singaporean’s Perspective towards this Elections

Since the beginning of Jan 2006, I have been following the US midterm elections closely. One spectacular incident is the defeat of Joe Lieberman (former Vice Presidential candidate in 2000 with Al Gore) in the Democratic Primary of Connecticut. The incident is interesting because the bloggers were touted to be responsible for his primary loss. I have argued earlier that it was a combination of factors (from the ground) rather than the internet that led to his defeat, and have speculated that Ned Lamont will not be able to win the general elections. I also reiterate that it is nearly impossible to replicate that kind of netroots activism in Singapore politics because the real translation to votes is from grassroots movement rather than netroots movement [2]. In the end, Joe Lieberman won the senate race as an independent and would caucus for the Democrats, leading them to have a senate majority of 51 to 49.

From the early indications from the various polls (Gallup, CNN and Fox), it is clear that the Republicans would lose the Congress. However, the loss of the upper house came as a surprise. How did the Republicans end up in such a “thumping” loss? Most pundits believed that the Democrats did not win the midterms, but rather the Republicans lost it. For example, former senator George Allen had the advantage of being the incumbent senator for Virginia (and possibly one of the major contenders for the US presidential race) but lost it with a mistake of making a racial slur on an naturalized indian American. That was the turning point of the Viriginia senate elections and brought his Democrat competitor, Webb to victory. One other reason that assist in the recapture of the Congress and Senate is that the Democratic Party did not field candidates which are on the far left, but the conservative Democrats. That explains why the Democrats is able to make headway in the swing states like Florida and Ohio because these Democrats champion the same kind of values in the American heartland.

In short, the entire Republican party was plagued with scandals, for example, the Jack Abramoff’ indian lobbying scandal, the Mark Foley scandal. The situation was made worse, where Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial” and David Kuo’s “Tempting Faith” showed the incompetency of the Bush administration in handling the war in Iraq and the manipulation of the Christian Right with faith-based initiatives in the 2004 elections. In the end, it was the corruption issue which turned the voters off. On top of that, the voters were sick of the endless tirade from the Republicans that if they vote for the Democrats, they will get their taxes raised.

What would be the impact of having a Democratic Congress on American politics? From reading the American blogs and mainstream media, the main consensus is that the Bush administration are now placed in a lame duck situation. Most likely, they cannot push through any major policy review. The dynamics adopted by the administration to deal with a left-leaning Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi will be one of the most watched political situations. Even so, in my own opinion, there will not be a few major changes because the Democrats do not want to lose the houses two years from now. The reason is simple because the Democrats need to show to the American people that they can govern in a bi-partisan way. If they do not co-operate with the Republicans and the Bush administration, they are on their way to lose the House of Representatives again (they lost the Congress to the Republicans in 1994).

The key issues that the new Democratic Congress will focus are: (i) Iraq war, (ii) roll back the tax cuts for the rich and wealthy and increase corporate taxes, (iii) passing legislation to protect American workers & block outsourcing of some jobs and (iv) approve federal funding in stem cell research (which both houses in the Congress passed and was vetoed by the executive branch of the government, namely the US President) .

Let’s look at the Iraq war first. Immediately after the defeat of the midterm elections, Donald Rumsfeld was made redundant from the Bush administration. A lot of attention is now placed on the Iraq Independent Study Group, led by James Baker (a trusted aide of George H Bush or Bush Senior). This is a key issue that can cut both ways for the Democrats and also for the candidates who are vying for the US Presidency in 2008. There are three options on the table for the Americans in the Iraq war: (i) they “cut and run”, (ii) they stay the course or (iii) they split the entire country into three parts for the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. It is likely that they will adopt a hybrid version of the “cut & run” and “stay the course” in order to save their own skin. The important part is to engage the other major players in the region to help, for example, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. That will have a considerable effect in terms of security and stability for the oil rich region, and to Singapore on a lesser effect (which I come back at the third part of the article, given that Singapore is now seeking business partners with Middle East).

The next two issues are domestic in nature, relating to the US economy. Currently, the US government is running a trillion dollar deficit and the reason why their economy is not collapsing is because Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, India and many other countries (including Singapore) are buying into their treasury bonds. In order to prevent major American corporations from being bought over by foreign countries, they have to find the money like the way we raise GST to 7% to fund the safety nets for the poor. The most likely scenario is that they will raise corporate taxes and increase personal income taxes for the rich income group. It means that the foreign companies will face new challenges in bringing their companies to the US market in the next few years. Protectionism is also going to be an important issue because the low level jobs and even high level IT jobs are now outsourced to places like India and China. A few things are already in motion to help the American workers, for example, lobbying for a new minimum wage in the Congress and putting regulation on big American companies to hire locals rather than hire elsewhere.

The fourth issue is that the Democrat House of Representatives and Senate will approve federal funding for stem-cell research. This is an issue which has divided America, particularly, Bush vetoed the bill due to his support coming from the Christian right. In the past few years, US stem cell researchers have been poached to go to Asia, particularly Singapore to continue their work. The exodus of leading researchers alarmed the American law-makers and it is likely that they want to restore US as the beacon of scientific research.

Prelude to the 2008 Presidential Elections (& why it is important to Singapore)

If the economy and the war are the key challenges for the new incumbent Congress and Senate, the other issue which will take centre stage will be the coming US Presidential elections 2008. In this election, the Democrats have successfully captured Ohio, one of the swing states responsible for the defeat of John Kerry in 2004. This might provide interesting dynamics for the next elections. Since the sitting Vice President, Dick Cheney is not running for the presidency, the field is open for both Democrats and Republicans. The names of potential candidates for both Democrats and Republicans have already popped up in the mainstream media.

gwbush-sg.jpg

So, what has the presidential race important to a small country? If you look at the history of Singapore, the two US Presidents who have visited Singapore, are Republicans and coincidentally, they both share the same surname Bush. This is telling about the relationship between the Singapore government and the US. Traditionally, given the political ideology, the ruling party in Singapore is closer to the Republican party than to the Democrat party. Recently, George W Bush spent two days in Singapore during his Asia visit. For the first time, he chose Singapore as a platform to make a foreign policy speech in the National University of Singapore. This indicates that the administration views Singapore as an important ally in the region. On an anecdotal note from a secondary source, the former US Secretary of State during the Nixon and Ford administration, Dr Henry Kissinger visited Singapore two years back and made this comment about Singapore that is paraphrased in the following lines, “I am interested in coming to Singapore because I want to know why such a tiny country with a population of 4.3 million can have a place in Washington politics.” (Photo of President Bush speaking in NUS, from ChannelNewsAsia)

However, that does not mean that Singapore might not gain any favour from a Democratic president. For example, the 2004 presidential Democrat candidate, John Kerry was once asked by the New York Times about his views of our Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew. His remarks were cordial and he also sang praises about our Minister Mentor being an experienced statesman who offer valuable insight in Asia politics. During the selection for the city to be chosen for the 2012 Olympics, Hilary Clinton (who will be one of the possible candidates to watch in the coming 2008) was here in Singapore to lobby for the games to be held in New York.

Impact of the US Midterms to Singapore

The impact of the US midterms to Singapore will be minimal. There are worries among the establishment that the Democrat Congress (being traditionally left leaning and also against the idea of bilateral free trade agreements) might revoke the free trade agreement (FTA) between US and Singapore. There are criticisms on the agreement (See this one from the Public Citizen). Of course, such worries are unwarranted. The Singapore-US FTA is negotiated during the Clinton administration (Democrat) and then sorted out in the Bush administration. The voting records and the reports from the major committees in US indicate that both parties favour the free trade agreement. While the political situation will not change how the US-Singapore trade relations, the effects will likely be felt by the business community and government linked companies for example, Temasek Holdings. It is likely that government regulation and imposing tax onto foreign acquisitions will be placed into the system by a Democrat Congress.

The US foreign policy on the Middle East situation should be closely observed as well. As I have mentioned earlier, the Bush administration will have to find a way out of the current Iraq debacle. In essence, they will pick a strategy which will minimize the number of casualties and maximize the amount of “face”, and that will only be a situation where they will withdraw their troops and utilize the other neighbours around Iraq to help in dealing with the violence and problems of Iraq. Recently, our government has been promoting Middle East as a new location where our business leaders and government-linked companies should move to. In the world of business, the stability of the region is of a major concern. Most likely given Singapore’s risk adverse culture, their main trading partners will be the stable Arab countries with a strong economy, for example, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

That comes to the last issue. Since the Democrats are likely to pass the stem cell legislation to approve federal funding for research, does it mean that Singapore will lose those researchers which they spent millions to bring here? There is this view in Singapore that if US will approve funding for stem cell research, most American researchers stationed in Singapore will go back home, leaving us barren of foreign talent. In my personal opinion, I don’t think that this situation will happen because the researchers (who are lured here) are paid far better in enumeration than what they will earn in the US. It is also a misconception that US does not approve federal research. The legislation is about approving federal funding to stem cell research. Already Harvard University is pouring US$10B and California is rolling out a US$300M to fund such kinds of research.

In essence the impact of this elections towards Singapore is small. Perhaps, we should revisit this question in two years time.

Acknowledgments: The author thanks Hui Chieh and his American friends about the discussion on US politics. This piece originated from an email request from Paddy Chicken to Singapore Angle and we acknowledge him in this essay.

References and Endnotes:
[1] The figure is taken from the article US Midterm Elections 2006 in Wikipedia, and represent the new Senate composition, according to CNN results. The blue represent 2 Democrats, red represents 2 Republicans, purple represents 1 Democrat and 1 Republicans and grey represents either 1 Republican/Democrat and one independent.
[2] Kevin Lim, Theory.IsTheReason.com, “Today’s Links: Worldwide Internet Penetration = 15.7%” and Asia Internet Usage statistics. In 2006, there are 2.4 million users and that is about 56% internet usage in Singapore (based on 4.6 million population).
[3] More about US politics, Daily Kos: State of the Nation, Huffington Post, and RealClearPolitics. These sites are highly recommended.
[4] The article is edited on 12 pm, 30 Nov 2006.

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