The election watch begins (again)

Issue 108

Kirsten Han

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Lai liao, lai liao…?

Election talk has re-emerged with the phased exit from lockdown. Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing reminds us that Parliament will have to be dissolved by January 2021, while Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat says that “elections are coming nearer by the day”, which is the clearest indication of the approaching vote yet, while not being very helpful — the elections were always “coming nearer by the day”… but how many days?

Heng pointed at South Korea’s elections as an example of how voting can be done relatively safely during the outbreak, and the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Act allows for those under quarantine orders to be excused from voting, while those under stay-home orders can vote at special voting stations. (Sadly, there’s no mention of what’s going to happen with overseas voters.)

There aren’t that many details yet about what campaigning rules will be like during this time, although the PAP appears to have resumed their on-the-ground activities. The Workers’ Party has called for election rules to be published ASAP. The Singapore Democratic Party has also given specific suggestions as to how fair access to the electorate should be granted to all parties, such as extending the campaigning period and giving all parties access to free-to-air broadcasters, and giving space for all parties to publish their manifestos and messages in local newspapers.

For an election-specific newsletter, subscribe to GE20Watch, an excellent offering from a political science graduate.

By chance, I managed to catch the “wave” with this piece for The Ballot giving a brief overview of Singapore’s electoral process, COVID-19, and the new law allowing for special arrangements in the event of an election during the pandemic.

The solution is not apartheid

I was stewing over this op-ed in the Straits Times by the President of the Society for Floating Solutions (Singapore) earlier this week, in which he — surprise surprise — floated the idea of putting migrant workers on mega-floats. His argument, cloaked as improving the workers’ living conditions, was steeped in all sorts of racist, xenophobic assumptions, such as claiming that migrant workers are a public health risk, and that they could spread viruses to migrant domestic workers who could bring it home to their employers (even though this was not what happened with COVID-19). While saying that barring migrant workers from spaces that locals use would smack of apartheid, he goes on to advocate for more apartheid with his idea of putting them on floats that would provide them with facilities and amenities so they don’t have to share ours. “The proposed complex has space, critical mass, and ambience conducive to mental health. [The migrant worker] need not frequent the city as often to congregate with friends and unwittingly trigger the ire of locals in shopping malls, bars, and parks, or worse infect many in buses and trains,” he wrote in his president’s message to his society.

This is the sort of segregationist, utilitarian logic that I was pointing to in my Foreign Policy piece — that Singapore can’t seem to see migrant workers as equally valuable members of our society who should be treated as such, rather than digits of labour. The government wasn’t happy with that piece, and published a letter from Singapore’s ambassador to the US defending Singapore’s treatment of migrant workers.

I’m not going to make a point-by-point rebuttal of the ambassador’s letter, but would just like to refer to this conclusion: “Ms Han’s grim picture is belied by the vast majority of migrant workers who choose to continue working in Singapore well beyond their first contracts. Some have been in the country as long as 20 years. They have chosen to continue to live and work in Singapore, rather than go elsewhere or return to work in their home countries.”

I too have met migrant workers who have been in Singapore for a long time. My question would be, if we don’t treat migrant workers as different and segregated from the rest of us, why are they kept specifically within a visa class that is not allowed any path to residency or citizenship, unlike other migrants to Singapore? If these workers have chosen to continue to live and work in Singapore, why are they still on work permits that place them in disempowered positions, rather than allowed to apply for long-term residency? What is the reasoning behind having a specific class of people barred from ever gaining a proper foothold in the country where they live and work?

Trade associations and chambers of commerce have also come out to lobby for their interests and defend our treatment of migrant workers. I responded to their arguments on Facebook, here and here.

Jailed for “fake news” — but not under POFMA

Not too long after Singapore went into lockdown, Kenneth Lai posted in a Facebook group claiming that hawker centres and coffee shops were going to close, and that supermarkets would only open one or two days a week. After people advised him not to spread information he couldn’t verify, he deleted the post 15 minutes later. But that didn’t save him from being charged for spreading false information under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act; he’s since been sentenced to four months in prison.


Calling Animal Crossers!

Throughout the partial lockdown my spirits have been buoyed by playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’m not a big gamer and frankly have very poor hand-eye coordination and reflexes for games more complicated than Tetris, so I’ve been very gratified to have a low-stakes, soothing game like ACNH. It’s also been a nice way to connect and play with friends at a time when meet-ups are out of the question.

It would be nice to keep connecting and meeting (even virtually) with readers of this newsletter, and so I’m experimenting with hosting We, The Citizens x Animal Crossing gatherings, starting tomorrow at 9pm (Singapore time), and next Sunday, also at 9pm.

This is how it’s going to work: if you’d like to join the gathering, fill in this Google form with your choice of hangout time. On the day of the gathering, I’ll email those coming to hang out a Dodo Code for my island.

The only limitation of this is that I can only have seven visitors on my island at any one time, so if there are more than seven sign-ups for a hangout then some people might not be able to come over — I’m still having a think about how to work around this (staggered timings? Second slot at 10pm?)


Here’s A Nice Thing