We Bumped Into PSP Politicians Getting Chinese Lessons at Beauty World. Here’s Why.

If you had passed by Beauty World Centre recently, you might have seen an older man enthusiastically picking up trash outside the MacDonald’s. It was impossible to miss him as his shirt sported the signature red-and-white stripes of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP). This was volunteer Koh Keow Chai — who later introduced himself as an ex-police inspector and the former bodyguard of Lee Kuan Yew. He wasn’t alone though. Soon, a group of casually-dressed people had gathered at the patio of the MacDonald’s with an assortment of oddly-shaped boards and children’s books. 

Mr. Koh picking up trash at Beauty World.

Two people stood out: PSP candidates Brad Bowyer and Abas Kasmani. They were actually learning Mandarin “to connect better to the Chinese-speaking electorate”. Both had contested for GRCs and lost to their opponents this GE. The former’s team had secured only 38.10% of votes against PAP veteran powerhouse Shanmugam in Nee Soon GRC and the latter’s team obtaining a lesser 36.87% in Tanjong Pagar. However, their electoral losses did not seem to equate to a lack of popularity. They were quick to attract attention as some stopped to snap photos from afar while others strained closer to get a better look at their faces. 

With GE2020 still fresh in our minds, we seized the opportunity to interview the two political candidates.

Importance of the youth vote

This year, we saw the new Sengkang GRC won over by the Workers’ Party, a testament to their strength and clout in the East. Mr. Kasmani recalled that he was “simply overwhelmed” when he had heard the news, especially since it was speculated that it was younger voters who caused the swing in votes. “Never before had young Singaporeans shown their might in our Elections and now they finally have. It will gain traction from here onwards.” 

On Minister Lawrence Wong’s contradicting view that it was the “middle-aged, not the young voters who contributed to the vote swing against the PAP”, Kasmani commented that the PAP has had the trouble of balancing the interests of the “more liberal” young and the older “conservative” electorate. Such are the issues of how to include the LGBTQ+ community, climate change and post-materialistic interests.

Income inequality 

Mr. Kasmani campaigning in Tanjong Pagar GRC. (Source)

Moving onto more bread and butter issues, Mr. Kasmani wholeheartedly agreed with Party Chief Tan Cheng Bock’s rallying call: that “the PAP has lost their way”. He explained that the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had worked towards giving back to the people and to ensure true blue meritocracy in which everyone could progress with equality, but the current PAP has long diverged from this original vision. He asserted that their policies were only nominally benefitting the middle class, whereas the top income bracket has been getting richer and richer. Indeed, there has been a global trend in widening income inequality but Singapore has reported its lowest levels in almost two decades. Regardless, Mr. Kasmani argues that inequality in Singapore is caused by a “lack of compassion that the PAP has for its people despite its constant drive towards achieving economic progress”. Mr. Bowyer shares the same sentiment, stating that:

“The PAP has been disingenuous towards the Singaporean people. Stop thinking that we are stupid. We have grown up, now it is time for you to grow up.”

On a policy level, both candidates said that they do not necessarily support PAP’s Progressive Wage Model nor WP’s Minimum Wage Scheme. Instead, the PSP is proposing a Living Wage Scheme, a system that is tailored specifically to one’s needs and the cost of living in Singapore. When probed further on what its details are, they did not have much more to say, only that they were currently forming a research & policy formulation team which would work on this.

Immigration policy

When questioned about the underlying resentment that some Singaporeans have against foreigners ‘stealing their jobs’, Bowyer warned that “the PAP have not learnt their lesson. They were punished in 2011, saved in 2015 by the LKY-effect and dodged it in 2020.” He asserted that the ruling party was planning to “eliminate certain jobs for Singaporeans at the left-end of the bell curve because these occupations do not meet the ideal of what they have envisioned for the future”. He stressed that this was “not how populations work”, given the different calibre of each individual, thus it was unfair to completely cut out jobs from particular industries and to give to foreign workers. 

“The PAP is running a country like they run a business, as they are not being leaders, but just managers.”

Bowyer does agree with the PAP’s goal of attracting the best foreigners to come and work in Singapore. However, it does not make sense to him that there are half a million foreign workers in Singapore yet 100,000 locals who are out of job, many of whom are fresh graduates. 

Bowyer disagrees that young Singaporeans look down on ‘menial’ jobs. He points to the many young graduates who have flocked to work as Covid-19 swabbers if it means getting paid $3800 a month. Therefore, the problem that the PSP sees here is “not the lack of jobs, but that these are all occupied by foreign workers or that it has no reasonable pay which would allow a local to consider it because of the high cost of living here”. Without concrete policies to tackle these issues, he reckons that the poverty line in Singapore will continue to creep up, because “if you are not chosen by the system at a certain age, then you have no future. Their long-term plan is not for all Singaporeans.”

Building a more dynamic democracy

Mr. Bowyer making house visits during the election. (Source)

Bowyer then went on to lament that the “insincerity of the ruling party is clear in their gerrymandering and GRC system”. He then pulled out the 20112015 and 2020 electoral boundaries maps of Singapore to show us and zoomed into the Marine Parade GRC area. He strongly questioned the PAP’s citing of population changes as the reason for the redrawing of electoral boundaries every election and condemned the process to be “completely ridiculous” and that “no other country in the world does it this way”. If elected, he plans to champion for fixed electoral boundaries.

When asked for the party’s plans for Hazel Poa and Leong Mun Wai – the two NCMPs from PSP – Bowyer lamented that there was “only so much they could do” as the PAP still holds a supermajority of 83 out of 93 seats in Parliament. Moreover, he agreed with Workers’ Party Chief Pritam Singh’s comment that the opposition parties are crippled by the ruling party’s withholding of information. This has reduced them to mere critics of the PAP’s policies without being able to suggest their own. “Such is the narrative that PAP has created themselves and has sustained over the years”, Bowyer reasoned. “Despite that, we will try our very best to provide that alternative voice in Parliament which the Singaporean people have wanted for a very long time.”

Ultimately, there was a consistent underlying sentiment which both candidates had in their conversations with Kopi. They had flagged out that the PAP lacks compassion and sincerity for the Singaporean people, harkening back to their Party Chief Tan Cheng Bock’s assertion that the ruling party has “lost its way”. Thus, their vision is for this country to Progress with Compassion and that you deserve better. This party is one that has gotten a good start, snapping up two NCMP seats already. Will it succumb to fragmentation like some opposition parties have or remain united against the goliath PAP?

Only time will tell.

Disclaimer: The views of the featured politicians aren’t representative of Kopi’s editorial stance.

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In a world that is bubbling with clickbait, sensationalism and oversimplifications, Kopi aims to bring long-form journalism back to South-East Asia.

Through deeply analysed articles, we uncover and explain the complex and multifaceted issues facing our societies. Through engaging narratives, we tell stories that are bold and unique.

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